It’s that time of year: recovering from holidays, getting back to a ‘normal’ routine, and being reminded of the ol’ New Year’s resolutions ritual. And since January is also National Train Your Dog month, why not put the two together? After all, New Year’s resolutions remind us to pause and reflect, and think about how we want to modify our own behaviors — and that’s the first step in changing our dogs’ behaviors too!
12 New Year’s Resolutions for Inquisitive Pet Parents
The following are 12 examples of popular New Year’s resolutions. Why 12? To make it even easier and more doable — one for each month, instead of all at once. It’s not only about setting and achieving goals, but developing new habits, which takes time.
1. Focus on the pawsitive.
Spend time catching your dog in the act of doing what you want, even when you didn’t ask! It’s common to focus on the negative behaviors, and it certainly makes sense, so you know what you want to address. But, if it’s a more annoying behavior and one that isn’t going to harm someone or another animal, sometimes it makes more sense to accept your dog’s personality and put your training eggs in the “reinforce what you like” basket instead. Example: Reward your dog for being quiet when there is a distraction that would normally trigger her to bark.
2. Dump the labels.
“My dog is…. aggressive, dominant, jealous, lazy, stupid, eager to please.” These are examples of subjective labeling, which can be biased and unmeasurable. It’s human nature to anthropomorphize. But describing behaviors in objective, measurable terms will make it easier to develop a successful training plan. Example: Instead of, “My dog is aggressive when he’s on leash,” you can say, “When on leash, my dog pulls forward, growls and barks. His body stiffens and hackles are raised when we walk by unknown dogs who are on leash and 20’ or closer to us.” This description provides observable, measurable behaviors you can then address.
3. Go somewhere you’ve never been.
Try a new walking route; check out a local dog-friendly cafe, or maybe road-trip somewhere. Example: Walking your usual route in reverse can appear different and more interesting. Plus, it’s something that is already on your calendar and budget-friendly.
4. Clean up.
Dog toys and chew bones everywhere? How about going through all of your dog’s accumulated inventory and either store away, donate, or dispose of the excess. Keep a few items out so Fido has mental enrichment at his disposal (no pun intended). Pro Tip: Rotating toys is helpful so old items feel like new when you bring them back out again!
5. Practice a new skill.
Been wanting to teach Fluffy a new trick or behavior? It’s never too soon and dogs of all ages can benefit from learning something new. Maybe teaching known behaviors in a different language? It’s easier than you might think. Just signal the new cue first followed by the known cue, making sure they are delivered separately and that your dog already knows the behavior (action). When your dog performs the behavior, you reinforce with a treat. Repeat until your dog is “jumping the prompt” and offering the behavior after the new cue is given. Example: For French, you can say, “Assis,” then say “Sit,” then give a treat.
This one is usually top of the list for many people, so we just had to include it. If your dog is joining in, it can often make it a lot easier and convenient for us humans to achieve this goal. (Dogs can make great workout partners!) Add on a little distance or duration (two of the 3 D’s) to your usual outing. (As long as it’s medically safe for everyone!) If you’re into calisthenics, you can do one exercise while your dog does his or her own behavior exercise. Example: You do a push-up or sit-up, and your dog does a sit-stay, down-stay at the same time or you take turns.
7. Connect with a friend.
Making time to connect with others is sometimes challenging with busy schedules. But, if your friend(s) happen to also have a dog, and you both need to get your canine companion out for a walk, then making arrangements to meet up can be beneficial for all included — you and your friend and your dogs. (As long as the dogs are comfortable around other dogs and people.)
8. Read a new book.
There are many dog behavior and training books out there. Some that we recommend are, The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson, Canine Enrichment for the Real World by Allie Bender and Emily Strong, and Being a Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell.
9. Generously give compliments.
It’s common to forget to say “thank you” for the little things. Choose one act a day to be thankful for. Examples: Going potty outside (especially in inclement weather), sitting to greet you or someone else, being quiet around triggers.
10. Practice known skills.
As the saying goes, “practice makes perfect.” Choose one known behavior and practice in a new location. Or conversely, practice an advanced skill in a familiar place. You can manipulate the 3 D’s to make it easier or more challenging for your dog. This is the time when you’d use treats to get behavior momentum; then with time, as your dog becomes more proficient, you fade out the amount of treats while building duration (the amount of time he or she needs to hold the position). Example: sit or down-stay for 2 minutes.
11. Improve your cooking skills.
Are you wanting to enhance your own cooking skills or challenge yourself in the kitchen? In this case, how about making your own dog treats? Instead of tackling croissants or Beef Wellington, how about treats for your dog? Maybe some tuna fudge or dehydrating sweet potatoes?
12. Learn a new language.
Dog communication is a unique language unto itself. You’ve probably learned a lot about what your dog “says” by their various actions. Now it’s time to take a deeper dive in to their micro-behaviors, and pay attention to the subtleties of what he or she might be “saying.” Examples: Mouth closed or open when meeting new people? Eyes squinting and pulling away when being pat on the head? Body loose and relaxed when around other dogs or ignoring them altogether?
According to recent statistics, 41% of American’s make New Year’s resolutions; yet only 9% achieve them. Whether you are one who partakes in the resolution tradition or not, setting new goals for yourself can be beneficial… especially when you include your inquisitive canine! Who knows? Maybe this year, if we include our best fur friends (BFFs) in our resolution journeys, more than 9% of us will succeed?!
Here’s to staying inquisitive about exciting pawsibilities in 2023 and beyond!