What Every Good Dog Needs to Know

One of my favorite ques­tions is “what is most impor­tant for a dog to know?”.  I love it for two reasons…

The first because it the answer is sim­ple.  There are really only a few behav­iors that your dog needs to know in order to get along pretty dang well in this odd human world.  The sec­ond is because under each of those sim­ple behav­iors are a lot of really won­der­ful con­cepts and ideas.  Train­ing is not always so sim­ple as just get­ting a dog to per­form a behav­ior at any means.

The sec­ond is because each one of these sim­ple behav­iors opens a door to a world of won­der­ful oppor­tu­ni­ties for you and your dog.

Leash Walk­ing.  It is not a coin­ci­dence that I listed this one first as it could eas­ily be the most impor­tant (if it was pos­si­ble to list these in order of impor­tance) and that’s because of all these things, this one is most directly relates to your dog get­ting out and about and social­ized.  There is only one way, fair and square, to give you and your dog access to the world and that is by hitch­ing on that leash and hit­ting the road.  With­out basic leash skills, your dog (and your world with your dog) shrinks down to just a few lim­ited places and that is a sad sad thought.  Here are some areas to tackle right now…

Pulling on leash.  Of all the leash chal­lenges you could have, this one is the best because A) it’s com­pletely nor­mal behav­ior and B) it is the eas­i­est to fix.  So if your only prob­lem is that your dog drags you all over the place, give your­self a lit­tle pat on the back because you’ve got this.  There are a lot of great har­nesses and hal­ters on the mar­ket that can make your job a whole lot eas­ier, and even with­out them, it is a pretty straight­for­ward cou­ple of steps train­ing wise to get you where you need to be to have a plea­sur­able walk with your dog.

Pass­ing dis­trac­tions calmly (includ­ing peo­ple and dogs).  This one can be a lit­tle more chal­leng­ing as there are likely strong feel­ings involved for your dog and those feel­ings will have to change, at least a lit­tle, in order to see suc­cess.  The good news that it is fre­quently much eas­ier to per­suade your dog than it may seem, like as sim­ple as bring­ing treats along on walks and feed­ing for pass­ing dogs.  The sec­ond great piece of news is that your dog does not have to be com­fort­able with all man­ner of peo­ple, dogs, and squir­rels to be able to walk nicely on leash and look pre­sentable in pub­lic.  For most dogs just some easy tweaks to your walk­ing rou­tine can really improve walk­ing and pass­ing skills.

Social­iz­ing on leash.  This is where your dog’s per­son­al­ity and social­iza­tion expe­ri­ence have a say in things.  Some dogs love to min­gle on leash, some don’t care so much for it and this can change with age and expe­ri­ence.  As a gen­eral rule, pup­pies should meet every sin­gle per­son pos­si­ble in order to have the best suc­cess in life and they should meet as many dogs as they can pro­vided the greet­ing dogs are healthy and well-s0cialized.  Mature dogs nat­u­rally become more selec­tive in who they pre­fer to inter­act with and that’s okay.  Cre­ate a men­tal pro­file of your dog’s likes and dis­likes to work from for best results.

Com­ing When Called.  This, along with an emer­gency sit-stay, could lit­er­ally save your dog’s life.  It is also fairly easy to train and, if done right, can be trained in much less time than you’d think.  There are a cou­ple of impor­tant parts to a suc­cess­ful recall…

Really worth­while rewards.  Com­ing when called has to be an emo­tional thing, it can’t be some­thing that your dog thinks over before doing.  If you’re using sub-par rewards and sub-par enthu­si­asm, you will get a sub-par recall.  How­ever if you us a “hot dig­gity dog that’s amaz­ing” kind of reward, you will have your dog turn­ing and sprint­ing to you in just a few sessions.

Tap into emo­tions.  For our dog to reli­ably come when called no mat­ter the dis­trac­tion, our cho­sen word has to be an emo­tional trig­ger.  Our recall word has to remind our dog of all the won­der­ful things that come with it.  We often demand too much of our dogs too early on in the learn­ing process and don’t cre­ate clear and con­sis­tent asso­ci­a­tions.  If we blur the lines too much, things start to slip.  It is far eas­ier to overdo it in the begin­ning than to fix an unclear under­stand­ing of such an impor­tant behavior.

