Welcome to the second instalment of Four Ways To Raise The Best Dog. In part one, I covered the importance of breed choice and socialisation. In this post I will be describing how appropriate play and training can turn out the best dog you have ever had.
Having a puppy or young dog means that you will have to get back to your childish self again. As adults we often forget how important play is for learning. Teach your dog how to play with you constructively, through a long toy. If things get really exciting when that toy comes out you will have your dogs undivided attention.
Start playing in the back yard, play chase and tug with your dog. Allow them to win the toy and chase them around the yard, teach them to give the toy up, and then have them chase you, they love this game. Make your dogs’ tail wag. If you can start a healthy love of play with your dog they will want to stay with you, over and above other dogs and people. Play develops a strong bond with your dog, and from that will come the most amazing relationship.
Play with other dogs is also important for your young dog. However, it should be the right kind of supervised play. Play between dogs should be fluid and have many short breaks, both of the dogs should be happy and comfortable. If one or both dogs are participating in fixed behaviour patterns and not altering their play then problems can start. If one dog is always chasing and knocking the other one over this kind of play is inappropriate. Become familiar with canine body language so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not your dog should interact with another dog.
You can incorporate play in to your training sessions, and in fact it makes for the best training sessions. Both of you will be having fun so the pressure is instantly diffused and you can start rewarding your dog, with food or the toy, for any good behaviour during the play. For example if your dog is playing with you, sees another dog but decides to continue playing with you, heavily reward that with their favourite game or some food.
Enrol yourself and your dog in to a reputable dog club or puppy school so that you can get some formal guidance on basic obedience skills. Continue your formal training for at least the first three years with your dog. Going to a club will make you more accountable, and it is guaranteed time that you will spend working with your dog. The first few skills you should be taught should be ‘come’, ‘heel’ and ‘watch me’.
When you ask your dog to do something for you, first make sure they are in the right mind-set to listen. You and your dog make up a team, and each of you is only 50% of that team. Training is not just about you getting your dog to do something, it is about working in a partnership. Your dog is your partner, and it is your job to set them up for success.
Work your dog up to difficult distractions slowly, sometimes it can take months or years to master difficult skills, be patient. Similarly, you do not want to put your dog in a situation where they are too stressed to work with you. Pay attention to your partner and respond appropriately and you will have a huge amount of success.
Training does not have to be boring or regimented. Have some fun. Reward any behaviour you like and you will get more of it. Your dog is always learning from their environment, be vigilant about the lessons they are absorbing, and look for situations where they can learn good behaviours.
Raising a dog does require concentration for the first few years, but then you have the next several years, hopefully more, to enjoy what you have put in place.