Using our hands to hit a dog, I am referring to the use of this tactic as a “training” method, is an exceptionally poor idea. If a dog needs to be disciplined there are much better ways to go about it; time out works very well for a lot of dogs as does temporary banishment ie. ignoring the dog. If you use violence as a tool in your relationship with a dog she will learn that violence is an acceptable currency between you.
I recently encountered a large rambunctious puppy who had been slapped in the face in order to discipline him. The owner was pursuing a dominance-based training method. The predictable result of this kind of interaction, of course, ensued and the dog has become hand shy. What does this mean? What this means is that he now snaps or actually bites when a hand comes near his face.
This dog is quite tractable and seemed to be coming along nicely. He is only a year old and still working on basic commands. He has a rock solid sit which is always a good place to start, a foundation upon which further training can be built. What has been lost here is significant, the owner will not be able to stroke his cheeks to calm him nor give him reassuring ear scratches. Touch is one of the most important ways we can communicate with our dog. This loss of trust is particularly sad in that it results in a dog who is fearful of human hands. As far as I’m concerned this is exactly opposite to the lesson we need to teach a pup; the dog must see our hands as the source of all kinds of wonderful things, food, toys, and affection.
I suppose the question that naturally arises at this point is whether or not this unfortunate mistake can be repaired. Can this dog be taught to trust again? The short answer is yes I believe it is possible. What must happen to clear up the confusion in this dog’s mind? Going back to kindergarten ie. about 8wks of age is what needs to be done. Go through all the puppy basics with calm assertiveness. But this time do the gentle exercise [*] at least 30 times a day in sets of 5 or six. If you feel as though your dog is avoiding you it might be useful to try the umbilical attachment – clip the leash to your belt and keep the dog with you all day if possible. Smile a lot at your dog; it helps. And don’t forget to be generous in your praise. Look for opportunities to give praise. Make sure that he has plenty of exercise and try to keep his encounters with other dogs low key. Demonstrate your leadership by giving him a structured life that meets his various needs and upon which he can rely. The value of consistency in this process cannot be over estimated. Give the dog his own space, a bed or a crate. He should sleep in your room but not on the beds.
It seems possible that if the above regime were to be carried out with calm assertive energy over a relatively long time, (Fact: There are no quick fixes.), this situation could be turned around. If not dealt with the outlook isn’t very promising, an escalation of the violence which could cost the dog his life. This is not a problem that will go away with time. It will not get better, only worse. This situation rings alarm bells for me.
[*] The gentle is a simple but effective tool for teaching a dog to be gentle with his mouth. Hold a small food treat with your thumb and first two fingers. Have the dog sit and extend your hand towards his mouth while saying “gentle”. The only way the dog should be able to taste the treat is by licking at it. In order to lick, the dog must relax his jaws. Once he’s licking give him the treat and praise him. Repeated use of this little routine will condition the dog to relax his jaw upon hearing the word “gentle”. Wonderful for young mouthy puppies!