Like seeks like, and hence all my friends are in one way or another involved with dogs. No surprise that having dinner with them is a favorite pastime that fills not just my tummy, but also soul and brain. Soul and brain cause passionate dog people never tire talking shop, and that isn’t just mentally stimulating, but also makes us more proficient. You might expect that someone like me, who proclaims expertise and advices others, already knows all there is to know about dogs, but I confess that every time I am conferencing with other brainy dog folks I walk away with a new insight, or am reminded of something that slipped my mind, but is worth paying attention to.
As much as humans love to lay claim to unique, inborn talents and boast with original, groundbreaking ideas, the best pooch-professionals, including world-renowned authorities I met and learned from, continue to learn from dogs - and their colleagues. They go to seminars even if they give them, read what others in the field have to say and observe what they are doing, exchange thoughts and ideas, test and sometimes modify them, and then pass combined wisdom along to peers and clients - thereby making the world a better one for dogs and their owners.
For year’s end, I want to share with you 10 bite size tips – some original, others I picked up at a seminar, lecture, book, article or through networking dinners with friends.
Each one is specifically chosen, because it is easy to apply, yields great benefits and yet, I hardly ever see a lay owner do it.
10. Sandwich difficult exercises between easier ones. Especially sensitive and scatter-brained dogs can feel overwhelmed when training becomes increasingly more difficult, falter under pressure or mentally check out. Start with fun stuff, and end on a high note, and your pooch will forever be keen to learn more.
9. The more you do it, the better you get. Practice behaviors that are important to you whenever you have a minute or two, and in a variety of contexts. A dog trained 20-minutes each day learns to obey 20-minutes each day.
8. Toss a treat out for your dog to find – also outside. Encourage her to find it, make it a game , a fun interaction, maybe even help her, and you become the primary reinforcement, not the treat. It keeps your dog connected to you, and if you incorporate other objects into your fun interactions, you don’t become dependent on food rewards.
7. Be boring and inattentive after you released your dog from a practice session. Traditional correction training does the opposite: praise or play follows the dismissal, and the dog learns that training is a drag, and being released is pleasurable. If you aim for voluntary compliance that is a big hurdle, cause voluntary only happens when working with you is more rewarding than not working. To be very clear, withhold attention only for a little while; locking the dog in his crate for hours on end and depriving him of social contact in the name of performance is, in my opinion, abuse.
6. Use your body consciously. Move forward if you want your dog to stay and walk away when you call your dog. Running toward a dog is your invitation to playing chase, and she’ll tear in the opposite direction. Walk away from your dog, not toward her, if you want her to follow.
5. If your dog has a, well, strong developed sense of ownership over toys, have an identical one when you venture to the dog park. If a rude pooch snatches her beloved ball, prove how good of a provider you are when you dig up the replacement. It keeps your dog’s focus on you, and possibly prevents a fight.
4. Whenever someone comes head-on towards you, politely leash-guide your dog to the side and verbally cue, we like “over”, the behavior. Consistently applied, your dog will soon mannerly move “over” on command – on and off the leash, which potentially makes a situation less confrontational for the other dog, puts cynophobic people at ease, and creates passing space for cyclists and joggers.
3. Clip a leash on your dog until you have off-leash control. Yes, even in the house. Trust me, leash-controlling until your dog settles is way more productive than playing goalie with her at the door when the bell rings. Leashing does not mean jerking and correcting – it means keeping the pooch out of trouble until desired behaviors are reliable off the leash.
2. Combine a verbal “take-it” with releasing anything you give your dog he takes with his teeth. Treats, his ball, or the tug toy. Once the cue is conditioned, your dog will only take something out of somebody’s hand when commanded to, which prevents impatient and rough grabbing and snatching.
1. My number one, must have, behavior is voluntary connection. If you have your dog’s attention, you can teach anything else in a heartbeat. If you don’t have it, nothing you do has much of an impact.
Your dog offering eye contact should precede access to anything your dog wants. Attention before he gets his food, before you open the door, before you clip on the leash – or off at the park. When your dog understands that you’re her lifeline, connecting with you becomes a habit.
When I reflect on 2010, many joyous moments flash into my mind, and most include a dog or two. It was a good year and I wish it was one for you, too. May you and yours be blessed with peace, health and prosperity in 2011.