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Top Five Training Tips for the Dog Days of Summer

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Before you and your inquisitive canine head out to the beach, hit the trails or visit friends this summer, take a minute to check out some of our dog training pro tips. Our love-of-dog training approach will help you keep your dog safe while having tons of fun-in-the-sun this summer!

Basil Enjoying Her Summer – and New Enrichment Toy

TIP #1: Use Positive Reinforcement to Strengthen Behaviors You Like and Want 

Did you know that dogs learn the same way humans (and other living beings) learn – through the formation of conditioned responses and consequences of their actions? That’s why we teach dog guardians to use techniques that help their dogs form positive conditioned responses and as well as use positive reinforcement to strengthen behaviors pet parents like and want. That all might sound a little complicated, but it’s just trainer lingo for teaching your pet to enjoy offering certain behaviors. 

Let’s look at some specific examples. Say your summertime plans will involve swimming, hiking and boating with your inquisitive canine. Sounds great! Now, aside from the activities themselves, what will be involved for your dog? Getting toweled off after a dip in the pool? Being checked over for ticks, other critters or foxtails after a wilderness hike? Wearing a life vest on a boat or in a pool? Well, guess what? Here’s the good news. You can teach your dog to not only tolerate, but actually like all of the above with reward-based training and by creating happy associations with each of those skills. 

For instance, feed morsels of Fido’s meal when drying him off after a swim or a bath: a few playful pats and swipes with the towel, then a few snackies. Repeat until he’s dried off. Keep in mind that the toweling comes before the treats each time. This sequence will help create a positive conditioned response. Fido will say to himself, “Wow! Every time that piece of cloth touches my body, I get a party!”

Everybody wins! You and your canine pal harness summertime fun together – and a drenched Fido doesn’t use your couch or rug to dry off when you bring him inside afterwards. Just remember to keep up the enthusiasm, patience, praise and love as you gradually introduce your pup to new experiences, gear or cues. Also keep the lines of communication open by watching your inquisitive canine’s body language for any signs or signals that it might be best to slow things down or take a break.

TIP #2: Plan Ahead and Then Practice

Life is about dress rehearsals. The moment you need your dog to respond to an emergency recall cue is obviously not the time to first start training this skill! That would be like teaching a fire drill during a fire! It’s much less stressful for all involved to prepare ahead of time.

Let’s take another example – teaching dogs swimming and water safety. Not everybody realizes that it’s actually more important to teach dogs how to get out of water (in case they accidentally fall in) than it is to teach them how to get into water! So, before you’re out and about adventuring with your pup, think about the skills that will be needed, plan ahead and practice, practice, practice! 

A note on safety. If you’d like to take your dog swimming, clear it with your veterinarian first and make sure that this fun-in-the-sun activity is age appropriate and breed appropriate for your dog. And of course, always supervise your pets around water.

TIP #3: Teach Dogs What You Want Them *TO* Do

Take the time to teach dogs what you want! You’ve probably heard us say (many times), “Dogs understand safe and dangerous, not right and wrong.” So, until dogs know what the ‘right’ (desirable to you) choice is, they will continue to just do whatever works in their own best interest. To expect them to grasp complex ethical concepts, is simply unfair to dogs – and honestly a little silly on our part.

Again, let’s take a timely, real-world example – BBQs and grilling with family and friends. In order to keep your inquisitive canines safe, you’ll want to train them to stay away while food is being prepared, avoid jumping on a hot grill and ignore temptations such as BBQ morsels and drippings. That is an extremely tall order for any dog! The key here is a heaping helping of praise with a side of environmental management (see Tip #4 below). Animals repeat behaviors that are reinforced. So, remember Tip #1 above and make a habit of rewarding Fido for behaviors you like and want. 

Say you see your dog walk by a plate of hotdogs (or other ‘forbidden item’) and he decides to stay away from it! Awesome!! Whether you’ve asked him to stay away or not, generously say “Great Job” with anything he finds motivating – an extra special treat, belly rubs or super fun playtime. Think about what your pup finds most reinforcing to take advantage of this teachable moment. 

Annie Playing in the Yard – Enjoying the Planter Bed

TIP #4: Set Yourself and Your Inquisitive Canine Up for Success

Dog parents can manage their dogs’ environments to prevent their canine sidekicks from performing unwanted behaviors. Planning ahead will set your pooch up for success and forgo frustrating, and even dangerous, situations. When possible, arrange your dog’s environment for optimal safety and keep a close eye on your pet. Keep in mind, sometimes the kindest, safest option might be making other arrangements for your pal.

For instance, before you bring your pup to a friend’s house, make sure he or she is invited! If not, consider your options. Hiring a pet sitter or dog walker? Doggy day care? Boarding? Whatever you decide, please be sure to vet the people and place first to make sure they use training and management techniques that are in line with your values.

TIP #5:  The Inquisitive Canine’s Doggy Blog Has More Top Tips!

  • New Puppy? Remember These Pro Tips! – If you just acquired a new puppy during the summer, remember puppies don’t know it’s “wrong” to chew your furniture. All they know is that you are not home and they are bored and teething. Follow these tips to start off on the right paw together.
  • Dog Safety and the Fourth of July – Fireworks and loud noises don’t stop on July Fourth. You can use the same training and management (including counterconditioning, desensitization and veterinary prescriptions when indicated) for thunderstorms as you would for fireworks. 

Thanks for being an inquisitive dog guardian. We hope you and your canine unleash many adventures together this summer!  

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