Pet parents, are you preparing for Puppy Pre-School or some DIY homeschooling with your dog? Now that it is official fall, wondering what should be on Fido’s Fall Shopping list? As both a certified professional dog trainer and dog mom, I have found the following items and tips to be very helpful when prepping for dog training DIY activities, no matter the season.
First up – exercise gear. When it comes to walking equipment, we want dogs to be comfortable and safe, so a no-pull harness is my go-to recommendation for outdoor adventures. The TransPaw Gear Happy Harness is not only stylish and comfortable, but also escape-proof, easy to fit, easy to clean and water friendly. Attaching a leash to a neck collar risks intensifying pressure around your dog’s delicate neck structures, which is what you want to avoid. Harnesses allow the leash to be attached to the body, diffusing pressure.
Make your life easier with a treat pouch – with or without a clicker. To help keep training fun, effective, and convenient, consider investing in something reusable that lasts a long time and is handy for accessing snacks and supplies easily. My favorite, and the brand I’ve been using since before I was a professional trainer, is from the Doggone Good Clicker Company.
In trainer speak, food is considered a primary reinforcer, meaning it’s something your dog innately loves already. So we use that to our advantage in modern animal training. The key is to keep in mind that using positive reinforcement involves rewarding desired behavior with something the dog finds valuable and well, rewarding. For best results, mix it up and try different things. You might be very surprised to discover what your dog considers an irresistible, high value treat. You can experiment with:
- Small pieces of vegetables, such as carrots
- Bite-sized pieces of lean meats
- Freeze-dried veggies, such as broccoli and potato sticks
- Whole foods off the ingredient list of your dog’s food
- Small pieces of lean cooked meats, poultry, or fish
(Note: It’s a good idea to check in with your veterinarian regarding the number of calories your dog should consume in a day. Based on that, you can divide training treats, snacks and meals accordingly to help your pup maintain a healthy body condition.) Reward-based training keeps learning engaging for pets and their people. So have fun and carry treats!
Here’s another tip on using food to modify behavior. Have you tried interactive food toys? Dogs, by nature, are scavengers, predators, omnivores, and problem solvers. By giving them things to do to channel this energy and curiosity, we can prevent them from creating their own “entertainment,” which might not be to our liking. Are you currently feeding each meal in a regular old dog dish? Instead, you can place some (or all) of your dog’s daily ration in one of these toys. So, yes – go ahead – encourage dogs to play with their food!
A Place of Their Own
After snack time and play time, give a little thought to nap time. Crates can be great options here. Even if you choose not to use one regularly, learning to relax in a crate is a valuable skill for your dog. This is another case of train it before you need it. Situations that may require a little time spent caged or kenneled can be less stressful when your dog is already comfortable with what it means to “Go to your room.” Here are some examples:
- Training and caring for a new puppy
- Providing a safe, quiet space for a convalescing dog
- A brief stay at the vet’s office
- Spa day at the groomer’s
- Participating in dog sports, agility or K9 Nose Work® (often dogs need to be crated while waiting for their turns on the course)
- Safe ‘transpawtation’ to and from the vet, groomer, dog sports or any other adventures
- Seeking a den-like place to relax and unwind from a busy day or take a cat nap between various activities
Home Plate Advantage
Your force-free trainer can guide you through the steps to teach your pup to sit or lie down on a target using a cue such as “Go to your place.” This is referred to as a targeting exercise, where dogs learn to “target” or place a body part -or even their whole bodies- on an object. Since dogs can learn to offer this behavior in a variety of places and/or situations, it’s great for when you’d like your friend to settle. Just imagine the applications! You’re at home and the doorbell rings or you’re thinking about some dog-friendly outdoor dining… You can use a dog bed, a nice beach towel or a bath rug with nonskid backing. Choose something comfy, easy to transport and easy to clean. Your pup has learned a handy skill and you look like a genius! Let’s hear it for the teacher’s pet!
Just remember, when it comes to our furry friends we already have everything we really need – the desire to both teach and learn and a relationship based on mutual love. So here’s to unleashing adventures and harnessing fun this fall season!