Doorways and Dinnertimes

For the 20 years that I’ve been working with dogs, two notions have continued to be commonly held amongst dog owners, even though the model from which they came was discarded by science long ago. They are, that people need to eat before dogs do and people must always proceed through doorways first.

These are routinely practiced with the belief that they clearly establish the human as ‘pack leader’. Knowing that the pack model is incorrect and has been replaced, should be reason enough to drop these tactics. Similar to using an earth-centered model to interpret and understand our world, our attitude and approach to our dogs will be off base when we follow this outdated theory. We now know that naturally occurring canid groups don’t follow these rules, so what’s the point of us doing it? To an onlooker, the act of eating a cracker before feeding the dog somehow translating into supremacy in the household, probably seems pretty silly. Or the mere act of going through a door before your dog verifying your authority… Really?

The simple addition of some structure or routine will often change the way a dog ‘behaves’. Just as with kids, routines reduce stress because of the predictability they afford. They also allow expectations to remain consistent. These are both good things. And one canʼt deny that having some order around doorways and during feeding times is beneficial. What if we focus on “how” rather than on “who”? Real value is in the opportunity to build impulse control and provide things your dog really wants when they are willing to offer calm behaviour and work with you.


In the picture to the right, the person isnʼt really focused on what the dog is doing.

  1. Is the dog calm or excited?
  2. Is the dog responding to her and waiting, or is the handler (and the leash) doing all the work?

For the handler, itʼs all about taking that first step through the doorway. If she dropped the leash, there would be nothing stopping the dog from bolting through the door.





What if instead, we used the dogʼs interest in going through the door as a way to reinforce some attention and patience? In the picture below, the dog is calm and focusing on her handler. Will the dog get to go first, or the handler; perhaps theyʼll go through together. Whatʼs important is that the dog is waiting to get some direction and the ʻOK to goʼ. Not only is this a much safer protocol, it also develops some great behaviours. AND the leash isnʼt doing the work, the dog is.

Getting started at the doorway:
There are a few steps involved in teaching your dog to wait patiently at an open door. This is an easy way to begin the process. Remember that the point of this is to have the dog learn to wait without being prompted to. Instead you’ll wait for behavior you like.

Before you start, decide what behavior will ʻworkʼ for your dog to open the door. If they get excited easily and find it difficult to settle, you may want to start with just some quiet and four-on-the-floor. You may be able to hold out for a sit the first time – this will depend on your dog.

With your dog on leash stand in front of the closed door. Wait to see what your dog does. He may try a variety of behaviours, such as jumping, barking or pawing. Remain quiet until he offers the behavior you want.

As soon as he does, Voila! – the door opens and you can release him to go through – “Letʼs go!”

Dinner times

So youʼve probably already guessed that, as with the doorways, Iʼm going to tell you to drop the “eat something firstʼ routine. Youʼre right! A better choice is once again to help your dog develop some impulse control and offer polite behavior for things they want. Perhaps youʼre thinking proudly “My dog already does. I ask him to sit before every meal”. Thatʼs a great start, but thereʼs an important part missing. The dog offering a polite sit.

The difference between physically restraining your dog using a leash and having him exhibit impulse control, is pretty apparent. You may be thinking however, whatʼs the difference between asking for sits and waiting for your dog to offer them? By waiting for the dog to offer behaviour:

  1. your dog has to think about whatʼs happening
  2. this will help him be in a calmer, less reactive state
  3. he will develop some impulse control – a vital skill
  4. heʼll make choices and offer behaviour to get what he wants

This is completely different than a dog that is prompted or made to do something. You and your equipment shouldn’t be making all the effort. If that’s the case, there’s no need for your dog to develop impulse control or manners. Itʼs like having a 30-year-old child that still needs to be reminded to say ʻpleaseʼ and ʻthank youʼ. Thereʼs an added bonus – the need to nag your dog will be greatly reduced too!

Want to give it a try? Hereʼs how:

Decide what you would like your dog to do at mealtimes – being quiet and fouron-the-floor, for example.

Begin your normal routine of preparing dinner, paying attention to your dog through each step. We want to show him that calm and polite behavior works right from the beginning, not just when you’re about to put the food dish on the floor.

