New Year Dog

It’s that time of year again, when we make resolutions that usually have to do with our own behavior change. This year, why not make it a resolution to change your own behavior—in order to change that of your dog? A little work at the front end always pays off, especially when we are working with our beloved dogs!

Oftentimes when dogs are “behaving badly” in our eyes, it’s because they’ve not been taught an appropriate behavior and/or the behavior is rewarding for them. You must train behaviors in different contexts for it to transfer—she knows how to sit at home but not while out for a walk. You must also be aware of what the dog finds rewarding—he may love the negative attention you give when the dog launches a full-on jumping assault.

Decide what it is that you want your dog to do, rather than what you don’t want them to do. By taking this approach to behavior change, you give your dog an alternative behavior that you find acceptable and you both win. No more frustrated human, no more dog rehearsing behavior you don’t like. The more a dog does something, the better they get at it—this applies to good and bad behavior.

There are multiple ways to achieve your New Year, New Dog goals. Below are a few options that can work on their own but have excellent results when used in conjunction with one another.

The training route: Let’s say Bandit is a confirmed jumper and you don’t approve of this behavior. Try training Bandit to sit when meeting people! If he’s sitting ... he can’t be jumping.

Dogs tend to have a “what’s in it for me” type of attitude. Use this to your advantage with positive reinforcement training—make it worth the dog’s while to do what you want them to do. Of course, you will fade out the reward and put them on a sort of “lottery.”

The management route: Fido is a consistent shoe chewer. Rather than be retroactive and chase Fido around for said shoe (which is a favorite pastime among dogs called “human chase dog”), manage Fido’s environment. Put your shoes out of reach of Fido and, viola, problem solved. (It would also be wise to be sure Fido has appropriate things to chew, he is, after all, a dog!) Management is all about managing the dog’s environment and is a very easy way to greatly curb and eliminate undesirable behavior.

The consistency route: Dino is a habitual table beggar. You only give him a scrap from your plate every once in a while. Problem: Dogs don’t understand the human concept of “every once in a while.” Frankly, it sets them up to fail. What to do? Stop your own behavior of giving Fido table scraps and teach a solid “down stay” while you eat—this would be a great training- and consistency-route combo.

We all have areas that we can improve, and this usually includes our relationship with our dogs.

Maybe this is the year that you decide you will finally train Rover not to jump on people, or you’ll give Mika the exercise that she needs to be a well-rounded dog that doesn’t whirl around your living room like a Tasmanian devil because she doesn’t get enough regular exercise. Perhaps this will be the year you’ll train your dog not to pull you down the street as if you are contestants in the Iditarod?

Whatever your resolution is, go into it with the end game in mind. Not only will you be happier, bets are that your dog will be, too—they really do prefer to know what is expected of them! The great thing about a resolution that involves your dog is that you have a teammate of sorts and you can see your results affecting a more pleasant homelife for everyone.


©Kate Godfrey 2019; published in Unleash Jacksonville Magazine