More than ever, we are hearing terms like “mental stimulation,” “decompression exercises,” and “canine enrichment” being thrown around in the dog-owning community. Some owners feel that exercise, food, and obedience are all that our dogs need to be happy. In some cases, this may hold true, but I believe that there is so much more we can offer our loyal companions. I mean, imagine how boring life would be for us if we never had the opportunity to challenge ourselves, both mentally and physically?
That’s where canine enrichment comes in for our dogs. As owners, it is our duty to our dogs to give them the fullest and most robust life we can while they are with us. This can be accomplished by introducing new training exercises, changing up regular meal-time, and setting aside some instances to make your dog hunt for their food. Walking routines can also become more exciting by taking different routes or expanding where you walk to increase sniff opportunities and experiences.
This may be one of the easiest types of enrichment that you can use in your day-to-day life with your dog. Sometimes called “ditching the bowl,” choosing to give your dog their regular meal in more challenging vessels can be a great opportunity for your dog to flex their brain a bit and have a more satisfying experience.
Snuffle mats have hit the dog community by storm and offer a variety of benefits, from slowing down how fast your dog eats to reducing overall boredom. By feeding your dog either a full meal or a handful of treats in a challenging snuffle mat, your dog burns mental and physical energy by trying to “solve” the puzzle. The folds within the snuffle mat cover up the pieces of food and require your dog to sniff them out and use their nose to maneuver the food out from where it is hidden.
Check out our selection of custom-made, heavy-duty snuffle mats here.
New to the canine enrichment scene are snuffle balls. These balls are unique in that you are able to pour a significant amount of food into the middle of the ball. You then give the ball to your dog and show them that by rolling the ball, pieces of kibble or treats will fall out of the small holes. The folds of fabric keep the food inside of the ball so that only a few pieces fall out at a time. This creates a challenging game that engages your dog completely as they try to figure out how to move the ball so that they can access the yummy food it is dispensing.
Take a look at our variety of snuffle ball color combos and sizes here.
Kongs are an exceptional way to turn mealtime into a longer activity that teaches your dog both patience and persistence to get the delectable treat they are looking for. You can stuff Kong toys with about any food that is dog safe, such as peanut butter, carrots, blueberries, apple slices, treats, chews, or kibble. My go-to Kong stuffing is some pureed kibble with a tiny bit of beef stock and whatever leftover veggies I have in the fridge. I’ll then stuff the Kongs with the mixture and place them in the freezer for use throughout the week.
Regular Walks vs Decompression Walks
Depending on your normal routine with your dog, you may already engage in “decompression” walks without even knowing it. This is basically a fancy expression for just letting your dog walk the way it wants to. There are innumerable benefits of having structured walks where your dog isn’t pulling at the leash and is walking calmly by your side. But, there is so much more to walking than keeping in line with your paces. The plethora of smells, textures, sights, and sounds in even the most mundane environment can be exciting to your dog.
There are hundreds if not thousands of ways to provide your dog with quality enrichment opportunities beyond what I have mentioned. I am merely scratching the surface with those I have gone over in this article. My goal is to get you thinking about your dog in a way you may never have thought about before. Challenge them. Nourish them. And above all, love them with your whole heart.
Given that dogs have a sense of smell that is at least 10,000 times stronger than ours, it’s a no-brainer to create activities that require them to use their nose. My favorite game, by far, is “Find it.” Start this game off by having your dog sit somewhere nearby you (inside or outside!) and hide a treat behind an object. Stand near where you placed the treat and release them from their position. Say “find it!” and help guide your dog to the place where the treat is hidden. Repeat this a couple of times until your dog begins to understand the concept.
To level up “Find it,” you can start by having your dog wait in another room or out of your line of sight. This will allow you to hide the treats somewhere they can’t immediately see. Then, release them and ask them to “Find it!”. Not only does this give them the opportunity to use their nose and burn some mental energy, but it also can give you the chance to brush up on “stay” training and releases.
No matter which activities you chose, your dog is bound to love the additional time spent working out their mind and nose. Depending on your situation, you may have to tweak some enrichment activities based on your dog’s age, activity levels, and food/play drive. Find what works best for you and your dog, and never be afraid to experiment with new ideas! Comment below with some of your favorite enrichment ideas or activities for us to try out!
There is a lot of speculation and varying opinions about whether or not you should leave your dog in their crate at night. Many people see crate time as punishment or time out for their dogs, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth as long as you’ve introduced and familiarized your dog with their crate. When introduced correctly, a crate functions as a den or natural sleeping area for them.
Keeping a dog in their crate at night is both a safe and effective way to contain your dog while you are either asleep or unable to watch them. Therefore, it is completely reasonable and humane to crate your dog at night or for an extended period of time.
When putting your dog in their crate a night or for any extended period of time, it is important to think about crate setup and the amount of time they will be confined. Whether you’re getting a new dog or you’re having behavioral issues with your current dog, such as nighttime potty accidents or chewing, crating is a fool-proof way to keep your dog safe and secure.
Safety First – Crating At Night
With all dogs, it can be tempting to let them come up onto the bed or roam the house at night. However, this can be hazardous to your dog, especially if they are younger. Trash cans, medicine bottles, tables, and baseboards can be especially appealing to your dog, mainly when you are preoccupied with sleeping! If you are just now introducing your dog to being in their crate, click here to read how to acclimate your dog to their crate to prevent issues such as whining or barking while they are up.
When it comes to puppies or dogs who are not housebroken, it is imperative to keep them in their crates at night to reduce accidents throughout the house. When younger dogs wake up, they are likely to wander and may not wait until you wake up to let them outside to use the bathroom. These accidents can set your potty training back as dogs will often go to the same place to have accidents as their smell is familiar to them.
Based on your situation, you may want to provide your dog with access to food and water if you are going to leave them confined for more than a couple of hours. For our puppy, I have to remove her water bowl from her crate at night, or else she will knock it all over herself and her blankets while she’s sleeping. I also had to take out her blanket during the first month we had her because she would see the towels as a place to potty in the middle of the night.
Best Crates To Use At Night
My absolute favorite crate to use when getting a new puppy used to crate time, especially at night, is the tried and true Petmate Ultra Vari Kennel. This crate is an absolute wonder because there are no small nooks or crannies for your pup to get stuck on or try to chew through. The heavy material also blocks out light, which gives the crate a more natural “den” feel, making your dog feel relaxed and comfortable.
Another great and cheaper alternative is the traditional wire crate with a removable crate pan. This works wonders, especially during the potty training phase, where you may wake up to an accident (but at least it’s contained!). I used wire crates for both of my younger dogs since they fold up nicely for travel, and I can put a blanket or towel on top to achieve the same “den” effect as the larger, heavy sided crates. Midwest also makes crate covers that can be attached directly to the wire crate, adding a secure covering that won’t slide around.
If you are confident that your dog will not have an accident or are in the process of housebreaking, you can add an exercise pen to your set-up to allow your dog to have more room during the night. Exercise pens are attached to the primary or secondary door of the crate and are usually connected by small metal clasps.
Dogs bark for a plethora of reasons, whether it’s to alert of a looming threat or if they saw the shadow of a leaf fall one hundred feet away. Regardless of why your dog is picking up its pitch, it’s important to be able to get these barking outbursts under control. Excessive barking can become a bad habit quickly but can be squashed with proper training. And lots of patience.
To get your dog to stop barking, try to figure out why they are barking. Is it only at strangers? Any weird noise? Doorbells? Other dogs? Or, all of the above? Make note of when barking outbursts occur and what brought them on. This will help you determine the best course of action to take. Attention barking is treated very differently than territorial barking, so understanding your dog’s reactions will make the process much smoother.
Remember, yelling at your dog in an attempt to get them to stop barking will only rile them up more. Either ignore the loud behavior, remove the upsetting stimulus, or redirect their attention to something else, such as a toy or new environment, while in the beginning stages of training. Below, I will break down the most common types of barking outbursts as well as reliable solutions you can integrate to manage these behaviors.
Let’s start with one of the most annoying of the barking behaviors – attention barking. This looks like the moment you sit down for dinner, and your dog looks directly at you. Before you know it, they are barking their head off at you, hoping to catch some scraps. This demanding behavior is often inadvertently rewarded when dog owners give their dog any attention, even in the form of a verbal command such as “stop.”
The best way to handle attention barking is to absolutely ignore your dog when these outbursts occur. If possible, go into another room and shut the door. This sends a message to your dog that they will not get what they want from barking. Barking to be let outside, receive food, or be given physical attention are some of the most common instances where you will see demanding barking. Problem solve these individually by figuring out what your dog wants. Once the barking stops, wait a few minutes before letting them outside, giving them dinner, or giving them affection. The goal is to teach them that loud communication with you will not produce the reward that they are looking for.
For barking that occurs in the crate, it is highly important to never reward this behavior, either by verbal attention or being released from the crate. While crate training, there can be many situations where your dog thinks barking is likely to gain your attention or grant their release. Ignore the barking and when there is even the shortest amount of silence, reward them by letting them out, if applicable. Otherwise, toss a treat into their crate or verbally praise them.
Fear barking occurs when your dog is stressed, anxious, or fearful of a situation. They are using their voice to tell you or the stimulus that they are not interested. The best way to handle situations like these, especially in the early stages, is to remove your dog from the situation. Let them know that you are going to protect them and that you have their back by helping them get out of the situation that they no longer want to be in.
Moving forward, it’s important to work on counter conditioning with your dog to get them to the point where the upsetting stimulus is less threatening to them. This takes a significant amount of patience, practice, and persistence. Let’s say your dog is absolutely terrified of bicycles. Take them to a park that is known to have a lot of bike traffic and choose a place to sit far away from the bike lane or area. Reward your dog for even looking in the direction of the bike and not reacting. Slowly decrease your distance from the bikes as your dog becomes more comfortable with their presence. Depending on the aversion, this can take numerous training sessions to build up your dog’s confidence and desensitization to what they fear.
When working with barking of any sort but especially with fear barking, using high-value treats is key. You want to offer your dog something highly valuable so that their attention is directed solely on you. Placing the treat close to their nose in the initial stages will help move them from the distraction they are barking at. This is another great time to integrate “Look at me” during distraction training as you are getting your dogs to focus on you and not the stress-inducing stimuli.
