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Okay, now I know opinions are largely divided on whether negative or positive reinforcement is the best way to discipline a dog, that's not my question.

From since she was a puppy (she's a 10 month old Bichon Frise), I've always hit her nose to discipline her, which seemed to work effectively. However, she's now exhibiting some behavioral issues that I want to try and get rid of before it's two late.

I've decided I need a better approach at discipline, namely positive reinforcement. In the case of her doing something wrong, I'll simply ignore her or put her in the kitchen for a short period (15 minutes). If she's good, she'll get loads of praise/treats (I already do this after walks/after crying to go out at the door, then going out to do her business).

Basically, there's a few things she now does. Some are probably not directly related to the negative reinforcement, but I'm unsure as to which are a direct result.

  • She is scared of strangers - Whilst out walking, if a stranger reaches out a hand to stroke her, her initial reaction is to run a mile or growl (I've read that this is a side effect of negative reinforcement). She will sniff and try and follow strangers though, strangely.
  • She is scared of other dogs - Now, if another dog comes up to here, initially she will run a mile. If another dog doesn't acknowledge her, she'll either growl or run to see them.
  • All she does is be aggressive towards my mother's Bichon - Well it's more like aggresive play, she'll basically bite at the other dog's joules constantly and wherever the other dog goes, she has to go first and get in front of (something like little dog syndrome).
  • She barks all day at anything that makes a sound/goes past the window - I think nothing can be done about this, it's more a territorial thing. Weirdly though, she's about 10x worse than my Mother's Bichon (who's 4 year old).

I have two questions really:

1) Is it too late in my dog's learning cycle to rectify the behavioral issues?

2) How can I rectify these issues and what discipline strategy should I now employ?

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Being 10 months old, your dog has gone through much of her formative processes, this being said, there is much you can do to improve her behaviour, but you have a clearly defined personality limitation the work with.

Recovery of nose smacking

It would best to not smack her nose again, and make a habit of several times throughout the day of slowly approaching the side of her head (not her face) with the back of your hand to gently stroke the side of her head and give her gentle verbal praise whilst petting her. It's a matter of regaining her trust (in terms of when your hand approaches her face). You need to convince her that your approaching hand means reward.

Being a small dog, there is a limit to how many food rewards you can give her in one day. If she has a treat she is crazy for, put the treat in your left hand (for argument's sake) as you do the stroking exercise with your right hand and verbally praise her, you can slowly raise your left hand up in front of her so she eventually will look down and sniff and take it from her hand. Praise her verbally when she takes the treat "that's a good girl". Do this every second or third time you are doing the stroking exercise, it will reinforce the positive nature of the stroke and verbal praise.

Scared of strangers

Many dogs react to a person putting their hand out. In this case, it would, most likely, be exacerbated by smacking the dogs nose as punishment. It is always better to offer the back of the hand in the direction of a strange dog and allow the dog to come to you and sniff. I would suggest, you proactively prevent people from attempting to pat her. You can do this by using you arm to prevent their arms from moving to close and suggest to them: look my dog is very timid, perhaps you can put your hand like this and show them how to approach you dog in a non threatening manner.

Other dogs

Now, if another dog comes up to here, initially she will run a mile. If another dog doesn't acknowledge her, she'll either growl or run to see them.

To me this sounds pretty normal for a small dog. To run away from a larger strange dog, is perfectly in accord within your dog's natural instinct. There are many larger dogs out there that maul small dogs. The act of running after a dog or growling at them if they ignore her is one of the characteristics I love about small dogs and their personalities. All bravo when the other dog has shown it is no threat. As a dog that will be a threat, is unlikely to walk pass and dismiss her. She is smart.

Socialising in a dog club is always a good way to help your dog interact with other dogs. I prefer this for younger and/or timid dogs to begin with, as a dog club is more controlled, the owners are aware of any anti-social behaviour within their dog community and the dogs are supervised accordingly. Whereas an off leash area for dogs can be a bit chaotic for a small, young dog, and you don't want her to have any bad experiences that will set her back.

Barking

Barking and small dogs is a really common problem. Partly due to the fact, little dogs are continually needing to reassert their authority, due to their lack of size.

I suggest having a look at the post here How to prevent my dog from barking constantly when I am not at home? for some advice.

This isn't a complete answer. I haven't addressed the issue with your Mother's dog, but I am sure there will be other answers to come.

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    "Being a small dog, there is a limit to how many food rewards you can give her in one day." Being a puppy, and assuming she's on dry food, you can probably use her normal food as treats, rather than have her eat it out of a bowl. Mix it in with nicer treats for some variety, making sure the dog doesn't lose interest. Above all though, if you use treats as part of positive reinforcement training, make sure they are small enough that you can keep feeding them all day without overfeeding the dog. A treat should really just be enough to get a taste of something yummy so the dog wants more of it. – ThomasH Oct 10 '13 at 18:27

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