As long as he remains calm you can continue. 

If he begins barking or jumping at any point, calmly without saying anything, cease preparation and pause until he calms down again. You may even need to leave the area to help him settle. As soon as he settles, begin again.

In the early stages, you will most likely have to stop and start a number of times. That’s OK. Your dog is having to work through the challenge of figuring out how to make you continue, along with dealing with some frustration. He’ll also be developing some impulse control, so it’s worth your time.

Once you make it to actually having food in the dish and are ready to give it to your dog, pause and WAIT for him to sit. If you’ve been asking for it at mealtimes already, it might not take long before he chooses to do it on his own. Either way, it’s important that you let him figure it out. When he does, quickly put the food down and tell him how great he is.

You can take solace in the fact that one client took 42 minutes to give their dog dinner the first time they tried this. Breakfast the next morning took 90 seconds. Your patience will pay off. Remember that the value of this lies in the dog needing to think about what to do and offering it, rather than just being told what to do.

So it’s time to dump those out-of-date habits. You can eat last, allow your dog through doorways first and still have a great relationship and a well-mannered dog.

Originally published in Pet Connection Magazine

Picking Playmates for your Young Dog

Why is play important?


Through the simple act of play, puppies learn and reinforce bite inhibition, develop tolerance, learn to control excitement and develop social skill. Puppies that have left the litter too soon or are kept in isolation, typically have poor bite inhibition and often feel overwhelmed in dog-dog interactions, either shying away, losing their temper or getting too rough.

It can not be emphasized enough that reliable bite inhibition (a gentle mouth) is the most important skill your dog can have. Any good help you can get teaching your young dog this skill is invaluable. Puppies playing with other puppies is the way nature intended to teach bite inhibition. Puppies will quickly let one another know when the biting is too rough. By giving your young puppy the opportunity to play with different puppies throughout their development, they will get the practice and reinforcement they need to curb their bite before stronger adult jaws and teeth are in place.

While your young dog is still maturing it’s very important that you carefully direct their interactions with other dogs. By allowing your young one to play with dogs that do not possess good social skills themselves, you may be doing more damage than good. Bullying or rough play can be intimidating – your puppy may become defensive when meeting new dogs. Some puppies will begin to copy the rough play and you’ll have a playground bully on your hands.

You are your puppy’s guardian. You are the one to keep them safe and teach them what they need to know to be successful and comfortable in our world. By carefully selecting your young dog’s playmates and supervising their interactions, you can help them to develop good social skills.

Just as with our best friends, dogs tolerate more from their regular playmates, and it is important that they have the opportunity to meet unfamiliar dogs to keep their confidence and skills developing in a positive direction. Different breeds of dogs often have particular ways of interacting with one another. Allowing your puppy to interact with lots of different kinds of dogs will help them to fine tune their skills and increase their tolerance. If you are able to supervise their interactions with the help of the other dogs’ parents, short play sessions are great.

Remember, that it is not necessary or useful that your puppy greet or play with every dog you come across. First, not all dogs dig puppies. It is an important but sad lesson for your puppy that some dogs want nothing to do with them. Overly outgoing puppies need to learn that it is not polite to go barging into another dog’s space. Ask the parent if their dog is comfortable meeting puppies before you presume to go say hi. If there’s no one in sight perhaps it’s best to skip that dog. You’re the one responsible for keeping your puppy’s socializing positive. There’s no need for getting bitten on the snout! Secondly, you will teach your puppy tolerance and reinforce that you are directing all their activities by allowing them to say hi to some but not all the dogs you come across. And don’t forget to praise your dog for smooth greetings – this will help to set the tone for future encounters if you let him know she’s making good choices now.

Parents all too often throw away the training tool of using greetings or play as a real-life reward by allowing their young dog to automatically interact with every dog they come across without first setting the dog up:

  • Before you let your puppy say hi to another dog (or person), make sure they’re calm. Ask or wait for them to sit – or even better,  wait for them to check in with you before you tell them ‘go say hi!’
  1. Before sending your little one off to play, practice getting their attention with some really groovy treats. Throughout the play session call your puppy back to you, praise them (feed a treat if safe) and then send them off to play again. This will help with recalls and show your puppy you’re part of the fun! 


