Adding a dog to the family is a long-term and complex commitment. Dogs, like people, have differing personalities, needs and likes/dislikes. Creating a harmonious household means meeting everyone’s needs. This week I will discuss what the ABC’s of meeting those needs are. When everyone’s needs are met in a way that is suitable to everyone in the household, harmony and balance are established.
A is for Activity
Just like people, different dogs have different activity needs. Many dogs express undesirable attention-seeking behaviors in an effort to release energy that is pent up or solicit attention. There are many ways to burn a dog’s energy with brain-work and physical exertion. It is important to meet both intellectual energy needs as well as physical energy requirements to keep your dog happy and healthy.
B is for Behavior
It is necessary to look to the dog to discover and implement opportunities that meet your dog’s needs. What behaviors does the dog express to initiate activity from the handler? What behaviors does the dog seem to enjoy when engaged? What behaviors take effort to encourage the dog to participate? Looking to the dog can be our best guide for how to implement an outlet and environment that will meet their specific needs.
C is for Communication
We must be able to communicate to our dogs when we can engage them and when we cannot. This is also known as turning them on and off. As I have written about in the past, communication is both verbal and physical in our relationship with dogs. Our dogs do not inherently understand our body language, but they try to read it all the time because it is their first language. Therefore it is important that we use our body language clearly to communicate what we intend to mean. Dogs certainly do not understand our verbal language without effort in associating it with behaviors. Without the ability to communicate to our dogs we cannot express what is acceptable or desired and what is not.
Now, turn the session off. “All Done”. I like to use the ASL sign for ‘All done’ too. Turn away. Stand up. Stop playing. No physical touch. Stop communicating.
Practice engaging in play. Get low. Get a toy. Jump around. Offer eye contact and physical contact. Add a cue word; I like to use “Ready?”
This week it will be important to choose the games that fit your dog’s character and needs!
With multiple toys available and some treats, toss one toy at a time. If the dog looks toward the toy, reinforce with a treat reward. If they move toward the toy, reinforce with a treat reward. If they touch it with their mouth, reinforce the behavior with a treat reward. If they pick it up, reinforce it with a treat reward. Don’t worry about getting the toy back, but call the dog back, then you may toss a new toy. We don’t want to create a keep-away game. Food can also be inserted into the toy making it more desirable to chase and collect. Chase is a natural instinct for many dogs, but some won’t see the cycle of fetch concept through without additional motivation.
Many dogs LOVE to chase. We can capitalize on this with a flirt pole (think: dog-sized cat toy) allowing the dog to chase a gopher on a rope as we lure them after it. Bonus: This can be used in a limited area. Creating a chase game can connect to a natural instinct and high energy output.
Hide & Seek
As with chase and fetch search, discovery is also a natural behavior for most dogs. Dog’s that collect personal items from their home are ideal candidates for find-it. First, start easy and use a treat-filled, or favorite, toy and ‘hide’ it in plain sight. Slowly make it harder until the dog actually has to search. You can also hide multiple items for the dog to seek out during a multiple rescue session. Find it will use your dog’s search instincts, develop nose work skills and is a moderate energy burner.
There are basic needs that can be met with walks, a romp in a yard or dog parks, but for some dogs that’s not their bag of chips or not enough for their needs. How does your dog request attention? What does that tell you about what activity would work best for them? Use this week to observe how adjusting your offerings impact your dog’s negative attention-seeking behaviors.
Set up for success and reinforce the behaviors you want.
Jackie Ward; Citali Dog Training