Dear Old Trainer: I always take Rambo, my German shepherd-husky mix out for a short walk in the park about 11:30 at night. The other night, a guy walked by and Rambo gave a vicious growl. The hair on his neck stood up and he gave a loud bark. I apologized, then scolded Rambo, but he just kept staring at the guy. How do I train him to be friendly?
Louise, San Francisco
A: You don’t. Never, and this goes for everyone out there, scold your dog for protecting you from what he believes is a threat.
Rambo’s job is to protect you, not be friendly with strangers at night. He did a perfect job – warned the stranger off with one bark, but made no move toward him as long as he stayed away from you.
Dogs are better judges of people – especially strangers you encounter in the park at night – than humans, and it’s not even close. Rambo is not distracted by political correctness. His entire focus is on protecting you.
Rambo watched the guy’s body language, listened to his breathing, and evaluated his scent. He sensed something he didn’t like and let the guy know it. Trust Rambo and trust his instincts. He’s serious about his job, he’s good at it, so let him do it.
And don’t apologize when he barks at anyone.
Parks can be dangerous places late at night, especially if you are perceived as a target. You never know what a stranger has in mind, but with Rambo at your side no one is going to mistake you for a victim.
That’s why you don’t apologize. You don’t owe a stranger an apology because your dog did his job. If you feel you have to say something, just tell them Rambo is trained and won’t attack if they keep their distance.
The next time it happens, pet Rambo, let him know you love him for protecting you, and tell him, “Good boy, don’t attack.” Let the men of the night draw their own conclusions.
Dear Old Trainer: Your advice about cleanup training really worked with my poodle, Sandy, but why did it work? All I did was make him wait to eat his food and his entire attitude changed. What other exercises work?
Lorna, Flagstaff, Ariz.
A: Cleanup training is the use of simple exercises to polish the last rough edges on a trained dog.
Any exercise works as long as you give an order and they obey. Making a dog sit as you place their dinner on the floor, then wait to eat until you give the command. Having them sit or put their paws up on a tree while you put on the leash. Having them wait for permission before entering or exiting a room. Going to their bed on command.
They work because all canine behavior springs from pack psychology – the leader gives the orders, the pack obeys. The more Sandy does something, or refrains from doing something, based on your orders, the more he views you as the leader.
All dogs are content to obey commands from their human once they are convinced the human has what it takes to be a leader. You convinced Sandy.
Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained, and placed more than 2,000 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.