January is Train Your Dog Month

January is designated as National Train your Dog Month, but what does that really mean? Training your dog will be different depending on your wants and needs for your pet’s behaviour. For one person it may be that your pet walks nicely on a leash, for another it may be that they don’t go totally berserk whenever the doorbell rings, and for another it may mean teaching your dog to do a whole bunch of fun things. Whatever it means to you, it’s never too late to start (however the sooner you begin, obviously the better, it is easier to teach a habit than to break one and replace it with another).

Where should you begin? How about with the most fundamental basic of them all – the bond you have with your dog. The stronger your bond, the easier it will be to train Fido. Dogs that are bonded with their owners are more likely to want to please them. Building a bond is all about spending quality time together. For example, does your dog love snuggling on the couch together? That time, is creating/building/nurturing the bond. Does your dog desperately need to throw all their love at you the moment you return home? (I have one like this!) Giving your dog those few minutes of focus just on them when you return, builds the bond. It tells them they are just as important to you, as they feel you are to them. Playing together, snuggling, even grooming, can all be ways to strengthen your bond with your dog.

Find your dog’s high value reward!

The next step isn’t about deciding what to teach your dog, but IS about finding what your dog feels is rewarding. Some dogs are STRONGLY motivated by food, others by a good game of tug, yet another may be motivated by your verbal praise and pets. Determine what it is that your dog is really willing to work for and then use that for your special training sessions. Keep in mind if you are using food, even their own regular kibble can be a treat for some! Also, be conscious of how many treats you are feeding as you may want to adjust their daily meals so they don’t gain weight in this process! A variety of low value (i.e. kibble) and high value (i.e. small pieces of hot dog) tend to work best. The size of the reward also need not be large – 1/4 of your pinky nail is actually plenty!

Now that we have build a bond and found our dog’s high value reward, we can begin training! As mentioned, what you train will be what is important to you or fun for you both. Simple quick training may include:

  • sit
  • down
  • off
  • wait
  • come
  • release (of a toy/tug etc.)
  • leave it

Next you could work on:

  • walk on a loose leash
  • waiting at the door or gate before going through
  • stay
  • not barking
  • appropriate greetings (ie sit instead of jumping up on someone)

And of course, have fun with it:

  • shake a paw (or both)
  • rollover
  • high five
  • jump up
  • sit pretty
  • retrieve

Some things may be easy to train on your own or with some help from a Google search, others you may want to check into a local or online training facility. There are so many fun things you can do with your dog beyond these basics too; agility, flyball, scenting, rally, treibball, higher level tricks, and more!

As an added tip (especially necessary in our cold winters!) on days when it is too cold to get out for some physical exercise, mental exercise can be just as, if not more, tiring. So take some time, do a little research, and have fun with it! Training will also help to strengthen that bond you have been working on building!