Everybody knows a dog that barks incessantly, climbs all over the furniture, can’t be trusted with food on the table, or excitedly jumps on visitors. It might even be yours.
One thing is certain: These habits can make them not much fun to be around. For most unwanted behaviours, there’s a simple answer: Training.
Some issues require the help of professionals and consultations with veterinarians, but with the pandemic forcing many of us to stay home, we don’t have access to hands-on obedience classes for Fido. The good news is you can do some simple training exercises at home right now.
The Internet is full of advice – some of it questionable. Be sure of the resources you’re using. The Canadian Kennel Club, which is the primary registry for purebred dogs in Canada, has approximately 20,000 members and more than 700 breed clubs across the country, has lots of training information, including positive reinforcement.
What is positive reinforcement?
This is a method used to teach, capture and reward Fido’s desired behaviour. Put simply, it allows dogs to use their brains. Dog training isn’t solely about good dog behaviour. It’s essential to a long and healthy relationship with your furry friend.
According to Tanya Martin, President of the Newfoundland (All Breed) Kennel Club, here are some suggestions that will benefit you and your dog as you train:
- Praise and reward: Dogs are not born into our world understanding what it is we want them to do. It is up to us to explain to them in a humane and empowering manner what we want. Dogs generally do not set out to be bad but will quickly learn how to achieve what they want and will take the easiest path. Behaviours that are rewarded will be repeated by the dog. A dog always has a moment of being good just before he chooses a behaviour we don’t like. Capitalize on those moments of good behaviour and reward them. Pro tip: Put aside half of your dog’s daily food or have a training treat to reward those moments when the dog does not jump on you or does not steal the steak as he walks by the table. By capturing good behaviour, you get good behaviour.
- Manage the behaviour: As we actively work to change behaviour we don’t desire, we need to prevent or manage unwanted behaviour. If you don’t want Fido to jump on your guests, then put them in a safe place while they visit. They're obviously not at the point in his training to greet guests. If your dog barks at people out the window and you are not actively training at that point, close the curtains or put up a visual barrier. Pro tip: Nobody can or wants to train 24/7, so managing the behaviour is important.
- Consistency: Dogs understand and will change their behaviour if we are consistent in what we expect. Forget the idea your dog can jump on you today because you’re wearing sweats, or he can pull on you just this once because you’re too tired to care. Pro tip: Consistency is key to success and for your furry friend to learn the desired behaviours you want.
- Be patient:Your dog is not going to learn a new behaviour right away. Training takes time and commitment. Pro tip: Make it fun and never train for longer than 10-15 minutes per session.
The Canadian Kennel Club also offers these other tips for dog owners:
- Reward your pup with favourite treats – Try chicken breast, liver, or cheese for soft treats that don’t take long for your dog to consume.
- Show, don’t tell – Show your dog what you want him to do, as opposed to expecting him to understand what not to do.
- Reward good behaviour – It’s easy to scold bad behaviour. Reward good behaviour as positive reinforcement.
- Keep positive – Your dog knows if you’re frustrated. Keeping a positive attitude will encourage your dog to continue the positive behaviour.
Bonus treat recipe
During the pandemic, many of us are spending more time in the kitchen. Why not bake some fudge for your dog? This recipe makes a lot but freezes well and can be cut up into small pieces for training.
Training Tuna Fudge
• 2 cans of tuna (do not drain) or 15 oz. can of salmon (and juices) or canned chicken
• 2 eggs (optional, or use just one)
• 1 ½ cups flour (regular, whole wheat or rice flour)
• ¼ cup Parmesan Cheese (optional)
Mix ingredients together and put in a greased 9×9 pan. Bake at 350F for 20 minutes. When finished baking, turn off the oven and let it sit inside for a few minutes.
Training and stimulating your dog could help prevent a serious accident. Pet insurance also helps provide pet owners with financial protection against expensive medical costs. By helping you deal with the cost of care, insurance coverage puts you in a better position to make decisions about your furry friend’s medical needs without worrying about cost first.
One such insurer is Pets Plus Us. Their Blue Ribbon Benefits offer 24/7 complimentary access to a Pet Poison Hotline and PetHelpFone, which can provide veterinary advice outside normal business hours.