The promise of New Year is all bright and shiny… and while we are making New Year’s Resolutions for ourselves. Perhaps we would all be best served by finding simple things we can work on with our dogs that increases our quality of life as well as the dog’s quality of life. Their lives are comparably short… life moves along at lightning speed and before we know it another year has passed. Of course, there are some basics that serve most of us, so I thought I would outline a few here.
Take Stock: Dog's age relatively quickly. Taking stock of where your dog is today both behaviorally and physically is an important part of deciding how to proceed.
Is your dog more sensitive to sounds?
Is he getting worried about riding in the car?
Does she see as well (for example when a person is backlit is your dog barking more?)?
Is your dog cuddling more or less than he or she was previously?
Is your dog bolting through doors? How is the coming when called? Is your dog confident than before?
Set aside a little time:5 minutes 3 times per day. That’s right… all you need is 5 minutes 3 times per day and it will change your life with your dog. Use your interactions with your dog to do training. Your parents hopefully didn’t set aside an hour a day to parent you. Hopefully, your partner does just set aside an hour with you a day to connect with you. Hopefully, the humans in your world take the time to being mindful of their interactions and relationship with you. Do the same thing for your dog. Put down your phone for 5 minutes 3 times a day. You can work on “obedience” or you can play a game, teach a new trick, do enrichment or just quietly sit together and pay attention to one another. If need be, set an alarm.
Plan: When I was thinking about writing this article, I decided one way I can bless you is to come up with a list of things you might want to include and how to work on it. So here goes… of course, I am not the boss of you, you get to do what you want but I thought maybe some of you would like some guidance.
Winter: Using a leash and some high value treats, work on getting good door manners (an easy way to practice is with interior doors – it’s warmer and lets you graduate up to exterior doors. I even work on it as a crate release. I don’t tell dogs what to do at doorways. I just stand there and wait until the dog offers a polite behavior where the dog’s brain seems settled. If I start to jiggle the doorknob and the dog gets amped up, I just stop and wait again. 5 min 3 times a day and anytime you are going through a doorway.
Spring: Polite Leash Walking. Practice inside (if the weather is yucky) in a hall. Start with little or no distraction and work up to greater distraction. Great distraction work includes other people moving around, squeaker toys, bouncing balls, balloons, etc. Use treats as needed and set your dog up for success. Pick which side you want your dog to walk on. If the weather is pretty, add this to your doorway work. You’re going to be ready for springtime!
Summer: Sensitivities. Work on that thing your dog doesn’t enjoy or is resistant to… and example might be going to the vet, Fireworks or storms, riding in the car or getting groomed. Do some happy visits at the vet. You can even take the dog over when your vet is closed and walk around the building helping the dog to relax. Always begin with a relaxed dog, so this may mean that it all starts with just approaching the car and eating cookies. Take it slowly. Slow and steady win the race… not forging ahead. If you need help, let me know.
Fall: Firm up skills. If your dog is getting rusty about polite greetings or maybe he is not as willing to come when called as he was before, work on it. Just a few minutes each day will make things better with your dog. Practice allows the dog to more fully integrate their skills into life. An excellent way to do this is to ask for a behavior from your dog for anything that requires your thumbs. Examples include: getting their bowl, opening a crate or door, getting the leash put on or taken off. The behavior should vary…. Monday: Sit, Tuesday: Down, Wednesday: Paw, Thursday: Speak, Friday: Spin, Saturday: Touch, Sunday: Dead dog… remember to use food to help your dog if he’s rusty. This isn’t about being demanding it’s about working real-life rewards into real life work. Eventually, you won’t need the treats and the dog will view getting to chase the birds out of the yard as a reward for a great high five.
Finally, Enrichment. Once per month add an enrichment toy or activity. Maybe order a new interaction toy or teach your dog a new trick. Take a class or add at least one car ride (for a dog who enjoys it) to their week.
What kind of things would your dog like?
Would he enjoy learning how to play hide and go seek with his favorite toy?
Would he prefer to go for a swim?
Your dog enriches your life deeply. See if you can come up with some good ways to enrich hers!
Tina M. Spring
Tina M. Spring is the owner of Sit Happens Dog Training & Behavior, LLC in Athens, GA. She is the creator of the Hounds for the Holidays program to help prepare dogs for the stress of the holiday season and prevent dog bites. She is also the author of 90 Days to the Perfect Puppy which is available as an online course.