Ten New Year’s Resolutions for Dog People

Just in time for 2012, here are ten suggested New Year’s Resolutions for those of us who live with companion dogs. Each will be expanded in its own blog post in the coming weeks.

  1. Read a positive reinforcement-based training book. There are plenty of dog books on bookstore shelves, but bestseller status doesn’t necessarily mean a book contains ethical or well-researched information. Scan the book beforehand and see for yourself whether the author’s suggestions are humane and whether they make sense.
  2. Omit the word “no” from your vocabulary. When a motivated dog is inhibited by an exclamation of “no”, he may become frustrated and then redouble his efforts behind your back. Most important, yelling at your dog may make him nervous around you. Instead of telling him what you don’t want him to do, try telling him what you’d like him to do, and reward him for it.
  3. Use a humane collar and secure lead when walking your dog. Whether or not you need a device to inhibit pulling, there are better choices than chokers (also called “training collars”) or pinch/prong collars. Head collars work well, although they may require some extra attention-diversion at first, and there are several no-pull harnesses available as well. A retractable lead is not as secure as a web or leather lead.
  4. Avoid working with dog trainers who use aversive (negative) techniques. Remember that quite literally anyone can hang up a trainer’s shingle. Trust your instincts if it seems the trainer is doing things you wouldn’t do yourself.
  5. Do not use a shock collar on your dog. No matter if it’s called “stimulation” or other euphemism, shock is painful, and pain can lead to fearfulness and aggression. The worst offenders are remote-controlled (by the owner) devices. If in doubt, throw it out.
  6. Don’t be afraid to use “human food” as positive reinforcement for desirable behavior. I often hear from clients that they were advised to avoid human foods because their dog will become fat or learn to beg at the table. But positive reinforcement rewards should be high value and certainly don’t have to be high in fat. Cubed chicken trumps kibble any day! 
  7. Teach your dog one new trick each month to keep her engaged and stimulated — and to guarantee dedicated quality time for both of you.
  8. Feed your dog at least some of his daily food in puzzle toys. There is no law dictating that dogs must inhale their food from a bowl. Making the food a little more challenging to obtain also serves as mental enrichment.  
  9. Don’t force your nervous dog to tolerate petting by strangers. When someone asks to pet your dog, and you know that your dog is less than thrilled with such contact, don’t be shy about saying no.
  10. Never leave your dog unsupervised in unpredictable situations. Although she may be a reliable dog in most circumstances, the behavior of others around her – especially children – is not as reliable. It might be best to leave her safely at home when visiting street fairs, picnics and soccer games.
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One Response to Ten New Year’s Resolutions for Dog People

  1. I hope that many dog owners will adopt these resolutions. It would certainly make a lot of dogs happy. Right now, I have a lovely Golden Retriever in my Advanced Manners class whose owners were told by a “correction” trainer that their dog was aggressive, dominant, untrainable, and a whole lot of other adjectives, none of which have proven to be true. I think the dog is a bit anxious, but very very smart, and he is often the dog I turn to when I want to demonstrate a new concept in class. His owners feel so lucky to know that their dog is capable of learning, and is actually enjoying training for the first time in his life. They love it when he comes in to the training hall wagging his tail as he runs to me and sits to greet! He cowered from his last trainer:-(((( Please, everyone, think about adopting these resolutions!!!! You and your dog will both be happier.

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