This new year, I challenge you. I challenge you to look at your relationship with your dog differently and become a team member in that relationship. Rather than expecting your dog to just know what to do, I challenge you to get out of the old habits of scolding your dog for getting it wrong and instead, figure out how you can catch him getting it right! For example-when he's laying at your feet resting, praise him (without touching him as that will make him get up!). When he's minding his own business, chewing on a bone, praise him. You see it is these quiet moments when we tend to ignore our dogs and I challenge you to start noticing them. If we praise our dogs for getting it right more often, they will get it right more often. As with toddlers, negative attention is better than no attention. If negative attention works, then they will keep doing the thing that gets attention. Some of you just said "Ah ha! I get it!" That's what is known as a lightbulb moment!
At Angels we are science based in our training. There is a scientific term called Contra freeloading that I want you to be familiar with. Wikipedia states:"Contra freeloading is an observed behavior in which an organism, when offered a choice between provided food or food that requires effort to obtain, prefers the food that requires effort. (Did I mention we were sciency?!) The term was coined in 1963 by animal psychologist Glen Jensen." You see, many of us are doing a good job of physically exercising our dogs. Daily walks, long hikes, sessions of fetch. I challenge you to exercise your dog MENTALLY! The muscle in our dog's head called the brain is not getting near enough exercise.
An easy way to get our dogs mental exercise is by getting them to work for their food. Rather than feed out of a bowl, I challenge you to "Ditch the Bowl" and discover new and fun interactive ways of feeding our dogs. My dogs no longer eat out of a bowl. They are excited to know what puzzle I will present them with next. In addition to working their minds, by doing this I am building on personality concepts like confidence, focus, tolerance of frustration and grit. These concepts are building blocks for my dogs on learning how to deal with the world in a calmer, safer way. It is also the beginning of relationship building and motivates my dog to WANT to work WITH me.
So I challenge you to ditch the bowl. Just try it for one meal and see what happens. If you have multiple dogs in the home, experiment separately at first. If your dog is nervous about the change, just make it easier for him. Help him out by showing him how the toy works. Verbally praise him for sniffing the box you put food in, or the towel you laid a line of food in and then rolled up .Some dogs will dive right into the challenge, others will be skeptical. Maybe you just scatter feed throughout the house or in the yard (when its not snowing!) Figure out how to motivate them to want to contra freeload.if they are skeptical. That's where relationship building comes into play. Don't expect the dog to do it on his own...help him out if he is struggling.
To help you get started I am attaching a video of many different dogs, ditching the bowl in a variety of ways. The sky's the limit. Try it. Let me know how it goes! I double dog dare ya!
(For more information about this game based approach to dog training, give us a call or sign up for a class! We are waiting for you!)
Teri Thomas- a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and the owner of Angels in the Making, LLC