1) Teach your dog a release word.
Every time you ask your dog to SIT, have him hold it – butt on floor - until you issue his release word. Same thing for DOWNS, STANDS… I use a release word every time I ask my dogs to do something. Whatever cue I asked for means they are to remain in that cue until they are released. To add this to your routine, begin by releasing your dog from his SITS/DOWNS right away. If she gets up prematurely, simply put her back in the same position/location, and release her once she is settled. Ask for eye contact before issuing the release word.
Adding a release word to your day-to-day routines teaches several concepts: patience, manners, respect, focus and impulse control. Take this simple action, use it consistently, and watch your dog become calmer.
2) Feed on a schedule, even if you have one dog.
Benevolent leadership is largely about control of the resources, and if you are leaving food down all day long, you aren’t demonstrating any control over that resource. This can mess with your dog’s perception of the hierarchy of the household and can also contribute to behavioral problems in some dogs. On top of that, you diminish his food drive by minimizing food’s value – how would you feel about that delicious turkey dinner if it sat in plain sight day after day, week after week? Not so exciting now, is it? You can effectively create a picky dog by doing this.
Especially when involved in training programs, it is obviously helpful to have a food-motivated dog. Increase his food drive by scheduling his meals. Food bowl goes down. Ten minutes go by. Eaten or not, pick it up and put it away. Try again next meal time. Your dog will quickly begin eating on a schedule if you stick to your guns. This will also be a great way to give yourself an earlier heads up with potential medical issues. If all of a sudden Fido isn’t eating his usual meal, keep an eye out for other symptoms. A trip to the vet may be in order. You’d have no idea if he was skipping meals if the food sits out all the time.
3) Vary your routine commands.
There is a BIG difference between having a dog who is routine-trained and having a dog who is sharp on his cues. Routine-trained is when you have a dog who automatically sits for his breakfast, but doesn’t necessarily sit when cued at other times. Just because a dog performs a daily action in your routine does not mean he “knows” it. Change it up! Change up the locations where you usually ask for a certain cue, train in different parts of the house, train for it on your walks, in your yard, on the sidewalk.
Soon, you’ll have a dog who isn’t just routine-trained but understands that your cues mean the same thing regardless of where you are or what is going on. This kind of training takes time but is well worth the effort, and you will increase your dog’s attentiveness to you, as well as strengthen his focus and your bond. Be patient, and have fun getting creative!
4) Commit to a daily walk!
If you are not already in the habit of this, I promise you – commit yourself to a walk with the dog every day – even if it’s only for ten minutes to start! – and you will see a marked difference in your dog’s general response to you. From Bella’s perspective, the walk equals exercise, interesting sights & sounds, and most important of all, ADVENTURE! When you are the provider of this exciting stimuli, your dog will positively associate you with the event, and you’ll be surprised how much more attentive she’ll soon be.
If you are trying to socialize the dog to a certain member of the household – frequently, dogs have issues with large men with big voices – have this person (safely!) be the provider of the all-important walk, all of or half of the time. If the dog depends on this person for the ultimate in enjoyment, it tends to cultivate that bonded relationship much quicker!
5) Teach your dog not only to SIT for breakfast – but to PLACE for it!
Instead of asking your dog simply to sit for his daily meal(s), ask him to PLACE. (Dogs get adept at this cue very quickly when it has to do with chow time!) Take it a step further by moving his place around as he’s getting the concept. Don’t just leave the mat at the door or in the corner. Move it around and teach him to go to it before breakfast, no matter where it is! Re-locate the mat just a little bit at a time once he’s laid the foundation, and use a leash & treats as necessary to reinforce as you improve. Teaching your dog to target a specific spot when asked has huge benefits in your day-to-day life: you can PLACE him when company comes over & he needs to calm down; you can PLACE him when you and your family are sitting down to dinner; you can PLACE him at the campsite when you’re all around the fire together…
By giving your dog a safe place to target and chill out when asked, you are not only exhibiting control & leadership, you are keeping his mind attentive while providing access to relaxation. Many dogs get confused when the “place” is moved or you ask him to “place” on a new object. It is healthy for him to learn to work through confusion and potential frustration – usually when it comes to having to WAIT there! – and the same goes for YOU, handler! Never be afraid to take a few steps back in your foundation work – meaning, when the going gets tough in training, go back to an easier step! Re-solidify that piece, then move forward.
Hopefully, this article has given you some food for thought! I’d be happy to hear your tips & tricks as well, so please leave them in the comments. Seek out a qualified professional dog trainer for guidance in your individual situation. There are no quick-fixes (damn!) and there are no guarantees in the wide world of dogs! Tip the scales in your favor by following these 5 Simple Things You Can Do to Improve Your Dog’s Behavior, and catch what we at HEX affectionately call… the Dog Training Bug!
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