6 Well Intentioned Ways You're Ruining Your Dog

Despite all their good traits, sometimes dogs can be frustrating as hell. If you don't own a dog, and simply wind up at a friend's house with one, well, that's even worse because you can't swat somebody else's pooch. So it just keeps gnawing on your shoe laces, and you're powerless to stop it. Why do so many dogs act like assholes?

Look in the mirror. It turns out, pretty much everything you do when interacting with dogs, is wrong in some way.

#6. Punishing it After You Discover Something it Destroyed/Pooped On

Most dog owners have walked into a room to find our favorite slippers chewed up. Or maybe it's a book, or a computer, depending on the dog. It's natural to take one look at the destroyed slippers/novel/Alienware workstation and start yelling over and over again that the guilty party is, in fact, a Bad Dog. Hopefully this makes you feel better, because that's all it does.

There are two problems here: First, dogs don't speak English (their biggest obstacle to U.S. citizenship) so the only way we can really communicate what we want is through associating behaviors with tangible rewards.

"It's simple LOGIC! Why ... won't ... you ... LISTEN?!"

The other problem is dogs have pretty much no memory at all. This is why they're smart enough to know to wait until you're gone to dig that half-eaten burger out of the trash, but not smart enough to clean up the evidence after the fact.

So if the rewards/punishments aren't immediate, don't bother. If they do a good thing (like sit on command) and you immediately give them a treat, they associate the sitting with the treat and are more inclined to do it next time around. If they do a bad thing (like try to fit a cat's head in their mouth) and you immediately give them a punishment (like playing an Insane Clown Posse song), they associate cat bullying with excruciating pain and are more likely to stop.

So how long is too long to wait to punish your dog? How about one second?

That's right; studies have shown that even half a second delay in punishing (or rewarding) a dog has a noticeable effect on how fast they learn. So when you get home two hours after he's butchered your finest gaming computer, that is as far gone from his mind as ancient Roman history. He thinks that you're yelling at him for running up to greet you when you get home.

"He knows what he did," you might say. "Just look at him, he looks guilty as hell!"

Dogs may or may not feel guilt, but when he's looking sad and bowed-over amongst the shreds of your favorite possessions, that's not what's going on. Dogs will do that when you yell at them whether they did anything wrong or not. All he knows is that you're angry for some mysterious reason, probably thinking you just fly into a rage for no reason like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. All he's saying is, "I like you better when you're not flying into an insane fury that makes no sense to me. Please try to restrain your crazy irrational emotions."

#5. Yelling at an Aggressive/Barking Dog

Dogs bark at things a lot, sometimes to let you know that something's there, sometimes to let whatever it's barking at know that it's there and sometimes just because. Generally, unless there's a burglar, or you're trying to create some kind of dog choir, you don't want your dog to bark.

Naturally, you might just yell at him to shut the fuck up. After all, it works with babies, why not with dogs?

"There are NO burglars out there! That's a Peeping Tom you idiot!"

Well, the problem is that dogs barking excitedly or fearfully are kind of strung out, and getting them more stressed or excited will just make the barking worse. Whether he interprets your yelling as attention, or anger, or you joining in the barking, it won't encourage him to stop.

A couple of things that might work include ignoring him, distracting him with a game or teaching him to bark on command.

Or making him wear the lobster of shame.

That might seem counter-intuitive, but reward/punishment training, the only way to communicate with a dog about behavior (see first item), only works well when you're telling a dog to do something on cue. So if you train him to "speak" on command, you can then train him to stop when you say "no speak" (since he's got an idea of what behavior you're talking about), and so, in a roundabout way, you've also taught him "shut up."

#4. Comforting it When it's Scared

Sometimes dogs are scared of really stupid things, like vacuum cleaners, thunderstorms, people with hats or real estate signs. You've probably already guessed that the tough guy drill sergeant approach isn't the best, where you insult your dog's manhood and call him a momma's boy, especially when the dog is female. But the polar opposite isn't much better.

Coddling a nervous dog and comforting it like a baby is pretty counterproductive as well, and also makes you look like a fool.

"Just a nip of brandy for courage, little one."

Once more, the fact that your dog only understands like four words of the language (usually his name, "outside" and "car ride") means all he is picking up is the weird tone of your voice. As one advice site says:

"But when you try and pet him, and calm him by saying (oh so sweetly), 'It's okay,' 'There's nothing to be afraid of,' 'Calm down, Honey,' etc., this 'comforting voice' just confirms in his mind that he does have a reason to be nervous, and this will make your already scared dog even more afraid. You are giving him extra attention during this stressful time and he perceives that as praise for his behavior and will continue in that behavior."

So, the dog will think, "Thunderstorms are serious business, even my owner is worried!" and elevate the threat to priority one.

Instead of yelling at him or coddling him, most dog trainers suggest trying to create an atmosphere of normalcy by calmly playing a game you usually play together (like Call of Duty or something we guess).

Or poker.

If it's a person he's afraid of, give the person a friendly greeting or otherwise distract the dog. Also make sure that the dog isn't trying to warn you that the person is a Terminator.

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