For barking outbursts that occur while walking, you will need to exercise even more patience as your dog could be either afraid of something in the environment or being territorial of you. I’ve covered steps on working through impulse control and leash walking in the respectively linked articles as well.
Nothing can be more irritating than dealing with a barking dog when you are trying to answer the front door or bring a guest into your home. Granted, barking from knocking on the door can be both territorial or excitement driven but both can be circumvented through practice. The best solution I have found for barking at the door or when people are near the entrance of the home is to have a special “place” for them to go until they are released. When someone knocks on the door, Ember will go to her “place” and wait for me to tell her to “Go say hi” if someone is coming into our house. Her place is within eyesight of the door so she can be aware of who is entering and how I greet them.
For many people, it’s important to have a dog bark at strange noises or unknown people coming to the door. I have no problem with my dogs going ballistic over an unknown person banging on my door. The key is getting them to settle down and listen to me when I ask. A knock on the door is always going to sound the same, whether it’s someone I know or don’t know, so I have them all trained to either “place” if I’m opening the door or “Hush” if it’s not something I’m concerned about.
Beyond situational barking, a very useful tool to have in the obedience “toolbox,” as I like to call it, is the command “Hush” or “Quiet.” These words can be taught alongside “Speak,” so you can both reward your dog for using their voice on command and using controlled silence on command as well. I will warn that once you teach “Speak,” some dogs can become more vocal (Sheltie owner right here!!), so be mindful of your dog’s current barking behavior.
For me, I have found the most success with waiting for a barking outburst to end, then rewarding with treats as soon as the dog is quiet. Repeat this and add the word “Hush” when the dog is not barking. You can work towards this during barking by bringing the treat close to their nose as dogs can’t sniff very well while in the process of barking. The brief break in barking is the moment you are looking to reward.
For the most part, I have found that anti-barking methods are a great short-term solution but do not present long-term results. Dogs either outsmart these devices or become desensitized to them over time. The goal with training is to get your dog to understand what behaviors you want (silence in this case) and helping them realize that when they comply, they will be rewarded.
The only tool I continue to rely on is an old “penny can,” which is an old can full of coins. I don’t use it much for barking, but I will occasionally, just to get my dog’s attention and get a moment in where I can use the “Hush” command. I’ll shake the can very loudly for a moment during a barking outburst and interject the moment there is a break of silence. I’ll also use the penny can to interrupt play sessions that are getting too aggressive or discourage puppy biting on my older dog. She is learning to “Leave it,” but it’s still a work in progress.
The first step to fixing a bad barking behavior is to identify what is causing the behavior and the situational factors surrounding outbursts. Then, begin managing the behavior by shaping preferred “quiet” moments or instances where you can get your dog’s attention on you, even if for a brief moment. Work up to things such as a door knock equals place all the way across the room. Always know your dog’s threshold for distractions and what type of environments will be challenging enough but not overwhelming.
As pet owners, one of the biggest challenges we face is trying, futilely, to keep our homes clean. As someone with three dogs and three cats, this can be a constant battle between them and the weather. Rainy days are always a bit foreboding. I chose to write this article to highlight some of my own experiences with automatic vacuums, standard vacuums, and other floor care items such as carpet cleaners.
As I started to write this, I mentally added up how much money I have spent to keep my floors in tip-top shape. And I have to say; I think it’s around $1200. Granted, this is over several years, but we’re at the point where we have a Roomba, Dyson, Hoover carpet cleaner, and Shark Steam Cleaner. Our Dyson, by far, has been the best of the bunch as it will consistently get the job done. The Roomba saves us a ton of time and energy keeping up with the floors and lets me go about a month without having to pull out the Dyson, which is wonderful.
Below, I’ll share some of my tips and reviews on the best vacuums and cleaners that will keep your home free from tumbleweeds (for at least a day, anyway).
Ten years ago, I would have laughed at the idea of a robot vacuum being a successful tool for picking up the dog hair that’s deeply embedded in the fibers of my carpet. Roomba’s were always something that sounded too good to be true and came at a high price tag.
My perspective changed entirely a couple of years ago when I saw a killer sale on Black Friday. So, I bit the bullet and gave it a shot. All the while being mindful of the return policy and how I could send it back in case it didn’t work.
Flash forward a couple of years, and my Roomba is still going incredibly strong. Since we have carpet throughout most of our living areas, it became such a pain to pull out the vacuum every day. Our Roomba runs twice a day and picks up everything in his path (which means I have to pick up all of the lingering dog toys to help his efficiency).
Here are some of the best automatic (robot) vacuums that will pick up every clump of dog hair and save you a ton of time –
Since I moved into my first apartment with Coco, I’ve had to combat Aussie hair on every surface imaginable. At the time, I was a broke college kid who was just trying to buy something affordable that would hold up to what I needed. So, I bought whatever Bissel “pet” vacuum they had at Walmart, and off I went.
Well, that lasted a good 3 months before that noxious “vacuum” smell started to overwhelm my tiny apartment. A couple of weeks after the smell started, it just decided one day not to turn on. I thought, “well, maybe I should get the *nicer* Hoover pet vacuum and shell out $150”. So, I did. And that one lasted for about 6 months before breaking just like the cheap-o one I had.
So, I said screw it. I’m buying a Dyson. It came with a warranty and had thousands of positive reviews. And boy, has my Dyson been a workhorse for the past 8 years. I have NEVER had a problem with it beyond having to clean out the brushes every year or so. Granted, it’s basically in retirement now that we have the Roomba, but when I do my monthly once-over or need to clean up a mess rather fast, it never fails to impress.
My advice to any pet owner is to make the leap and get a substantial vacuum with a good warranty. I recommend Dyson simply based on my long-term success with mine, but there are others out there that hold up just as good. Now, to end my rant, I’ve combed through Amazon and even reached out to my Instagram audience to see what has worked best for them. Check out these reviews below –
While we are on the topic of clean floors, I realized I should include some of my recommendations for both carpet cleaners and wood floors. Since I have both in my house, I have both a carpet and regular flooring solution to clean up muddy paw prints and random vomit instances.
The carpet cleaner I’ve used for the past two years is the Hoover Smartwash. I like this one as I had an issue with the previous model, and Hoover sent me a new one at no charge. Using their warranty was easy, and I didn’t have to wait more than five days to get the new one delivered. I clean our carpets about every two weeks, especially given the puppy accidents that were happening right when we got Kashi.
For our “vinyl” floors, I’ve been using a Shark steam cleaner, and I’ve had it for about five years now. It works well on both hardwood and tile, although you may sometimes have trouble getting into the grout.
While I’m at it, it’s worth noting some tips to get your pup used to the presence of the vacuum and establish a positive association with it. The best way to do this is to introduce them to the concept of the vacuum slowly. Let them smell it, walk by it, and just notice its general presence. Reward them for any positive interaction by saying “Yes!” and giving them a treat or round of tug.
Slowly introduce them to the movement of the vacuum by moving it around while it’s off. If you have a herding dog, you may need to work on “Leave it” as they tend to try to “herd” the vacuum while it’s moving. It’s cute at first but can be incredibly annoying when you’re trying to clean up dirt they tracked in on a rainy day.
After they are comfortable with movement, begin by turning on the vacuum for a moment and then turning it off. Reward them for accepting the noise and continue to increase the duration it is on for but be aware of your dog’s comfort threshold.
If you have a dog who is absolutely terrified of the vacuum, it may be best to keep them in a separate room or their crate while you are cleaning. You can try to run the vacuum far away and have someone with your dog reward them for being calm while they can hear it running. Slowly reduce the distance between the noise and your dog as they become more comfortable. You can also slowly introduce them to the vacuum in the same way as discussed above, just at a more conservative rate.
When looking for a vacuum when you have a ton of pet hair to contend with, it’s always important to do your research and pick the best one for your needs. I’ve set up this guide based on my own experiences and input from friends and family. For all other products, I noted that the reviews are based on online customer reviews.
Tired of pulling, barking, and lack of control when walking your pup? Look no further. Our guide will help you through leash walking and all of the potential roadblocks you may encounter.
To teach your dog to walk with a loose leash, you must start by teaching them how to heel. Having this concept down will help you get them under control and stop leash pulling on your walks.
An important aspect of loose leash walking is remembering that our dogs need to have both structured and unstructured leash time. Going for walks is an exciting expedition for our dogs, and it’s unfair to prevent them from smelling and interacting with the environment. That’s not to say that we should let them pull us down the road either. The important distinction is having them walk calmly when asked and have a bit more freedom when on an unstructured walk.
When starting out with leash walking, you need to be sure that you have a well-fitting harness or collar as well as a leash that correlates to your dog’s strength. Safety on your walks is paramount, especially if you are still working on your emergency recall. Having a collar slip or a piece of walking equipment break can be scary, but if you have a solid recall, you can be confident that your dog will return to you, even without the leash.
The next step is gearing up for your training session. I would highly recommend some form of a treat pouch and a clip to keep your dogs leash attached to you. Having the pouch and leash on your person will keep your hands free and make it easier to deliver treats to your dog quickly. Mix up the variety of treats in your bag but make sure to start with something high-value to keep their attention on you.
Paw Lifestyles Treat Pouch: This pouch is by far my favorite as it has room for treats, poop pages, and a separate holder for your phone or keys. I cannot recommend one of these enough as it makes all forms of training so much easier when you can quickly reward your dog and not have to mess around with other things in your hand.
All In One Leash Combo: 6 feet in length with a traffic handle and clip, this leash is the perfect training tool. If you’re working with a larger dog, the additional handle is a great way to help position your dog where you want them while teaching heel and can also help you pull them back in a distracting situation.
For your dog, I would recommend sticking with a 6-foot leash attached to either a collar or harness. With the leash length, you can easily call your dog back to your side and keep them from wandering too far from you.
It’s always best to start inside your home or in an area that is free from distractions. You want your dog to be able to focus on you, which is best achieved when there aren’t other exciting things going on around you. When working in your home, you may be able to get away with low-value rewards or kibble as the environment will be less stimulating.
Start in your quiet space and attach your leash to either the dog’s collar or harness. Begin by placing a treat close to your dog’s nose, right by the inseam of your pants. Choose either the left or right side of your body and stick with it throughout the course of your training. Once your dog gets into position, immediately reward them for staying by your side. If they move forward or backward, remove the treat and place it back at your pants inseam after regaining their attention.
