10 Things You Can Do To Improve Your Dog’s Life!
Mikkel Becker Shares Her Expert Dog Training Tips
We asked Mikkel Becker, a certified trainer and behaviour consultant and head trainer for Fear Free Pets (fearfreepets.com and fearfreehappyhomes.com) for her top 10 things you can do in your home to improve your dog’s life and general happiness. She obliged with this hit list. Mikkel uses positive reinforcement and non-force based training strategies rooted in scientific learning theory to help pets and their people live better lives together through kind training and bond building. Read on for her top dog training tips.
#1. Feed from food puzzles and offer productive chews to keep your dog’s mind, teeth and body occupied and happy.
Image: Jaromir Chalabala/shutterstock.com
#2. Have predictable routines your dog can rely upon. While the exact times can flex, having some routine to your dog’s day is important for giving your dog some form of control and predictability for what they can expect, such as twice a day feeding from food puzzles, twice daily walks, playtime in the evening, and so on.
#3. Offer your dog time to play and explore freely off leash in safely fenced areas or via the safety of a longline. While the dog park isn’t the right fit for all dogs, and while fenced areas are scarce to come by for some dogs, you can offer your dog some freedom to move and freely explore at the end of a harness and longline (longlines come in different lengths, including 15, 30 or 50 feet).
#4. Rotate your dog’s toys and chews. Dogs are fans of novelty. Rotating toys keeps them fresh, interesting, and engaging.
#5. Consider ways that you can reward more of the behaviours you like (such as polite waiting at the door instead of dashing through, eye contact instead of darting ahead on leash, sitting instead of jumping up, laying down by the couch instead of chewing it, quiet and closed mouth instead of barking, and so on). Too often we overlook or ignore the good behaviour we want and only pay attention to the dog when they’re ‘bad.’ We can encourage and build our dog’s desire to do more of the good we want by noting and reinforcing the positive behavior we may be overlooking. The more we reinforce the good behaviour using things our dog enjoys (treats, play or petting for the especially affectionate dog), the more likely we’ll be able to enjoy peace and quiet with our pooches.
#6. It’s important to respect your dog for the dog that they are. True, we may have gotten a Golden Retriever with the desire to have a dog who was calm, faithful, and obediently responsive. But the Golden we ended up with is far more frenetic, frantic, and overly excited, rarely being still for more than a millisecond before flying through the air in excited enthusiasm over the next squirrel, person, dog or other exciting situation. Every dog is different. And even within breeds or litters of pups for that matter, there’s likely to be massive differences in personality and energy level. By recognizing and accepting our dogs for the unique individuals they are, rather than trying to conform them into the dogs we want them to be, we’re much likelier to end up happier in the long run. And that frenetic Golden Retriever likely has some very special talents that you might not even realize. Those hyperactive retrievers and shepherds actually make incredible working dogs. Many times, in fact, the dogs recruited for the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation were hyper, toy-focused rescue dogs.
“Dogs are fans of novelty. Rotating toys keeps them fresh, interesting, and engaging.”
The way these dogs are wired makes them extremely good workers because their excitability can be channeled into intense concentration, focus, dedication, and courage once they’re trained to put those powers toward a force for good. Think searching for victims in rubble, all for the end goal of toy play, the reward for their heroic efforts. While you don’t have to actually train your dog for specific work, you can consider ways to channel their energies into ‘work’ that they’ll find enjoyable, an outlet for their natural talents and desire. For instance, you can teach your dog to work for their meals out in the yard by searching out scattered kibble. Or you can hide specific toys, chews or food puzzles inside the house or lawn for them to search out and find. Providing outlets for a dog’s natural behaviours and specific individual needs allows for the dog to expend their innate needs and desires into outlets we find acceptable rather than them acting out in less desirable ways, like chewing on shoes, patrolling the house to bark at passersby, and so on.
#7. Consider walking your dog on a front-clip or multi-attachment harness (one with options to clip on either the chest and back or both) in place of a normal collar. Not only is it more likely to be comfortable and to place less stress on the dog’s neck and airway, but it’s likely to increase directional control over where the dog moves and to naturally deter pulling, benefitting both dogs and their people.
Image: New Africa/shutterstock.com
#8. Create a Fear Free fortress in your home. This is a Zen-like space that’s filled with calming elements to help your dog to relax, such as comfortable bedding, toys, chews, and food puzzles, as well as relaxing essentials, like diluted lavender or chamomile scents along with calming music (like reggae, classical music, species-specific music, and soft rock). This may be a specific room in the home, a gated space, or an open area of the home—just place it in an area that your dog already likes hanging out in. You may also consider placing a den-like space in this area, like a crate with the door left open and covered with a blanket to make a cozy hideaway for the dog that wants to burrow or just have some alone-time. The Fear Free fortress area can become your dog’s safe space, somewhere to go during times of stress or simply when wanting a little R&R, such as when company is over or during fireworks or thunderstorms.
#9. Handling, grooming and health care doesn’t need to be stressful or anxiety provoking for dogs or their people. You can invest in your dog’s physical and emotional wellbeing by finding a Fear Free certified veterinary practice, groomer, and trainer for a more emotionally protective, happy experience for your pet.
Image: Bogdan Sonjachnyj/shutterstock.com
#10. Fearfreehappyhomes.com has a wealth of veterinary-approved resources to help animal guardians offer their pets the happiest, healthiest, most stress-free life possible. This help varies from ways to positively impact your pet’s home life, get a calmer response from your dog in times of high excitement or stress, have a calmer vet or groomer visit, nix the bad behaviour, keep your dog healthier through easy routine modifications, and more.
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