It’s that time of year, time for promises and resolutions, time for a new you, and a new training approach.
New Year’s Training Resolutions
1. No more food bowls!
Probably not the biggest surprise that we recommend this but that’s only because of the enormous benefits it brings.
The easiest way to feed your dog, regardless of what they’re fed is to Scatter Feed; simply take your dog’s food and toss it.
Toys that you can stuff are perfect for challenging your dog, giving them long-lasting entertainment and helping them calm after excitement through lapping and chewing.
Recycle your left over Christmas wrapping and packaging, making puzzles!
2. Prevent unwanted behaviour
Behaviour happens because the dog responds to its environment, and dogs do behaviours that work. That’s really the bottom line.
You are responsible for your dog’s environment, and what happens there…so you are responsible for his responses too.
The first step in any successful training program is to stop the dog practicing the behaviour that you don’t like because practice makes perfect.
List the behaviours that your dog does that you don’t like – how can you stop your dog getting into that situation, in the first place? That’s your job, human!
- keeping your dog on lead helps to prevent your dog jumping up, running away, chasing things, toileting in the wrong place – you can even use your dog’s lead indoors too!
- using a long line can help to prevent your dog learning to not come back and have fun without you
- use a baby gate or crate to confine your dog to prevent a whole world of trouble, everything from jumping up and barking out the window to stealing, chasing and chewing!
This is particularly significant in situations where your dog gets too excited, can’t focus, barks, lunges or loses control.
Triggers are things that cause these stressy emotional swings and the first step to helping your dog, is to identify things that cause this behaviour. Maybe it’s the approach of another dog or perhaps it’s when you stop to talk to someone while out on a dog-walk.
Once you have narrowed down the trigger, now avoid them! Walk in quieter areas, remove your dog from a situation quickly, move to give plenty of distance between your dog and the trigger.
3. Look for the good
We spend a lot of time thinking about the behaviours we don’t like, but once you’re preventing those, let’s start thinking about the things you do like your dog to do.
The first rule of behaviour is, that behaviour that is rewarded will be repeated. Remember, dog’s do what works!
If you like a behaviour, pay it! This means rewarding your dog with things he actually likes and wants quickly enough that he can associated that behaviour with access to that reward.
What behaviours do you love?
- keeping the lead loose
- sitting to greet people
- quietly watching out the window
- lying calmly
- looking at you
- toileting appropriately
If you love those behaviours, pay your dog well when he does them.
Your dog’s not being naughty all the time – what would you prefer he do? Make those behaviours more rewarding and he’s more likely to do them instead of the behaviours you don’t like.
More about passive training here.
4. Find what your dog loves
Use rewards that your dog really likes, not just things you think he likes or should like.
One of the most common I see, particularly in training class and sessions, is patting, often on the head.
Not all dogs like to be patted, especially on the head, or hugged and often when there are other things going on and possibly better rewards on offer. Your dog might just want the chance to practice the training exercise again to earn another of those rewards.
What your dog wants changes from situation to situation, so your dog might really want attention and tummy scratches when you’re all relaxing in the sitting room, but doesn’t want to know you when he’s out sniffing in the park.
Dogs won’t always want to be petted or fussed or to meet or hang out with people or dogs.
All behaviour has a function, why the dog is doing it, and it’s usually for your dog to get something or escape something. Your dog might offer behaviour because he believes it leads to him getting outside, getting to greet, getting to sniff and so on.
Look at those rewards and use them – they are real-life rewards.
Distractions are just rewards that your dog wants more than what you have to offer – think of those distractions as functional or real-life rewards.
More on using distractions and rewards here.
For really excellent training results, reward those behaviours that you like with things that your dog likes – simples!
5. Release the hound!
All the rewards and training and management can mean that your dog doesn’t get to be a dog a whole lot. Teach him a release cue so that you can clearly signal to him when he’s off the clock, and to go be a dog.
Teach a particular signal, that tells your dog to go have fun, that he doesn’t need to be worried about responding and behaving.
This release cue, Go Sniff!, can be used to give your dog a brain break, to allow him to enjoy some sniffing, to divert his attention from triggers and even to reward appropriate behaviour.
6. Play more
Do you already play with your dog (and I do mean with your dog, not just with a toy)? Great!
If not, get started because those who play together, stay together!
Teach your dog to play with you, add variety and add training to play rather than play to training.
I prefer tug-games to fetch, but mixing it up is best. In repetitive fetch games, you just become a mechanical arm, throwing a ball, ramping up over-excitement but not doing a whole lot for teamwork.
