Top 5 ways to start building a happy healthy relationship with your dog.
Nearly every problem behavior I see my clients struggling with is a symptom of a bigger problem. An unbalanced relationship.
We all love our dogs (Or I certainly hope you do if you’re reading this) and they love us but that doesn’t always mean we have our dogs trust and respect. Dogs hate living in a gray area of never being sure what the right or wrong choice is. Often dogs are going to choose the “wrong” choice (jumping,barking,pulling,etc) if they aren’t given clear direction to the right choice. Good choices need to be shaped into good habits.
Number 1. Sit on the dog
Okay okay don’t run away yet. You’re not actually sitting on your dog. It’s just the rather silly name for an age old exercise dog trainers have been using to teach dogs calm. It seems rather simple but I have seen massive amounts of change in hyperactive, anxious, and rambunctious dogs with this activity. Not to mention the benefit it has for puppies!
Now you’ll need a chair, something to entertain yourself with and a bit of patience. Place your dog beside you with a 6 foot leash on. Drape the leash over the chair and sit on the leash. Give your dog just enough leash that when they lay down beside your chair the leash is just relaxed enough pressure turns off. Do not talk to your dog. Do not pet your dog. IGNORE YOUR DOG. Read a book, watch some tv, play on your phone but do not engage with your dog. You are going to ignore them for 30 minutes minimum!
Now the first few times you do this you’ll think I’m crazy. Your dog is likely going to go through everything they know to get your attention, barking, playbiting, whining, jumping, the whole shebang. IGNORE IT. (For jumping up tighten the leash so they can’t jump then relax it when they calm) Your dog will likely grow confused and frustrated at your general ability to suddenly ignore what’s worked before and give a huff and lay down. Excellent. But don’t rejoice yet. They’ve typically got another round in them. Ignore it all the same.
This will go quicker with each time you practice it and by the end of the week you’ll have a dog that is happy to lay at your side calmly while you relax at the end of the day. (Also really useful for things like waiting in the vet office)
Number 2. Teach a marker word
What’s a marker word you ask? If you’re familiar with a clicker you know the concept. If not think of it as telling your dog to take a mental picture of the exact moment you use your marker word. I personally use the word YES but anything quick and easy to say will work. Once you’ve chosen your word stick with it. This word is going to become your dogs favorite.
We’re always so focused on overusing the word no and never telling our dogs when they get it right. This is your go to to let them know you like what they’re doing and to come get a reward. Begin with marking when your dog engages with you. So when your dog looks at you say YES and have them come to you to get a reward. Do this many many many times until you can say YES and your dog comes running from another room. Then you can start applying this during training.
Use this when your dog greets a guest and all 4 feet are on the ground, when he is beside you on a walk and not pulling ahead, when he makes any good choice don’t be afraid to mark and reward.
Number 3. Waiting for food/ Waiting at the door/ Waiting to come out of the crate
This is a big one for building self control and patience in your dog. My clients never believe how quickly this will go but are always amazed at the change they see in their dog with it.
To teach waiting for food fill up their bowl as usual and hold it up over their head wait for them to sit without saying anything. When they sit begin to lower the bowl. If their rump comes up from the ground you lift the bowl back up. Lower when they sit. Lift when they get up. You’ll be updown a few times until you find you’ve set the bowl on the ground and your dog is sitting. Now the tricky part. Stand and wait for your dog to look at you. If your dog goes for the food lift the bowl back up and begin again. It’s important to get the dog looking at you for permission and you releasing them to eat. Once released leave them be it’s their meal let them enjoy it.
The same concept is applied for waiting at the door. Stop in front of the door and wait for them to sit. Once sitting begin to open the door. If they get up close the door. Have them hold the sit with the door wide open and wait for them to look at you. The look is important. Once looking at you tell them okay to release them and walk forward.
Coming out of the kennel is of course the same concept. If they move to go out close the kennel door. Wait for a sit and look at you. This builds calm and rewarding when they have calmed rather than the crazy excitement many charge out with.
Number 4. Play with your dog
This seems a little silly. Of course I play with my dog. But are you doing so with good foundation rules set in? Play is one of the major ways I train my crazy malinois self control. Our game of choice is tug. We have a few rules. The tug toy is never laying out for her to play with whenever she feels like it. It hangs on a shelf and I pull it out to start the game. She’s not allowed to touch it until she hears her word YES. At Yes we have a good time tugging and wrestling and getting all kinds of excited but the moment she hears the word OUT she must let it go. And she’s happy to. Because she knows to turn the game back on she just has to let it go and hear the word YES again.
I’ll throw in obedience commands in between this but that’s a more advanced level. The very first thing you should be working on is engagement. Build your dogs desire to have fun with you. Be more exciting then everything else around them. So they don’t care if the neighbors dog is out, or the mailman is delivering the post, they should only have eyes for you. (Yes you can build this entirely through play)
Number 5. Train with your dog
I know I know. Obvious right? But it’s always amazing to see the change in relationships from the day I meet my clients to the day they graduate. Their dogs are more confident, relaxed and just plain happy to be in their presence. And the owners? Big old smiles on their faces. I can’t tell you how many times they tell me they saw someone being pulled around on their walk and they are so happy they are not that person anymore. They enjoy walking their dog and because they enjoy it they do it more often. Which makes for some happy dogs.
You can view our training programs if you need help with any of the steps above or are just ready to get to the next level enjoying a happy stress free life with your dog.
Head Trainer CPT Viktoria Miller