Once your dog understands the concept of where you want them to stand, begin by stepping forward just an inch. Keep the treat right by your leg and the dog’s nose. Reward them for moving with the motion of your leg, and refrain from rewarding them if they move out of position.
Heel training can move incredibly slow at first but will pay off tremendously over time. Having your dog come back to position, even when on an unstructured walk, is paramount to their safety.
In The Meantime
Working on heel can take months to perfect. And let’s face it, sometimes you need to take your dog on a walk for them to potty or just burn off some energy. So, when you aren’t on a structured heel walk, there are a couple of ways to manage pulling until you can get a full heel in place.
The concept of the standstill technique is exactly how it sounds. When you’re walking with your dog, and they begin to pull, stand still and firmly hold the leash. The moment your dog relaxes their shoulders or turns to you, reward them by walking forward. The second they pull again, stop until they release the tension on the leash. You will have to repeat this frequently until your dog gets the message. I recommend doing this several times per day when starting your walk.
Like the standstill, circles create the message that your dog pulling in a given direction isn’t going to give them what they want. The second they start pulling, quickly turn around and head the other direction. In my experience, this works rather quickly as compared to the standstill method as most dogs pull to get towards whatever is in their line of sight. Repeat this as much as necessary and incorporate it into your heel training as well.
Loose Leash With Distractions
Possibly the most difficult task of loose leash walking comes in when there is a significant distraction or environmental factor that you and your dog have to contend with. The best way to work on distraction training is to get a solid “Look at me” down before putting your dog in a new environment. Being able to break their attention away from whatever the stimuli are and focus back on you is critical. You can also use the Leave it/look at me combo and turn around to head in the other direction.
It is critical to practice with varying distractions while in a controlled environment. You can accomplish this by throwing toys around and having your dog leave them alone and continue to heel on leash. You can even play car sounds or garbage truck sounds on your TV.
Planning out your training sessions and focusing on specific distractions or factors will grant your the largest strides of success. Think about your walks in terms of time and not distance. Twenty minutes spent heeling and paying attention in your driveway while a dog walks by is more stimulating to your dog than walking a mile while pulling. Be patient and always set your dog up for success by training inside first, slowing increasing distractions, and making sure to try your hardest not to put your dog over threshold (putting them up against something they simply could not ignore or something you haven’t trained for).
Let’s Talk About Prong Collars
There is an enormous and often divisive stance regarding prong collars and their use in the dog training community. Personally, I am against prong collars as I believe that you can achieve loose leashing walking without having to rely on force for compliance. In the end, it is up to the owner and their trainer to make the choice that best suits your dog, but as with all behaviors, positive reinforcement will always net you the best response in the long run.
The key to having your dog walk calmly, with a loose leash, is patience and a lot of training. Asking your dog to ignore its often very exciting surroundings to walk right next to you is a task that requires diligence and time to master.
If the first thought that runs through your head when you check the forecast is, “Oh great, how am I going to keep *insert your dogs’ name here* entertained today if it’s soaking wet outside” then you and I are in the same boat. With two hyper Australian Shepherds, rain can add an additional challenge to an already demanding breed.
For anyone with a high-energy dog, exercise and mental stimulation is key to having a happy pup and some much-needed down-time for their owners. On average, I spend about 1-2 hours a day entertaining, exercising, and training my dogs. Granted, this is higher right now with cooler weather and a new puppy, but it is still demanding nonetheless.
Finding suitable activities for your dog to engage in inside of your home will help you reduce the chances of unwanted chewing, whining, barking, and overall rambunctious behavior. Below, I will go over some of the most common and easy options to keep your dog worn out, even without a good run in the backyard.
Possibly my favorite and most successful indoor exercise option is to play a good game of catch with the flirt pole. A flirt pole is basically a small rope or tug attached to a long pole by a bungee or flexible cord. If you’ve ever seen a feather cat toy, think of a flirt pole as the dog equivalent.
To get your dog interested, begin wiggling or moving the “lure” or object at the bottom of the pole to get their attention on something that is moving. If they grab it, reward them by tugging the toy. You can wave the pole around to get them to chase the lure or create a training game out of the exercise (definitely the best way to tire them out)
You can use the flirt pole for training by:
Teaching “Take It” – Have your dog grab the lure, then reward them by tugging. Say “Take It!” when they grab the lure and “Leave it” when they let go. This is great take it/leave it training as the goal is for them to both have fun and listen to what is being asked at the same time.
Ask for a command they already know, such as sit, and then release with “Okay” and have the lure be the reward. This game of chase is fun for your dog and makes them have to think about what they should do next to get to chase the toy.
Perhaps one of the more simple games you can play with your dog is one that requires them to use their nose. Have your dog hold a sit or down while you hide a piece of food or a treat (preferably a smelly one) somewhere nearby. Tell them to “Go Find It!” and lure them towards where the treat is.
You can increase this game’s difficulty as you go once your dog understands what you want them to do. Increase distance and even try putting them in a separate room while you hid the treats. You can hide them under boxes, in a cabinet, under a rug, or any area you are comfortable with them accessing. This is a great way to work on impulse control, and your dog has to wait to find the reward. Play around with nose work games, and you will be surprised at just how much your dog will like it.
If you’re looking to sit down to relax or get some work done, it is invaluable to have something your dog can focus on besides you or chewing up the furniture. Enrichment toys give your dog something to wear them out mentally, which can provide even more energy burn than a game of fetch. Getting your dog to really think something through can be just as exhausting and rewarding as traditional outdoor exercise.
With so many enrichment toys available, it can be hard to pick just a few. I’ve started making my own snuffle balls and snuffle mats these past couple of years as I found the ones listed on Amazon and Chewy to just not hold up the way they should. By interweaving fabric in a pattern with a solid base, these snuffle toys can hold up to any dog and will provide a ton of mental stimulation. Check them out here.
Other enrichment toys beyond snuffles can range from stuffed Kongs, lick mats, puzzle toys, and just about anything else you can think of to get your dog’s brain working. You can even hide kibble in a box full of toys or toilet paper rolls. Your main goal is simply to put your dog’s mind to good use.
Beyond enrichment activities, nothing beats a good training session to really get your dog concentrated and worn out! Here I’ve linked some really easy tricks you can start teaching without any training foundation if you are just getting started with your pup. Remember to mix it up and try a variety of exercises to see which one you and your dog can both enjoy.
If you’re here, you’re probably already at your wit’s end, and your hands are scratched up into next year. Puppies instinctually play bite when playing with their littermates, which can quickly bleed over into how they play with their owners. With some patience and know-how, it is possible to stop puppy play biting and redirect their mouths onto something much less vulnerable.
To stop puppy play biting, you need to make a distracting sound such as loudly yelling “ouch!” or “uh-uh!” the moment they bite your hand. Let your hand go limp until they release, and then ignore your puppy for about twenty seconds. You may then resume playing with them by adding in a toy or other appropriate chew item.
Puppies inherently have the desire to mouth objects and any living thing they can find. It is important to know how to curb this behavior early on, especially while they are smaller. The larger and older a puppy gets, the worse the biting can be. Structuring playtime, having the right tools and understanding why puppies play bite will help you nip this problem behavior before it gets worse.
What To Do When Your Puppy Bites You
As someone who teaches their dogs a lot of mouth-related tricks such as “take” or “kisses,” I want to be comfortable with the pressure my dog uses with their mouth. Therefore, I believe it’s important to establish a distinction between a hard bite and general mouthing. With a puppy, it’s easy to teach them the difference between mouthing and biting. To do so, you must show them that play sessions continue with light mouthing but are abruptly stopped when they are biting too hard.
If you’re interacting with your puppy and they go straight for your hand, it may be more appropriate to redirect them to a nearby toy or chew. Mouthing or biting to get your attention should not be rewarded as this can lead to continued biting when they are much bigger and stronger. If you’re playing with them with your hands, this could lead to confusion as they may start to assume your hand is something to play with.
By saying “ouch!” when your puppy bites, you are giving your dog the signal that their behavior is hurtful. When puppies are with their littermates, they will yelp when one of them bites down too hard. Using a loud “ouch!” simulates this behavior and gets your point across to your dog in a way that they fundamentally understand. Using the “limp hand” technique also shows your pup that playtime ends when playing too rough.
My rule of thumb is if we’re playing and the biting continues after a few “ouch!” corrections, I will put the puppy either in their crate or playpen to give them a chance to calm down. It’s not uncommon for puppies to get overstimulated while playing, and sometimes allowing them to rest is the best option to take. When your dog is riled up and biting like crazy, this can give them the notion that this behavior is okay if they are not corrected or separated from the stimulating situation.
Using Toys & Teaching “Leave It”
When your puppy has its mouth around your hand, it can be difficult to think about anything other than how sharp those darn teeth are. Reaching for a toy to redirect their attention after saying “ouch!” is a great way to give them something appropriate to gnaw on instead. Especially during teething, puppies need something to chew on to relieve the pains associated with their teeth loss. This is a natural behavior, so redirecting with a toy will allow them to keep chewing and for you to keep your hand safe.
Play biting is another opportunity for you to practice “leave it” and “take it” with your dog. I’ll use a rope toy and have them grab on to pull a good game of tug. Then, have them leave the toy for a moment. You can do this by making the toy seem “dead” by keeping it still. The moment your dog leaves the toy, reward them by making it seem “alive” again and telling them “take it.” For a more in-depth guide on teaching leave it, check out my article that outlines how to teach leave it and how to use the command in everyday situations.
Puppy Ankle Biting
If you have a herding breed, chances are you are at your wits end with ankle biting. These guys just LOVE to go for anything that is moving. In my experience, redirecting is the number one way to solve this. How do you redirect while walking with your laundry hamper in your hands you ask? The solution is a long rope toy that you can stick in your back pocket.
These rope toys saved my sanity and my ankles when we had both of our Aussie pups. Even our Sheltie still plays with it today. The best part about these ropes is that they done flake apart like traditional rope toys and are four feet long. They are the perfect object for your pup to follow around and latch onto, leaving your feet free from harm. And, if they get dirty, you can toss them in the washer with no problems.
Play biting is an instinctive reaction from your puppy but can be detrimental to your hands, legs, clothing, and anything else they can sink their teeth into. Knowing how to give them the proper correction by saying “ouch!” redirecting their attention and giving them appropriate toys are all ways to circumvent troublesome puppy biting.
