Just like exercising your mind and body will help you live longer and healthier, the same is true for dogs. Dogs need mental stimulation on a daily basis just like they need physical exercise every day. Studies have shown that dogs who play and interact with people on a regular basis are healthier, smarter and live longer than those who do not. So, how can you keep your dog in top shape? Here are some of the things I prescribe for my clients.
The first rule of thumb is something you’ve undoubtedly heard before: “make your dog work for everything,” or “Nothing in life is free.” A more positive spin that I like to put on this is to: “Use every opportunity to train and interact with your dog.” This means that if your dog wants affection, teach him to sit politely next you – not to jump up, paw at you, or bark and whine. Those behaviors should be ignored so that they diminish. Reinforce the good behaviors instead. [Adam adds: Some behavior will never stop by ignoring them… just like in life. To eliminate unwanted behaviors, I recommend learning how to give a motivational correction with the leash and collar.] When your dog is playing well by himself, go join in! Reward him for being a good dog and grab the toy and start a game of fetch – or make him sit or lie down to get it back. Believe it or not, your dog will love this. Dogs used to work for a living, so we need to give them jobs to keep them satisfied and to keep them out of trouble. So, create work for them!
Some assignments I give my clients are:
- Ask your dog to sit and stay for every meal. By waiting a minimum of 5 seconds to a maximum of at least one minute, your dog gets to practice “stay” twice a day for the rest of his life.
- Ask your dog to sit and stay before opening the door to go outside. Once the door is wide open, wait up to one minute before releasing him to walk behind you out of the door. Training him to do this means that he’s more calm starting out on the walk, he learns to never run through an open door and, lastly, he learns to ignore distractions, such as people or dogs or cats running by out front.
- Teach your dog to ask permission to come up on the couch, bed or enter other special areas. He must sit politely and wait to be asked to jump up or enter the room. This also avoids problems like a glass of red wine being thrown from a guest’s hand when your dog decides to jump up and visit.
- Any time you want to give the dog a treat, bone, pet, put on a leash, or any other desired activity, make him sit or down or even shake or rollover first. Making it a fun game to get a toy or treat will enhance its value to your dog even further… he worked for it, so now he really wants it!!
- Be consistent with your rules so that there is no question in your dog’s mind what you want and expect from him.
Another way to look at this is that English is a foreign language to a dog. And, just as with any new language, practice makes perfect. Plus, if you do not practice, you will get rusty very quickly. So, keep your dog’s vocabulary growing and keep talking to him throughout his life.
Lastly, it’s also important that we keep our dogs in shape with respect to safe handling. Most people learn that you should touch a puppy everywhere – especially paws, tail and mouth – so that she will be comfortable being poked and prodded by veterinarians, groomers and children. You also might have heard that it’s good to pet a puppy while he’s eating or chewing a bone… and even take away the food or bone to ensure that she does not snarl, bite or otherwise try to protect it. This is commonly known as “resource guarding.” The problem is that most people stop after ensuring the puppy or new dog is OK with these actions. Then, a few months or years go by, someone goes to pet your dog while she’s next to her bone and… SNAP! The reason? The people didn’t keep practicing. My guidelines are to mess with your dog’s food at least once a week for her whole life, and take every chewy (rawhide, bully stick, Greenie) away from her at least once during her chew. This ensures you can safely take away items that are dangerous as well as enables your pet to be around people in all circumstances with no fear of her snapping at anyone due to trying to protect her property. They key is to teach her that nothing is her property to begin with, so there are never any misunderstandings. A great way to work on this is to teach your dog to “drop it”. You can learn how to do this by watching a simple video on my website.
To help you remember to do all of these things, just think of requesting actions from your dog as being like teaching a child some basic responsibilities and politeness. Even a spoiled dog (mine certainly is!) can be polite and well-mannered. For instance, there is no reason why a dog should believe that everything that falls on the floor or is sitting on a table is hers for the taking. In fact, that is dangerous. What if you drop Tylenol or chocolate? Her grabbing it could mean a visit to the emergency room… or worse. So teach your to dog to be patient and give her consistent boundaries to live within and she will be happier and healthier for your efforts. Learning, growing and improving should be an ongoing pursuit for both you and your dog!
Reprinted with explicit permission: Beverly Ulbrich, “The Pooch Coach” is an expert dog behaviorist and trainer in the SF Bay Area. Visit her site for more info: http://www.poochcoach.com