What makes a “good dog”?

I ponder this question often. What makes a “good dog”? I am yet to meet a pet owner who does not want their dog to be a “good dog”, but finding someone who can describe what that might look like is a little more unusual.

There’s a good reason for this. I believe that a “good dog” should look different to each individual person or family. When you bring a dog home you will have your own specific ideas about what that dog should be able to do, where he’s welcome in your home, and how he should behave in different situations.

When my husband and i brought Wilbur home we had some pretty clear ideas about what he needed to do to be a “good dog” in our household. There were some common things on that list, such as go potty outside and walk nicely on lead, and there were some that mattered more to us than they might to other families: settle when the parrots are out of their cages, stop and wait outside the main bedroom to keep dog hair to a minimum (stupid dog allergies), and stay off the furniture.

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Wilbur learnt early on how to behave around his parrot brothers

Why does this matter? It matters because it means the things we needed to teach Wilbur were not necessarily “sit, drop, stay”, and it matters because our training goals were not necessarily the same as the next dog-owning family.

When we take our dogs to training classes we often end up focusing on traditional, bog-standard obedience. Sit, drop, stay, come, heel. These behaviours are important to some people, but not to all. At Treat. Play. Love. the focus in classes is on what behaviours make dogs more pleasant to own, and will help dogs remain family members for life. Can “sit” and “drop” be part of that? Sure! But you might find it more helpful to practice “sit to say hello” and “settle on your mat” than just 5 minutes of obedience training each day.

Most importantly dog-owning families need to start defining what a “good dog” in their home will look like. By talking about and planning what your dog needs to know to fit into your lifestyle, you can be proactive with training the things you do want your dog to do, rather than waiting until things start going wrong.

If you have a new dog, or need help teaching your dog to be the “good dog” of your dreams, contact Treat Play Love today and ask about our group classes or one-on-one training sessions. It’s never too late to start training!

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The Social Dog

Most clients i see want to spend time with their dog in social settings – friends houses, walks with friends, dog parks, the beach, etc. Sharing time with your dog and others can be one of the great joys of owning a dog. For some chilled out pooches it comes naturally to be social, but for others it can be more challenging (and some would prefer to stay home altogether).

One of the biggest challenges that we face as we prepare our dogs to be the social butterflies we so desire is the misconception that socialisation equals play. We try to do the right thing with our new puppy or adult dog by bringing them to as many play dates as possible and letting them mingle with other dogs. This can go well, or not…

Recognising inappropriate play can be really difficult for the average dog owner. It is easy for overly boisterous dogs to pursue a more polite or shy dog relentlessly, and equally easy for a shy dog to be overwhelmed without being noticed.

Rather than jumping in the deep end with play, take time to learn about body language so you can interrupt if play goes pear-shaped. The Dog Decoder app is a great resource for any dog owner to learn about basic dog body language.

Also spend time on some foundation training skills with your dog. Teach him that great things happen when he stays calm while other dogs are around. Help him learn to focus on you and respond to cues in the face of distraction. The majority of the time when we see other dogs it won’t be appropriate for them to play (e.g. passing on walks, in training classes, at dog-friendly cafes), so teaching your dog to be calm around other dogs should be your top priority.

When you do introduce your dog to new friends, focus on keeping the play short and happy and space out the play with short pauses where you reward settled behaviour. Happy play involves loose and wriggly dogs, lots of play cues (play bows, loose waggy tails, etc), and respect of the other dog. The players should take turns chasing and being chased, wrestling and being wrestled, etc. If you think either party is not enjoying themselves, pause the play.

Play fighting can easily degrade into actual fighting, and play chasing can become predatory, which is why those frequent breaks let everyone stop and chill, and keep from becoming over-stimulated.

Dog friends are awesome, but only when everyone is getting along and having a great time. Putting your dog in social situations that make him uncomfortable won’t help him to feel better around other dogs, it will likely make him feel worse. Your job as a dog owner is to ensure your dog is safe and happy, and that may or may not include play dates with other dogs.

If you need help with dog training in the Townsville area, contact Treat Play Love today.

Have you trained that?

11249307_10152931504747303_1194799322877169224_nWe have all experienced the frustration of being at the end of the leash while our dog bounces around and seems to be ignoring us completely. Most commonly this happens when something exciting is going on, such as when you attend a training class, take your dog for a walk, or even just when visitors arrive. “But he knows this!” we hear time and time again, while the dog becomes more frantic and the owner more frustrated.

But does he really know what you’re asking? Have you trained that behaviour?

All too often we forget that our dogs are terrible at generalising. This means that while they know how to sit on cue at home, in the lounge room, when we have a handful of treats, they don’t easily make the leap at realise that the same rules apply in new situations as well. We have to go through and break it down for our dog.

Before you take your dog to that busy dog park, or popular walking track, think about the skills he will need to be successful. Does he know how to walk beside you on leash? Focus when other dogs are around? Sit before crossing the road? Watch bikes and scooters pass without barking? Now, think about whether you have helped your dog achieve those skills.

We are often in such a hurry to go places with our dogs that we forget to take the time to prepare them for these things. Training starts at home, but it doesn’t finish there. You need to help your dog learn that training doesn’t stop when we step out of the house. Practice training in the front yard, and on walks around quiet neighbourhoods. Carry treats, reward good behaviour. As you and your dog become successful in these new environments you can gradually increase the challenge. We have to teach our dog that listening pays off, no matter where we are or what’s happening around us.

Failure to train these essential skills leads to frustration, for both you and your dog, and frustration leads us to do some pretty silly things. When we feel frustrated we are more likely to behave reactively, such as yanking on our dogs lead, or scolding them. When we recognise that our dogs simply don’t have the training or the skill set to behave the way we want, we can see that the responsibility lies with us to teach our dog.

If you are having trouble with your dogs behaviour, stop and think about the training you have done and whether it is enough. Join a reward-based chat group, or better yet contact a reward-based trainer for help.