Wow! Here we are at the last article in this series of 5 Ways to Keep Your Dog Happy. I hope you’ve received some great ideas for your own pup from them.
As a reminder, the first four parts were:
The 5 Ways to Keep Your Dog Happy are:
Keep your dog Physically Healthy
Keep your Dog Intellectually Engaged
Keep your Dog Emotionally Safe
Keep your Dog Feeling Loved
Today, we cover #5: Keep your Dog Well Trained.
When you ensure your dog’s comfort and happiness in these five areas, your furry best friend will be living his or her best life. There is lots of overlap among these five categories so keeping your dog happy in all of them doesn’t take as much work as it may seem. Keeping your dog happy in each area also has benefits for you because most of it is fun, makes you feel good and gets you a well-behaved dog. Not to mention, getting to see a happy smiling dog every day has to be the all time greatest thing in the world!
Part Five: 5 Ways to Keep Your Dog Happy
Keep your dog Well Trained.
You may be surprised to hear that many people don’t provide any training for their dog. That’s not just professional training where you take a class or work with a trainer like me, I’m talking about ANY training – even DIY from books and videos. Unfortunately, there are dire consequences for too many of these dogs as untrained dogs are far more likely to be surrendered to a shelter than dogs who have received basic training.
You may not be surprised to hear that dogs are living breathing creatures, not pre-programmed robots. They don’t come with behavior software installed (well they do in a way but it’s not the behavior you are likely to want). Just like human children, dogs must be educated in the ways of civilized living. Their human parents need to teach them how to walk nicely on leash, poop only where appropriate, what can go in their mouth and what can’t and all the other things that will make them a good boy or girl.
There are lots of different things you can teach your dog from basic obedience, to fun tricks, to actual work (like guarding or herding) to service work (like turning lights on or off). In this article I’ll share the basic behaviors that will give your dog a well-rounded education and keep you from getting stressed out over their behavior.
Before I do that, I want to mention two things.
First is to remind you there is only one humane way to teach your dog anything and that is by using positive reinforcement training methods only. This style of training is sometimes referred to as “click & treat” because it uses markers (clicking sounds or words) and treats to reinforce the desired behaviors. To learn about why this is the only humane method of training, read this article. If you want to work with a professional trainer, see this article for what to look for when choosing a trainer.
Second, the training discussed in this article is what I call “intellectual” training meaning that you are educating your dog in the same way you might teach someone how to cook. I won’t cover what I call “emotional” training which is more like therapy for your dog. Emotional training is for fear based behaviors that cause reactive (sometimes even aggressive) behaviors in your dog. For example, a dog that is afraid of other dogs so barks and lunges at them when out on walks. Although the training methods are similar between intellectual and emotional training (you still “click & treat”), working with reactivity or anxiety is more nuanced so I’ll save it for another time.
Here are the behaviors that will keep your dog Well Trained and why each behavior is important. I’ll even give you a start on how to train them. I’m working on an ecourse that will give you more instruction on each behavior and you can work with me or any positive trainer on the ones you need help with. To be notified when the ecourse is available, subscribe to our mailing list.
This cue prompts your dog to make eye contact with you. To practice, hold a treat near your face, when your dog makes eye contact say “watch me” click (or say “yes”) and reward your dog with the treat. The goal is to have your dog look at you whenever you give the watch me cue. This behavior is important because there are times that you want to be able to get your dog’s attention on you or away from something else. This cue is also helpful to keep your dog focused during other training sessions.
This cue prompts your dog to touch your hand (or item of your choice) with his nose. To practice, hold out your hand in front of your dog. When your dog touches your hand with her nose, say “touch” click (or say “yes”) and reward your dog with a treat. Touch is a great foundation cue for teaching your dog more complicated behaviors and can even be substituted as a recall cue to get your dog to come to you from a distance.
This cue prompts your dog to not touch/eat random stuff she finds on the ground. I also use this cue to teach dogs to ignore other dogs on walks. Hold a treat in your closed hand and hold out your fist to your dog. Your dog will smell your hand and try to get the treat. The second your dog backs away from your hand even a tiny bit (to take a breath or try another tactic) say click or say “leave it” and give your dog a treat. Keep practicing this until you can hold your hand open with a treat in your palm and your dog will “leave it.” Eventually, you can work up to being able to put the treat on the floor, say leave it and your don’t won’t touch the treat. This one can be a lifesaver if your dog happens upon a chicken bone, rat poison or anything else he might try to eat while out and about.
This cue prompts your dog to drop something he has in his mouth. Great for use if your dog finds a chicken bone on the street or finds your prized pumps in the living room. Similar to leave it but used when your dog has already picked something up. To teach this cue, take two or more toys of equal value and give one to your dog so that she holds it in her mouth. Offer one of the other toys and when your dog drops the first one to take the new one, click or say “drop it” and either offer a treat or let playing with the new toy be the reward.
