Guidance and feedback are vitally important when raising a healthy and happy inquisitive canine. Not only for in-the-moment situations but for the purpose of teaching them to make good choices on their own in the future. With all of the information available on how to do this, we understand that at times the never-ending stream of advice can become overwhelming. How can we help with that? We’re glad you asked. Similar to those times we’re working with our dog training clients, we aim to keep it short, simple, doable, and purposeful. The following 8 tips are here to get you started.
1. Make sure you have your dog’s undivided attention.
For training sessions to be successful, dogs need to be aware and present! The world is filled with distractions, so if they’re off smelling a leaf, barking at a squirrel, pulling on leash to get to something, or full from breakfast and just want to take a nap, you’ll want to rethink your training plan and schedule it accordingly: Initially, when teaching a new behavior, arrange the training session in an area with fewer distractions. Instead of a bowl, use your dog’s meal for training so they’re more motivated to participate. Work on behaviors your dog is already skilled at, then make it more challenging once they’ve excelled at the easier level. In addition to having your dog’s undivided attention, pet parents also need to be aware and present! If we expect a certain engagement from our inquisitive canines, we need to show them the same respect.
2. Make sure you’re in the right mindset to train your dog.
If you’re having (or had) one of “those days,” and you’re just not in the mood to work with your dog, that’s ok! We’ve all been there. Reschedule the training session to a time you’re in the mood to work with your dog, so you both can enjoy the process. Otherwise, you both might just end up getting frustrated. Just remember to manage your dog’s environment to help prevent them from practicing behaviors you don’t want.
3. Provide reinforcement for good behavior!
You can never be thanked often enough – we all enjoy it. So do our dogs! Praise, petting, treats, social time, access to things they want can all be used to let your dog know you like what they’re doing and that you appreciate them! Oftentimes, dog guardians ask what to do about their dog barking all the time. I, in turn, ask: “How often do you reward and thank your dog for being quiet?” The look on their face usually says it all. “Uh, I guess not very often, if at all.” Start there. Reward behaviors you like and want, even when you never asked for them.
4. Ensure you’re not inadvertently reinforcing unwanted behaviors.
The dog barks; guardian looks at them and says, “No! Stop it. Quit barking.” The dog looks at their human, appears confused, then barks again. The cycle continues…and continues. What about the dog who jumps up on their guardian; guardian pets them or pushes them away; dog stops for a second or two, then does it again. Do you see the pattern? Attention is attention whether it’s saying something or engaging with them. If a behavior is continuing, it is getting reinforced somewhere, by something or someone. You, dear pet parent, just need to investigate: What is the reinforcer? Then decide how to continue from there.
5. Be consistent!
As an example, it can be confusing to dogs when sometimes it’s okay for them to jump up and greet people and other times it’s frowned upon. Yes, dogs can discriminate, figuring out who it’s okay to jump up on and who it’s not, but staying consistent can often send a much clearer message.
6. Allow your dog to “fail” without threatening their well-being.
If you are constantly giving directions, telling your dog what to do, when to do it, how to do it, then they will always rely on you for instructions. In the beginning, instructions and feedback from you is a good thing, so they learn to make good choices on their own. But, sometimes it’s good for them to make mistakes (as long as it’s safe), so they learn what not to do. Have you given them a food toy and they just can’t figure it out? Making it easy the first few times is helpful, so they don’t get too frustrated and walk away. But, making it a little more difficult now and again so they have to work a little harder can help build those much needed resiliency skills. And, even better, they learn to think for themselves instead of always relying on you to tell them what to do and/or how to do it.
What about removing the treat or putting the ball away if they’re jumping up on you? An example would be the removal of something they want. This is considered negative punishment, as you are trying to decrease one behavior — jumping up — by removing something they want. Your dog will soon learn that sitting or not making uninvited contact with you is what makes all the good things happen.
7. Encourage independence and self-confidence.
Dogs are social animals. Dogs are companion animals. Because they were bred to be, and get used to being around others, it’s important we take the time to teach them “Me time” so they become comfortable when having to spend time on their own. Using interactive food toys and hunting/seeking games, dog-specific sports and dog training classes, encouraging them to entertain themselves where it is safe, playing with other dogs, and practicing social skills with other people can help teach them to rely on their own ability to make good choices, instead of depending on you to do the thinking for them.
8. Be accepting and nurturing.
Humans aren’t perfect. Each human is unique in their own way. Our dogs should be viewed the same — perfectly imperfect and unique. This is what makes your own dog (or dogs) special to you, forming that unconditional loving relationship and bond that you share. This is why it’s best to accept your dog for who and what they are, instead of striving to create something you or society thinks they should be. It’s mentally healthy to take a step back. Focus on and appreciate all of the positive qualities your dog has, instead of taking that precious time you have together trying to battle personality traits that make them so special.