Words like “fix”, “stop”, “guaranteed” and “instantly” can be synonymous with dog behavior and training. But, as trainers who have studied and carefully watch our canine counterparts’ behavior; we often cringe when we see those words. Dogs are unbelievably intelligent, highly individual in their motivation and thresholds for stress or distraction; and also deeply emotional. And, what complicates whether or not they actually listen, when the stakes are high, often boils down to the human; and his or her communication capabilities, the amount and quality of the training deposits he or she has made in the desired response and their understanding of whether or not their furry friend is past the point of no return.
We all want our dogs to listen and often, in urban environments like downtown Chicago; paying attention is downright imperative for our pups’ safety. Here are two easy ways to help your dog learn to LOVE listening to you.
Be more engaging in daily interactions. Often, when folks decide they need to began a formal training routine with their dogs, they become SO serious, ALL the time. They push their dogs off the couch, they start shouting “SIT” before they make their dog’s dinner or start yanking on the leash at every street corner. That sounds miserable. When I play fetch with Gavin, I do not stand there like a robot, mindlessly tossing the ball for him; then, looking down at my phone while he tears after his toy only to tower over him barking “DROP IT DROP IT DROP IT“. My time with my dog is precious.
When Lil’ Big Head sits and waits for his ball, I smile, and actually look at him when I tell him he’s a good boy. And when I toss the ball, I do so in a different direction so I keep him guessing; and interested in watching me. And, without fail, EVERY time he runs back to me, I look at him and cheer, “there’s my good boy, yay!” Sometimes, as he’s running back to me, I run away to get him to chase me or hide behind a tree to make it FUN for him to find me (PLEASE, only do activities like this in an enclosed area). And, when he drops the ball, I see the glitter gaze in his eyes. Sometimes I have him do tricks before I throw the ball again and sometimes I toss it for him because he dropped it quickly. But, I ALWAYS praise him for running to me and I am always as engaged with him as he is with me.
When a person walks past the fence, MOST people laugh at Gavin as he jiggles and shows off his balls; racing back and forth or stopping, expectantly, if he thinks they might want to pet or even talk to him. But, there are folks who clearly are afraid of Lil’ Big Head. And, I want to be respectful of my neighbors. So, I call Gavin away when I see someone walking faster, looking down and crossing their arms over their chest. And, EVERY TIME, he races back to my side. Not because I am a drill sergeant; but because Gavin wants to. He has learned that running to me is fun, good things happen and we practice game-like versions of “come” often.
All dogs need an outlet that’s all their own. Being a city dog is a lot of work. And, most dogs struggle, even become frustrated if their only version of exercise is restrained leash walking.
TEN-HUT! Walk in a straight line. Get your nose out of the neighbor’s flowers, soldier! STOP goosing people. DROP THAT!
Ahhhh! So much pressure. And, for most of us, the goal of the walk is to release pent up energy; not to add so much tension that our four-legged family members need to rip up a pillow the instant we walk in the door. Games like hide ‘n’ seek, the muffin pan game, teaching MOVEMENT tricks, even good bones and chews (proactively, of course, not AFTER your dog has nipped you) can give dogs an outlet that allows them to “just be a dog” for a few moments; and can go a long way in making your words matter, later, when you need them most.
Gavin does not love his walks. But, he has learned to LIKE them because we play fetch at the end of most strolls or we do jumping tricks when we get home; if one of our haunts is otherwise occupied. And, once a week, I let him kill a squeaky toy, he never eats pieces and parts. But, because I let him have something that makes him SO HAPPY, he gives me what I want, relaxing walks.