This is when you teach your pup not to pull you arm out of its socket on walks. Download this ebook for directions on teaching this one. Teaching loose leash walking will make walking with your dog SO much more fun. Walking together is one of the joys of having a dog.
This cue directs your dog to stay in place until you say otherwise. It is similar to wait. Trainers use these two cues differently but as long as your dog knows one of them, you are good. To teach stay, stand in front of your dog facing her (dog can be sitting, standing or laying down – whatever you like) and say “stay.” It can be helpful to hold up your hand in the universal “stop” sign. Give your dog a treat. Notice that you haven’t moved away from your dog yet. After a time or two of this, try taking a step back after saying stay. Take this slow moving just a step or two further away from your dog at a time. Your dog will want to follow you so slow and steady for this one. Your goal is to eventually be able to turn your back and even leave the room after saying stay and your dog will stay. To release your dog from the stay position, either return to her or call her to you.
Also called “go to your place” or “lay in your bed,” this cue prompts your dog to go lay in her bed and entertain herself while you are busy. To teach this one, first choose the spot you want your dog to go to. For example, does she already have a comfy bed in the living room? Use that or put one there to practice on. Eventually, you will be able to expand this cue to any place including other people’s homes. Once you’ve chosen your practice spot, stand a few feet away from the bed (or sit somewhere in the room) and toss a treat or two on the bed. Your dog will run over to gobble up the treats. When your dog walks onto the bed, click (or say yes) and give your dog a moment to eat the treats. Then toss a treat somewhere else to get your dog back off the bed. Once your dog gets the hang of this game, add your cue of “go to your bed” or whatever you want to say before tossing the treats onto the bed. Keep practicing until your dog learns to associate the verbal cue to going to her bed and getting a reward. Once your dog learns this cue, you can practice having her stay in the bed for longer periods of time. It’s helpful to give her a toy or chew treat if you want her to stay for extended periods. This behavior is a little more complicated that the others on this list so feel free to break it up into smaller behaviors that you train before putting them all together.
Or “here,” (trainers call this “recall”) this cue prompts your dog to return to you from a distance. Similar to “stay” start small with this one by asking your dog to return to you from tiny distances of just a step or two at first and then when you are successful with that, lengthen the distance between you and even add distractions to create a truly strong recall. You can combine with “stay” by asking your dog to stay, taking a few steps and holding out a treat, say “come.” As your dog is approaching you, click (or say good) and give your dog the treat.
Here are some general things to keep in mind while training your dog.
Have PATIENCE! Training takes time and every dog learns at his or her own pace. If either of you starts to feel frustrated, take a break. If your dog seems like she isn’t catching on, take a break and then try again. Training isn’t a race. You are incorporating new behaviors into your lifestyle so take the time you need to make the experience pleasant for both of you.
Speaking of pleasant, training should be FUN! Treat it like a game and both of you will enjoy it. A happy dog learns faster and remembers longer. If you lose the fun, take a break.
NEVER PUNISH your dog. Trust me, your dog wants to learn what you want to teach him. Have patience, keep sessions short and fun and never punish your dog for making mistakes. Go easy on yourself as well. Training is straightforward on paper but can feel complicated in practice until you get used to it.
If your dog doesn’t come when called or run happily to her bed, try a better treat. Some behaviors call for a higher value treat (think of it like giving your dog a raise). Try real cooked chicken, cut up hotdogs or something else your dog loves but doesn’t get all the time. Use small pieces so your dog’s belly doesn’t get full too soon.
Take your TIME. Fit training sessions in with your lifestyle. Ten minutes at a time is great. If you want to train for an hour that’s fine, too, just take a couple of breaks so your dog doesn’t get overwhelmed. Practice loose leash walking on you daily walks, practice go to your bed when you are making dinner, etc.
To maintain SAFETY while training employ management methods to keep your dog out of mischief. Keep him on leash while out and about until he will come running when you call, keep her behind a baby gate during dinner until she learns to wait in her bed while you eat. Management is anything you do to ensure your dog’s behavior before your dog knows how to behave on his own.
A note about “sit.”
Sit is a great and useful cue and easy to teach. I don’t include it on my list of “must knows” because other cues can take its place. Depending on your dog, age, body type and flooring can affect your dog’s ability/interest in “sitting” on cue. It’s still a good cue and I use it myself in a variety of situations but it isn’t necessary so teach it or not – whatever you wish.
So there you have it, 5 Ways to Keep Your Dog Happy are:
- Keep your dog Physically Healthy
- Keep your Dog Intellectually Engaged
- Keep your Dog Emotionally Safe
- Keep your Dog Feeling Loved
- Keep your dog Well Trained
To download a pdf of the entire series, visit our online resource library. You will need to submit your email in order to have the password sent to you. There are tons of great resources you can download in the library and you will also receive periodic updates from us on dog behavior and training.