"Properly trained, man can be a dog's best friend" ~ Corey Ford
When I've been called out to dog owners (puppies, adolescents, newly adopted), I often hear the words " he is out of control", "he pulls, so we stopped walking", "he is not listening", he is stubborn" and so on. You get the picture.
First off, I would like to say, that I don't believe in stubborn dogs. I do believe that many owners have yet to figure out how to motivate and engage their dogs, so they will stay focused on the owner. And I do believe in lack of structure and in unfair expectations put on the dogs. Remember, "You can't blame him, if you haven't taught him" ( I even have a t-shirt with that quote...!)
This post today, is about the main two mistakes I see, that when corrected by owner, often will help take care of those above quoted issues.
First one is the fact that the dog food is served in a bowl. That might sound odd, because where else should you serve the food??? You have always used a food bowl for your previous dogs without any issues and isn't the usage of them, the very reason why pet stores sell them...even in cute designs???
My point is, that you are missing out on a huge opportunity to make this food work better for you and your dog. Instead of "just" putting in a bowl and serve it , to see it be gone within 10 - 55 seconds, I am now telling you, that you can use this food more efficiently and to your advantage. Many dogs are labeled "out of control", "stubborn" and "not listening" simply because they are bored, under stimulated, and still haven't seen the value in listening to you. But that is on you - and not the dog. So I ask you to pick up your cute food bowl and put it in your cupboard for a while.
Instead I want you to take the portion of your dog's breakfast in your hand and think of ways to make him work for it. Maybe use half of it to train sit, down, come, spin, through legs, leave it and other valuable and fun exercises (see this link for some of my videos on training technique and more ). And after working your dog for 5-10 minutes, now take the rest of the food and either spread it out on the lawn for your dog to find or put it in an activity toy or kong toy, so your dog has to work to get the food. This change in your morning and evening routine will only take an additional 20 minutes a day and the benefits exceed the "inconvenience" of this new daily routine. TRUST ME!
When working with your dog, you are not only teaching your dog new skills, but you are also showing your dog the value of working with you. This will help create a stronger bond and relationship between you, you both learn to work and communicate together and you now have a dog that willingly will listen to you.
Furthermore, your dog is now using his brain and his nose to get the food, which all helps get him tired. And we all now , a tired dog has a happy life and family.
Meeting your dog's mental and physical needs , will often help eliminate a lot of the behavioral issues you are experiencing in the home. Don't underestimate the intelligence of your dog and the need of a job. Never!
This of course leads me to the second mistake, well maybe misconception is a better word here: Walks are for exercise. This is a bit tricky , because yes, walking your dog is a great way to exercise both your dog and yourself. However, many owners have failed to teach their dog HOW to properly walk on a leash. A dog's natural instinct will be to go exactly where the nice smell is coming from - regardless whether you are attached to the other end of the leash. Walking a dog that pulls is a very unpleasant experience for both owner and dog, right? And what usually happens when a dog pulls is that he gets less walks, which then often increase the issues in the home. So yes, walks are necessary but here is the misconception: That dogs already know how to walk on a leash! They don't. Walking nicely on a leash is a learned behavior, meaning YOU have to teach your dog this behavior.
Now you might think, "How do I teach my dog?" Let me help you.
Start inside your home where there is a minimum amount of distractions and train your dog to follow you on either your left or right side. (Doesn't matter which, just pick a side and be consistent). No leash on dog yet, so use your voice to encourage him to go with you. This will help break your bad habit of pulling on the leash.
Have treats in the hand which side he is on and treat him every step he is with you. Show him how rewarding it is to walk with you and to stay by you. Start practicing walking in your hallway, where it is nice and straight with the walls helping your puppy stay with you. When he gets the concept, you can now start treating every 3-4 steps and so on. Eventually start walking all over your house, so he learns to walk by your side, even when you turn right, left , around and stops. When you think your puppy is a rockstar and "gets it!", it is time to go practice in your yard. If you have a fenced-in yard, please still have him off leash, so you will learn the skills needed to stay connected with him. Important skill for any handler to learn. Often it is a good idea to use the higher value treats due to the increased distractions in the environment. High value treats are the type of treats that will make your dog so focused, that he will forget about squirrels, birds, neighbor dog and so on. Whether those treats are carrots, green beans, liver,cheese or chicken, I don't know. But your dog does, and so should you! ifd not sure - test different types in different environments.
Work and walk in your yard just as you did inside. I often recommend handlers to set up two cones, planters, chairs or what they can find to help practice a figure 8 pattern. This pattern will teach the dog to walk with you both on the outside and on the inside of a turn. Incorporate stop, sit and down as well in your walking training - both with and without leash. If he pulls, go opposite direction and encourage him to come with you with your voice, while your body is moving away from him. And remember to reward the s*** out of your dog, when he is next to you and when he looks at you. You have to understand, that when walking outside, you have to be more interesting that dirt. And that is harder than you should think ! So unless you have added some value to walking with you, you will lose to the deer poop smell in the grass outside your yard.
FInally you feel ready and confident to take this exercise on the road, so to speak. This is where I really need to remind you, that walking your dog is still a training exercise - not a way to exercise your dog. So before going outside the yard, I want you to get your dog tired first. "WHAT?? Get him tired BEFORE the walk??" Yep.
Play fetch to help relieve your dog of some of his energy. And after playing fetch, make him use his brain with some mental exercises, so the excitement from playing fetch, decreases and he calms down. Now you are ready for your walk outside. Bring high value treats and get ready to walk for maybe only 5 minutes! This walk is about teaching the dog to stay with you, no matter the distractions, so the first many walks will most likely not be in a very straight line. You will turn right,left, stop and so on, to help stay connected with him, so you can reward him for making good choices. Should your dog be allowed to sniff the grass on walks? Absolutely. That is how he gets information about the environment and who has walked by the last few days. But sniffing while pulling is a big fat NO! Then the walk stops or takes a new direction until he is by your side again.
If you stay consistent, slowly you will be working your way up to actually walk your dog for exercise....and now it will be a pleasure for the both of you.
However, If these "training steps to teach a loose leash walk" seem overwhelming for you, imagine how overwhelming and unfair it is for your dog to be expected to walk nicely on a leash outside with all the yummy and smelly distractions without ever being taught how!
Set your dog up for success and he will learn faster.
As a dog trainer and animal lover, my wish is to help educate the owners, so they can have a harmonious relationship with the animal(s) in their lives. A relationship based on knowledge, trust and respect.