Teaching your dog a reliable “Leave It” is absolutely imperative to their future training success and well-being. Each of our dogs has a rock-solid understanding of leave it, which has saved us many a trip to the emergency vet throughout their lives. When learning how to teach your dog “Leave It,” there are several steps you must follow to be successful.
To teach “Leave It,” begin by holding a treat in your hand with your fist closed. The second your dog ignores your hand with the treat, reward them immediately with a “Yes!” and a treat from your other hand. Your dog will begin to understand that leaving your hand alone is the only way they will be rewarded.
When starting out, it can be a bit frustrating for both you and your dog as they try to figure out exactly what you are asking of them. Following the proper steps to introducing the command and continuing to practice over time will lead you to a dog that will leave anything alone when asked. A strong foundation is important as this skill will be continually built upon for years to come, but getting started is incredibly straightforward.
Introducing “Leave It”
The command “leave it” can be applied in just about any situation where you want your dog to ignore something completely. This can be a piece of food dropped on the kitchen floor, a dead squirrel on the side of the road, or even your cat who wants absolutely nothing to do with your dog. Getting to this level of generalization takes time and practice but is very easy to accomplish as long as you remain consistent.
To begin, place a treat in your hand and close your fist. Your dog will most likely nose or paw at your hand in an effort to get you to open it. Ignore this behavior and wait for the moment your dog moves their attention away, even slightly. Reward with a “Yes!” and give them a treat from your other hand to keep a barrier between the “left” treat and the reward treat. Once they get the hang of this, begin adding “leave it” when placing the treat in your hand. Reward the moment they leave your hand alone and repeat for several tries.
Once your dog has gotten the hang of leaving the treat alone with a closed fist, begin opening your hand, so the treat rests on your palm. If your dog leaves it alone with the command, reward with the treat from the other hand. If they dive for the treat, close your palm and start back from the beginning. After they have the open palm down, try placing the treat on the ground and covered it with your hand if your dog goes to eat it.
When teaching “leave it,” using a clicker in the beginning stages is a game-changer. When your dog leaves the treat alone that you are asking them to forget about, you can click and attach “Yes!” to the behavior. Since “leave it” is one of the first things I teach to a dog, this is a great opportunity to build up a connection between the word “Yes!” and a reward.
Remember, these sessions may take several attempts to get your dog used to the command, especially with tempting treats. You can use kibble in your hand initially as this may be easy to get your dog to leave alone. Be patient, as this foundation will be the roadmap for your continued success and is the most important skill you can teach your dog in the long run.
Leveling Up “Leave It”
Once your dog has a good grasp of the concept of “leaving” treats in your hand or around them on the ground, it is time to ramp up the difficulty. A solid leave it looks like your dog seeing a piece of a juicy steak on the ground and looking at you instead of the steak. This may sound lofty, but with patience and training, this is entirely possible.
Once the foundation has been set, start tossing treats on the ground around your dog. Follow the same steps as before by rewarding them for not touching the food or treats. You can use lunch meat, chicken, bread, or anything non-toxic that may entice your dog. This is great for establishing proper behavior in situations where food may be dropped on the ground accidentally, especially from plates or counters.
The next step is adding distance to your training. Being able to have your dog listen to you out in the yard or when going up to something on a walk is an awesome skill to have. When introducing distance, keep your dog on a leash so that they cannot go after the item you are asking them to leave. I’ll practice this in my yard with my dogs when they begin to play too rough. If the puppy starts chewing on my older dog, I’ll give her the leave it command while she is still attached to me via the leash. This allows me to reinforce the command by pulling her back to me if she ignores my command. If she does ignore me, I know it’s time to take a step back and refresh the basics of this command.
As you go, you will find new situations where leave it can be both useful and lifesaving. Dropping medicine off the counter will no longer cause panic once you know your dog will leave it alone when you tell them to. Leveling up your distractions and distance are critical to getting your dog to leave something alone, no matter how tempting.
Using “Leave It” With Toys
Another great way to work on “leave it” is to use a toy instead of food. I like to use a long rope toy and make it exciting by dragging it around or wiggling it near the dog. Once they latch on, let them pull and tug for a moment. Then, make the toy “play dead.” The moment your dog releases their grip, say “Yes” and then start the game over again.
After your dog releases the toy a couple of times, begin saying “leave it” when they let go. You can also combine this method with teaching “take it” and “leave it.” This is great for future training and also gives your dog the idea that you are asking them to play and also asking them to release what is enticing to them.
Teaching “Leave It” is the most important command to teach your dog as it is imperative for their safety. Start slow with your training to create a solid foundation for this skill and gradually introduce challenges so that you can get your dog mastering leave it, no matter what situation they may find themselves in.
Whether your dog is young, old, a rescue, new puppy, injured, perfectly healthy, or anything in between, separation anxiety can develop at any time. This can be not only frustrating but heartbreaking as well. Of course we want our dogs to feel safe, even when we aren’t with them! In light of COVID-19, many owners found themselves working from home for extended periods of time, and our dogs become used to our constant presence.
Before reading any further, the number one reducer in separation anxiety you can work on right away is working on how you greet and leave your dog. If you make a huge commotion and get either excitable or anxious towards them when you are entering/leaving your house, they will associate this as reinforcement. The best thing to do is to completely ignore your dog when coming and going from your house. You can do a small “Hey there” or calm greeting, but until your dog has either calmed down, gone outside to potty, or has truly relaxed, don’t make a huge fuss over them. My routine when I leave is a simple “Bye pups, be good!” and then a “Hey, let’s go outside” when I get home.
Signs of Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety can manifest in many different ways, all depending on how your dog handles stress. The most common indicators of separation anxiety are:
Excessive drooling or panting
Whining or pacing as you are preparing to leave
Trembling or shaking
Accidents in the house (if potty trained)
Destruction of objects
Chewing or digging around entryway points
Make sure never to scold or punish your dog if they had an accident or destroyed something while you were gone. Dogs do not have the ability to understand that you are upset about a behavior that occurred several hours ago, and punishing them will only increase their anxiety.
Knowing what to look for is half the battle when working with a dog with separation anxiety. To help you identify your dog’s triggers, see what happens when you prepare to leave your house or even the room. Do they start whining when you grab your car keys? Do they follow you around the house? Establishing behaviors that accompany separation anxiety will help you as we tackle a couple of angles to reduce your dog’s anxiety.
How To Handle Separation Anxiety With Your Dog
The number one rule of thumb when working through separation anxiety is to focus on crate training. Successful crate training looks like a dog that is excited or at least willing to go into its crate for an extended period of time, without whining or signs of stress.
To properly introduce your dog to their crate, you need to get them excited about their new “house.” Using a crate as punishment will make your dog resent the time spent in the crate and won’t view it as a safe place. If your dog is unfamiliar with their crate or doesn’t have a good association with it, take some time to go over the basics with them again, such as feeding them in their crate.
Once your dog is familiar with their crate, begin by putting them up for about 30 seconds, and then reward them by letting them out. Gradually increase the time intervals and add segments where you leave the room and then come quickly back. The goal is for your dog to learn that you will come back and that they don’t need to be stressed because they can’t be with you.
Another crate desensitizer is to give your dog something that they absolutely love, such as a stuffed Kong, only while they are in the crate. Give them the chew, close the crate door, and walk away for a couple of minutes. Come back and let them out of the crate, taking the valuable chew away. This teaches them that the crate is truly an awesome place to be.
If your dog absolutely hates the crate, has a history of abuse, or otherwise is too stressed to be confined, you can find some alternative options such as a small room or area of the house. Exercise pens are also a great option for confinement. Follow the same procedures as crate training but instead, close the door to the room. No matter which method you use, getting your dog comfortable with your absence over a slow period of time will condition them that you leaving isn’t the end of the world.
The Leaving Routine
Similar to crate training, you want your dog to associate your common “leaving” behaviors as a positive experience. If you grab your purse and keys before leaving, this may create a routine of stress for your dog. Try picking up your keys, walking outside for a moment, and coming right back in. Pick up your purse, give your dog a treat for being calm, and set your purse back down. You want to create a positive association between your leaving routine and your dog.
For my pups, the hardest was always the closing of the garage door. To them, this symbolized a long time that they would be without me. So, I would go outside, shut the garage door, then open it again a few minutes later. Using my Furbo camera, I was able to see when they calmed down so I wouldn’t reward any whining or barking by coming back inside while that behavior was going on.
As an overarching theme, you never want to reward stress behaviors such as barking or whining. When your dog barks to get out of the crate and you let them out, this reinforces that this behavior will get them what they want. Wait for even the briefest moment of quiet before letting them out. You can also work on teaching settle, even while they are in their crate.
Exercise and Mental Stimulation to Combat Separation Anxiety
Even heard the phrase, a tired dog is a happy dog? This is certainly true and can be a huge obstacle to overcome when working on separation anxiety. If your dog spends a lot of time in their crate or not receiving adequate exercise, this can increase their overall anxiety as well as separation anxiety. Make sure to give your dog the opportunity to run, play fetch, socialize with other dogs, and overall, just be a dog. A great time to work on desensitization and crate training is after a big play session or when your dog is coming up on a big nap.
Mental stimulation is often overlooked and is another great way to lower your dog’s anxiety levels. I use a variety of enrichment toys such as snuffle mats, snuffle balls, training exercises, flirt poles, and similar activities that wear my girls out. Snuffle mats are a great way to give your dog something to do on the opposite side of the room to work on increasing distance and feeling confident without being attached right to you.
Medications For Separation Anxiety
If you have tried all of the above recommendations and are still experience severe separation anxiety with your dog, it may be worth looking into medication or supplements to ease their anxieties. As always, consult with your veterinarian for the best route to take with your dog as they have a variety of treatments and know your dogs’ medical history best.
As someone who has two velcro Aussies, I promise that with steady training and patience, the separation anxiety will get better. Slow desensitization along with confidence building will go a long way to helping your dog feel at ease when you are not around.
What Does Resource Guarding Look Like And How Can I Prevent It?
Has your dog ever shown their teeth at another dog over a toy or piece of food? Or, snapped at you? This behavior is known as resource guarding and is an incredibly common behavior. Growling, showing teeth, lunging, and biting are common behaviors a dog will display when protecting a resource.
