We put a LOT of pressure on our dogs, even in the positive training world. It’s easy to expect them to be “on” all the time — to respond when we want them to, to perform behaviors when we ask them to, to not perform behaviors when we don’t ask them to.
And while taking the time to teach our dogs is important, it’s also imperative that we are allowing them enough opportunities to just do their thing. To walk or run at their own pace, to lay down in the grass, to track a scent, to dig in the sand. We owe it to our dogs to give them this time to decompress without any of our human expectations getting in the way.
Decompression walks are a fantastic way to meet your dog’s physical and psychological needs. During a decompression walk, your dog is simply allowed to “be a dog.” They can move at their own pace, and be free to sniff, dig, and play. The opportunity to do this regularly has an incredibly positive effect on your dog’s physical and mental health. Your role is simply to monitor the environment for safety, check in with your dog or hold the leash close when necessary, and keep the leash from getting caught on anything.
In my recent post about how to train your dog not to jump up on people, I shared that one of the keys to success is to "proactively teach a default behavior of 4 paws on the ground." This basically means that instead of teaching your dog a cue ("sit," for example), you teach them that any behavior that involves 4 paws on the ground will be rewarded. With enough practice, this training means that your dog's default behavior (even around exciting stuff) will be to stand, sit, or walk -- but not to jump.
"4 paws on the ground" is probably one of my favorite things to train, because it usually involves us humans letting our guard down and being a little ridiculous. It's a welcome reminder that dog training doesn't have to be so serious all the time -- and that it is arguably more effective when everybody involved is having a good time.
One way to make a "4 paws on the ground" training session even more fun is to turn on some music and have a dance party! Check out the video below to see a dance party in action.
Teaching your dog how to not jump while you're bustin' a move might seem silly (and it is definitely a little bit silly). But it's also a really effective way to prepare your dog to be more capable of resisting the urge to jump, even when in the presence of exciting people, sounds, and movements.
Of course, be sure to adapt the level of your dance party to your dog's current jumping behavior. If your dog has a really hard time resisting the urge to jump, start out with movements they can handle, then gradually increase the challenge. The goal is to set your dog up to succeed, so that they can be reinforced and so that they can learn. If your dog is repeatedly jumping up, it means you need to adapt the level of challenge so that they can have success.
What song will you choose for your next dance party?
Part memory game, part basic nose work, The Cup Game is a fun and easy way to activate your pup's brain. You can play it during mealtime to provide cognitive enrichment, or just break it out as a quick activity to brighten up a rainy day!
Check out my summary of 3 of the most important things to consider when rewarding your dog:
This video and the supplementary worksheet focus specifically on food rewards. Note that toys, play, praise, and petting can all be used as reinforcement as well; just remember that your dog must truly find something rewarding in order for it to be teaching them something.
So, here are 3 easy ways to start giving your dog more choice in their daily life:
If you're a dog owner who is preparing to bring a new baby into your home, you've obviously got a lot on your mind right now. And you're likely receiving an overwhelming amount of conflicting advice from random sources on the internet and from well-meaning acquaintances. How do you know what to prioritize and who to trust?
Here's a guide to help you feel more prepared and to direct you towards reliable resources and support.