Tag Archives: dog training

Play with your dog

Did you take a few minutes today to play with your dog? How about yesterday? The day before? 

When life is hectic, or complicated, playing with your dog is like a very mini-vacation. Nothing else to think about. Just sit on the floor and spend some time with someone who loves you unconditionally, never criticizes, and is always ready to play.

Tops on the “To-Do” list

Every morning, before we start work or chores, we play games with our dogs. Each one gets about five minutes. That’s it. That’s all it takes to start the day with a smile. Some days we play training games. Other days it’s fetch, or tug, or even just a little petting and/or massage.

It’s a little recess for everybody. The playing, and the attention, will set you up for a better day. After all, companionship is why you have a dog in the first place, isn’t it? Having a dog is a responsibility; you have to walk the dog, feed the dog, clean up after the dog. Non-dog people look at all that and wonder why dog people bother. 

Those people won’t understand the value. But you do. For both your sakes, play with your dog.

Make up your own games

In our training classes, all the basics are covered; walk nice on leash, sit, down, leave it, etc. We address all the manners stuff; housebreaking, jumping, nipping. The “must-haves” discussion (collar vs. harness, bowls, brushes, leashes) happens. And one lesson that’s always weird for the participants: how to play with your dog.

There are all kinds of ways to play with your dog. Since dogs think everything they do with you is fun, training games are right up there. Dogs are always watching and learning from their people – you may as well teach them something useful. It can be something as simple as teaching your dog to touch your palm for a treat. That’s a great game for getting your dog to “come” when called. It’s also fast and fun, one palm then the other in rapid succession, maybe even moving as you play. 

Pictures of a boxer puppy bounding to illustrate play with your dog

One game that always surprises our students is “throw your dog away.” You just push a little on the dog’s chest, moving them back a step or so. It’s almost always a prelude to the dog bounding back to you for more. It’s another way to get your dog to come. And it makes everybody laugh. Add a dialogue and see if your dog doesn’t start smiling with you: “What are you doing here?” (push away). “Are you looking at me?” (push away). “Again? You want some more of that?” (push away).

Just a few minutes

Take a few minutes to play with your dog. It doesn’t have to be in the morning, if that’s your crunch time. But see if you can’t find five minutes, sometime during the day, to give your entire attention to your dog. Some days it’ll be the cherry on top. Other days it will be the highlight.

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Dogs love their people. Others? Maybe not.

Dogs love their people. That’s a special and precious relationship. But it may not extend to the world at large. And it doesn’t have to. Dogs’ feelings matter.

Some dogs do love everybody. They love meeting new people and seeing new places. Anyone can say “Hi!” to them and they’re okay with that. But your dog isn’t wrong, or mean, or broken if they don’t. 

Dogs in society

The growth of things like dog parks and doggy daycare foster the notion that socialized dogs have “doggy friends.” And if your dog doesn’t like other dogs, or strange people, there’s something wrong with your dog. That’s not true. Among dog trainers, a well-socialized dog is one who is able to ignore distractions, be calm in unfamiliar circumstances, and pay attention to their person. It has nothing to do with playing nice with other dogs.

Another bizarre idea, probably spurred by internet video, is that dogs should let anyone take anything away from them. If the dog dares to object, either by keeping hold of the thing, or even growling, it’s a bad dog. What happened to the old saying “Let sleeping dogs lie?” Pestering dogs by taking stuff away from them, just to prove you can, may be one reason that dog trainers are seeing more dogs with issues of resource guarding.

Obviously, you have to be able to take things away from your dog. Especially if they’ve gotten hold of something dangerous or toxic. Knowing this, most dog owners teach their dogs some form of “Drop it!” and trade the dog for something they really like, like Chicken Heart Treats. We don’t just randomly reach for their food bowls when they’re eating.

Petting and greetings

We take our dogs many places, especially when we’re training. Our goal is to have that dog be able to focus on us, pay attention to us, and become accustomed to different sights and smells. Many times people charge up, hands outstretched, exclaiming “Look at the doggy!” They get offended when we step between them and our dog and say something like “I’m sorry, we’re training. I’d rather you didn’t try to pet him.”

A small white dog being held by a woman in an orange parka to illustrate Dogs Love their people.

It’s as if, just because we’re out in public, our dogs are public property. They’re not. And they don’t have to be. Even if your dog is a menace to other people, you’re allowed to be out and about together. Our 13-year-old Brussels Griffon Tango was just such a menace when Fran got him. Hope couldn’t even touch him without risking being bitten. But through training and patient persistence, he can now go anywhere and loves everyone. 

Fran was able to turn him around by carefully managing every single encounter with every single person and dog Tango met. No one was allowed to get near him without coaching and a handful of yummy treats. If you have a reactive dog, and you want to change that around, check out Fran’s book: Tango: Transforming My Hellhound

Small dogs more vulnerable

It’s more common for people to ask “May I pet your dog?” when you have a big dog. Little dogs seem to be magnets for hands. They’re little, cute, and hard to resist. And some small dogs enjoy the attention. But if yours doesn’t, it’s okay. It’s okay for you to block those reaching hands. Some may think you’re rude, but that’s okay. You and your dog get along just fine. Dogs love their people. Others are optional.

