This week, I was in a session with a lovely couple and their adorable puppy who’s wiggle-jiggle, butt-smacking wag matches her endearing personality. The husband asked me to review the chew toy exercise I showed them during our last appointment because they had not done much work with it. Gasp! Actually…I didn’t gasp because mom and dad had a few other behaviors that were much more important to them and their puppy’s development. And, guess what? Because sweet wiggle-worm’s parents REALLY focused on the most important behaviors with their puppy; we were able to briefly review some tweaks to those exercises to further their improvement then quickly move along to focus on chew toy training and leash walking.
Sometimes when we bring home a new puppy or decide it’s time to FINALLY train our 3-year-old bouncing, barking, lunging fur-baby; we can throw or “try” 18 new things on our pooches and do them poorly, haphazardly. At best, it confuses our dog and frustrates us; and, at worst, bad training and/or horrible timing can actually cause a dog’s behavior to more rapidly decline. I truly believe none of our readers want that for their beloved dogs. Here’s a few tidbits to make sure you get with and stick to dog training, without bombarding your favorite furry friend.
Keep it simple. If you are struggling with mild leash reactivity or separation issues; behaviors that we know we need to very quickly improve for our pooches’ well-being and safety. I often see folks buy compression shirts, harnesses, music, medication, herbs, new leashes and different treats all on the same day. While I understand the immediacy of wanting to help an anxious dog not be miserable alone and sometimes extreme behaviors require multiple simultaneous solutions; if we toss a plethora of solutions at the problem, how do we know which one actually worked? Start with better treats on walks or when alone. Even the most serious behavior problems I see in a first session that clients have been previously attempting to modify with biscuits or the same treats the pup has eaten for years, do better with amazing treats. Try a new treat first, THEN if progress is not quick enough, combine with another tool.
Stop “trying”, do it! Our dogs know when we really are not in the game with them. And, when our mental focus is on “trying” to help our dogs succeed, we are definitely not on their team. If we know our dog is TERRIFIED of people, our job is not to TRY to keep people away from coming at our pooch like Godzilla. Our role while strolling along with our canine best bud is to reward for any person coming at our pup so he learns that people are not so scary. And, to silently repeat to ourselves over and over “if someone looks like they might be coming at my dog, I need to be prepared” so we are ready when it happens.
Less blah blah blah. I am frequently asked “what’s the command for that?” Unfortunately, the more we chatter to our dogs, especially when dealing with very troublesome behaviors, the less our words mean. Rather than putting a label that means absolutely nothing to our dog who pulls, let’s just say “yes” and reward when our dog stops. If we spend all our time rewarding pull, walk back to my side; we actually reward the series of behaviors but, we have to start at step one. And, that first stage is reward for the right choice. Once our pup gets the game, then only reward for not pulling at all, simple “yes” when our pooch stops pulling.
On Gavin’s first walk in my neighborhood, he truly resembled a pogo stick, shooting himself straight into the air and onto every single person who walked past us. One of the guys doing construction on our street tried to give me his card so he could help me train my dog, double gasp! I was a little mortified but it was our first walk together and my new buddy had no interest in even the best treats I had to offer. Now, he only jumps on 1 out of 20 people who lean in to pet him. Progress I accept because I had other priorities for him. But, now, NOT jumping is a priority for me and I intend for the process to be delightful for Gavin and I. As it should be. If we set our expectations too high or try too many things at the same time, we get overwhelmed, then our dog fails.