No matter if you have gotten a new puppy or have an older dog exhibiting any of these behaviors, it is important to keep safety at the top of your priority list. Never put yourself in between a resource and your dog if they are displaying aggressive behavior.
The best way to deal with resource guarding is to prevent it before it happens, if at all possible. I tell every puppy owner to work on this as soon as the puppy is brought home. This can be practiced with meal times, valuable chews, and even areas of the house.
If resource guarding is already an issue for your dog or dogs, there are some steps you can take to desensitize and manage the behavior to promote safety for everyone involved. However, if you feel unsafe or that there is a likely chance that your dog would injure you or someone else, I would highly suggest calling a nearby trainer for an in-home consultation.
If you have a new puppy, it is critical to work on preventing resource guarding as early as possible. Teaching your dog at a young age that you will not take their resources and instead reward them for sharing is incredibly beneficial and will also ensure your safety later down the road. You can do this by tossing a treat into your puppies’ food bowl, looking for any guarding behaviors, and playing the exchange game with high-value treats.
To practice with your puppy, begin by giving them a valuable chew or long-duration treat. Let them chew for a moment and then give them a treat. Take the item away and give them an even more valuable treat such as chicken or turkey. Then, give them the item back and let them continue chewing on it. Repeat this several times
Resource Guarding – Toys
When it comes to toys and bones, these are also seen as valuable commodities to your dog. Your dog may become possessive over their favorite item and can even become aggressive when you or another dog attempts to take it away. The number one prevention for this is to take up items your dog may find valuable and put them away for further use. For instance, I would only give your dog the valuable toy when they are alone and in an environment where they will not be bothered.
To slowly desensitize your dog, you can work on “leave it” to create an exchange. The main premise is for you to create so much value with the item you have (a piece of chicken, a high-value treat) that your dog is happy to give up the item they have. Carefully take the item while luring your dog away with the high-value food item. If your dog shows any aggression, proceed with extreme caution. If you feel unsafe, do not try to attempt an exchange.
If you feel that you can safely exchange the toy for the treat, reward your dog with multiple treats for giving up the toy. After treating them, immediately give them the toy back so that they can understand your taking of the resource does not mean it will go away. This is key as the reason dogs resource guard is to keep an item or food that is highly valuable to them. Therefore, you have to teach them that you having access to their resources is okay and not the end of their playtime with the toy.
An excellent toy to use for these training sessions is a 4ft long fleece rope toy. These will allow you to remain at a safe distance while still having access to the toy. Toss a treat near your dog and when they let go of the rope, pull it away and reward them with another treat. Give them the rope back and repeat. This is also a great way to teach “take it” and “leave it.“
Resource Guarding – Everything Else
If you or someone else has been bitten over a toy, food, or other resources, it may be time to seek out the help of a professional trainer in your area so that no one in your household is harmed. In the meantime, discourage resource guarding by giving your dog their own area to eat their food, pick up valuable toys, and avoid situations that cause aggressive behavior.
Dogs can become possessive over more than toys, including people, areas of the house, beds, or anything the dog may find valuable. Use caution when attempting to move your dog from an area they may be guarding, and do your best to lure them away with treats. With people, try to distance yourself from your dog in a safe manner and always inform another person of your dog’s behavior or mitigate any potential biting incidents with a muzzle.
As always, desensitization takes patience and caution. If you are unsure at any point as to how to proceed or how to safely handle your dog, contact a local dog behaviorist or positive reinforcement trainer. Using negative reinforcement or punishment will further escalate aggression and can lead to serious injury.
When you think of the most popular commands to teach your dog, “Stay” often comes to mind. Teaching “stay” is important as it will keep your dog from running into unsafe situations and give you greater control in unpredictable environments.
Teaching stay is a simple process that requires you to establish a “stay” command, hand signal, and release cue. The goal of stay is to have your dog hold a stationary position (sit, lay down) until you give them the release cue.
Stay can have many practical uses and, with consistent training, can be an invaluable and lifesaving tool. The key to teaching your dog to remain in the desired position until they are released requires you to incrementally increase the Three D’s of training; distance, distraction, and duration.
To teach stay, have your dog enter either a sit or down position. Take the smallest step back and with a flat palm, hold your hand near your dog’s nose. We call this a “stop sign” and gives your dog a visual cue that they will rely on for the beginning stages of training. If your dog remains in this position for even a second or two, reward them immediately with “Yes” and “Good Stay.” Then, release them with “Okay,” “Free,” or “All Done.”
If your dog pops up when you take a step back, try moving even a smaller distance back. Or, ask them for a sit and reward them for simply holding this position for a moment. Then, try adding in distance. Your goal is to have your dog stay in position, whether it be a sit or down, and remain there until you give them a cue to exit that position.
It is critical to set your dog up for success when practicing “stay.” With each training session, start closer than you would initially think to start a “warm-up” of sorts. Doing so will reduce the likelihood of failure, which can be frustrating for both you and your pup. Start easy and gradually increase the difficulty. Nothing wrong with a little review!
For most younger dogs, staying in one position when they know you have treats requires a significant amount of impulse control so be sure to be patient with your initial requests.
Increasing Distance, Duration, and Distractions
With any behavior you are trying to solidify with your dog, it’s imperative to increase the difficulty as you go. Your dog is much more likely to stay still while sitting in your house rather than at a busy park that’s full of distraction. Here are a couple of tips to help you level-up your stay:
Using a long-lead, increase how many steps you take back before releasing your dog with “Okay” and a treat. You can also walk back to your dog and give them a treat, and walk away again, letting them know you like the behavior. Releasing with “Okay” should be the only time your dog is allowed to break the stationary position they are in.
Much like humans, dogs have to work on their patience over a span of time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was an unwavering stay from your dog. As you train, gradually increase the time you are asking your dog to remain still. This can also be done from a distance or can be something as simple as staying on a mat while you cook dinner. I generally use “place” while I’m cooking, but the concept is the same.
Perhaps the most difficult of the three D’s, distractions can throw even the most steadfast dog off. To gradually increase distractions, ask for a “stay” in the front yard or during a walk, even if just for a moment. Try using “stay” in different environments and around other people if at all possible. You can also toss treats or food near your dog and reward them for remaining in the stay position.
“Stay” vs “Wait”
In my training, I like to teach “wait” in addition to stay. “Wait” follows the same principles of stay as you are asking your dog to hold a position until you give them permission to release their position. However, this is usually from a shorter distance or for less time.
A great example would be asking your pup to wait while you were opening the door to the back door to let them out. Ask for a “wait” and gradually open the door. If they go to run out, shut it quickly. Keep doing this until you can get the door open a bit, then release them with “Okay.” This is great practice for impulse control and also teaches your dog that you are the one who controls access to the environment. I’ll even ask for a “Look at me” before giving them the “Okay” release to make sure they are checking in with me before freedom in the backyard.
Overall, the key to getting your dog to stay on command until they are released is reliant on multiple training sessions with varying degrees of difficulty. Always set your dog up for success by making sure their skill level matches the request. Increasing challenges is important but can be frustrating if introduced too quickly!
How To Successfully and Effectively Potty Train Your Puppy
The first couple of weeks with your new puppy are bound to test your patience in ways you never thought possible. But, with patience and consistency, there will be hope for clean carpets and restful nights.
Basic Potty Training Steps
Bringing home a new dog, no matter what age, there will inevitably be an adjustment period for both the owner and the new pup. To both of you up for success, you need to follow a couple of simple steps and also give yourself grace for moments when true accidents do happen.
Depending on your dog’s age, there will be a finite limit for how long they can hold their bladder. As a general rule of thumb, a puppy can hold their bladder for one hour per month of age. So, a four-month-old puppy can roughly be expected to wait about four hours before needing to pee. However, this differs for each dog and can be negated by activities such as rough play or waking up from a nap.
Puppies should generally be let out:
Every 15-30 minutes during the first couple of weeks at home
Immediately after waking up or before going to bed
Shortly after eating or drinking
After a play session (sometimes during! Puppies can easily be distracted and have accidents when they are in the middle of play)
As they get older, your puppy will be able to go for longer periods of time before needing to pee or poop. However, if you find yourself asking, “Should I take them out now?” the answer is almost always yes! It’s better to have them outside more often as the more accidents that occur inside, the harder it is to establish that outside is where the business happens.
Now that you know how often to take your puppy out to use the bathroom, it’s important to know how to prevent as many accidents as you can. Keeping a watchful eye at all times can be exhausting, but it will enviably reduce the chance of accidents. I highly recommend keeping your puppy attached to you on either a short or long line with a clip-on leash during the first couple of weeks. They can’t get into trouble across the house if they are right next to you!
Keeping your dog within your line of sight at all times will also help you spot an accident before it happens or catch it mid-way. If your dog is sniffing the ground intently, this is often a tell-tale sign of an impending act of elimination. If you are too late in taking them outside before they begin to go, interrupt them by saying “Uh-uh” or “Outside!” and then take them out to finish doing their business.
By taking them outside after interrupting them, you establish that outside is where they need to do their business. You can also designate an area of the yard for potty training so that they associate this area with using the bathroom.
Always praise your puppy for using the bathroom outside. You can even use a clicker to mark this behavior and reward them for treats. Never, ever scold your puppy for having an accident, as this will only confuse them about bathroom behavior.
The last step to success is confinement when you are unable to supervise your dog. Crate training keeps your pup from roaming about and having accidents when you can’t keep them in your direct line of sight. Be mindful of your puppy’s age, as this can dictate how long they can be confined before needing to go to the bathroom. For the first week or so, you want to let your puppy out every four hours at night as they simply don’t have the bladder space to hold pee for extended periods of time.
If your puppy is having accidents in their crate or exercise pen, you may want to reduce the area they have access to. Dogs naturally do not like to eliminate where they sleep, and the goal is for your dog to see their crate as their den. I would suggest keeping blankets and towels out of their crate for the first couple of weeks as these can be tempting for your dog to use to go to the bathroom.
During the day, try to let your puppy out to pee more often, as they will likely take a lot of naps in their crate. If you’re unable to let them out during the day, you may want to consider having a dog walker come by to let them out in the middle of the day. Leaving your puppy to free roam in your house or apartment is bound to be a disaster, so make sure you spend some time to get them properly acclimated to their crate early on.