IMG_9424Things to look for in a good playmate:

  • The other dog stays calm during initial greetings – this allows your puppy to meet in a calm fashion.
  • Pick calm, secure playmates for rowdy puppies – this will discourage them from bullying and learn to control their excitement during playtime.
  • Choose gentle playmates for shy puppies – this will allow them to develop confidence.
  • In general, it is best to avoid putting young puppies with puppies more than two months older than them. The older puppy will typically have the advantage and tend to be domineering.This again will likely lead to fearful behaviour or rough play.

Keeping Play Positive

 It is normal in play for one dog to assume the more assertive role of ‘being on top’ at times. Although some personalities prefer to be this way all the time, it’s good play for both participants to have a turn at this. Also, some dogs love to chase while others love to be chased. It’s great play for dogs to switch roles regularly. There should be balance in play. One player should not be be using the other like a toy. Good players pay attention to each other, adjusting their intensity and behaviour based on what the other dog is doing.

If your puppy’s starting to feel overwhelmed, give him a break by keeping the other dog away for a time – don’t rescue him by picking him up. He’ll learn to recover more quickly and realize he can do it on his own.

During play, there should be frequent breaks when the dogs (using sits, shakes or sniffs) take a moment to cool down before resuming play. If you sense that one or more of the dogs is not allowing this to happen, either step in and separate the group or call your puppy over to you and give him a short break.

And keep in mind:

It’s important that your puppy’s adult playmates have good bite inhibition. Corrections to an unruly puppy, such as growls or posturing are a normal part of a puppy’s education, punctures are not. (Please note that dogs do bite on occasion. The important thing is that they do not do damage.)

During adolescence, increased size, confidence and hormones can often lead to rough and inappropriate play. To discourage these behaviours from being reinforced and becoming a habit, it is important that your young dog has play time with dogs that have great play and social skills. Just as in early puppyhood it is vital that they have good role models.

As your dog matures it is essential that you continue providing appropriate play opportunities and greetings with other dogs. Although a regular group of friends can help to stabilize and encourage adolescents through their difficult and often traumatizing ‘coming out’, they must be exposed to a variety of new dogs to maintain good social skills and remain comfortable meeting unknown dogs.

Remember that all your young dog’s interactions with you, other people and other dogs are influencing the way they look at the world and the skills they’re developing to cope with everything in it. Simply allowing them to play with any dog and thinking they’re getting the positive socializing they need may be setting both of you up for trouble. Choose wisely.

For more information on supervising play, check out Dog Park 911

And for more dog training and care information visit:

Finding A Good Daycare

Over the last two decades dog daycares have become a convenient option for many families. They can provide company for the dog with separation anxiety; keep the dogs that get bored and frustrated at home for the day, active and entertained; some people even use them to help socialize their younger dogs.

With the number of daycares available nowadays, you can be choosy. But how can you decide if one daycare is better than another? What things should you look for and what questions should you ask? When vetting a daycare there are many overlooked considerations that are just as important to your dog’s health and well-being as vaccines.

As with most dog-related services, daycares are unregulated. Because of this, anyone can open a daycare, no matter how limited their experience with dogs. Having a love for dogs or having them all your life are not qualifications for being responsible for looking after a group of dogs. Whether you are using daycare simply for babysitting or to help your dog develop skills around other dogs, it is equally important that you take the time to check out potential facilities carefully before you drop your dog off for the first time.

Finding out the facility’s philosophy, protocols and experience is a crucial first step. If these are not up to par, then everything else will be of little consequence. A modern, attractive layout is an eye-catcher for sure. And a clean and safe environment is certainly important for the care of any animal. Looks aren’t everything though and spending a lot of resources on making a facility attractive to people, but skimping on research, training and the education of those looking after your dog, is all too common and a BIG red flag.

One of the biggest drawbacks of most daycares is that their protocols and setup are not based on what we now know about dogs. Being responsible for looking after any number of dogs while using outdated information as a guide is not only inappropriate it’s also dangerous.

  • Have they had formal training in dog behaviour?
  • What is their philosophy in the handling and management of the dogs in their care?
  • How do they handle misbehaviour? Do they use squirt-bottles? Do they correct the dogs? Or do they give time outs so the dog can take a break?

