What is the rehabilitation of a dog? Why don’t we talk about education, what does it entail and above all, how to proceed for an efficient repair?
What is rehabilitation?
Reeducating your dog means “unlearning” him to teach him again; it means changing his action patterns and bringing him to new behaviour. Re-education means taking back and rebalancing an unfinished and poorly done job.
Reeducating a dog means making a possible bad behaviour disappear in a first step to make a behaviour more desired by the master appear.
Does rehabilitation-only concern adult dogs?
We often talk about rehabilitation for adult dogs; we think in particular of shelter dogs. Still, you should know that many young dogs take bad habits very early, and repair is then just as necessary.
Reeducating a young dog is, of course, “easier” because the bad habits are not necessarily anchored for a long time, but it is still a re-education process.
As soon as we want to reduce or eliminate destructive behaviour to make room for a new behaviour that is more appreciated by the whole social group (or society in general), we will talk about rehabilitation.
How to rehabilitate a dog?
When rehabilitating a dog, it is essential to take into account everything he has experienced in the past to anticipate possible blockages, traumas or well-anchored habits.
Obviously, for some dogs, it will be complicated, if not impossible, to get precise information about their past experiences (good or bad), so we will try to have the most consistent and respectful attitude possible to avoid any problem. We will come back to this point.
Whether you want to re-train your dog with whom you have made “mistakes” in the past or if you wish to re-train an adult dog that has just joined your family, the following 4 points should be respected.
Indeed, except if your dog is “affected” by a developmental disorder, in which case the work will be more complex and will require the direct help of a dog trainer, the respect of the four steps that follow will allow you to rebalance the relationship between you and your dog and start again on a reasonable basis.
Reeducating your dog
Step n°1: set up rules of life/limits
Setting limits and a framework for your dog is essential for him to feel safe with you and your home. A dog with all the freedom is not a happy dog, contrary to what you might think.
We often notice that the most fearful or reactive dogs are the ones who have the most freedom daily and who are the least “frustrated”. However, they cannot manage this because they need reference points (which they do not have), and this is why (in many cases) they evacuate their “malaise” through attitudes that we associate with deviant behaviour (from our point of view).
A framework must then be put in place through :
Management of space: the dog must have a place of his own, which we respect and where we leave him alone. This area must be placed in the corner of the living room, where there will be few passages and where he will not be able to watch all the comings and goings of the social group members. The dog should also know how to go to its basket following a sign from you. Moreover, the dog must learn how to respect everyone’s space, and the notion of sharing must be well considered. For example: if the dog is allowed to climb on the sofa, it must agree to get off when asked, and this, systematically. It is best to teach the dog to get on only when asked to do so.
Contact management: the master must be the one to initiate all contact with the dog, whether it be for petting or play sessions. The goal here is to make the dog understand that he cannot have what he wants when he wants it, which teaches him to manage his possible state of frustration, settle down and “give up to win”. Thus, we will make sure to ignore the dog when he begs for attention (by not looking at him, by not touching him and by not talking to him) and then, as soon as he has moved on to something else: call him to offer him what he initially wanted.
Food management: as it is one of the essential resources for the dog, the master must manage and control it for obvious health reasons (self-service eating is not suitable for digestion and can cause stomach upsets) and avoid any behavioural overflow. Indeed, in the same logic as contacts, if the dog knows that when he is hungry, he can eat, then he will have absolutely no notion of frustration, limit, patience or waiting. Thus, the dog will be taught to eat once or twice a day, alone and in less than 15 minutes. He will also be introduced to wait before eating his bowl using an indication such as “don’t move” or “you wait”.
Step 2: Meet the dog’s needs
For a dog to be balanced and responsive, it is essential to meet his needs, stimulate him daily, and know that a simple walk is not enough. So let’s see how to spend a dog well:
Social needs: the dog is a social animal, so it needs to be with other dogs regularly. The meetings must be controlled, regular, secure and always positive. Therefore, make sure you choose the dogs you put in contact with: prefer dogs of similar sizes, of opposite sexes or a very balanced adult dog with a puppy, for example. Moreover, regular meetings with other dogs will allow the dog to reinforce and maintain its canine codes.
Physical needs: All breeds need to walk outside their backyard for at least 30 minutes a day. Of course, this time will vary according to the needs of each species in terms of expenditure. However, the walks should be rich with moments of relaxation in liberty or longe.
Mental needs: your dog, whether a working dog or not, needs regular intellectual stimulation. This strengthens the relationship between the master and his dog (through learning tricks, for example). But, above all, it allows the dog to be well tired (like an intelligence or occupation toy, for example).
Olfactory needs: one of the most critical needs to be fulfilled since the sense of smell is the most developed in dogs. Tracking exercises, times when the dog can smell the odours he wants while walking, environments rich in olfactory stimuli, etc., will be your best allies to spend your dog well in an olfactory way.
Finally, to finish on this point: know that a reasonable mental and olfactory expenditure will be much more effective in terms of fatigue for your dog than a long walk. I don’t advise you to stop taking your dog out (on the contrary) but when your walks cannot be very long and sufficiently “tiring” for your dog: keep him busy at home or in the garden by stimulating his sense of smell and his thinking.
Step n°3: reinforce obedience
Of course, you have to work on your dog’s obedience, but this will not be possible if the two previous axes (but also the following one) are not respected.
In addition, “basic” commands must be acquired for your dog so that integration into society is done harmoniously.
The most important will be to teach your dog static (sit, down), wait (no move) and give up (stop, recall) commands. These are the three groups of indications that your dog must integrate for your cohabitation to go well.
Step n°4: have a consistent attitude.
Finally, your attitude will determine the relationship you will have with your dog. And to make sure you don’t create conflict or base your relationship on a notion of duality between you (which won’t lead to anything at all, be aware), you must :
Be consistent daily (what is forbidden is systematically forbidden).
Be in the success process (be 1000% sure that your dog will succeed. Otherwise, your strategy will be doomed to failure).
Always take the initiative (with contacts, food, etc.).
Play games with your dog that are both fun and educational to strengthen your relationship.
Don’t yell, be zen, and your dog will be too.
Always try to understand the cause of a possible problem before suppressing the symptoms (which could be associated with the visible part of the iceberg).
Constantly reinforce good behaviours so that your dog will want to repeat them.
Don’t go too fast in the different learning processes; respect your dog’s rhythm and abilities.
Constantly question yourself if a learning process does not work: is it your attitude, the technique used or the environment proposed, or all three at the same time that is not coherent?
And above all, to reeducate your dog, you must always consider the past and the possible traumas of your dog to start again on a reasonable basis with a good attitude and adapted techniques.
Never hesitate to call a professional dog trainer if you don’t know how to do it or where to start. Professional help will help you avoid reinforcing bad habits or creating new ones.