As a dog trainer and dog lover, my dogs get the best food, supplements, veterinary and health care in addition to regular walks and training. However, I haven’t always been a dog trainer with the time or knowledge to do all of that. When I got my first dog, I worked full time in sales and rehomed a young cockerpoo with some significant behaviour issues, (issues that had been caused by boredom and frustration) which opened my eyes to the best way to care for him mentally as well as physically. After walking for hours he would still be hyper and destructive at home, it wasn’t until I started using his brain as well as his body that his behaviour began to improve. Mental stimulation isn’t a solution to all problems, but it definitely helps overcome some issues and most importantly is a great way to stop these issues starting in the first place.
I now compete in agility with two of my dogs and have competed at Crufts, Olympia and the World Championships. Agility is a brilliant sport to play with your dog, there’s so much to learn and even if you never want to compete it’s a great way to keep you and your dog fit and healthy, but basic obedience is a must. I always tell people even if you teach nothing else, then teach your dog a brilliant and rewarding recall. This can start in the house recalling them between different rooms or in the garden, make it fun for them and very importantly sometimes reward them by sending them back to play, don’t just use your recall to end their playtime or walk!
There are so many fun games and behaviours you can play or teach your dog, the list is never-ending. When I play games, I try to tap into what my dog loves to do. I have a working cocker spaniel who loves to use her nose, she has been on restricted exercise recently due to an injury but to keep her occupied we have been playing search games in the house. I started by creating value for a scent (I used a small tin of cloves) by encouraging her to interact with the tin and rewarding her for doing so. When I could see she had some value for finding the tin, I then added a “find it” cue and encouraged her to look for it. Now, she is great at finding it in the most obscure places. We have even started searching for it out in the garden which has so many other distractions.
Positive reward-based training helps you build a bond with your dog and stimulate their mind at the same time, this is the best way to teach any behaviours and tricks.
Key Points For Training;
- Sessions fun, fast, short, more frequent are best
- Be clear with what you want to achieve from that session
- Reward the good and ignore mistakes, remember they are learning
- Time the reward well to coincide with the required behaviour; a clicker may help you “mark” the behaviour before the reward
- Food for Thought, Toys for Action. I use food when I want my dog to think and toys, later on, to add more speed to behaviour or as a distraction to upgrade the exercise
- Choose your rewards wisely; know what your dog wants. When using food try to use natural low-fat treats in small pieces or let them work for their dinner, some dogs even love carrot!
- Keep it simple. You can add complexity to behaviours when they fully understand them. You could teach sit, down and stand separately and then ask for a chain of these behaviours maybe even in front of a distraction such as their dinner or their favourite toy
- Release Cue - Not all behaviours require a cue that tells your dog the exercise is finished, but where you expect more duration in an exercise, I would start to add an “ok/done/go/break” to let the dog know they can go play or leave the training
- Be consistent, make sure you maintain criteria, your dog will appreciate this and reward you by offering better behaviours
Remember, the more you teach your dog, the happier they will be, the stronger your bond will become, and their issues (if they have any) will be less. Making their life and yours easier. Above all remember to have fun!
Author: Kathryn Stickney
Based in North Tawton, Devon