Long holiday weekends. Summertime. Finally! After a very long and trying year, people- and their pets- are more than ready for some outdoor adventures, including heading out to the beach, hitting the trails, and best of all, visiting friends. Before lacing up those shoes and leashing up your dog, we think this is a perfect opportunity to share some helpful and fun tips to ensure that you and your BFF (Best Fur Friend) are prepared to take on all this season has to offer.
Let’s think about the specific behaviors your inquisitive canine is most likely to need no matter where you go, and explore some training tips that apply to those skills:
Loose Leash Walking
Walking your dog should be fun, safe and enjoyable for you both. Loose leash walking (LLW) is a skill that means your dog is calmly walking near you on leash while still being allowed to explore, sniff and enjoy the outdoors, without pulling (unless you’ve put it on cue and are using it as a reinforcer), tugging or lunging.
- Pro Tip: The leash is used as a safety line, not for controlling your dog. Try not to pull or tug at your dog.
- Walk a mile in his paws. It’s a lot to ask your inquisitive canine to consistently maintain self-control around exciting and/or unfamiliar things while out for a stroll. So, it helps to introduce distractions very gradually. First, practice inside your home before unleashing adventures out in the real world.
- Once your dog understands the concept of LLW in a low-distraction environment, start to generalize the behaviors, so you can take your skills on the road, or better yet, a sidewalk!
- If your dog knows a “watch me” cue (making eye contact with you), you can say it intermittently when walking. Teaching your pup to check in with you while out and about is a good reminder that you’re out together and a nice way to strengthen your bond.
- If you and your canine buddy are struggling with leash manners, it’s helpful to think about why your dog might be pulling. Is Fido frustrated, frightened, anxious, experiencing overarousal or releasing pent-up energy? Is Fido getting enough mental and physical exercise between walks? Do your best to address any underlying issues beforehand, to help make outings more enjoyable for you both.
- Keep up the treats, petting, and praise for polite walking on a slack leash to get the most enjoyment and connection out of your walks together. It often helps to reward more frequently in the early stages of training. Frequent rewards motivate your dog to stay interested, as opposed to wandering to the end of the leash, looking for something else to do.
- Dogs who pull often do great with a dog harness that allows the leash to be clipped to the front. Avoid using equipment such as choke, prong, or electronic collars as these use pain and punishment to decrease behaviors, but do not tell the dog what you want them to do. Plus, the techniques they employ can result in increased fear and behavioral problems.
Keep in mind that the average dog walks at a pace much faster than our own. Knowing this can help us understand that our dogs do a great deal to accommodate us humans! The least we can do is repay them with enthusiasm, praise, love, and many wonderful walking adventures together.
Come When Called (or Recall)
By following a few recall guidelines, performing some (okay, lots and lots of) practice sessions, and supplying a side order of environmental management, you’re sure to encourage your dog to “take your call,” making outdoor adventures a walk in the park!
- Pro tip: Take a moment to look at things from your inquisitive canine’s point of view. Or, as we like to say, “Paws and reflect.” When you call your pup to you, especially in a stimulating outdoor environment filled with all sorts of smells and possible new friendships, you’re asking him to stop what he’s doing and leave the amusement park; fun time is finished. He’s looking at it like a punishment. So, practice calling him to you periodically while out and about and then releasing him back to resume the fun (a pawsome real-life reward!), as opposed to waiting until you need to leave to ask your pup to come to you. This way, he’ll associate running to you as being tons-o-fun, as opposed to playtime being over.
- In training with your dog, like comedy, timing is truly everything. When you’d like your dog to respond, call him only if you’re willing to bet one hundred bucks he’ll listen, and give the cue once. Calling repeatedly only teaches him that it’s okay to ignore you the first few times. Calling him when you know that he’s not going to listen is a recipe for frustration.
- When you do call him, entice him to you by offering a much more attractive alternative to what he’s doing. Make your body language and tone of voice joyful and enthusiastic. Be the life of the party! Send the message that he’s the most wonderful pup in the whole world and that you’re his number one cheerleader! Even if you want to scream and cry. (We’re human; it happens.) But, dig deep and stick with the cute little nicknames and happy voice so your dog loves coming to you. Set the stage so that he’s likely to want to come to you no matter what and never has any reason to fear his return to you.
- Food is a powerful motivator. Carry some extra special yummy morsels that he gets only when you’re practicing recall exercises. Novelty is key, so vary what you offer to help keep him interested. In addition to food rewards, petting, praise, and playing games that he finds entertaining can all help motivate him to stop what he’s doing and return to you. These exercises help expend his energy while enhancing the bond you share. A win-win!
- Exploring and scavenging are normal behaviors for dogs, some more than others. If yours is the adventuresome type, it’s of the utmost importance that he enjoys learning the special skills you want him to have in order to make outings more fun – for both of you.
Remember, you could be competing against “Doggy Disneyland.” To make yourself more appealing than the “happiest place on earth,” you’ll need more than a sunny disposition. You’ll also need to offer rewards that are more enticing than the smells, things to dig up, chew on, and/or eat that your dog is finding on his own.
Leave Things Alone When Asked
Think summer BBQs…meat morsels and drippings, wonderful smells, gathering around the open fire. Although it’s what drew the domestic dogs’ prehistoric ancestors to us in the first place, with practice, management and awesome rewards, your inquisitive canine can learn to “Leave It” when asked, keeping him – and your delicious meal- safe.
- Pro Tip: Set yourself and your dog up for success. While a strong mastery of the Leave It cue can be a literal lifesaver, a focus on prevention and managing the environment are essential first steps. When possible, arrange your dog’s environment for optimal safety and keep a close eye on your pet. Keep in mind, the kindest, safest option might be making other arrangements for your pal, such as doggy daycare or a puppy playdate.
- Make a habit of rewarding Fido for ignoring “forbidden items.” Say your dog walks by the BBQ and decides to stay away. You’ve got a very clever inquisitive canine! Whether you’ve asked him to stay away or not, say “thank you” with anything he finds motivating, such as a special treat or some engaging playtime.
It’s important to practice certain cued behaviors like Leave It and Recall over and over (and over) to the point where your dog responds without thinking. This conditioning involves lots of dress rehearsals, phenomenal rewards and a steadfast devotion to having fun! The more fun you both have together, the more you’ll be motivated to practice, right? So, remember a heaping helping of praise, petting, fetch and/or treats as soon as pup reverses direction from the BBQ or anything else he shouldn’t be getting into or going after, including critters and things with wheels!
Perhaps you have sensed a theme here. At the end of the day, it comes down to the approach. A love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior and implementing proven, humane, force-free, simple, user-friendly techniques that reward both guardian and inquisitive canine. Remember to combine training basics with an emphasis on rewarding any and all behaviors you want to see repeated. Why is that? According to the Laws of Learning, animals repeat behaviors they are reinforced for! Be creative in thinking about how to make training into a game and how to be the best motivator for your best friend. If you are being pawsitive, inquisitive, and enjoying time with you pup, you’re on the right track towards having fun-in-the-sun this summer!