February 14th may be a bone’s throw away, but we know ol’ Cupid was accurate with his arrow when your four-legged friend stole your heart (and your pillows). We have lots of fun paw-resents for your significant dog-ther for any and all holidays, but if a physical gift just isn’t enough (and we know it’s not), don’t fret—we can help (at least in the pet-parent department). Use Valentine’s Day as a great day to start some dog training. No better way to show your dog the love you have for him.
Just like human relationships, you cannot have a successful one with your dog by only giving presents (although her eyes may tell you otherwise!). Presence, not presents, goes a long way in a happy, healthy relationship for you and your furry friend, so here are some acts of love you can do for your doggo (and ultimately yourself).
Dogs thrive by having a leader. From the early days of wolves, each pack had a leader that determined where the pack would hunt, the order in which they would eat, where they would sleep, etc. While you probably don’t hunt and gather for your daily meals, the pack instinct has never left your handsome fella or pretty girl. They still need that pack leader and that is you!
Pack leadership can be mimicked in non-threatening ways (don’t believe everything you read on the internet regarding being an alpha) and one of those ways is dog training! Contrary to connotation, training isn’t for performing a specific repetitive task, although certainly that can be the case. Training can be something as simple as sit/stay, fetch, drop/leave, nose work, agility; you get the idea. The key is to teach your puppers something new (to them) while you learn more about them and reinforce the pack order in your mortgaged den.
Training a dog to learn something like a trick can be tricky (see what I did there?). Some dogs naturally pick up on learning faster than others, but don’t get frustrated—simply adjust to their learning style and persevere. Some dogs want you to demonstrate what you want them to do, while others simply want the treat and will do anything to get it. For example, if Rover knows sit and stay but has a hard time with wait, then there’s your introductory lesson! Some high-value treats work great for this—place one or two on the floor and slowly say “wait.”
Remember that dogs don’t understand words like we do, they process our language in basic sounds. So, throwing a bunch of words at them will simply serve to confuse them and frustrate you. Perhaps causing you to mutt-er unprintable words and your canine friend to bark even more unprintable words. Follow the KISS method when dog training—Keep It Simple, Silly!
Chances are your pup will think your home has turned into the carnivore buffet and scoop up the treats into their ravished beak before you can say “wait.” That’s normal—put another treat in your hand, open it up, and say “wait.” After a second or two watching them drool, reward them for their obedience and repeat, this time adding on a few more seconds. They may become impatient after five or six seconds and grab it…but that’s OK! We all didn’t grasp things perfectly the first time…and neither will they. Keep repeating until you get to the timeframe you wish; for a unique take, try the treat on the muzzle and wait trick. We here at Dylan & Rainey will be anxiously watching for your viral video of Gracie patiently waiting for that magic word of “release,” scooping up that delicious snack into her fuzzy jowls.
Secondly, whatever training you’re working on, keep it short. Break it up into multiple five-minute sessions for non-active training and a bit longer for active. This will give them a chance to process it. And then connect whatever words you are trying to get them to respond to with the appropriate action; repeating it a short time later (an hour or later in the day) will reinforce.
When Fido listens and behaves like the perfect pupper he is, reward him…. with praise! Studies have shown that dogs respond better with praise than treats (who knew?). Plus it keeps those extra calories off the hips, and who doesn’t want a nice, healthy-looking dog?
In training and in public, dogs respond to you how you respond to them. If your pupper senses your frustration, they will be more inclined to act how they think you want them to act. Which by the way, is usually the opposite of your desire. If needed, take a step back and regroup, praising your furry friend for being so patient. Grab a drink of water, pet Ralphie, and talk soothingly to him, telling him how good of a boy he is. Then return to dog training.
In public, if your dog is misbehaving, raising your voice or sounding angry will only serve as approval for their behavior. This can potentially compound the problem. Instead, be firm but be calm, instructing him/her on what you want them to do. Instead of saying “get down” angrily if Fido is excited to see Grandma—who gives him all the snacks he desires—use a firm “down” with your arm pointing down. This tells the dog you disapprove of their behavior. But it does not cause them to feed off your emotions, causing Grandma to fall over and no snacks for them. And probably no snacks for you either since Grandma may end up going to the hospital. Or at the very least, she will be very upset and withhold your treats as well.
Finally, if your dog is looking at you (and we know she does quite often), that’s a sign of love. When dogs look into the eyes of their human, they release oxytocin. This can calm them and helps to build a bond with you. So go ahead and look back lovingly. Chances are their big heart will melt even more than you imagined. And the bond between you and them cemented forever. Just don’t look at Big Brutus, the new dog in the dog park in the eyes with love. (Love at first sight doesn’t apply here.) Brutus may be filled with brain chemicals—none of which are oxytocin or dopamine. Chemicals which will result in you needing medication after a hospital visit. And nobody wants that to happen!
Whether you’re throwing a big paw-ty or having a small get together, remember love is 24/7/365 with your furry friend. And you being with him or her is the best gift you can give them. Just as they do for you! So, why not spend your Valentine’s Day doing some dog training?!