Now all of this sounds fine and good, but, as with most things, there will enviably be hiccups. You may go three days without an accident, and then in the blink of an eye, it will seem like you’re cleaning up pee left and right. Remember, potty training is a process and will not happen overnight. Teaching your puppy where to use the bathroom and to hold it until they have access to the outside is a lot to ask, especially in the beginning.
Pee pad training is a viable option to add to potty training if you live somewhere where it is difficult to get your puppy outside quickly or in the event of bad weather. Pee pads are disposable and easy to clean up, so it can be a good tool to train your puppy to use these in addition to traditional outside potty training.
For those who have carpet or rugs, be mindful of accidents and cleaning them up. Puppies will gravitate towards areas that smell like prior elimination, so they will likely frequent the same area. The same can be said for phasing out pee pads, as your pup might return to the original spot where the pads were out of habit.
No matter what stage of training you are in, it’s important to establish what foods or dog treats your dog likes and how they will respond to them. Creating a tiered list by treat value will help you know which treats to use in different situations, depending on the value the treat holds to your dog. For instance, asking them to leave a squirrel alone and only giving them a piece of kibble in return is unlikely to motivate your dog to come back to you in the future.
High-Value Dog Treats
These “high-value” treats are at the very top of the treat tier. You will want to save these for introducing new concepts, recall training, or in any situation that may be particularly distracting to your dog. Ideally, you will only use these foods or treats in training situations so that your dog associates them with learning, and most importantly, listening.
Best High Value Treats
Freeze-Dried Meats: My dogs go absolutely nuts over Vital Essentials freeze-dried beef tripe and turkey. I can use these as a top-tier reward, and they also travel a bit better than the cooked meats I’ll use at home.
Chicken: Although it takes a bit of preparation, cooked chicken keeps well in the fridge and can be broken up into tiny strips for easy distribution. I usually cook a couple of chicken breasts in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20/25 minutes.
Peanut Butter: This can be a bit hard to distribute but can be used for nail trims, baths or can be incorporated into a lick mat. You can put some peanut butter on a spoon to lick as a reward for any behavior you are looking to reinforce. Just make sure it is free of xylitol!
Stella & Chewy’s Treats: Freeze-dried beef hearts may sound icky to you, but they will make your dog quite the happy camper. These treats don’t smell funky like some other brands I’ve tried in the past, so these are a great option to bring your dog running straight back to you.
Medium-Value Dog Treats
Having medium-value treats in your arsenal is beneficial as these can supplement your high-value training. After introducing a new concept, you can begin to go down to medium value treats as a reward once your dog shows some level of comfort with the requested behavior.
Best Medium Value Treats
Chippin: For a high-quality, nutritious, and environmentally friendly option, look no farther than Chippin’s dog treats. These are a new favorite in my house as they have a number of flavors and added health benefits that make them enticing to my dogs.
Zukes: Easy to break up, lots of flavors to chose from, and large quantities make Zuke’s a staple reward for all of my dogs.
Merrick: Similar to Zuke’s, these treats can also be broken up into tiny pieces while remaining tasty enough to reinforce good behavior.
Dehydrated Sweet Potatoes: Another healthy, homemade option that is still delicious to your dog is freeze-dried sweet potatoes. You can make these into slices or tiny bits, depending on if you want to use them as a treat or a longer-use chew.
Low-Value Dog Treats
Low-value treats are generally saved for instances where you ask for a solidified trick, are in a low distraction environment, or are phasing out treats altogether. I’ll use lower value treats interspersed into my treat bag as well to keep my dog guessing while we are working on an already introduced concept that just needs some routine reinforcement, such as heel.
Best Low Value Treats
Pet Botanics Training Rewards: To get the most bang for your buck, these treats come in packs of 500 and are awesome to stock up on. I try to break these up into a couple of smaller pieces and use them for interval training, such as reinforcing place or heel.
Kibble: Depending on your dog, you may be able to get away with giving them their kibble as a reward for certain behaviors. I will use kibble to reward basic commands, such as place or sit, especially before feeding a meal.
Any treats that they get frequently or have gotten used to having often
Time For A Taste Test
If you are unsure which treats will make your dog go crazy, take some time to conduct a taste test with them by placing different types of food in your hands. Let your dog sniff your hands and reward them with the one they show the most interest in. You can also do this when practicing basic commands that they already know. Most dogs will show a difference in how fast they lay down when they know they are getting a piece of meat versus a normal biscuit treat.
When establishing the values of the treats, it is also important to think about treat calories and ease of delivery. If working on loose-leash training, make sure to have tiny pieces of whatever you are using so that way you can get it to your dog’s mouth quickly. Nothing can be more annoying than having your dog hyper-focus on the treat you accidentally dropped while trying to walk and treat at the same time.
Attaching the appropriate treat value to the behavior you are teaching will ensure success and also keep you from spending a ton of money on premium treats. Make sure to keep in mind the caloric values of treats as well and adjust your regular meal feedings as well.
Train Your Dog To Come To You Regardless Of Distractions
Getting your dog to understand that coming to you is better than whatever distraction they may encounter is an exercise in patience and practice. However, teaching a reliable recall is one of the most important and live-saving commands you can teach your dog. You can use this recall to get them out of harm’s way as they will learn that returning to you will net them the most delectable reward they can imagine.
To teach your dog a reliable recall, you must select a specific phrase or word to attach to your recall. Then, you can begin to link a high-value reward to that word for your dog to begin associating a treat with that command. From there, you can say your selected word from a very short distance and immediately reward your dog for coming to you.
There are a couple of rules of thumb to adhere to while teaching a recall that will ultimately get you a dog that will come right back to you, no matter what. You must learn what motivates your dog above all else, what is especially distracting to them, and remember only to practice this recall when you can reward them with their high-value currency. I will discuss all of these steps below and cover how this command differs from a traditional “come” you may have already taught.
Setting Up Your Recall
The key to establishing a foolproof recall with your dog is first to understand the “currency” that motivates them the most. Each dog is different and therefore have their own ideas for what is the tastiest or rewarding food. I use cooked or rotisserie chicken that I can throw in the fridge for a couple of days for my pups. You can also use freeze-dried treats as these travel a bit better than fresh chicken. No matter which food or reward you end up with, try only to use this food when working on a recall as it will maintain its “high-value” status. Remember, your goal here is for your dog to associate coming to as being the best thing in the entire world.
Now that you have your high-value currency, it is time to establish what word or phrase you would like to use for your recall. Stay away from words that you frequently use, such as “Come,” “Here,” “Treat,” etc. You want this word to stand out to your dog and be very specific to the task you are asking. We use “Cookie” since that is a word we hardly ever use in our house. Pick whatever word or phrase works best for you; just be sure only to use it with your dog during their recall exercises.
The absolute most important aspect of recall training is to have your dog always have a successful return to you. To achieve this, be careful with your distance and distractions early on in training. Every “failure” your dog has will decrease the weight that is placed on the recall. This frequently happens with the “Come” command, which is why having an emergency recall is highly valuable. Always have your high-value treat of choice will training to instill that coming back to you is the most awesome, important task your dog could ever accomplish.
Teaching Your Recall
To begin working on a recall, give your dog a piece of the treat or food you are using. Say the word you will use as your recall word while you give them the treat. Then, step a pace or two back and say the word again. When they come towards you, praise them and reward them with the treat. Move back a step farther and repeat this process a couple of times. Your goal is to have your dog whip around and come to you the moment they hear that selected word.
When working on increasing your distance, make sure to encourage your dog the entire way when they are running to you. The moment they turn their head away from whatever is distracting them is the moment you are looking to enforce. Use a lot of “Yes!” and “Good girl/boy!” as they are approaching you. Once they reach you, give them the treat or reward immediately.
Another aspect you can add to this recall is a collar or harness grab. During the recall training, I always have my dog come to me, grab their collar for a brief moment, and then reward them with the treat. This gets them used to not running away the moment they receive the treat and can negate some negative association with having their collar touched. For most dogs, being leashed can be the end of freedom from whatever environment they are in, as they are now tethered to you. Adding the collar grab to the recall ensures your dog is comfortable with being put back under your control in a situation where they may be in danger.
Recall Practice Games
To instill a strong recall, you need to practice this in numerous practice sessions, situations, and environments. So, to make it more fun, add a bit of a game aspect to it. Stand on one side of your yard and have someone else from your household stands opposite of you. Take turns calling your dog with your recall phrase and increase the distance between you. I’ll even practice this when I’m by myself doing yard work. I’ll move around to different areas and call my dog when they are sniffing around, watching a squirrel, or just laying down to enjoy the sun.
Another way to practice your recall is to throw a low-value treat or kibble across the room from you. When your dog goes to get it, use your recall word to bring their attention back to you. Reward them with praise while they are walking back to you and give them the high-value treat. This teaches your dog that you are still the most rewarding thing to pay attention to, even with an edible distraction.
Keep in mind the key points of fool-proof recall training: choosing a good command word, finding the right high-value reward, and practicing this recall in various situations. Always gauge your dogs’ progress, and don’t hesitate to take a couple of steps back before you advance to more difficult challenges. I start recall training by being just a few feet away before advancing on to being across the house/yard/etc. Keep at it, and before you know it, you will have a dog that will come right to you, no matter what distractions they may face.
Why Understanding And Teaching Your Dog Impulse Control Is Important
The term “impulse control” may seem foreign in context to dog training, but it is the backbone of successful training. A lack of learned impulse control displays itself in many unwanted behaviors such as jumping, barking, lunging on the leash, and biting. Teaching your dog to be more aware of their bodies and actions will nip a lot of these problems before they start or get them under control if they have already begun.
Teaching your dog impulse control will not only help you reduce unwanted behaviors, but it will also give you a calmer dog as a result of this training. Over time, your dog will begin to associate that being in a relaxed state is rewarding. You can teach your dog impulse control in big training sessions or bite-sized moments throughout your normal day, all depending on what you chose to work on. No matter how you slice it, you will be able to have your dog pay more attention to what you want, rather than having to correct inappropriate behavior.
Why Teach Impulse Control
Ever try to ask your dog to stop jumping on a visitor or even you when you’re walking in the door? This is a perfect example of an instance where impulse control can be utilized to curb an annoying behavior. Sure, your dog wants to greet you immediately. But you know what would be nice? Getting lots of pets with four paws on the floor. I love seeing my dogs as much as the next guy, but I also don’t want my groceries knocked out of my hands either.
