Words like “fix,” “stop,” “guaranteed,” and “instantly” can be synonymous with dog behavior and training.
But, as trainers who’ve studied and carefully watch our canine counterparts’ behavior, we often cringe when we see those words. Dogs are unbelievably intelligent, highly individual in their motivation and thresholds for stress or distraction, and deeply emotional.
And, what complicates whether or not dogs listen when the stakes are high often boils down to the human’s communication capabilities, the amount and quality of the training deposits made in the desired response, and whether or not the dog’s in a situation he’s not ready to handle.
We all want our dogs to listen, and often, in urban environments, paying attention is downright imperative for our pups’ safety.
Here are two easy ways to help your dog learn to LOVE listening to you.
Be more engaging in daily interactions. Often, when folks decide they need to begin a formal training routine with their dogs, they become SO severe. They push their dogs off the couch. They shout “SIT” before making their dog’s dinner or yank on the leash at every street corner. That doesn’t sound very nice.
When I play fetch with Gavin, I don’t mindlessly toss the ball for him, then focus on my phone while he retrieves his ball. I don’t tower over him barking “DROP IT DROP IT DROP IT”.
My time with my dog is precious.
When Lil’ Big Head sits and waits for his ball, I smile and look at him when I tell him he’s a good boy. And when I toss the ball, I do so in a different direction, so I keep him guessing. I want my dog interested in watching me.
And, without fail, EVERY time he runs back to me, I look at him and cheer, “there’s my good boy, yay!” Sometimes, as he’s running back to me, I run away to get him to chase me or hide behind a tree to make it FUN for him to find me (PLEASE, only do activities like this in an enclosed area if your dog doesn’t have a perfect recall).
When Gavin drops the ball, I see the glitter gaze in his eyes. Sometimes I have him do tricks before I throw the ball again, and sometimes I toss it for him because he dropped it quickly. But, I ALWAYS praise him for running to me, and I’m always as engaged with him as he is with me.
When a person walks past the fence, MOST people laugh at Gavin as he jiggles and shows off his balls, racing back and forth or stopping, expectantly, if he thinks they might want to pet or even talk him. But, some folks are afraid of Lil’ Big Head. And I want to be respectful of my neighbors. So, I call Gavin away when I see someone walking faster, looking down, and crossing their arms over their chest.
And, EVERY TIME, he races back to my side. Not because I’m a drill sergeant, but because he wants to. He’s learned that running to me is fun, good things happen, and we practice game-like versions of “come” often.
All dogs need an outlet that’s all their own. Being a city dog is a lot of work. And, most dogs struggle, even become frustrated if their only version of exercise is restrained leash walking.
TEN-HUT! Walk in a straight line. Get your nose out of the neighbor’s flowers, soldier! STOP goosing people. DROP THAT!
Ahhhh! So much pressure. And, for most of us, the goal of the walk is to release pent up energy, not to add so much tension that our four-legged family members destroy a pillow the instant we walk in the door.
Games like hide ‘n’ seek, the muffin pan game, teaching MOVEMENT tricks, even good bones and chews (proactively, of course, not AFTER your dog has nipped you) can give dogs an outlet that allows them to “just be a dog” for a few moments, and can go a long way in making your words matter, later, when you need them most.
Gavin doesn’t love his walks. But, he’s learned to LIKE them because we play fetch at the end of most strolls. Or we practice jumping tricks when we get home if one of our fetch spots is otherwise occupied. And, once a week, I let him kill a squeaky toy. He never eats pieces and parts. But, because I let him have something that makes him SO HAPPY, he gives me what I want, relaxing walks.