Our dogs bring us so much joy. Who else in this world wiggles when you walk in the front door after being gone for TWO WHOLE MINUTES?
So, why do we persist in making hefty withdrawals from our relationship and training bank without spending the time and energy making the appropriate deposits?
Too often, cues like “leave it,” “off,” “come,” and simple attention are overused yet under-trained. “Come” may save your dog’s life one day. Why leave it to chance that your precious pup will respond when he’s chasing a squirrel into the street after your uncle accidentally left the door open?
Here are two easy ways to make sure your fido fund doesn’t go into overdraft mode.
Talk less. Remember the boy who cried wolf? Well, if you’re thrumming “leave it, leave it, leave it” every two steps on your walk, your dog will learn to tune you out. Sometimes, folks don’t even realize they’re yammering on and on. So, if your dog rarely responds on walks, stop every block, and think about what YOU’RE doing.
If you’re speaking to your dog ONLY when you think he’s naughty, chances are, he’s learning to gain your attention by badly behaving. Or, those words that you continually utter mean nothing because every time you say “leave it,” your dog is doing something different.
Dogs learn by pairing the cue with the desired behavior.
And, it’s ridiculously unfair to expect our dogs to understand what “leave it” means without showing them what you want, with items that he can easily avoid, and rewarding for responding. A common mistake is saying “leave it” during a myriad of unwanted acts: he’s lifting his leg on our neighbor’s flower bed, pulling on the leash, or gnawing on your favorite shoes.
How can dogs learn the meaning of cues when the same phrase means, “uh oh, I shouldn’t have let you pee there,” “walk nicely on leash, please,” and “drop the shoe”?
There’s no such thing as “trained.” We call it trainING for a reason. If you spend time, ANY time, working on cues with your dog, he’s getting practice listening to you. And, don’t we all want our dogs to listen?
So, once you complete a class or formal, private training sessions, keep up the momentum. And, not just on walks, when you’re competing with a lot of distractions. Your dog’s reliability will get VERY rusty, VERY quickly if you don’t sustain some training practice for behaviors that are important to you AND critical for your dog’s safety.
Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise.
Your stock will undoubtedly increase with a little less chatter and a tad more practice.