Christmas is around the corner and the New Year is quickly approaching. You might be thinking about some new year’s resolutions to start off 2019. Here are a few ideas for happier dogs.
Your dogs will be happy if you start implementing these New Year’s resolutions immediately!
Implement some passive training. What is passive training you ask? Passive training is happening all the time — 24/7 with your dog. Often, it is unintentional, but we are reinforcing precisely or exactly what we don’t want. Passive training — with intention — is rewarding your dog for behaviors you like — only it’s your dog’s idea to show them. You can set it up where your dog naturally performs the behavior or catch it when it spontaneously occurs.For instance, there are times when your dog comes to you outside — without being asked, or leans in against you for attention without pawing at you, or looks at you on a walk without you making a sound or requesting him to. Reward your dog for showing these behaviors. Reinforcement is whatever your dog wants at the moment or likes. Looking at your dog, having the leash put on and door opened for him, being petted, throwing toys for him to catch, and playing tug of war with him can all be examples of reinforcers. It doesn’t have to be just food!
If you’re not noticing behaviors you like, you might be too fixated on the ones you don’t want.
Get a toy bin — a large, shallow plastic box works well or a large shallow basket (yes, your dog might chew the basket). Fill it up with a variety toys, include soft ones, and rotate and vary toys regularly to keep them interesting. Your dog should have free access to the bin to pick and choose toys at will. Play with your dog with toys from the bin when he gets mouthy or wants to engage you, when you come home from work, when he comes in from a walk, or if he seems restless. Fawn all over your dog whenever he gets toys from the bin. When you are done playing with him or when he is done playing with toys, place the toys back in the bin. Your dog will want to take the toys out of the bin again. This keeps the play and toys interesting and exciting.
If your dog is over-crated — all day while you are at work, and even again, at night — you might want to start a New Year by weaning your dog off the crate. Dogs who are over-crated tend to be reactive, jumpy, difficult to settle, may counter-surf, bark, and pull a lot. If a dog is fearful of confinement and being left alone, a crate can worsen these anxieties. Wean off the crate and/or simply offer it to your dog as a choice. Over time, your dog will most likely be more relaxed and responsive to you.
Add variety to your dog’s diet. Dogs can eat most foods other than grapes, raisins, onions, chocolate, and macadamia nuts. If you are having difficulty with training, especially with getting behaviors from your dog in various contexts and settings, try changing the reinforcements or treats. Think ‘higher valued goodies for more challenging tasks.’ If your dog will lie down or come to you in the living room for a toy or carrot, there’s no reason to give him cheese. But, if you are asking him to lie down near distractions or to come to you in the dog park or when guests or doggy pals are over, you will have to up your reinforcer.
© 2018 Alana Stevenson.