If they think dogs are wolf-wanna-be’s and the group at their daycare is a pack with individuals vying for position and needing to be dominated for control, RUN. This is old information. Any caregiver should be better informed. It is vital that you find out what the knowledge base and qualifications of the staff is. They should be skilled in managing the dogs in a safe and kind manner.

Another dangerous aspect of most daycares is that they don’t have a good understanding of what safe and appropriate interactions look like. Dogs are typically put together that should not be together, not supervised adequately and allowed to be active for too long.

  • Most people ask what the maximum number of dogs allowed is. This a good question, but even more importantly is how many dogs are together at a time.
  • How many people are actively supervising the dogs?
  • Most play involves dogs pairing off. Can that happen?
  • How often do the dogs take breaks during their visits and what else do they do other than play?

All too often dogs are over-stimulated and allowed to interact inappropriately. This allows some dogs to become rough and bullying in their behaviour, while others are left to defend themselves. Both situations can lead to behavioural issues. Dogs do not just magically learn manners and social savvy by being around other dogs. It takes skill, understanding and experience on the staff’s part to be able to organize, monitor and supervise pairs and groups of dogs. It is vital that those in charge of watching the dogs, understand canine body language and recognize signs of stress and arousal.

As touched on earlier, the facility should be set up so that it best suits the needs of the dogs.

  • Are there separate areas for small or shy dogs?
  • Can dogs pair off to play?
  • Are there separate areas where dogs can safely rest or have a snack?

At our facility, our dogs have ample time for non-dog activity. Many choose to play with other dogs for only a part of their visit. I think parents would be surprised at how much time their dogs want to be doing other things than playing. They enjoy time to investigate and sniff without being hassled by another dog to play; time to chew or work at a food puzzle; time to have a nap or a cuddle with a best friend. In one-space only daycares, these activities are not usually possible. A single area just isn’t good enough. Dogs should be able to be grouped and there should be additional space to rest or participate in non-group activities without having to feel vigilant. It’s neither natural or healthy for a dog to play uninterrupted for hours at a time. 

  • How will they be provided a chance to go potty?
  • Is there a secure, outdoor area with easy access?

Although it’s not possible for all daycares to provide a full-sized outdoor play area, it is a bonus if the dogs are able to have access to some kind of secure outdoor enclosure during their visit, versus having to go out for a walk to do their business and get some fresh air.

Another indication of whether the facility is up-to-date in their care, is the protocols in place for vaccination and pest management.

  • Do they require annual vaccinations? If they do, oh oh.
  • Do they accept titers?
  • Can dogs be on a non-pesticide management program?

Requiring outdated health protocols is usually a tip off that they haven’t done their homework in other areas either. Adopting protocols that make it easier for the facility, rather than what’s best for the dogs, is not a good sign.

  • What type of information do they require beyond vaccines and emergency contacts?
  • How do they get new dogs started at their facility?
  • Are dogs allowed to come everyday?

Many dogs lack the skills, experience or confidence to safely and comfortably be around other dogs in a daycare setting. It’s important that the daycare wants to get behavioural as well as health information from you AND meet your dog before staying for a visit. The facility should be interested in your dog’s early socialization; whether your dog has attended any other kind of group activity; whether they have ever had an incident with another dog – either on the giving or receiving end; if they have bitten a person; whether they are segregated in any way at home; or have shown resource guarding towards items, people or food. These are just a few of the things that should be discussed.

Along with an pre-visit interview, a good daycare should ask for at least one short set up visit. Having an easy, carefully supervised introduction to the daycare will allow them to keep new dogs comfortable, get to know them properly, introduce them to the other dogs properly and recognize any potential issues.

Not all dogs can handle the same amount of time at daycare. Restricting how long and often a dog can attend shows concern for the dog’s well-being versus profits.

And finally, although incidents will be rare at a well-run facility, with good management and prevention keeping dogs safe and comfortable, being prepared for the worst is important.

  • What happens if 2 dogs get in a fight? How would they break it up?
  • Is their a person with an animal First Aid certificate on site at all times?
  • Do they have a relationship with a local vet clinic? What is their policy for emergency vet care?

