In it Together: Building a Happy Working Partnership
Updated: Jul 14
I love working with dogs and their people, and though I regularly do some hands-on training during my lessons, my primary job is to teach pet parents how to build a positive working partnership, and how to successfully train the dogs themselves. I'm there for such a short while each week, so it's important they feel empowered to continue with training when I'm not around to assist.
To build good behavior and cooperation, and to create a happy working partnership, here are some tips to keep in mind:
Notice when the dog is doing something you like, and reward him regularly for that good behavior. With consistency and repetition, the dog will begin offering those desired behaviors with greater frequency. And when the good behaviors grow, they crowd out the problem behaviors. The key ingredient here is that the pet parent must focus on their dog. Otherwise, they're missing out on precious, teachable moments.
When working with clients, it's common for their dog (even a young puppy) to quickly tune in to me and remain focused for lengthy periods of time. This is especially helpful when the pet parent and I need to discuss a variety of topics. The reason the dog is focusing on me is because I'm quietly and consistently treating him for continued polite behavior while the adults are yammering on!
It can be challenging for some folks to actually notice the good behaviors. It's so easy to see and react to problem behaviors -- they're often loud and upsetting and 'in your face' so to speak! Good behaviors can be calm and quiet, so pet parents need to train themselves to become good observers.
Here are a couple simple suggestions:
Notice and reward (with treats, attention, or play) when the dog is sitting or standing politely near you or a guest, rather than jumping or nipping or barking or getting into mischief.
Notice and reward when your dog quietly watches something interesting in the environment, rather than barking, lunging, or chasing.
Notice and reward when your dog chooses to lie down away from the table at dinner time.
Notice and reward (with attention and play) when your dog picks up an approved toy, rather than stealing a taboo item to get your attention.
Use reinforcers (rewards) that are meaningful to your dog. It's important to remember that the dog is the one who decides what is reinforcing, not us. We may love the idea of a dog who gladly does anything we ask for a bit of praise and a pat on the head, but it's the rare dog indeed who is sufficiently motivated by that.
Food is one of the easiest and most effective reinforcers for early training sessions. If you have a dog who's fussy, or one who becomes wildly distracted by certain things in the environment, you'll need to go the extra mile to track down the most irresistible treats for your dog. Here's an article I wrote on this topic.
Take the time to discover other ways to reinforce good behavior, too. Some dogs are crazy for certain toys, or playing tug, or having access to visit another person or dog, etc. Variety makes training fun and interesting.
Try to train at least a few minutes every day. Not only is it sensible to teach some practical skills that make living with your dog more pleasant, it's also a fantastic way to build a positive working relationship. He'll learn that good stuff consistently happens when he tunes in and responds to you!
Be sure to provide the right balance of exercise and mental stimulation for your dog each day. Please trust me when I say life is SO much easier when you meet this goal, whereas all kinds of irritating issues arise when a dog is bored and/or under-exercised. This often leads to frustration on both sides, which can then erode the relationship. Here's an article that addresses this topic.
Create games and activities where you're an essential part of the fun. If most of your dog's fun activities don't include you, you're missing out on an important relationship-building opportunity. Each dog is unique, so you need to discover activities he'll enjoy doing with you. Some possibilities:
Fetch or flirt pole play
Tug (with appropriate rules)
Meandering walks/hikes with plenty of time for your dog to sniff and explore
Hide and seek
Obstacle or agility course fun (homemade is fine, just make it safe)
Developing a happy working partnership doesn't have to be difficult or wildly time consuming. Just a few tweaks in your daily routine can make a real difference, and your furry friend will appreciate it. :-)
Virginia Dare is a certified dog trainer & behavior counselor with decades of experience. Her business offers live video consultations anywhere in the US for training and behavior help, along with pre- and post-arrival counseling for new puppy parents.
She also provides in-home, private lessons and behavior consultations in the northern areas of Fairfield and Westchester counties, western New Haven county, Putnam and southern Dutchess counties.
Please visit www.NorthStarCanines.com/services to learn more, or contact me at 804.784.0120