Today, I'd like to talk about three ingredients that are essential to success as we train our dogs and share our lives with them.
The first ingredient, which is an integral part of my job as a trainer, is to help my clients teach their dog useful behaviors and polite manners. When we proactively teach behaviors we desire using positive reinforcement techniques, we're setting the dog up for success in our human world, and preventing bad habits from developing.
When I speak of desirable behaviors vs bad habits, that's solely from a human point of view. Looking out a window and barking at passersby may be objectionable to us, but immensely satisfying to the dog. If we don't want it to happen, we can simply use management to prevent the issue, like closing a curtain or installing opaque window film. If we want to tackle the issue from a training perspective, we can teach and reinforce him for observing passersby quietly. Providing alternative activities (e.g. food puzzles and exercise) to enrich his day will also reduce boredom-based barking.
And that leads us to our second ingredient for success -- finding acceptable outlets for their natural doggie urges so they can enjoy a satisfying and enriched life. With a bit of creative thinking, we can meet the dog's needs without their behavior being frustrating or upsetting to us. For example, while I may not want my dog to dig up my carefully-tended gardens, I could create a doggie sandbox and motivate him to dig there instead. And while I don't want my dog hunting for wildlife, I can create other fun outlets like flirt pole play and animal-scent tracking games. (You can read more on this topic here.)
The third ingredient for success is about using smart management strategies to prevent the rehearsal of undesired behaviors. This can be a quick solution to an annoying problem, like the curtain idea mentioned above to prevent barking at passersby. Sometimes a client will choose management as the sole 'solution,' rather than training to prevent issues, and there's no shame in that. But whether you choose management only, or you wish to ultimately train more acceptable behaviors, the management piece is critical at first so that the dog doesn't continue to rehearse the unwanted behavior. Repeated rehearsal only strengthens the habit, thus making training more difficult down the road.
Here's an example:
Just this week, a client mentioned how her 6-month old puppy had difficulty behaving politely when visiting someone else's house. The pup was very excited and did a lot of unwanted jumping on people and furniture. Until further training in good manners has been completed, it's vital to manage a puppy in a situation like this to prevent rehearsal of unwanted behaviors. Some advice I share in situations like this include:
Exercise pup before the visit, to burn off excess energy.
Keep her on leash inside the new home to manage her options.
Ask other folks to ignore puppy at first, until her excitement level comes down.
Reinforce her with treats frequently for displaying calm behavior near pet parent.
Use a stuffed Toppl or Kong to help her settle at owner's feet.
By following the guidelines above, you'll be well on your way to having a dog who is a pleasure to live with. :-)
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