A good strategy for dog training is to be aware of your rewards and how you use them. I recommend something called the calorie bowl to avoid over treating. But, using treats wisely is important for both keeping your dog slim and fit and creating the best environment for a motivated dog that loves to learn.
I saw something horrifying on Saturday. I was working with two of my fantastic clients and their Bernese Mountain Dog puppy. I was hired to help McIntire with a bit of fear around men, hand shyness, and other assorted issues such as teaching him to have better off leash control. We were on the way back from a very successful session in the park when I saw something that made my skin crawl.
This is always a concern with dog guardians. Over-treating can lead to an overweight dog or intestinal difficulties if your dog is especially sensitive. Here are some tips to get your worries under control and avoid over-treating your pooch.
This is a term that I coined in my dog training videos. This is a strategy that you can implement instantly and use daily.
- Portion out your dog's daily food intake into a bowl. For instance, let's assume your dog gets two cups of dry food per day.
- Instead of the full two cups, put 1.5 cups of food into the bowl and .5 cups of high quality treats (see Treat Suggestions below)
- Throughout the day, grab handfuls of the contents of the Calorie Bowl and do short training sessions with your dog, or put portions of the food into Kongs or other stuffable toys
- At the end of the day, if there is any food left, put the rest into your dog's bowl
Use "Life Rewards"
Now that you are using the Calorie Bowl, you can also incorporate "Life Rewards" into your routine. Life rewards consist of using a variety of rewards throughout the day that you would provide for your dog anyway. If you shift your thinking a bit, you can do quick training sessions before all good things and your dog will benefit from more training. Here are some suggestions for using Life Rewards with your dog. Don't forget a mentally stimulated dog is a happy dog!
- Toys. If your dog loves toys, put them away until you are doing training sessions. If you keep them out all the time, your dog can quickly become bored with them and then they are less interesting and rewarding.
- A game of tug. Dogs that love to play tug can be rewarded with this activity. Do a quick training session, play a game of tug, ask for a "drop", do more training and then reward with another quick game of tug. Put the toy away when you are done so it is interesting the next time you use it as a reward.
- Walk. Do a quick training session before you take your pooch for a walk.
- Chew Toys. Giving your dog an occasional chew toy? Do a 5-minute session before he gets his chewtoy.
- Frisbee. If your dog loves to play Frisbee or chase a tennis ball or other toy, do training while you are playing. Suggestions include Drop, Sit, Down, Stay, Come, and Stop. Ask for more behaviors each time you throw the toy.
- Running. Dogs love movement. While you are walking your dog, reward him with running or other fast movements when he performs behaviors that you ask for. For example, walk a bit, ask for a Sit, say, "Yes" and then run a bit, ask for a Stop and gently put the brakes on. Say, "Easy" walk slowly while you give praise, "Good, good, good" and then run a bit more.
When you are using treats, you should only use high-quality treats. "Treat" does not mean junk food. Avoid food coloring, sugar and by-products. I use mainly meat-based treats and other high-quality food items and use very small treats. As long as your dog's system can handle the food item, you can be very creative with your food offerings. If you are not sure if your dog can handle something, give a small quantity for a few days in a row with no other changes in his diet and monitor his ability to digest the new treat. Sometimes it can take awhile for a dog to get used to something, so be patient.
Premium treats may seem more expensive, but usually if you calculate the cost they can be similar in price to the unhealthy well-advertised treats with the cute names and shapes that make them look like bacon, sausages or other meat products. Use small pieces of the high-quality treats and they will last a long time....
Want a fun training activity that you can practice inside and outside?
Teach "Go Find Someone". The long-term goal is to ask your dog to find a family member by name and then your dog runs off and finds that person! If you are really savvy, you can combine it with a "Hold" and have your dog be the family messenger. Write a quick note to your son, 'Dinner in 5 minutes', give it to your dog and then say, "Go find Josh". Your dog will bring the note to Josh! How cool!
Ranger is 7 years old today. He is one of my Collies. I adopted him from Anti Cruelty in Chicago in 2001 when he was about 5 months old. He has been the most amazing dog, and recent events has made me appreciate him even more. I wrote a post last week about how tough it has been for a couple of my clients recently since they lost dogs to cancer at very young ages. It has made me realize how lucky my wife and I are to have been able to enjoy Ranger in our lives for such a long time.
Barrier Frustration can occur if a dog is behind a window, fence, or on leash and is not allowed to interact with the environment. After a while, she may get frustrated and aggressive. One indicator of Barrier Frustration having a part in aggression is if a dog barks behind barriers and is calm around dogs when off-leash, but is very aggressive behind a barrier or on-leash. Dogs, of course, can also show aggression no matter how much they are being contained as well.
One of the more frequent issues with shy dogs is to be afraid of getting petted by strangers. When dogs are getting petted the person is close to them, they are looking at them, they are looming over them and then they touch them. These are all potential triggers for anxiety or aggression. If your dog is shy, you should help her get comfortable with people to avoid escalation of anxiety which could potentially lead to aggression.
Chicago is a wonderful place. It was ranked one of the most dog-friendly cities; there are lots of dog parks, a beautiful lakefront and tons of nice dogs and people for puppies to meet. However, Chicago's harsh, winter weather makes it a very challenging city to socialize a puppy in the winter months.
There are a lot of misconceptions about playing tug with your dog. In my experience, (and lots of other trainers I respect) as long as you teach your dog some ground rules, tug is a great way to condition your dog to have a soft mouth as well as providing your dog exercise.