Giving your dog opportunities to build up their ability to control their behavior is critical to work on as early as possible. With our puppy, we asked for a “wait” during our initial crate training from the day we brought her home. Now, she has learned that just because the crate door is open, she cannot exit the crate until I release her with an “Okay” signal. This helped get her excitable peeing under control as she has been growing up. We also use “wait” for leaving the house, going on walks, or being let out into the backyard.
These small opportunities will teach your dog that it is better to approach situations in a calm, relaxed manner rather than running full speed ahead. Granted, this may sound like an impossible task with a puppy or very high-energy dog. Small steps will win the race with this and it’s helpful to work on training impulse control when your dog is tired and therefore more likely to relax. Or, you can even incorporate impulse control into your fetch games, training sessions, or tug-o-war, all of which I’ll cover below.
How To Practice Impulse Control
The easiest way to integrate impulse control in your everyday routine with your dog is to teach them to wait for their food when it is feeding time. As you go to place your dog’s food bowl on the ground or in their crate, ask them for a “wait”. If they go to lunge for the bowl, pull back and wait for them to be calm. With a highly excitable dog, you may want to start slow and reward them for simply sitting still for a moment. Increase the difficulty of this exercise each time you feed them, eventually working up to having the bowl on the ground.
Another example of using food is to teach your dog “leave it,” which teaches them to leave something alone when asked. This is critical if your dog lunges for something they shouldn’t have, such as a piece of trash on a walk or a chunk of chocolate that fell onto the ground. By teaching “leave it,” you are telling your dog that they need to ignore whatever the item is and focus their attention back onto you. This is great at instilling the concept that there are things they should and shouldn’t interact with and look to you for guidance.
You can also use impulse control during rounds of fetch or tug-o-war. Begin the game by asking your dog to sit before either throwing the ball or engaging in tug with them. Have them sit for a moment and then reward them by beginning the round of play. You can ask for a sit when they bring the ball back and wait to throw it again until they have relaxed some. Work your way up to lie down or even add a “wait” in there as well. Your goal is to get your dog to associate patience with reward.
With all of these exercises, it is important to pay close attention to your dog’s body language and positioning. You want to reward them before they break and not after. Look for that golden opportunity where they have settled into the behavior but don’t push them too much, as you want to reward as many successes as possible. With the waiting for food example, don’t ask them to wait for thirty seconds if you haven’t asked them to hold the wait for more than a moment or two before.
No matter what situation you find yourself in with your dog, there is always room for improvement and room for new successes. Teaching your dog to look to you for guidance and assuming a more relaxed state will always be better than a lunging or jumping dog. With patience and intermittent training, you will be on your way to having a relaxed, four-on-the-floor companion.
If you’re anything like me, there have been moments where you just want a small glimpse of having a calm, relaxed dog. Being able to get your dog into this position on command will be beneficial in numerous situations, whether it be in the evening at your home or out at a busy restaurant. Learning how to get your dog to settle down takes a little bit of patience and know-how, as you have to catch them in the natural position before attaching a cue for the behavior.
To get your dog to settle down, you first need to look for their body position to show relaxation, which is usually marked by a comfortable lay down. When their hips are shifted to the side, and they are relaxed, reward them by saying “Good settle” and give them a treat. You will then mold this into a command over time once you have attached the calm behavior with the reward.
Getting your dog to enter a relaxed state upon command is beneficial in many situations that range from having house guests to eating out at a restaurant. To train this, you need to first communicate to your dog that the relaxed position will be rewarded rather than asked for initially. Understanding your dog’s body language and situations in which they are more likely to be relaxed will be extremely helpful during the “settle” training process.
Teaching Your Dog To “Settle”
Having a dog that will enter the “settle” position on command will allow you to have more control and a better behaved dog in a plethora of situations. Going out to eat, having houseguests, or simply eating dinner on the couch are all instances where it would be gratifying not to have to worry about your dog being rambunctious. I tend to use “settle” after a play session or after coming inside from a game of fetch. When first introducing this command, it is best to train after your dog has exerted a lot of physical energy.
Watch for your dog to lay down with their hips positioned to the side. This is the main difference between a regular lay down and a “settled” position. When they have entered this position, reward them in a calm voice and say something like, “Yes, good settle.” Continue to do this for the remainder of the time they are laying down like this, for at least a couple of minutes. If they pop up or try to do another behavior, ignore this and wait until they lay back down into the relaxed state. If they don’t right away, wait until your next opportunity.
This “settle” behavior takes some time to master as your dog will be trying to figure out exactly what you want. A good way to practice is when your dog enters its crate. As soon as they lay down and look relaxed, reward them for a good settle. Walk away, and whenever you walk by and see them in that state, reward them for being settled. If you have a puppy, look for moments when they are lying down near you in a peaceful state (which may be almost never if you have a high-energy pup like mine!)
The main goal is to reward your dog for being relaxed. Eventually, you will be able to ask for this behavior on cue once they have gained an association with what you want. When teaching the command, use a low tone of voice and lower your hand towards the ground, similarly to lay down. Being relaxed and calm yourself will help your dog understand that this is a peaceful state of being.
To achieve the best results, make sure your dog has had adequate exercise and mental stimulation before trying to work on the “settle” command. To reach the desired state of mind to relax, they need to be at least somewhat tired, especially in the beginning stages of training. I like to use a designated item, such as their dog cot, to practice settle as this is a comfort item for them and gets them relaxed.
If you have taught or plan on teaching “Place,” this is a good command to use alongside it. I have a mat near my kitchen that I will have our dogs lay on while I cook dinner. I will have them “place” on the mat and remain there throughout the duration of cooking. At intermittent times, I will walk over to the mat and reward them for a “good settle” as they are often laying with their hips shifted to the side. This has taught them that relaxed, calm behavior lets them be near me and keeps them from being underfoot while cooking. If they get up, I ignore them until they have gone back to the mat and settled back into position.
Remember that your dog may do very well with “settle” when they are lying on the ground beside your couch but not when they are out in a busy environment. Work your way up to this by slowly adding distractions such as having one new person over to your house or taking them to a park when it isn’t very busy. It is key to set your dog up for success by knowing where they are most comfortable and what is the most distracting.
Bringing It All Together
Once you have associated the relaxed body position with the “settle” command, you can begin to ask your dog to replicate this behavior when you ask. Reward frequently as this will teach your dog that remaining in this position will net them a lot of treats. If they stand up or get jittery, ask them to “settle” again. Pay attention to your dog and know the limit of their attention span, as well as the environment they are in. It is possible to achieve a perfect “settle” when asked, but it takes a lot of work and consistency!
When you think of tricks to teach your dog, you probably go through the basic “sit,” “stay,” “lay down,” and “roll over” commands. However, there are so many tricks you can teach your dog in just one day! I’ve compiled a list of the three easiest tricks to teach your dog and how you can get them to master them in a matter of minutes.
Teaching your dog “spin” is perhaps the easiest trick you can teach them. You can couple a handle signal with this trick as you go for added ease and heightened communication between you and your dog. To begin, place a treat or toy in front of your dog’s nose. As soon as they become interested, draw their nose around their body to make a circle. At first, your dog may not want to follow the treat. Bending around to the side is not a position they often find themselves in. To counteract this, keep the treat close to their nose to keep them interested.
If your dog will not make a complete circle right away, that is totally fine! Reward them in small intervals for just turning their head towards their back a bit. Then try a bit farther, such as a 180-degree turn. Then, aim for the full circle to complete the spin trick! To make this more advanced, you can also teach them to spin the other way by attaching whatever phrase you would like. Remember to reward them with “Yes!” and say the command “Spin” when asking for this behavior.
As with all commands, your dog may take some time to correlate the word “spin” with the turning motion you are asking of them. A good way to help them understand is to use a clicker during training to mark the movement with the click, followed by a treat. Using hand signals is also a good way to communicate your request with your dog as they primarily rely on body language as their main form of communication.
“Touch” begins as a very simple command that can be generalized in numerous ways throughout training. To teach your dog “touch,” rub a smelly treat or food on your hand. The movement your dog places their nose to your hand, reward them with “Yes!” and a treat from your other hand. Repeat this for a couple of rounds so that they associate touching your hand with a reward.
As you practice, begin moving your hand farther away from your dog’s nose so that they must come towards you to make contact with your palm. As you increase the distance, your dog is more likely to become distracted, so it is important to make sure your dog follows through with a full touch to your hand.
After your dog has a good handle on touching your palm (which can be accomplished in a matter of minutes!), you can begin to ask your dog to touch other items with their nose. To accomplish this, hold an object in your hand that is flat, such as a container lid or a piece of paper. When they touch this item, reward them. Then, begin positioning the item farther in your hand, towards your fingertips. Repeat this until your dog is willing to touch the item when it is on the ground.
“Paws Up” and “Off”
Now, this may sound counterintuitive if you have a dog that jumps a lot, but I promise you, teaching your dog “up” is just the flipside of teaching them “off” or “down.” You can use “up” in various situations, such as having your dog jump up in the backseat of the car or getting on the bed to cuddle with you. Because yes, there is nothing better than having a well-manner pup cuddle with you during a rainy nap.
To teach “up,” grab a short stool or chair. If the object is slippery or a material you want to keep clean, you may want to place your training mat or a towel on top before inviting your dog to put their paws on it. Get your dog interested in a treat, and then slowly guide them towards the object you have placed out. Lure them to put their feet up on the object by tapping on it and holding the treat so that they would need to place their paws up to get to it.
Once your dog has placed its feet on the object, say “Yes!” and reward them. If they already know “wait” or “stay,” this is a good time to ask them to hold their position. Then, ask them for “off” and lure them away with the treat. The second all four of their paws are on the ground, reward them with “Yes!” and a treat. Repeat this several times, using both cues for “up” and “off.” You can use “off” in all situations you can think of, such as jumping on the couch or jumping up towards the counters.
There are even more tricks you can teach your dog in one day, but the important thing to note when teaching anything is always to keep your environment in mind. Your dog will do a lot better at “off” with you in the kitchen versus meeting someone new at a party. Keep up with each of these commands and train with increased distraction levels to have some rock-solid tricks and general obedience!
