Life Lessons for a Happier Life With Your Dog
I hear about situations regularly, where a family gets a dog, sometimes a puppy, and they let it grow up, but the dog doesn’t really get taught much past house training. Often these dogs don’t even know their names. It happens honestly. These are simply easy dogs… dogs that are fun and easy to live with and enjoy. And it happens far more often than you would think. The problems arise when the situation changes. The owner(s) start a family, or another animal joins the household. Suddenly, the dog who was easy to live with and “not a problem” doesn’t really have the tools necessary to navigate the new requirements of life and everyone is frustrated. Sadly, this often results in dogs being turned in to rescue or shelters.
What are some of the things your dog needs to know (at least in this trainer’s opinion) to make life easier for you and your four-footed friend?
The Name Game
Your dog’s name should be mean “look at me.” That’s it. Not come…. Just look in my direction. So how do you teach it? Say your dog’s name and when he checks in (eye contact) reward with a piece of your dog’s food. Repeat until when you say your dog’s name he checks in with you. You would be STUNNED how many dogs respond to “flowerpot” no differently than they do their name. If this is your dog, get working on it.
Another easy one. Sit or stand with some of your dog’s regular food. Wait for your dog to check in and offer eye contact. Mark the behavior with a clicker or a “yay!” and reward your dog. DO NOT ASK with a “watch me”. This should be a default behavior you don’t have to ask your dog to give you.
Grab some of your dog’s regular food. When he offers a sit, say, “Yay!” and reward your dog. Repeat ten times. Then just before your dog offers the sit, say “Sit” and when your dog does it, say, “Yay!” and reward your dog.
Start inside the house with a leash attached to your dog’s collar and LET YOUR DOG DRAG IT AROUND. Work on the eye contact exercise above. When your dog is rock solid on staying connected with you, begin to add movement. Can your dog do it next to you? What about as you walk a step or two? Slowly work up to your dog being able to stay focused on you even if you are moving. When your dog is successful at that stage, drape the leash over your arm but DO NOT HOLD ONTO IT. Continue working with your dog inside until you can walk around with your dog staying focused on you with no tension on the leash. Add some distraction like toys or noise in the house. When your dog is a Rockstar at anything you throw at him inside, build the whole thing again outside, just use a long line attached to your dog and YOU to keep your dog safe.
Coming When Called!
Start with the eye contact exercise. When your dog is good at it, start tossing a reward away from the dog and say your dog’s name and “Come!” when your dog looks at you, lower a treat in your hand at NOSE level for your dog. When he comes in for it, touch his collar, praise gratuitously and toss another treat away to get the dog to move away. Repeat thousands of times. Then start working outside with your dog on leash. When he gets distracted by something, pause, wait for him to check in and then call and reward your dog. Some of the magic is in letting your dog be curious about things that are safe and waiting for him to return to you.
How to Be Away From You
Whether in a crate or some other separation including being held by someone else on a leash. (Adapted from “I’ll Be Back™ by Suzanne Clothier). Say, “I’ll be back” and take one step away from your dog, count to three, and return. Repeat many times until your dog is bored when you do it. Slowly increase time until you can count to 30 or 60 and return and your dog remains relaxed and bored. Next step add distance. For this piece, we decrease duration and add distance. Say “I’ll be back” take two steps away from your dog and return. Repeat until your dog is unconcerned at your coming and going. Then go three steps away… build up to being able to be away from your dog and leave the room and return. Slowly increase time, distance and distraction, always keeping your dog unconcerned and relaxed at your comings and goings… and don’t forget to let your dog know when you are leaving him or her, whether in the crate or on a leash or just to step out of the car to get fuel.
This is one of those lifesaver behaviors. Teaching a dog to wait and not rush through doorways, out of cars, out of crates etc. I start this on leash for safety, and oddly on an interior door (so that if we make a mistake we make it in a low risk area). I wait for the dog to sit or lie down near the door (on leash) I start by wiggling the doorknob and “yay!” and reward the dog for holding position. If your dog gets up, I just say “ut oh” and wait for the dog to get back into position. I reward being in the position then start again creating maybe a smaller approximation (maybe just reaching toward the doorknob for example). Slowly I work up to the dog being able to stay relaxed and still while I open the door, walk through myself and then call the dog through. Then we work from the other direction. I reward the dog for getting it right, waiting for a release cue to go through the door. I eventually work up to me running through the door, tossing toys, etc. and the dog staying relaxed and waiting. Once your dog is a Rockstar with an interior door then I add different doors/situations, always focusing on safety. I start on an exterior door heading into the garage with the door closed) or into a fenced yard… then eventually through doors to outside that are less safe but again with a leash and keeping your dog safe. When the dog can handle you running in and out of the door even with distraction then I start on the wait cue in the car.
So now that I have given you my two cents, what are yours? What are some things you wish your dog knew that he or she doesn’t know? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a tag of “Life Lessons” and maybe I will include your behavior in a future blog post.
Tina M. Spring
Tina M. Spring is the owner of Sit Happens Dog Training & Behavior, LLC in Athens, GA. She is the creator of the Hounds for the Holidays program to help prepare dogs for the stress of the holiday season and prevent dog bites. She is also the author of 90 Days to the Perfect Puppy which is available as an online course.