Here at the Inquisitive Canine when we think “Back to School,” we think about four-legged students eagerly and happily learning new skills. Are you preparing for Puppy Pre-School or some DIY homeschooling with your Inquisitive Canine? Wondering what school supplies you’ll need? As both a certified professional dog trainer and dog mom, I have found the following items to be very useful when training dogs — my own included. Allow me to list and explain:
The All-Important Lunch Box
In this case, it’s a treat pouch that helps keep training fun, effective, and convenient. Consider investing in something reusable that lasts a long time and is handy for accessing snacks and supplies easily. My favorite, and the brand I’ve been using since before I was a professional trainer, is from the Doggone Good Clicker Company. Of course, baggies and plastic containers are usually lying around the house, and they work fine too in a pinch.
Speaking of snacks, think yummy, but nutritious treats. Remember, using positive reinforcement involves rewarding dogs’ behaviors with something they find valuable and well, rewarding. In trainer speak, food is considered a primary reinforcer (something your dog innately loves already). So why not use that to your advantage? Experiment with:
- Small pieces of vegetables, such as carrots
- Bite-sized pieces of lean meats
- Freeze-dried veggies, such as broccoli and potato sticks
- Whole foods off the ingredient list of your dog’s food
- Small pieces of lean cooked meats, poultry, or fish
For best results, mix it up and try different things. You might be very surprised to discover what your inquisitive canine considers scrumptious. Reward-based training keeps learning engaging for you and your pet. So have fun and carry treats! (Note: When starting out, it’s a good idea to check with your veterinarian, especially regarding the number of calories your dog should have in a day. You can then divide training treats, snacks and meals accordingly to help your pup maintain a healthy body condition.)
Fashion Forward Outfit
Next up – exercise gear. As with all students, physical activity each day is just as important as good nutrition. When it comes to walking equipment, we want dogs to be comfortable and safe, so a no-pull harness is my go-to recommendation for outdoor adventures. Harnesses allow the leash to be attached to the body, diffusing pressure. Conversely, attaching the leash to a collar risks intensifying pressure around your dog’s delicate neck structures, which is what you want to avoid. The Happy Harness, available from our sister site, TransPaw Gear is not only stylish and comfortable, but also escape-proof, easy to fit, easy to clean and water friendly.
Games for Recess
Think enrichment toys here. Dogs, by nature, are scavengers, predators, omnivores, and problem solvers. If we don’t give them things to do to channel this energy and curiosity, they will, in all likelihood create their own “entertainment” (sound familiar?). Plan ahead by providing better outlets for them. Have you tried interactive food toys? Instead of using a boring, old bowl for your dog’s entire meal, you can place some (or all) of your dog’s daily kibble in these toys. Encourage dogs to play with their food?? Yes! Absolutely!
A Safe Space
Now that you have snack time and play time covered, what about nap time? Dogs should have choices about where and when to relax and unwind from a busy day or take a cat nap between various activities. Whether training and caring for a new puppy, or providing a safe, sacred space for an adult dog, crates can be great options. For instance, a brief stay at the vet’s or groomer’s may require some time spent caged or kenneled. That can be stressful if your pet isn’t familiar with this skill yet. And think about fun activities too. When participating in dog sports, such as agility or K9 Nose Work®, dogs often need to be crated while waiting for their turns on the course. For that matter, crates are even good for safe transportation to and from the vet, the groomer, dog sports or any other adventures. So, even if you choose not to use one regularly, learning to relax in crate is a valuable skill for your dog.
Blankie From Home
Lastly, think cozy. You can use a dog bed, a nice beach towel or a bath rug with nonskid backing. Choose something comfy, easy to transport and easy to clean. Your force-free trainer can guide you through the steps to teach your pup to sit or lie down on a target using a cue such as “Go to your place.” This is referred to as a targeting exercise, where dogs learn to “target” (place) a body part -or even their whole bodies- on an object. Since dogs can learn to offer this behavior in a variety of places and/or situations, it’s great for when you’d like your friend to settle. Whether you’re hanging out at home or away – picture outdoor dining – your pup has learned a handy skill and you look like a genius! Let’s hear it for the teacher’s pet!
Like everything else, back to school shopping may look a little (or a lot) different this fall. Just remember, when it comes to our inquisitive canines we already have everything we really need – the desire to both teach and learn and a relationship based on mutual love. The rest is just gravy!