Everyone knows that having a calm, relaxed dog is easier said than done. They never seem to lay in one place when you really need them to. A great way to help your dog relax and settle down is by getting them into a down position on the ground. Teaching your dog how to lay down will give you the foundations for many future training commands and will help you avoid behaviors such as begging, jumping, and counter-surfacing while you’re making dinner.
To teach your dog to lay down, place a treat in front of their nose and gradually lower it to the ground. With their nose following the treat, your dog will lower their legs to reach the treat. This might look like a play bow position at first, but the second they lower themselves entirely down to the ground, say “Yes!” and offer them the treat.
The steps of teaching lay down are quite simple but there are a few issues that may arise during training such as your dog not wanting to stay in the down position or not wanting to follow the treat in your hand. I’ll tackle each of these areas as well as give you some helpful tips to troubleshoot so of the most common issues that happen when teaching lay down.
Teaching Lay Down
If you have already taught your dog sit, this may seem like that next trick to teach your dog. It’s important to note that while this may seem like a trick to show off, lay down is an important skill to build upon throughout your training. The down position will be fundamental to future commands such as “Place”, “Stay”, and “Settle”. Using a clicker for this particular command is also a good idea as it helps you mark the exact moment your dog enters the down position.
Begin by enticing your dog with a treat in your hand. Let them smell the treat and slowly lower the treat to the ground, all the while making sure their nose is close to your hand. It can be helpful to be kneeling on the ground to help you communicate to your dog that the floor is where you want their body to end up. The moment the dog has all four of their legs and their belly touching the ground, reward them immediately with a treat and saying the word “down”. Repeat this several times until your dog begins to associate the downward lure motion with a treat.
When working with your dog on the down position, make sure to pay attention to their read end and only provide rewards if they truly are resting on the floor. A lot of dogs have the tendency to “pop up” rather than settling into the full down position. To nip this before it becomes a habit, reward your dog only when they are fully down and give them the treat as close to the ground as possible. You can also place the treat in between their paws so that they remain focused on the ground.
Depending on your dog, they may be more or less willing to enter the “down position” as for some dogs, this can be vulnerable for them. A method I like to use for this is to have a training mat or dedicated rug that you use only for training sessions. This can help your dog understand your intentions for having them lay down and it doesn’t hurt to warm up a bit by practicing any commands that they may already know. I like to do a couple of “look at me” rounds and “sits” before getting into “lay down” work.
For dogs that are not as interested in traditional treats, you can use either a high value food such as lunch meat or their favorite toy to get them motivated to learn the new command. With the toy method, get your dog to hold on to the toy and hold it close to the ground. If they are tugging, gently pull them towards the ground with the toy. The second all of their legs are on the ground, reward them with “Yes!” and either give them a treat or begin vigorously playing with them with the toy.
Lay down is a valuable command for your dog to know as it creates a platform for a quiet, well-behaved dog. Consistently reinforcing lay down with treats and praise will reassure your dog that this is a good behavior that is worth repeating. Do not underestimate the power of this command as it is the true foundation for future obedience, no matter the environment you may find yourself in.
Teaching Your Dog To Come When Called No Matter What!
Teaching your dog to come to you when called will not only make your life easier as an owner, it could very well save your dog’s life in the event of an emergency. Dogs love to get distracted both inside and outside, so being able to draw their attention back to you is critical to successful training and general safety.
To teach your dog to come when called, begin by placing your dog on a long leash, about six to ten feet long, while inside your home. Begin walking away from your dog and call them in a very excited tone. Say “come!” as they are walking towards you. Reward them with “Yes!” and a high-value treat, such as turkey or chicken.
Having your dog return to you reliably, without a reward, requires an extreme amount of patience and dedication. To achieve a rock-solid recall, you need to start slow and consistently reward your dog for coming back to you. Following the proper steps and implementing fun games will help you gain a dog that will come to you no matter how distracting the environment may be.
Teaching Your Recall
Teaching your dog to come reliably begins by selecting a word that you have not overused with your dog in the past. Many owners fall into the habit of saying “come! come! come here!” to their dogs, which causes you to lose authority over that word. Going forward, try using a new phrase such as “Here” or “To Me.” Having a fresh word that your dog won’t ignore is critical to teaching a successful recall.
Next, place your dog in a controlled environment with a leash. I usually start inside so that the distractions are lesser. Then, walk away from your dog and begin calling to them with your selected word. Use a high-pitched voice, clap, or otherwise excite them into coming in your direction. The second they are near you, reward them with “Yes!” and a high-value treat. You can also use a clicker to signify how close you want them to be by clicking when they come near you.
Practice this several times per day, if possible, inside of your home before trying this outside. You always want to ensure success with this command as every time your dog doesn’t come when called, they will begin to think they can come when they want, not when asked. Always have a high-value reward with you to follow through with the come command so that way your dog associates coming to you as the best thing ever.
Keys To Success
When training your dog to come to you, you need to know when to use the command and when not to. For instance, never ask your dog to come to you and then clip their nails, bathe them, or stop a regularly “fun” activity. This will create a negative association between coming to you and receiving a less than desirable outcome.
A word of advice I once received is to always shower your dog with praise when they come to you for at least the first year of training. This can be exhausting and time-consuming but will pay off one thousand times over when your dog will come to you without hesitation. I always do my best to have treats everywhere in my house, so even when I call Kashi from the kitchen, I will have something to reward her with.
I’ve installed small stick-on shelves near both my front and back door so that I can place a small treat jar right by the exit point. We use small mason jars to keep the treats fresh, and we can throw them in the dishwasher when they start to get too dirty.
Whenever our dogs go out to potty, I call them back in saying “Come!” once they have done their business. The second they turn and start to run towards me, I praise them heavily with “Yes!” and words of encouragement until they get to the door. As soon as they are inside, I give them each a treat.
Creating a guaranteed recall requires a lot of practice and consistency. Working with your dog in short spurts or adding an element of fun can help you establish that coming to you is just about the best thing since sliced bread. Switch up your treat selection, use your dog’s favorite toy, or play a rousing game of tug-o-war to keep your dog thinking that listening to your “come” command will always be rewarding.
If you have multiple people living with you or have someone that can come over to help, try setting up a “recall rally” with you and the other person. Ask your dog to come with your selected word and then have the other person repeat the same process from a distance. Increase the distance between you and the other person, all the while having your dog run between the two of you. This is great recall practice and also can tire your dog out at the same time.
It is important to note that your regular recall will be different than your emergency recall. I use my emergency recall with my dogs only in very specific situations where it is absolutely imperative that they return to me immediately. I’ll cover the emergency recall and why I use it in an upcoming article.
Now that you know how to teach your dog to come when called, it is up to you to make sure your dog will listen to your word of choice. Using high-value treats and rewarding them consistently will teach your dog that when they come to you, whatever praise or treat they get will be way more exciting than what they were doing before.
Teaching your dog is a lot like teaching someone to speak the same language as you, even though they have no prior experience with it. Creating an understood dialogue between you and your dog is the first step to success, and it all begins with teaching “Yes!” This is a phrase that will be used as a reward for their good behavior for the entire length of your training.
To teach “Yes!’, you simply. have to say this word when your dog does a behavior you like and follow the word with a treat. “Yes!” is a verbal mark that tells your dog you are happy with the action they just did.
Keep in mind that “Yes!” is not so much a command but rather a verbal cue that marks the behavior your dog just did as positive and deserving of praise. Using treats, you can establish a strong connection between the word “Yes!” and the tasty morsel they are about to receive. Teaching this praise word to your dog couldn’t be easier and can be used in various contexts, especially when you aren’t right next to the treat jar.
How To Teach “Yes!”
When you begin training your dog, it can be difficult to manage treats, leashes, clickers, poop bags, water bowls, and chews, all on top of keeping an eye on your dog’s actual behavior. Being able to praise your dog with “Yes!” allows them to connect their most recent action or movement with positivity on your end. Using strong smelling treats such as Merrick Beef Power Bites and Full Moon Chicken Training Treats are an excellent way to firmly attach that “Yes!” word to a delectable reward that your dog really understands.
To begin, simply place a treat near your dog’s nose to get them interested. When they take the treat from you, or you put it in their mouth, say “Yes!” with an excited tone. Repeat this a couple of times so that your dog will being to associate the word “Yes!” with being rewarded. You can use toys or environmental changes, such as being let outside, as a reward for your dog as well. Begin attaching “Yes!” to every training exercise, and you will begin to see that your dog associates this word with receiving a reward from you.
When I took my youngest pup, Kashi, out to brunch with us when she was about three months old, I was tangling myself up between all of the things we brought to keep her entertained and occupied. A server came by, and Kashi offered a perfect sit while we were ordering, even without my asking. Immediately, I gave her “Yes!” several times throughout the encounter and let her have several treats after we finished ordering. This was an excellent opportunity for me to praise her and let her know I liked her behavior, even though the treats were temporarily out of reach.
Another consideration is that, when praising, you have about three seconds to offer the praise based on the behavior you are looking to reward. If you wait much longer than this, your dog won’t be able to connect the behavior they just did with the praise you are giving them. A good example is asking your dog for a down and then walking away to get a treat. If they lay down and you attach “Yes!” immediately, then walk for the treat, they will know that the down behavior is what you were looking for.
Down The Road – Phasing Out Treats
The ultimate goal of teaching “Yes!” is for your dog to gain a solid understanding of what you are asking for them. After pairing the word “Yes!” with treats for a reasonable amount of time, you can begin to withhold treats intermittently and give verbal praise. This is important as there will be times when having a treat or toy on your person at all times can be difficult, if not impossible, to maintain.
Having your dog know that you like their behavior is paramount to successful communication between the two of you. As an owner of two Australian Shepherd, I know I have gotten fortunate with eager-to-please pups. For dogs who are more stubborn or less engaged with your verbal praise, continue to use treats until they have a rock-solid foundation with the word. Slowly begin reducing the number of treats for successful behaviors, such as sitting and rewarding every other sit with a treat and “Yes!” Of course, only reduce treats and praise once your dog is more comfortable with a command and you are confident that they will follow through with what you are asking.
Remember, “Yes!” is a word to attach with treats so that your dog can have additional praise that can mark the wanted behavior. Using good treats is important in the beginning so that you can firmly associate the word “Yes!” with something your dog might love even more than you: food.