Han­dling. This encom­passes much more than just being able to touch your dog.  It includes every­thing from groom­ing and med­ical care to being greeted and pet­ted by strangers in all the strange ways they do… and much of han­dling does indeed fall under the cat­e­gory of “awk­ward” for our dogs.  Dogs that are com­fort­able being touched, restrained, and exam­ined by all man­ner of folk sim­ply live hap­pier health­ier lives with access to many more places and expe­ri­ences.  Dogs that are uncom­fort­able being han­dled and held lead lim­ited lives punc­tu­ated by stress­ful expe­ri­ences or worse.  Here are a few areas to keep in mind when prepar­ing your dog for han­dling.

  • Awk­ward pet­ting expe­ri­ences — this includes hands over your dog’s head and peo­ple who hug and kiss unfa­mil­iar dogs (all very rude in doggy lan­guage terms).
  • Pet­ting from strangers — all sorts of folks: kids, big bearded sun-glass-wearing men, peo­ple in hoods, peo­ple who smell funny, and so on.
  • Col­lar grabs — the most com­mon bite sce­nario.  Rough col­lar grabs and being pulled by the collar.
  • Restraint — includ­ing for groom­ing and vet­eri­nary procedures.

Play.  Why is this on the list you ask?… I’m so glad you did.  So many of us strug­gle with dogs that don’t really seem to “get us”.  They don’t seem to be able to read our emo­tions, know when we’re mad or happy or seri­ous or silly.  Well the answer is play.  There is no sin­gle greater way to teach your dog to inter­act with peo­ple in a gen­tle and appro­pri­ate way than this.  Play teaches our dogs to man­age their excite­ment and enthu­si­asm even when emo­tions are high.  It teaches dogs how to politely inter­act with peo­ple even when peo­ple are doing things that, in dog lan­guage, incite rough or predatory-like behav­ior.  It teaches dogs when it’s okay to express the inner dog (and they need to, they’re dogs after all) and that when you do, how to do it all in good fun.  This is great for you and if you have kids, it’s a neces­sity.  Here are some games to start with and why they’re so great…

Tug.  Tug got a bad wrap for many years.  It does not, in fact, illicit aggres­sion from your dog; quite the con­trary.  If done right it is a col­lab­o­ra­tive game that requires two play­ers to do.  There is no win­ner or loser either because if one of you stops tug­ging the game ends.  Tug’s best qual­i­ties are that it keeps your dog engaged and close to you for as long as you play which makes it a per­fect reward for com­ing when called and other big ticket behav­iors.  It also teaches your dog that to have the most fun with toys, peo­ple have to play too.

Fetch.  Fetch’s great­est strengths are that it burns energy and also, like tug, requires your par­tic­i­pa­tion to work.  It is also like a drug for some dogs and can be a pow­er­ful moti­va­tor.  It can be a lit­tle more chal­leng­ing to play in a way that keeps your dog phys­i­cally close to you (in case you want to catch them and attach a leash) and it is kind of a one shot reward (now I throw the ball away).  It is how­ever a great tool to help tran­si­tion to off-leash train­ing as it can keep your dog focused at a distance.

Hide & Seek.  If you are not into such phys­i­cal games (or don’t want to leave the house) hide & seek can be another great option.  You can hide treats or toys around the house or hide your­self, which makes a great game for teach­ing your dog to come when called.  Hide and seek burns energy and can incor­po­rate self-control exer­cises as well.  It also works out your dog’s nose, a less fre­quently imple­mented sense.

 And there you have it, what every good dog needs to know.  There are, of course, tons more things we can learn, from amaz­ing tricks to com­plex obe­di­ence, but these few sim­ple behav­iors will make all the dif­fer­ence and grant you and your dog access to a whole world of fun and oppor­tu­ni­ties.  Most only request a few very short ses­sions to see progress.  You can do it and you and your dog will both be much hap­pier for it.

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