Having a plan and good protocols in place not only makes good sense, it will afford you extra peace of mind.

Although this list is not complete, I hope that it gives you an idea of the considerations that are important in finding a facility that will make your dog’s daycare experiences fun, safe and positive.


It’s important to recognize that not all dogs are suited for daycare. Dog Days has been able to provide an environment that was supportive and safe for many dogs that really are not candidates for regular daycare.

For more care and training information for your dog visit:

Do It Right!

Lisa Kerley BSc, KPA-CTP

For those of you familiar with my training or who follow my articles, you know that I dedicate a lot of time to socialization and emphasize how critical it is for puppies and young dogs. Over the last 18 years, the number of fearful and reactive dogs that I have seen has increased – a lot. The majority of my behavioural work now is working with 8 – 24 month old youngsters that are fearful, reactive or aggressive.

My statistics indicate there are 3 groups that these clients fall into:

  1. Those that haven’t formally socialized their pups, believing that the key to a ‘good’ dog is obedience.
  2. Those that waited to begin socializing their pup.
  3. Those that actively socialized their young pup, but didn’t get it quite right.

There has been so much valid scientific information in the media over the last two decades, that it’s hard to believe early socialization isn’t a part of every young pup’s life as soon as they get home. Unfortunately, people are still following outdated information or are the victims of misinformation.

I’d like to address the things that many parents should do differently when trying to socialize their pup. Even with the best of intentions, many parents still end up with a young dog that doesn’t act like it’s been socialized. After all those hours at the dog park and having met nearly every person in the neighborhood, how is this possible? The two biggest blunders most people make are over-exposing their pup and not pairing socializing experiences with something pleasant for the pup. Both of these are critical to being successful. Not including them will make many socializing efforts a waste of time.

In this article, we will focus on socializing with people. No one wants to have a dog that is fearful or reactive, but a dog that has issues with people is a game changer. Unless you are a hermit living in the middle of nowhere, your life and the way you live it will be impacted. For those of you who have chosen a ‘loyal’, ‘one-person’ or ‘stand-offish’ breed, an effective, well-thought-out socialization program is crucial. These breeds are designed to be suspicious of people outside their core group, so without good socialization they will be stressed or reactive around new people.

Don’t think that if you have chosen a ‘friendly’ breed that you don’t have to worry. ANY dog can potentially be fearful. It is the responsibility of every dog parent to ensure their dogs become comfortable and confident via a good socialization program.

Now I bet many of you are thinking, “What’s the big deal? Get out, find lots of people and get them to pet your dog.” Wrong. That’s why so many dogs end up being reactive or fearful.

Overexposing the Pup

This is this biggest fault in most people’s attempts to socialize their young dog. When meeting people one-on-one, most puppies are made to interact, being petted or handled in some way. This is not necessary to start with. For many pups it will actually make them uncomfortable and cause them to become sensitized to people. And although it is recommended to socialize young pups to lots of people, many also misconstrue this and expose them to too many people at once. Choosing a location or event with large crowds will often be too much for most pups, especially early in their socializing.

Remember that we do not want to flood or overwhelm the pup. It is vital for good socializing that the pup feels comfortable. Exposing the pup does NOT mean they have to actually interact – be patted by or sniff the person. They just need to be aware of people nearby to begin with. As the pup builds confidence, they can interact to a greater degree.

When a person approaches, ask them stop at some distance from the pup. Setting up this initial buffer zone will allow some time for the pup to check out the person from a safe place. This will also give you a chance to make sure the pup is comfortable with this degree of exposure. Keep the pup next to you rather than having them out front. This position will provide them some security and allow them to be assessed and helped more easily, when necessary.

If and only if, the pup looks comfortable should you let the pup get closer and potentially interact with a person. It’s vital that the interaction is not forced on them. They should not be restrained, being held or ask to sit and the person then invading the pup’s space. Remember contact is not the goal. It is to make each interaction comfortable for the pup. This means the pup may be fine to eventually go all the way up to some people and not others. That’s OK. The pup will gain confidence just by having a buffer zone with each and every person to start. They won’t feel rushed or over-faced. You will also gain the ability to read the pup’s body language and choose how to proceed more readily.

