Here are ten New Year’s resolutions for making life with our canine friends better than ever!
Resolution #1: No jumping on people who come to the door.
Often, the thing we love about our dogs is also the thing that gets us (and them) into the most trouble. Friendly dogs are always exceedingly happy to see their favorite people, and some are just as happy when they meet strangers. The problem is when they jump up, or even pounce on someone who arrives on the scene. From now on, be resolved to “redirect” the jumping up behavior into a “sit” instead. Be ready with a treat and tell the visitor/greeter to pet the dog only if he or she maintains a “sit” position.
Dogs need to be desensitized to the things that excite them the most. Keep tasty treats by the door and always be ready to deliver one when the dog does the right thing. If, after a while the dog actually sits on her own without being asked, it’s time for a jackpot or a small handful of little treats. After receiving a jackpot for a job well done, the dog is more apt to behave in a similar way the next time someone comes to the door.
Resolution #2: No begging for food.
This should be easy, right? No, in fact, it is not! It is extremely hard. I find myself making popcorn for myself and without thinking twice it becomes a game of tossing my dogs some as well. In doing so, I am teaching them to look at me when I eat and expect to be rewarded. It doesn’t help that the food I eat is often tastier than what dogs are used to enjoying. Remember, it is fine to give dogs human treats when training, but it is better not to feed dogs when you are eating. It teaches them to beg.
Resolution #3: Be consistent.
I’m sure it comes as no surprise that dogs, like children, need clear and consistent messages: up on the furniture or not, allowed in the kitchen or not, sit when the leash is put on, etc. One helpful hint is to have a family meeting at which you all agree on the “house rules” for acceptable behavior. Once you get general agreement from the family members on what is expected behaviorally, it will be easier to assert these rules with the dog, and to achieve consistent results.
Resolution #4: Training is a lifestyle—do it every day.
Set aside two to three minutes, two-to-three times a day for training. Even dogs that are well trained will regress without ongoing attention. With only a small amount of time and effort, you can encourage good behavior in your favorite canine. Pick a different skill each time you work with the dog and only reward him if he performs well. A random treat for performing well when distracted or excited, or a verbal praise when he behaves well unexpectedly will help your dog maintain his skills. Remember, the treat and praise put you in a position of power. You get to decide when and if a reward is warranted. Do not give these things out unless there is a good reason.
Resolution #5: No pulling on leash—use the right tools.
Retire the “extender” type of leashes (I call those “permission to pull”) and get a solid leather leash and a good front clip harness. Like any other discipline, training your dog will be SO much easier with the right tools. A leather leash has more power and will give you more control with less effort on your part. A well-designed front clip harness (I prefer the Sensation) properly fit and worn snugly will encourage the dog to walk alongside you without pulling. A well-trained “leash managed” dog will pay close attention to you and go where you go. If your dog is a chronic puller, try abruptly changing direction successively (“let’s go left, go right, turn around,” and so on). Before long, she will start paying more attention to you, give up much of the pulling and agree to walk nicely at your side.
Resolution #6: Take a walk with your dog.
Walking your dog is an extremely healthy activity, not only because it’s good exercise for both of you, but also because it gives you a chance to spend meaningful time together. During a structured walk you are actually giving your dog a job to do. His job is to pay attention to you, follow your lead, respond to commands and be a good companion for you during your outing. At least two healthy walks a day will help to reinforce behaviors you enjoy from your furry friend. This will also tire him out, satisfy his need for attention and exercise and keep him fit.
Resolution #7: Stick to a routine.
Dogs prefer a life that is predictable. They respond best when they understand the routine. Keep their feeding schedules the same, especially when training young puppies. It will be easier to potty train puppies when you always feed them, take them out and put them to bed at the same time every day. If you slip and take your dog off her routine, expect her behavior to slip as well. Stick to the routine as well as you are able and your dog’s behavior will benefit.
Resolution #8: Resolve chewing problems.
Many of my clients complain about their dogs chewing on all the wrong things like shoes, computer cords and plugs, expensive furniture and rugs. First of all, let’s remember to pick up and put away things that we value that may also put our dog in the emergency vet clinic. In the mind of a dog, if something is lying around, it’s a chew toy. It’s best not to ask for trouble. Then, make sure your dog gets a good chew every day on something that belongs in his mouth like a healthy bully stick or a beef marrowbone that I like to freeze raw and give to the dog straight from the freezer. If something that belongs to you finds its way into your dog’s mouth, don’t get angry. Instead, just replace it with something that belongs there.
Resolution #9: Stop saying “No.”
The word “no” has probably been used so much in your dog’s short life, without consequences, that I’ll bet the word has very little if any meaning at all. It’s better to replace that word with a sound and a facial expression to match. Dogs are visual learners, and understand facial expressions and body language more than they do verbal language. A good “uh-uh” with a grimace will get you a great deal more than the word “no” used over and over to no effect.
Resolution #10: Get your dog’s attention.
Play games with the dog that help her to focus on you. Hold a treat in front of your nose. The second the dog looks into your eyes make a sound (I like a beep) that means, “You’re going to get a treat.” Hold her attention for three seconds and then deliver the treat. Once the dog understands that the sound means “treat” you will be able to keep her attention for longer periods of time. Dogs love this game and it helps to have a dog with extended attention and focus.
Dogs don’t make New Year’s resolutions…they don’t have to. Without trying they make our lives so much better. They make us laugh and smile every day. They are always happy to see us and greet us each time with a wag, a wiggle and a lick. It’s up to you to be resolved. Make a promise to integrate training into your dog’s daily life. By doing so, you will find yourself having more fun with your dog and enjoying improved behavior as well in the New Year and beyond.
Start the new year with tails wagging!
Deborah Rosen is a certified dog trainer and behavior consultant in Western Washington. For more information visit goodcitizendog.com.