Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Few New Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year everyone! When it comes to New Year’s Resolutions we tend to focus on ourselves. But since this is a dog training blog, I am going to focus on our dogs.  Here are a few resolutions based on my experiences with my own dogs and from helping my clients with theirs:

1) Incorporate dog training in my everyday routine – now that my “puppy” is full grown, it is very easy to let all that old puppy training fall by the wayside. So this year I will strive to reinforce my dogs’ training by continuing to incorporate them in my everyday routine. A few examples are:
• Asking my dogs to “sit” and “wait” behind the door before going for a walk so that they learn not to dash into the street.
• Asking my dogs to “sit” before I put the leash on them for a walk so that they learn to be calm before going out for a walk.
• Asking my dog to “sit” before releasing her to “take” the toy for a game of tug of war or fetch.
• Asking my dogs to “sit” and “leave it” until I am able to put the food bowl down on the floor before giving them my release cue (“o.k”) to take the food.
• Asking my dogs to “go to their beds” and “stay” while I am eating my meals.

Incorporating these simple requests to your daily routine will seem less like a chore (for both you and your dog).  In the end, you will have a well-mannered dog with relatively little effort.

2) Management – having a dog with good house manners is a combination of management and actual training. Often the management portion of this equation is overlooked. Keeping or removing food from the counter before leaving the house will reduce temptations for your dog and will help keep your dog from forming a habit of “counter-surfing.” Dogs will continue to perform behaviors that are successful for them and behaviors that do not reap any rewards gradually extinguish. So, if my dog is “rewarded” by getting a piece of food off that counter (even if relatively infrequent), there is no impetus for her to stop checking out the counter while I am out of the room. If my dog knows that food is not on that counter when I am not home, she is less likely to scavenge while I am out of sight. Management is also good way to keep your pup from destroying your favorite pair of leather shoes. Putting shoes away in your closet and closing the doors to your bedroom will prevent access into non-puppy proofed parts of the house when you are not home. Baby gates are also good management tools until your puppy passes the chewing phase and learns to chew the appropriate toys. If your puppy does not have access to shoes but instead has access to chew toys, you will protect your property. Who knew that having a puppy can lead to a clutter-free house.

3) Give my dog time to think - often we get impatient and we have a tendency to repeat the verbal cue over and over again thinking that it will make our dogs perform the behavior more quickly. If anything, it leads to your dog tuning you out. Instead, once your dog has learned the verbal cue for the behavior you are training, use the word once and give your dog time (10-15 seconds) to think about it. Repeating the cue while your dog is trying to figure out the behavior is the human equivalent of someone standing over your shoulder asking you, “what is 29x37” over and over again while you are trying to solve the equation. If your dog does not complete the task within that time frame, go back to the previous step in training (e.g. using a hand signal or lure with the verbal cue) and practice at that level until your dog becomes more proficient.

4) Exercise – regular exercise stimulates your dog not only physically but mentally. Your neighborhood is a smorgasbord of smells, sights and sounds that are different from what your dog experiences at home. A bored dog can be very destructive. When my dogs are bored, I often find little holes my backyard. Exercise can help channel some of that pent up energy.  Similarly, exercise can help with high energy and anxious dog.

5) Play more games with my dogs – playing games with your dog not only stimulates your dog mentally but it helps foster the bond with your dog. Although some dogs can play fetch until the cows come home, other dogs will get bored of this game after awhile (Northern breeds come to mind). This year I plan to introduce more games into my dogs lives beyond fetch and tug of war (which my dog never seems to get tired of). My dogs like to hunt and they love the “find it” games where they have to search for different objects to receive a treat. I also use training as a game and try to teach new tricks or combine different behaviors in a row (chaining behaviors) before the dog receives a reward. Keep training sessions short (5 -10 minute sessions at a time) to maximize on the “fun factor.”  For more information see my review of popular interactive dog toys on the market.

6) Give my dogs some down time – sometimes it is tempting to try to train your dog every day for long periods of time especially if you are working on modifying  particular behavior. I have found that it is beneficial to give my dog some down time from such intensive training because I want my dog to look forward to training rather than view it as a stressful event. Taking a day or two break can give my dog time to recoup and lessen the likelihood of burnout (for me too). Dogs need alone time too.

7) Appreciate every moment with my dogs – dog years are too short as far as we are concerned. That is why we should appreciate the time we have with our pets while they are with us. I have two senior dogs right now and I appreciate the confidence and tolerance that many older dogs have. The comfort and security that our senior pets provide is reflection of the strong bond formed after years of working together. Without my older dogs, I am sure my Akita puppy would have been a handful, but my older dogs have kept some of her rowdy teenage behavior in check. There is something to be said about the wisdom and experience of an older dog.

8) Keep expectations realistic – there is a temptation to expect too much from our pets. We have a 6 month old puppy and we expect them not to chew on our favorite chair. We expect a kitten not to climb up our drapes. We have a 10 year old dog and we expect them to adapt to new and strange situations like a younger dog. We expect an independent breed like a husky or akita to want stick to your side at all times or want to perform repetitive tasks. We adopted a dog from the shelter a few weeks ago and we expect them not to be fearful or anxious. This New Year, let’s keep our expectations realistic based on our pet’s age, history, temperament and personality. Realistic expectations reduce frustration and forge a better bond with your pet!

9)  Nip those behavioral problems in the bud - sometimes it is easy to ignore some of your dog's behavioral problems.  For example, we let the dog jump on us because we think it is cute or affectionate but let it go on and one day your dog may knock someone over.  Your dog may start guarding objects or food and let that go on and it can escalate to guarding entire locations of the house/couch or the behavior may become more pronounced.  Sometimes, I get calls from people who have had a behavioral issue that has gone on for years.  In such cases the behavior can become so ingrained that it is harder to treat.  So, if there is a behavior that you find problematic or can foresee becoming problematic, get the help you need and address it before it escalates.

10)  Go at your dog's own pace - this is a corollary to #8 above. Often when we are working with our dogs, whether it be a puppy or a dog with behavioral issues such as fear or aggression, we may have some arbitrary time table by which we have set some goal or want a problem "fixed."  Sometimes our timetables do not match up with what our dog's is able to accomplish. Trying to push our dogs faster than what they can handle can backfire or lead to frustration on our parts. For example, if you have a fearful dog, bombarding the dog with the object he/she is afraid of (person, dog, garbage truck, motorcycle etc) over a short period of time may intensity this fear and cause the dog to shut down. Often with behavioral problems it may take weeks or months to resolve and pushing your dog above and beyond what he or she is capable of will only serve to increase stress levels.  Instead, just go with the flow and appreciate the accomplishments your dog makes even if it seems like baby steps.

Do you have any New Year's resolutions for you and your pet?

Happy New Year and Happy Training!

Pawsitive Feedback Training

1 comment:

  1. This could be our own resolutions for the pups! How true it is that we often think they should be magical mind reading dogs instead of the real dogs that they are. I especially love what you said about giving dogs time to think. I need wait time from my teachers, why wouldn't she?!