The Principles of Calm Guidance and Guardianship

The question asked as part of my coursework for The ISCP’s  Diploma in Canine Psychology was this:

Outline the principles of calm guidance and guardianship.

Here is my answer to that question:

Dogs look to humans for guidance. They don’t always understand how our world works, so it’s up to us to teach them. The earlier we teach dogs, the easier it will be for them to integrate into our everyday human lives. Left to their own devices, in the wild, dogs will sort out their own social dynamics. But dogs that have to live alongside humans need a framework to help them, because it’s not their natural environment. Dogs need to feel secure and happy, and it is up to us to help them and to teach them what’s acceptable and what’s not, on human terms.

Your tone of voice sets the scene. An excited voice will get a dog excited. A low, quiet tone conveys more authority. Shouting or yelling can excite or frighten a dog. Your body language needs to correspond with your tone of voice. If you’re chirpy but your body language is stiff, the dog will get confused. Or, if your tone of voice is serious but you’re dancing about, the dog will not know how to react. Be natural. Sometimes you’ll want your dog to get excited and play with you. Sometimes you’ll need him to be calm and quiet.

Teach your dog to respect that sometimes, you need to exit doorways first. This has nothing to do with being the Alpha Dog, or putting a dog “in its place”. A dog that is pushy may well rush out of the house and straight into traffic. Teach the dog to sit and wait for your signal before he is allowed to go out. You don’t always have to go out first, but the dog needs to learn to watch for your signal that it’s okay to go ahead; it needs to learn manners. Always use positive reinforcement, never use punishment. Negative reinforcement destroys the trust you have built up with your dog.

Teach your dog to have good recall. This is essential, and may even save a dog’s life if it runs off down the road into traffic, or takes off after another dog in the park. Getting the dog to come to you can be achieved using treats and again, positive reinforcement. You should never let your dog off the leash unless it’s in a designated off-leash area. This is not just for your own dog’s good, but for the good of other dogs too, who may not have good recall and may be a nuisance or a threat to other dogs when they are off-leash and uncontrollable. Some dogs can be taught recall very easily, others need a bit more work and tempting with treats. A long lead can be useful for teaching recall, if you’re not ready to trust that your dog will come back to you every time you call it.

Establish a feeding routine. Try to feed your dog at the same time each day, so it recognises and learns to expect the routine. Feeding at a regular time also helps the dog with its digestion. If you free feed your dog, don’t be tempted to refill their bowl as soon as it’s empty. Overfeeding will result in obese dogs, medical problems and high vet bills. Handfeeding a dog is a lovely bonding experience, and also teaches the dog that good things come from the hand that feeds it, therefore it is more likely to respect and obey the owner of the hand. Teach your dog good manners by making him wait for his food, instead of rushing you or jumping up in excitement. This is a useful skill for teaching the dog to sit still in other situations too.

Establish a clear signal for when you do not wish to be disturbed. If your dog brings his ball to you for playing Fetch when you’re watching the TV, and you engage with him, from thereon he will associate watching TV with playing Fetch, and will hound you mercilessly by dropping the ball at your feet and eagerly anticipate you throwing the ball, again and again ad nauseum. Unless you nip it in the bud by picking up the ball, telling your dog “Not now, later” and placing it out of his reach, until you are ready to play Fetch with your dog. You need to let your dog know that you are in charge of the situation, not him. If you are working on your computer and don’t wish to be disturbed, teach your dog to “Go crate!” or go to his bed and wait until you are ready to play with him again.

Always use positive reinforcement techniques only, and never ever use violence towards your dog. Do not use cruel objects such as prong or electric collars on your dog. Never hit your dog. If your dog is misbehaving badly, teach him to extinguish that behaviour by redirecting his focus onto something positive and then praising him when he does it right. Eventually he will forget all about his naughty behaviour, and instead keep doing the good behaviour. If you need to banish your dog, only do so for a couple of minutes at the most.

The key components to calm guidance and guardianship, in my opinion, are: Love, Time, Patience and Repetition. Practice all of these in abundance with your dog, and he will be your best friend in every way possible. Most dogs respond to treats and will readily learn cues from you. Some dogs are not treat-motivated, they may be toy-motivated, or simply obsessed with playing Fetch. The trick is to find out what makes your dog tick, and work using that.

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(Image source: Google Images)

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