Megan’s Musings: Training Can and Should Be Fun

tWhat made you first want a dog? Was it the memories of a faithful companion that you could confide in as a child? Was it the vision of a loyal friend who was always at your side? Did you picture enjoying life together and having fun? I think it is safe to say that companionship is the reason why most people add a dog to the family these days.

So, how does this vision fit in when we decide we should train our dog? And what is training exactly? What are we looking for when we set out to train our dogs and why does it have to be so serious? At dogma, our training programs are designed with the vision of a faithful companion that is always by your side, one that you can take anywhere with you and both feel safe and happy. Our programs create ideal urbanK9s that are prepared for city life, confident and well-mannered. We accomplish this through educational, but fun, training classes.  Training can and should be enjoyable and today I am going to share some ways to make sure it always is for both you and your dog.

Think about teaching, not correcting We make our biggest mistake in training when we think of it as a disciplinary activity versus a time for teaching. As soon we begin thinking about it in the terms of teaching, we begin thinking about what we want to train the dog to do instead of just what we want them to stop. Punishment may stop a behaviour, but it does not teach the dog what to do instead. And when we just focus on stopping behaviour, it is frustrating and stressful for us both. Watch the body language and behaviour of both a person and dog when they are working on loose leash walking. An owner who is focused on correcting pulling on leash is tense and frustrated with their dog, and the dog will be showing signs of stress and avoidance behaviour. Not fun for either of them. An owner who is rewarding offered behaviour and teaching the dog what is expected of them is smiling and engaged with their dog, and the dog will have loose and happy body language and be focused on their handler. Frustration and stress should be a sign to stop the training, not to administer harsher punishments.

Reward the good stuff People tend to ignore their dog when they are behaving and provide attention when they making the wrong choices. A perfect example of this is if your dog has a problem with begging for food. We make dinner, set the table and begin to eat and our dog may stay on their bed the whole time. Then, they might get up while we are eating to come see what we have. At this point, we offer them attention by maybe yelling at them or cuing them to go back to their bed. We have given them attention after all that time of ignoring their good behaviour. Or even worse, once they go to their bed, we may reward them for doing so and all that does is teach the dog to get up for your attention to make the reward happen. Instead, reward your dog when they are behaving and staying on their bed and do it frequently to start. If you are consistent, your dog will learn how to behave to make the rewards happen. Rewarding good behaviour when it is happening is a powerful tool. It creates long-lasting and reliable behaviour and it is enjoyable and stress-free for you both!

Forget about dominance I am surprised that we even hear about dominance anymore as it has long been discredited. However, even when I first started training and heard the concept that dogs were being dominant when they jumped on you, played too hard, stole food, ran out the door ahead of us, pulled on leash and a variety of other behaviours, I questioned it. Each of these are clearly items that require training. It seemed like we were putting human attributes on dogs when we described these as dominant behaviours and the dog wanting to be leader. We wouldn’t enjoy our dogs and want them as pets if they thought like this, so it is time to put this one to rest and forget everything you’ve heard about dominance. Instead, think of what you want your dog to do instead and teach it to do so. This prevents you from perceiving your dog’s action as a way to take control over you, which only leads to frustration and stress for both of you. Think of each concern as something your dog has not been taught and focus on how to guide them. They will amaze you at how quickly they catch on when you take the right approach and teach them.

Get out in the world Our dog’s lives are short. Get them out and let them see the world. Refrain from taking them on the same walks every day. Let them explore new places and experience different environments. Many people struggle with over-excitement with their dogs. But, if you had to sit at home all day and only got out on the odd walk or around the same place every day, you would get pretty excited when you went new places as well. Try to look at things from your dog’s perspective and realize how limited their time with us is. By getting them out in the world, you begin to teach them what to expect, socialize them and spend the required time training them. Sure, at first it may be a bit challenging and they may be excited, but do not let that be a reason to give up. If you envision a dog that can share your life and go anywhere with you, you must take them out on more than just a walk around the neighbourhood. And you must spend time training. It is not hours upon hours you need to spend. It is easy to just work it into everyday life and make it a habit. My favourite memories with each of my dogs is taking them on trips and to new places. The joy they experience while they explore is one of my most cherished memories and it is a great way to proof their training. Don’t waste more time, get out with your dog.

Teach tricks At some point, people decided that obedience skills were serious and tricks were fun. When we train for obedience, we become upset when our dogs make mistakes and we frustrate easily. And when we train for tricks, we laugh at our dog’s mistakes and correct our training to ensure they are successful. Teach your dogs many tricks. And every time you feel frustration in obedience training, remember how you would handle it if it were a trick or practice some tricks to lighten the mood. Remember, to your dog, each of these are just a new skill. They do not see any difference, but only see how you behave differently in the training. Teach a variety of tricks to ensure you remember to have fun while you are training.

Play games Playing games is similar to why we would teach tricks. However, it can also provide excellent mental stimulation and a well-exercised dog is a well-behaved dog. And a well-behaved dog is a dog that we enjoy more. Games such as retrieve and tug can be excellent self-control exercises to help build patience. Games such as find it and hide-n-go seek are fun for both of you and a great way to enhance your bond. You will be impressed by how many games your dog can learn. Try dog sports such as agility or flyball as well. Get out just have fun together!

Cuddle more This may seem like a strange one to have for training, but handling is an integral part of our urbanK9 and Reactive urbanK9 programs. This goes back to the companionship we seek in dogs. And part of that is being able to snuggle, handle them and have people interact safely with them. People love to pet dogs and it does lower our blood pressure when we do so. Teach your dog to calmly accept and enjoy handling, help them to enjoy grooming and ensure they properly greet and interact with strangers. This is not only just a practical exercise that ensures that your dog and people are safe, it is an important part of your relationship together. Do more of it and watch how it benefits both of you.

Let them be a dog If you take only one thing from this post, do not create a robo-dog; a dog that must walk right at your side, cannot explore the world and must be still and under control 100% of the time. This is so unfair to dogs. It breaks my heart to see dogs that are trained for this. Be sure your dog is under control, have reliable obedience cues, are confident, well-socialized and well-mannered, but let them be a dog. This means letting them run in wide open places, getting to play freely with their friends, sniffing their surroundings and just exploring the world at their own pace at times. Owning a dog is now about showing the world what control you have over them. It’s about having a faithful and well-behaved companion that you can share your life with. Make sure it is a happy and stress-free life for both of you. Life is too short. Have some fun together.

How do you ensure you have fun in training with your dog? Share your thoughts/ideas in the comments below!