PLAN AHEAD

Is your dog happy? Probably. But you can probably increase his satisfaction with his life. Dogs respond well to being able to predict what’s going to happen next. This starts with you doing things the same way every time. 

If your dog has a history of trying to blast out the front door every time you go out, it may not be that he’s not happy with his home. It may be that the two of you have created a bad habit. Plan ahead to have some treats available – toss a few treats behind the dog as you approach the door, make sure he sees or hears them fall and turns around to go get them, then step out the door.  This isn’t just distracting your dog from the door.  You’re teaching him a new behavior – moving away from the door when you approach it.  Good behavior and training starts with good management.  That means preventing your dog from doing the things you don’t want him to do while building the behaviors you want.

A dog owner tosses treats behind her dog before she walks out the door. The dog turns away from the door to go get the treats. They repeat this exercise a few times. The dog waits farther from the door in the later repetitions. This is a good technique for teaching a dog to move back, away from the door, when someone is walking through. Moving away prevents the dog from bolting out the door.

MEET ALL THEIR NEEDS

Helping Dogs Feel Secure – A Safe Spot

Your dog will be happy and contented when he has all his needs met.  It seems simple and obvious, but dogs have more needs than just food, water, and shelter.  To be content and happy, your dog needs a sense of security and predictability about what goes on in his home.  Dogs don’t want to be startled.  Your dog can have a bed or mat where he can go when he wants to rest and feel secure he won’t be startled.  Any bed will do.  Pay attention to whether your dog likes to burrow or snuggle into a blanket or whether he prefers to stretch out on the bare floor.  A “bare floor” dog might prefer a hammock-style bed to a fluffy one. 

A dog lies on a raised hammock-style bed. His owner has placed a pad and a blanket on the bed, as this dog prefers that. It’s important to learn what type of bed your dog prefers, whether a soft bed he can burrow into or a supportive but less-squishy hammock bed. Make your dog’s bed a place he can go where he won’t be bothered or startled. Call him to you to get him off his bed until you have taught him do get on and off the bed on cue.

If your dog is asleep, call him to you rather than going over to wake him up, to prevent startling him.  This practice can enhance your recall training; give him a treat when he comes to you! 

Interacting With Dogs

Dogs often have “time limits” regarding how long they want to be petted, and you must know how to read their communications.  Happy and contented dogs are those whose owners “listen” to their communications while the dogs “listen” to human communications. “Listening” for dogs involves a lot of watching; it should for humans, too. Teach children (and sometimes adults) how to properly and safely interact with your dog.  The best approach is to have everyone understand to only pet your dog when the dog invites it.  If you have a friendly dog, he will let people know what he wants to be petted.  If he’s fearful, he needs your help to feel secure around people he doesn’t want to interact with.  Check out our online course in Dog Reading.

A man and a dog are interacting. Neither one is restrained in any way and either can leave at any time. The man stops petting to see if the dog wants more, and the dog presents the body parts he would like scratched. This is appropriate interaction – human and dog responding to each other’s signals.

Exercise, Play, and Mental Stimulation

Is your dog happy with the triad of exercise, play, and mental stimulation in his life?  These concepts are not all the same thing, but some activities can satisfy two or all three of them at once.  Exercise does not mean “wearing the dog out” so he sleeps the rest of the day.  Your dog needs good quality exercise for a period of time that works for the individual.  He needs the right exercise to get his heart pumping and muscles moving at the rate he’s ready for.  Just like humans, dogs have individual exercise needs and desires.  They also need to work up to higher levels of exercise like humans do. 

Happy, content dogs don’t run marathons

Dogs don’t naturally run for long distances without stopping.  They run, rest, sniff at a slower pace, jump and turn and bounce while playing.  This set of activities can describe a great exercise session accompanied by play.  The play and sniffing also bring mental stimulation into the picture, completing the triad. 

Allowing a dog to run and explore in a dog-friendly, safely fenced area is a great way to provide exercise and mental stimulation, and if you play with him during that time, you’ve got play covered, too!  Back yards and parks are your go-to places, and Sniff Spots® can be great, too.  Playing with other dogs is great if your dog wants to do that and has the proper skills.

A dog runs and plays alone in the grass. He can make his own choices of activities. He runs, turns, drops to the grass and rolls, stops to rest, and runs again. Humans are observing and you can hear them saying encouraging words, but they are neither restraining the dog nor trying to make him do anything in particular. This is a good exercise/play session with mental stimulation from the smells and sounds of the outdoors and sensory stimulation from rolling in the grass.

Training is Mental Stimulation

Further mental stimulation can come from using positive reinforcement to train behaviors.  Clickers and treats are the best tools for communicating to dogs which behavior choices are the ones you want them to use to work through the puzzles of training.  That’s really all training exercises are – offering dogs puzzles for figuring out what behavior gets them a treat.  You get to choose which behaviors you reward with treats or opportunities.  This builds your dog’s repertoire of useful skills while stimulating his brain and helping him get better at being trained by you.  Be careful to only ask him for small bits of behavior at first; ones you’ve seen him do before.  Then you can work up to bigger behaviors. 

Train Dogs to Do Things They Were Bred to Do

Does your dog have the skills to participate in activities that can help make him feel happy and content? Training is not just “sit, down, and come”. 

You can train your dog to do simple, back-yard agility skills like jumping over a low jump, either purchased or homemade.  Fetching a ball or a retrieving dummy like hunters use requires a little training finesse to get a satisfying game.   Scent games as simple as hiding things for your dog to find can lead to participation in scenting or sniffing sports.  It takes a little training to get the communication between you and your dog going so you know when he’s found something.  Dogs of herding breeds can have fun herding large balls around, once you’ve taught them what to do.  You can start with kids’ big rubber play balls, big exercise balls, or balls made for dogs or horses.  (Check out the dog sport, Treiball – there are even competitions for this game!) 

A dog plays fetch with his owner, fetching a frisbee and bringing it back. The dog has been trained to retrieve so that he can have a fun game with his owner. Retrieving is a breed tendency for this dog, an English Springer Spaniel; but any dog can learn to play a fetch game that is fun for humans and dogs alike.

Enrichment

Mental stimulation can also come from enrichment in the form of interactive toys and food puzzles.   Any toy that gives your dog a chance to “do” something, has a different texture from other toys, makes sounds, or lights up can be fun.  There are multitudes of food puzzles on the market, from a simple Kong you can stuff with food to harder puzzles that help your dog learn to work puzzles better, which can enhance your training.  You can even make your own food puzzles from boxes, bags, egg cartons, toilet paper cores, and more – get some ideas here.

A dog works a purchased puzzle. His owner has placed treats inside four doors that the dog must flip in order to get the treat out. The dog is fully engaged with the puzzle, eagerly searching for how to get the treats out, while his owner supervises. Enrichment puzzles can be purchased, as this one was, or made from common household items.

PLAN AHEAD

For your dog to be as happy and content as possible, you have to take some action. Lest you think you have to spend hours every day entertaining your dog, it’s not true!  Remember we began with PLAN AHEAD.  Just as you plan your work day, make a schedule for your dog.  You don’t have to do all things every day.  Learn to plan ahead and focus on a variety of activities over the week.  Make sure you stimulate your dog’s body and brain and include training exercises to make sure he’s always on the path to being the best dog he can be.  Your life will be better as a result.

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