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How much should dogs sleep?

Is your dog a sleepy head? Are you worried about it? The truth is that dogs sleep more than people do. 

The average dog needs between 10 and 15 hours of sleep every day. Puppies need even more.

Not lazy at all

One of the concerns we hear from our dog training students is their dogs are “bored,” and sleep out of boredom. The truth is a bit different. After a training game, or any kind of exertion, dogs need a nap. That’s the way most predatory animals are built. They have periods of intense activity, then dogs nap. 

When you think about it, it makes sense. Intense activity uses lots of calories. For predators, this would be hunting. Then eating. Then napping. As if every day were Thanksgiving!

For dogs, that could be playing fetch, going for a walk, or even playing dog-training games. Asking our dogs to think is just as tiring as physical activity. Remember when you were in school and were really tired after tests? Same thing, but training games are lots more fun.

Let it sink in

Boston Terrier Dog sleeping
Booker (Boston Terrier) napping

Dogs sleep for both physical and mental rest. They need the down time to process things they’ve learned. That’s one of the reasons puppies need so much sleep – up to 20 hours a day. Growing takes a lot out of a pup. So does thinking.

Research has shown that dogs learn more, retain that learning better, and are more confident when short training sessions are followed by longer breaks. 

Let sleeping dogs lie

There’s no reason to be concerned if your dog sleeps most of the day away. They don’t need constant entertainment or stimulation. 

That’s why we’re not huge fans of the doggy day care concept. Dogs don’t need to play all day. The constant activity and excitement floods their systems. That makes it even harder for them to relax. 

If you do need to use a day care, try to set limits on the amount of time your dog is expected to be active, especially with other dogs. Some “down time” during the day will help him learn to settle when at home with you.

Old dogs sleep a lot

Older dogs, like puppies, may need more sleep. And they sometimes give us a fright when we try to wake them. Either they don’t hear as well, or they sleep deeper, but it can take some doing to wake an old dog from his nap. 

When your old dog does awaken, give him a moment to get oriented and figure out what’s going on. Whatever dreams they were having, it may take a bit to get focused. That’s where we are with 13-year-old Tango now.

That contrasts with young, healthy adult dogs who can startle from sleep into instant attention and barking. We’ve got that, too. Simon (3) and Booker (9) our Boston Terriers can go from snoring to watchdog-at-attention in nothing flat. It can be startling if you were napping, too!

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Changing your dog’s mind

Changing your dog’s mind about something can be challenging. Lots of people are convinced that their dogs are “stubborn,” or uncooperative, or obstinate.

“My dog hates the sound of Velcro.”

“She won’t tolerate anything going over her head.”

“He wiggles too much to step into a harness.”

We get it. Dogs have definite likes and dislikes. But you can change their mind. All it takes is a little patience and a lot of treats. 

Why not let your dog choose?

Just last week we talked about how much fun it was to let our dogs be “in charge” of an outing. And it is, on occasion, a great idea. But just as you wouldn’t let a human toddler choose all aspects of life, the dog doesn’t get to decide, either. 

If you want, or need, your dog to wear a certain type of harness, you may need to train them to accept it. If you’d really like your dog to wear the no-escape Wrap-N-Go, but your dog is afraid of hook-and-loop tape, what do you do?

Get accustomed

Dogs love routine. They love schedules. They don’t tend to like what’s new and different. So the first step in changing your dog’s mind about anything is to make it a normal part of life. 

Say your dog is an eager eater and loves nothing better than meals. While your dog is eating, play with some hook-and-loop tape. The sound will be associated with something your dog loves, rather than something scary. If your dog is so scared of the sound that he/she stops eating, move farther away. As your dog gets used to the sound and is able to ignore it, move gradually closer. In time your dog will realize there’s no threat.

Changing your dog's mind about hook-and-loop tape

If your dog isn’t crazy about meals, you do have other options for training your dog to get used to the sound. Think of something that your dog values highly – whether it’s a toy, or a chewie, or a particular treat. If you open the hook-and-loop tape while your dog is playing with a favorite toy, you’ll change your dog’s opinion. Just as if every time you rip the hook-and-loop tape open a little, you give your dog a special treat. Premium treats (Chicken Heart Treats, pieces of cheese or hot dog) will make it a sound your dog loves, rather than a source of fear.

Over the head

The same thing goes if your dog is afraid of something going over his/her head. Taking it slowly, rewarding heavily, and changing the experience into a good time makes all the difference. Just show the dog the harness and reward for looking at it, sniffing it, any interaction. Then put the harness over your arm and use that hand to give a treat. When the dog is okay with that, bring the harness closer, eventually over your hand. When your dog is okay with touching the harness to get the treat, you can gradually move it closer so it’s touching your dog. In time, it will become normal and routine.

No surprises

Dogs are adaptable and their love for you will get them to try anything you want. As long as you introduce new or scary things gradually, and never try to fool them, your dog will keep trying. 

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