Our dogs bring us so much joy. Who else in this world wiggles when you open the front door after being gone for TWO. WHOLE. MINUTES? And, our beloved canines, remind us how important laughing and playing, walking through the forest preserves or snuggling on a chilly, wet, winter’s day are to our own replenishing needs, like no other being.
So, why, do we persist in making hefty withdrawals from our relationship and training bank without spending the time and energy making the appropriate deposits? Cues like “leave it”, “off”, “come” and simple attention are four of the biggest overused, under-trained words we see in the dog-human communication repository. “Come” could absolutely save your dog’s life one day. Why leave it to chance that your precious pooch will respond when he is racing towards the street, after your uncle accidentally left the door open? Here are two easy ways to make sure your fido fund does not go into overdraft mode.
Talk less. Remember the boy who cried wolf? Well, if you are thrumming “leave it, leave it, leave it” every two steps on your walk; your dog will learn to tune out the sound of your voice. Sometimes, folks do not even realize they are yammering on and on. If the only words your dog EVER turns her head to, are “treat” and “toy”; stop every block and assess what you are doing. If you are speaking to your dog ONLY when you think he is being naughty, chances are, he or she is learning to gain your attention by badly behaving. Or, those words that you continually utter, mean nothing because every time you say “leave it”, your dog is doing something different. Dogs learn by pairing the cue with the actual desired behavior. And, it is ridiculously unfair to expect our dogs to understand what “leave it” means when we shout it only during the following scenarios: he is lifting his leg on our neighbor’s flower bed; she is pulling on leash to get to her doggie best friend, as quickly as possible; or, he is enjoying a lack afternoon snack of your favorite pair of shoes.
If you were exhibiting any of the above behaviors and I just stood there, and said, “yamete” over and over again; without helping you actually stop what you are doing. Would you ever learn what “yamete” means?
Repeat after me, there is no such thing as “trained”. We call it training, and not pixie dust, for a reason. If you spend time, ANY time, working on cues with your dog; he or she is getting practice listening to you. And, don’t we all want our dogs to listen? So, once you complete a class or formal, private training sessions, keep up the momentum. And, not just on walks, when your dog is over-stimulated. Your dog’s reliability will get VERY rusty, VERY quickly if you do not sustain some sort of training practice for behaviors that are important to you; AND critical for your fur babe’s safety. Carve out five to ten minutes a day. And, practice behaviors your dog knows very well. Then, add a new behavior every one to three weeks. Or, refine more complex behaviors. Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise.
And, your stock will surely increase with a little less chatter and a tad more practice.