Toys are also great for sniffing games too.
7. Zen dog
Teach your dog the value of patience and politeness. For your dog to be truly zen, we don’t want to have to ask him to be polite, or nag him or tell him off – he just is.
Remember, if you want behaviour, you gotta reward it so watch your dog closely and reward patience and politeness.
Work on teaching your dog the art of doggie zen in formal sessions, like this, and in real life.
Emphasise calm and calming down, rather than crazy. Your dog knows how to do crazy already (that comes as part of the package) so help teach calmness by providing lots of chewing, making sure your dog gets to be a dog, matwork and hanging out quietly.
8. Think about the memories and associations you want your dog to make
You are always training your dog. He is always learning what behaviours work and what behaviours don’t work.
Not only that, he is learning to predict the outcome of particular situations, all the time.
Something good about to happen – stick around.
Something not so good might happen – get away, or scare the scary thing away.
To live with our dogs so that they are happy and healthy, and so that people are safe, we make sure that our dog associates good feelings with proximity and contact with humans.
Every time your dog is exposed to something, look at his behaviour, what associations is he forming?
How is he feeling about this situation?
How will that affect his behaviour in two weeks, two months, two years?
- manage your dog’s access and interactions with children – your dog probably doesn’t need to be involved if the kids are active or acting crazy
- give your dog lots of distance from distractions
- when you see a person, dog, other animal, skateboarder, noisy traffic or other big deal, feed your dog a couple of treats as soon as he looks at them – teach him that good things happen when distractions approach and to look to you because you probably have yummies
- help your dog LOVE being handled and manipulated to prepare him for healthcare, veterinary and first aid
- teach your dog that when he has stuff and people approach, good things happen
- make collar grabs very very rewarding
- supervise dog-dog play closely (great tips here) so that your dog is learning more appropriate social behaviour
9. Teach tricks
And then teach obedience behaviours with the same light-hearted, fun spirit – remember, it’s all tricks to your dog!
10. Just be
It’s easy to get sucked into our busy schedules, and often our dogs get left behind in the blur.
If you want calm focus from your dog, you gotta give it too!
When interacting with your dog, take your eyes off the TV, put away your phone, be there with your dog.
You don’t need to go into the whole mindfulness thing completely, if that’s not your thing, but just be with your dog.
Spend time looking into his eyes, take deep breaths, keep your eyes soft and half-closed and think about what he’s doing, how relaxed his body is, how you are going to spend time together.
Use walks and outings as a way to spend time together. Don’t have your phone in your hand, or earphones on your head.
Go to quiet places. Bring a blanket to sit on, and a stuffed Kong for your dog. Half way on your walk, stop and take a break.
Walks don’t need to be military operations keep it calm, low-key and fun.
More on making dog walks more dog here.
Just be. Be with your dog. Do things that he enjoys. Do things that you both enjoy. Just be.
11. Bonus – be the best canine-owning citizen you can be
- always scoop the poop, always
- follow the rules
No dogs allowed? Don’t bring dogs there.
Dogs only on lead? Keep ’em on lead.
- know the law
Make sure your dog is under effectual control at all times (ROI Control of Dogs Act).
Microchip your dog and keep his details up to date.
Don’t let your dog wander, and certainly do not allow your dog to have access to livestock, no matter how friendly you think he is.
- never allow your dog approach, run up to or harass any other dog, person or other animal without that individual having first solicited such interaction
No, your dog is not “just playing”, if he’s approaching someone uninvited, he’s being rude.
- be polite when approaching other dogs on lead, leash your dog and walk in an arc around them so that they don’t have to interact head-on
- get professional help and choose your training & behaviour professional carefully – this industry isn’t regulated so buyer beware!
Take a training class, and more than one – we wouldn’t expect our kids to be prepared for life after completing playschool and it’s not different for dogs after a puppy class.
Take a lesson out of the big-book-of-good-teaching: don’t make big, unrealistic and lofty resolutions (if you are into such things) – instead split behaviours, that you would like to acquire, into small achievable steps…
- what’s the closest version of that behaviour that you already do?
- identify the ultimate goal and recognise that that’s going to take lots of time to achieve
- what’s the smallest step you can take toward that?
- record your achievements, no matter how small the step
Splitting makes developing behaviours easier and more rewarding, no matter what species you are.
Remember that January is Train Your Dog Month and we have a whole program laid out for you to work on all month: Train Your Dog Month