Some dogs are more relaxed in larger groups of people as they may feel they ‘get lost in the crowd’ and won’t be noticed and have to interact. In this situation it is vital to manage the exposure. When exposing a pup to larger crowds, choose a position where the pup is not in the thick of things, at least to start. Pick a spot at some distance from the crowd or location. If choosing a busy retail location, for example, don’t start at the front entrance. That’s way too much to start. Instead let the pup watch people from a safe, quiet location – next to your car or on a bench away from all the activity. Make sure the spot doesn’t make the pup feel trapped. Eventually the pup can get closer. That may be able to happen in that session or may need to wait until a future one.

Along with distance, the intensity can be reduced and the pup kept comfortable by picking lower intensity exposures to start, gradually increasing the intensity as the pup shows they are able. Depending on the situation, you can choose locations or times of day when the place is quieter or less crowded. For example, the first time a pup visits a school playground shouldn’t be at recess, when all the kids are there at once and very active. Watching children going into school (from an appropriate distance) would be a better choice to begin with.

It’s Not Positive

Creating exposures that are comfortable and don’t overwhelm your pup is a crucial part of good socializing. If one really wants to maximize the benefits of a pup’s exposures, there is one more simple thing to do. Pair any and all exposures with something positive. This will create good memories and pleasant associations. Usually a tasty treat is the easiest way to do this. Apart from being convenient to carry around and provide to the pup, it also provides an additional way to assess how the pup is feeling (along with their body language). If a dog loses interest in an otherwise irresistible treat, or takes it with a rougher mouth than usual, these are both indications that the pup is not relaxed.

Remember the point about positioning the pup next to the handler when encountering passersby? Apart from support for the pup, it also allows for the reinforcement to be provided conveniently. It’s much easier to hand the pup a treat (or any other reinforcer) from this position. DO NOT HAVE THE STRANGER FEED THE TREAT. It is common practice, and all too often advised, to have the stranger provide the treat to the dog. By doing so it is believed the pup will learn that strangers are OK. What often happens however, is that the pup will be lured in by the food, with no chance to assess if they are ready to be that close. When the food is taken, the pup is now really close to someone that they may not have been ready to approach if the food didn’t tantalize them over. The important thing is that the pup is being provided with something they enjoy in the presence of the person. Again, it should not come from the stranger. This will also prevent the pup from learning that passersby are treat dispensers!

Although a treat or food is typically the best reinforcement when you are ‘on the go’, anything that the pup finds enjoyable can be used as a reinforcer. As long as they find it rewarding in that particular circumstance, it will be valuable. Any activity – play, tricks, treat searches – anything that they enjoy and can engage in, will work.

And one final point. Keep the sessions short. With some things the pup may only need a minute or two to get everything they need out of an exposure. Remember that flooding will have the opposite result to what is desired. If planning to ‘get a lot accomplished’ give your pup lots of intermissions, so their brain gets a break and they don’t overtire.

Anyone taking the time to socialize their pup does so with the best of intentions. By following these simple considerations, you can really make the most of your pup’s socializing time!

For more training and care information visit:

Manners and More

Manners and More

Lisa Kerley BSc KPA-CTP

One of the first things most people consider doing when they have a new dog is enrolling in an obedience class. If a class isn’t an option, a private trainer is often brought in to teach obedience in the home. Obedience seems to be the first thing on many people’s minds when it comes to training their dogs.

Teaching your dog to do some specific things when asked has obvious value. Obedience on its own however, does not provide the average dog with the skills they need to be ‘well-behaved’ day-to-day. We routinely have new dogs come to our facility that are already obedience graduates. Although they can perform their trained behaviours when asked, sadly, many of these same dogs are easily excited and unmanageable when not being directed. Even dogs from advanced classes often aren’t calm or settled unless they are put into a ‘down stay’ or  they can’t politely meet a person without being told to ‘sit’ or are corrected in some way.

So what skills are our dogs often missing in regular obedience training?

