Hello inquisitive pet parents, and welcome to 2017! I can’t believe we’re starting a brand new year. Time flies when you’re having fun… especially when hanging out with inquisitive canines.
When you think New Year, what’s the first word that springs to mind? If you couldn’t help but jump to “resolutions,” you’re not alone. Because who among us – human or canine – doesn’t desire and deserve a fresh start?
The key to getting your year off in a pawsitive way is to come at your goals with a dog trainer’s perspective: changes in behavior come from acting in a consistent, rewards-based, loving manner, NOT from sporadic, negative, punishing action.
My goal is to motivate, make it fun, and set everyone up for success — humans and dogs alike. So my New Year challenge for you is to shift your attitude towards your dog, and along the way, you might find you can apply some of these strategies in other areas in your life that can use some positive (pawsitive?!) adjustments.
The starting point is to first consider what you’d like to change about your canine, because
even though most of us have our dogs on pedestals and often think they can do no wrong, there’s usually one (or two) things they do that we might find annoying. And then once you hone in on what you’d like to adjust, you have to decide what’s realistic… and what’s not.
For example, do you ever have these thoughts about your pooch: “Do you have to bark at everything?” “Is it really necessary to jump on people?” “Why do you constantly have to chase everything you see, smell, and hear?”
These dog-specific behaviors are common and considered normal for the species, so for most of us, we tend to look the other way when our pets act as expected. But when these behaviors are so pronounced that we find ourselves constantly losing our tempers with our dogs, then it’s time to make a change. Because if we don’t teach them what we want, the annoyance level is likely to escalate, making us more sensitive and shortening the fuse each time they repeat the unwanted actions.
The main downside of this cycle is when you are focused on the negative, you get tunnel vision about your dog and forget all of the wonderful things he does the rest of the time. You also may forget that sometimes you actually want, expect, and appreciate some of the specific behaviors (i.e. barking) that you think you want to eliminate completely.
Here are the steps to take when modifying canine behaviors:
1) Watch what you wish for: This may sound ominous, but it’s actually a literal piece of advice: observe the behaviors you think you want to eliminate in your pet so you can honestly access how you feel about them, and also realistically, what you want to do about them.
We need to remember that these “annoying” behaviors are often what we find cute, endearing and funny. And, it’s also these behaviors that make dogs, dogs! Recognizing these factors can help bring us back to reality.
Conversely, we may be living with behaviors that aren’t serving our pets or us, and it’s then on us to take decisive steps to improve the situation.
2) Make a list of realistic resolutions: Once you’ve taken some time to consider your dog’s normal behaviors, write them down divided into two categories: those that are wanted and those that are unwanted. For example:
- Wanted: Sit, down, stay, come when called, leave things alone when asked, go-to-your-place.
- Unwanted: excessive barking, jumping up on people (unless cued), pulling when on leash (unless cued), counter-surfing, chewing on forbidden items, digging around inappropriate areas, marking
For all the wanted behaviors, think about where and when you want your dog to perform these behaviors, for example, when sitting at doorways or to greet someone . Now’s the time to re-up your rewards game, and remember to say “thank you” when your animal makes good choices. Barking only once when the doorbell rings, keeping four-on-the-floor when meeting others, using appropriate greeting skills with fellow canines, walking nicely on leash , and eliminating in appropriate places are all worthy of acknowledgment and positive reinforcement. Give her a treat, a loud “GOOD GIRL!” and a snuggle when she is a model canine citizen.
As for the less desirable behaviors, let’s figure out if they are truly unwanted and need to end altogether, or if you need to teach your pooch when it’s okay – and when it’s not.
For instance, barking. When someone is at the door or too near you personally or on your property, it can be very helpful for your dog to call your attention to the intrusion. My dog Poncho, for example, liked to alert me to “stranger danger,” when I would be loading things into the car and was a bit distracted. In this case, I appreciated his vigilance and would say “Thank you” when he did his job. On the other hand, during the more annoying bark fests, I’d ask him to be quiet, and positively reinforce him for staying silent. If he continued, I asked him to perform a more acceptable behavior, including picking up a toy and holding it in his mouth.
Other examples for teaching alternate behaviors to help keep that positive attitude might include: four-on-the-floor instead of jumping, laying on a bed or mat in areas where there are counters loaded with enticing items, and providing appropriate chew items your dog finds motivating.
3) Cop an attitude of gratitude – when you’re pawsitive, your pooch will respond in kind: What it comes down to is catching your dog in the act of doing what you want, make sure you say thank you. Express your gratitude! This alone could be one resolution that you could easily achieve. The other benefit of it is that when you stay consistent with your positive behavior of reinforcing the positive behavior of your pooch, you are engaging in what TIME magazine calls a “prevention goal.” Prevention goals are all about duties and the things that keep you on track versus “promotion goals,” which are the big, lofty, aspirational goals that are easy to dream about but are much harder to achieve. Your refreshed, pawsitive attitude, clarity and consistency around those canine behaviors that enhance, not detract from, your household are resolutions that are much easier to keep, all year long.
From all of us here at IC HQ’s, we wish you and your inquisitive canine a happy, healthy, doggone great New Year!
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