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The best way to praise your dog

By HELEN PALMER

K9 Corner

If you attend an obedience school, you will hear the instructor calling, “Praise your dogs!” after each practice. Do you know the best way to praise your dog, so he gets the most enjoyment from the attention?

I have seen some people, mostly men with large dogs, praise their animals by pounding them on the sides around the rib cage. If it weren’t for the smile and the happy tone of voice as the handler administers this form of “praise,” the dog might think he was being reprimanded.

Similarly, I have seen both men and women grab their dogs’ heads and either shake or slap the faces back and forth. Again, the smile and happy tone has saved many a handler from a snarl from this kind of treatment. This is not praise in the mind of the dog, any more than the same treatment would be considered approbation, if it was applied to a human.

There are several ways to praise your dog after it has performed something correctly. The best praise, in the dog’s mind, is to reward him either with a ball, a toy or a bit of food. You will see handlers complete an exercise during practice, stop, and then toss a toy or ball up in the air over the dog’s head with the exclamation, “Good boy!” or “Good girl!”

Children are more inclined to drop to their knees and hug the dog. Parents should be watchful if they see this kind of praise because some dogs resent being hugged, although most will tolerate a short mild squeeze without growling a warning. If the dog does growl, the parents should gently teach the child to praise by stroking the head, cheeks and neck, or by using the ball, toy or a bit of food. The dog should not be reprimanded if he growls, I have heard many a parent tell their youngster “Take it easy!” or “That’s enough!” when the child hugged too hard. The dog doesn’t have the ability to talk nor can it chuckle as it growls its version of “Take it easy!”

If the dog growls when being praised, it can also be the method that individual dog has selected to “talk” to you. I once had a very talkative dog. Every time I would whistle him in from outdoors, he would come running for a food treat and if it was still in my pocket, he would growl and give short barks to tell me “Where is my treat!” Friends were afraid of him because of his way of “talking” until I would point out the rest of his body language which consisted of bouncing around with a lot of “play bows” thrown in.

However, growling shouldn’t be taken lightly since it can be a warning from a dominant natured dog or even from an aggressive animal. If your dog growls at you and there is no pattern, it is better to take the animal to an animal behaviorist or a qualified trainer for an evaluation. Unexpected growling might also mean something is hurting him.