For Puppies

Young puppies are in a critical phase of development and have special requirements for their learning. Studies indicate that delaying socialization can have serious consequences on a dog’s entire life. Safe socializing can and must begin as soon as a puppy comes home and needs to be the focus of their early education. And just in case you were under the impression – socialization does not mean playing with other dogs. But that’s a whole other topic…

Vital lessons include developing a gentle mouth, acquiring good social skills and getting used to all the different sights and sounds that are part of the world a family dog will live in. By the time a pup arrives home at 8 weeks of age, the critical period to learn these things is already half over. Spending time on these critical skills while a puppy is still in this phase of development, will make the lessons (and other training) much easier and both parent and pup will have fun doing it. These pups will be set up for success by creating a more relaxed adolescent who already has some great skills started. It is not possible to make up for a lack of attention to these early lessons later. Many are time-sensitive, and once the critical early learning phase has passed, so has the opportunity.

For Every Dog

How to get things they want

For many dogs, the excitement of something they love is just too much, and they lose control. Depending on the dog, it may be a passerby or their favourite toy that sets them off.  Parents often react to unruly behaviour with demands or corrections in an attempt to get them to behave.

Our dogs learn instead that polite behaviours work to get things that matter to them. Not only does this help the dog learn to be polite, but they will also learn to do it by default without having to be micro-managed (constantly told what to do). And we don’t want to always have to remind our dogs to be gentle or polite, do we?

Helping one’s dog learn that they have choices is a novel approach for many people.  Waiting for polite stuff from our dogs, specifically waiting for them to offer it, can be tough. It’s hard for people not to just tell the dog what to do. The value in this style of training is that it teaches the dog what TO do by showing them the behaviours that will work to get them the things they want. No hints or corrections are needed – these will actually weaken the dog’s ability to offer the desired behaviour! And the polite behaviours we make ‘work’, will have a great reinforcement history and start to feel good to do, in and of themselves. So cool!

So how does it actually work? Simple. All you need to do is decide which behaviours you like. Let’s pick ‘sit’ as an example. It’s a great all–around behaviour. Start practicing this with any items your dog wants – toys, chews, dinner. Show them you have that thing they want, but don’t give it to them right away. Keep it out of reach. Stay calm and quiet, and wait. What do they do? If they do anything you don’t like – jump, bark, or paw – withhold the item. Don’t instruct your dog. Wait for them to offer the behaviour you like (sit, for example). Praise and offer the item as soon as they sit.

Bonus point of this method:

Not only will you be teaching your dog how to get things they want by offering calm, polite behaviour, you will also be training “in real time” by reinforcing sit with real life rewards.

Paying Attention

Having a dog pay attention or check in with us is a behaviour that traditional trainers often have to spend a lot of time on, as it can be challenging when there are distractions present. In our “wait for what you like” approach, young dogs are regularly being reinforced for checking in when things they get excited about are around – things that are distracting. They have learned that being involved with us is part of their success. They want us to notice the great behaviour they are offering, to reap the reward.

Bonus point of this method:

Being able to focus and work through distractions is one of the biggest challenges in proofing or making training reliable. In essence, we are turning distractions into meaningful real life rewards.

Building Self-Control

There are even more benefits in waiting for polite behaviour. As if we need more! Dogs will develop impulse control, learn to manage themselves and deal with frustration, and build patience. These are skills that do not develop when a dog is always micro-managed. Dogs that have too much freedom and have free access to things that matter to them miss the chance too. These skills are sadly missing in many dogs these days. Helping a dog learn these skills can take some time, so patience and consistency is required. It will be worth it, as they can truly change the way a dog behaves and how they handle day-to-day life.

Bonus point of this method:

Once dogs are outside the home, many get over-excited by the big, stimulating world around them.  A dog that is already learning the value of being calm and thinking about what is happening will be much better-equipped to deal with things in the real world.

An extra word about real-life rewards:

An obvious example of something your dog loves that you can provide is food, but there are so many more at your disposal. A chance to play a favourite game; getting let out into the yard; getting the leash on for a walk; being let out of their  crate. The sky’s the limit. You have lots of opportunities each day to help your dog practice.

So if you have a young puppy, don’t wait to start socializing. A puppy’s brain is set up to learn certain things that it can’t later on. Please don’t delay!

Hopefully the benefits of this “wait for what you like” approach are enticing enough that you’ll want to give it a try. And as for obedience, with the skills your dog will already have, teaching obedience will be a breeze!

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