As a dog trainer and behavior consultant I work with a variety of dogs and a variety of dog behavior problems.  I have found gentle “hands-off” methods of working with dogs to be the most effective for  not only myself but for the dog owners I work with.  But I think it is important, especially for owners of giant breeds, to discuss why they, too, need to be as hands-off as the owners of toy breeds.  There are endless reasons for this, here are mine:

Most people canot physically out-muscle their dogs.  If you’re a professional body builder and you own a Havanese, you probably can, but in general people will struggle to physically overpower their dogs.  A dog trainer might be able to physically overpower a dog, especially if she has been trained in physical methods or is using equipment that makes this easier (choke or prong collar), but then asking the owner to do the same thing is asking for trouble.  No matter the method, if the dog’s owner fails to recreate what the trainer has achieved with the dog, the technique has failed.

When you get physical with your dog, you invite him to be physical with you.  I have found that dogs who have been physically corrected or manhandled take much more license with the body space of humans around them.  I believe that one of the most important things to teach dogs is to respect body space, and we can’t expect them to respect our bodies if we don’t respect theirs.  Two prime examples come to mind, the first is mouthy puppies, and the other is pushy giant or guardian breeds.  I have met many puppies with biting problems that go way beyond playful normal puppy mouthing, and every single one of these puppies are being physically corrected for biting by someone in the household.  Usually it begins with play-mouthing, the puppy gets nailed by a family member in some sort of scruff shake or smack, and then the biting escalates into a frenzy that spirals way out of control.  On the other hand I know a lot of giant breed dogs that simply like to throw their weight around.  Their owners failed to teach them good impulse control or body space respect and as these big dogs grew up they became so pushy their owners could do nothing but push back.  Then they are stuck with a dog that is too large to control physically but only responds to physicality because that is the only way he has been communicated with.  What a disaster!

And what about those dogs that learn they have no physical autonomy?  When humans take whatever liberties they deem necessary with dogs (like when owners of small dogs socialize them by handing them over to whomever would like to visit), dogs begin to act more aggressively than the situation calls for.  If your manhandling causes your Great Dane to shove his weight around it will teach your Pomeranian to bite and thrash at anyone who tries to touch him. 

What’s the moral of this story? Your hands should only be used to show your dog affection, and your dog will only respect your body space if you respect his.  In a future blog I will talk specifically about body space and how to teach dogs to recognize it, but for now just start to pause and think before you shove your dog into a position or yank on his leash.