Did you know that it's not just which treats you use, but HOW you deliver them that matters?
You can maximize your training and help your dog to regulate their energy by matching the style in which you deliver their reinforcement with the energy and behavior you'd like to promote.
Our dogs don’t get very many choices in their lives. We control where they spend their time, what they eat, and what experiences they are exposed to. A lot of this control is, of course, very necessary. Because if your dog is anything like mine, if you weren't around to enforce some boundaries, they would probably have eaten 6 packs of Oreos by now, and/or attempted to move in with the first stranger who smiled at them on the street.
You’ve also probably heard about the importance of using management strategies. Management is the practice of arranging your environment and adapting your own behavior to set your dog up for success. Some examples are using a long line instead of being off-leash, setting up a dog gate in the front hallway, or not leaving Oreos sitting out on the coffee table (can you tell I’m really craving Oreos today?) This form of management is super important if we want to keep our dogs, and those around them, safe and happy.
But the thing is, whether it’s an underlying need for control, not knowing any different, or just getting stuck in our routines and habits, we humans can become a little, well, micromanager-y. I mean, why does it seem like our go-to instinct is to control EVERY little thing?
When you commit to giving your dog more choices, you are boosting their self confidence, developing your relationship, and making their lives a lot more interesting and fulfilling. This is not only important for their physical and mental health, but it can also vastly improve behavioral struggles.
Okay, so here are 3 ways to be less of a micromanager (and give your dog more choices):
What's the point of training your dog to stand between your legs (other than for v. cute photo shoots)? Oh, I'm so glad you asked!
Here are just a few reasons why I love teaching dogs "Middle":
Check out the videos below to get started!
"My dog finished the activity in less than 2 minutes! How do I make it more difficult?"
I hear questions like this a lot. And I understand where it's coming from: you've just spent some time coming up with and preparing an enrichment activity or toy, and you're expecting your dog to be occupied with it for a while so you can eat your dinner or get some work done in peace. It is a really great idea to use enrichment as a management strategy (something that promotes positive behaviors while you're not able to actively train your dog).
But keeping your dog occupied for a long amount of time should not be the primary goal of your enrichment strategies. If it is your primary goal, you are missing out on the whole point of enrichment, which is to provide your dog with a fulfilling outlet for their natural behavioral drives. You're also risking your dog becoming frustrated or bored with the activity, which can also lower their self confidence and make it difficult to engage them in future activities.
That's why it's important to consider what your dog's individual drives and needs are, and then provide them with ways to meet those needs at a level for which they are prepared. You should also be available to help guide your dog through a new activity if they show signs of frustration or lack of interest.
Once they've shown that they understand how to engage with a particular toy or activity (and they enjoy doing so), then you might choose to gradually increase the level of challenge. But it's important to do so with the goal of keeping your dog interested and engaged so that they can get the most out of the activity -- and not with the goal of "stumping" them.
Oh, old towels, how I love thee. Seriously, I am thinking about creating an entire resource about how to use towels for canine enrichment. They're just the best. In the meantime, here's one of my favorites: the towel twist!
The check-in game is one of my favorites, and it's pretty much the first thing I introduce to all my students. It's super simple to play, and can be adapted to all sorts of situations and challenge-levels.
Most importantly, the game teaches your dog the value of auto-check-ins, which is when they look at you without you prompting them to do so. Auto-check-ins are one of the most important skills for successful leash walks, decompression walks, off-leash adventures, reactivity training, and more.
Check out the video demo, and take a look at the written guide if you'd like even more details on how to introduce and develop the game.
PS: Outside of the context of playing the check-in game, be on the look-out for those everyday life auto-check-ins. Maybe your dog looks up at you on a walk, or they check in when they see something they're unsure about. If you're in a situation where you'd like your dog to be seeking contact with you more frequently, REWARD it when it happens!
Got a dog lover on your gift list but you're short on ideas and time? Don't worry, I got you covered!
(Click on the images for product links).