By Sandy Modell
Alexandria, VA – As we head into September, the rituals of summer life start to fade away. Summer holidays and vacations become memories. Kids and college students return to the classrooms. Although the humans in the household adapt quickly, our canine companions tend to find these changes stressful.
Dogs are rarely change agents. They do better with consistency and structure. Not the old-fashioned dominance theory structure, just knowing how to navigate successfully in our human-centric world. When a dog’s routine changes or we forget to set them up for success, behavior can be affected negatively. Training can be a great way to instill routines and consistency in your dog’s life. Here are a few tips to help you and your pup get back on the training wagon!
Easier to Reinforce than to Correct
Just like kids in school, dogs should be rewarded and praised when they do a good job. Food is the biggest motivator for dogs and the best way to reinforce new behaviors, especially when teaching them new skills. We can also use other reinforcers such as balls, toys, and even belly rubs. Remember that the reinforcer must be reinforcing to your dog. For example, coming when called is one of the most challenging behaviors to train. Not because your dog is being stubborn or disobedient, there are just so many exciting things in their environment. We have a hard time competing with all those exciting distractions. When you start training a new behavior, reinforce, reinforce, reinforce with high-value rewards! You want to build a reinforcement history in your dog’s brain for the behaviors that you want.
Training will be successful if we give it our full attention and effort. It may take many times to get it right and reliable. Some behaviors are easier to teach than others. Have you ever accomplished a complex task and rewarded yourself with a gallon of custard from the Dairy Godmother? Well, the same concept applies to training your dog! The more you practice and reward good behaviors, the more your dog will successfully make the right behavior choices. Training doesn’t have to be arduous, but it is a lifelong journey. Dogs are party animals and would rather spend their time jumping, digging, and barking than trying to master walking nicely on a leash. You can integrate training into your everyday life with short training sessions and by rewarding calm behavior whenever you are with your dog. Repetition helps our dogs learn and remember what we teach them. And, you won’t have to keep telling them what to do all the time. So, remember to give your dog lots of opportunities to earn their reinforcements.
Learning should be fun for both you and your dog. In a school setting, recess is used to break up the monotony of the day. The kids get some fresh air and play their favorite games. Apply the same concept to training your dog. Take a break and play fetch or tug to release some energy. This gives both of you a chance to let loose and have fun. Play has been shown to help build connection and focus and incentivize the training process. Use their toys, balls, and tugs as training opportunities and rewards. Your dog will be more motivated to learn if you incorporate play along with training.
Attendance is Mandatory
Be sure to change the environment and the rewards, so things don’t get boring. Practice inside and outside your home to increase reliability. The more distracting the environment, the more difficult it can be to keep your dog’s attention and focus on you. Start with low distractions and work up to higher distractions.
Dogs need to learn basic manners and life skills, such as optimism, engagement, flexibility, and more. Together they will produce a well-adjusted and well-mannered dog. Training builds a positive lifetime relationship with your dog.
Time to Get Started!
Even if you’ve put off training, once you get started, you will see changes in your dog’s behavior pretty quickly. It’s science! All living things will repeat rewarding behaviors.
At Wholistic Hound Academy, our professional, experienced, and certified trainers are ready to help you and your dog live a better life together. We look forward to seeing you and your canine scholar soon!
Sandy Modell, CPDT-KA, is the Founder, Owner, and Head Trainer of Wholistic Hound Academy, Alexandria’s award-winning, premier canine training and learning center — offering classes and private lessons in puppy training, adult dog manners, behavior modification, agility, dog sports, and canine fitness and conditioning, kids and dogs, pre-pet planning and pet selection. Classes are starting soon! Visit www.wholistichound.com to enroll in our programs, and like us on Facebook.com/wholistichound and follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/wholistichound.