Dog Behaviour And Training Module 6

Make Your Dog Happy

A well-behaved dog is a joy to be around, but more importantly, training makes your dog happy. Indeed, one of the advantages of reward-based training is the dog WANTS to work with you.

In this module you’ll learn how little things can make a big difference to your dog’s happiness and mental well-being. Woof!

6.1 Mental stimulation

6.2 Knowing the Rules Leads to Happiness

6.3 The Importance of Play

6.4 Learning to Relax

6.5 Praise as a Motivator

6.6 Diverting your Dog’s Attention

Why do you train your dog?

Most people train their dog because being a good canine citizen requires obedience. Also, having a dog that obeys “Stay” could prevent him running onto a busy road and keep him safe. However, what many pet parents don’t realize is how much training benefits the dog in terms of mental stimulation and general well-being.

In Module 1we looked at dog psychology and how a dog’s mind works. To round things off let’s now look at how a pet parent’s actions can make their dog feel secure (or insecure), plus consider practical ways to help achieve a happy, well-adjusted dog who is brimming over with confidenceand is a pleasure to be around.

6.1 Mental Stimulation

OK, we’re not talking about teaching your dog to play chess, but mental stimulation is crucial to your canine companion’s mental well-being. Without mental stimulation he quickly becomes bored, and that’s bored spelt D-E-S-T-R-U-C-T-I-V-E. When an owner can no longer cope with a bad habit such as chewing, digging, or barking then that dog could well end up at a shelter with all that this implies.

So many of those unfortunate behaviors are just that, a natural way of a frustrated dog expressing himself. With a little planning and commitment, it’s possible to prevent those bad habits purely by providing adequate mental stimulation.

So how do we do that?

First up is exercise. A dog that is overflowing with energy isn’t going to pay attention. It’s also important for the dog’s physical and mental well-being that he gets as much exercise as a dog of his size and breed requires.

Next comes training.

Train your dog little and often, and he’ll adore you fur-ever. He’ll lap up that one-on-one attention and hang on your every word. (OK that may be a little optimistic. Dogs will be dogs.) But, you get the idea. Training is something any dog of any age can benefit from. Indeed, elderly dogs can be helped through grief over losing a life companion, by engaging in a spot of gentle training. It helps them to refocus their mind and rediscover their bond to you, their pet parent.

But, of course, modern life means dogs are left for long periods of time, so provide some mental stimulation while you’re gone. Stuff a Kong with part of their dinner ration and leave them to lick it out. Or why not make your own puzzle feeder out of a plastic bottle?

Oh yes, and if you need further convincing, experts believe that ten minutes teaching the dog new tricks, is as tiring for them as a 40-minute walk.

6.2 Knowing the Rules Leads to Happiness

Dogs feel secure when life is predictable. (They are after all creatures of habit.)

They love to know that X (Say, jumping on the sofa) leads to Y (and they get told off). They love this because they know what to do, i.e. No jumping on the sofa.

It makes for an insecure dog if they do X and sometimes Y, Z, or even A happens.

This is because we humans speak a different language to dogs, so unpredictable outcomes make the world seem a scary place.

If this rings bells it should. If you sometimes let the dog on the sofa, but other times tell him to get off, you are causing confusion in his mind, which could potentially lead to anxiety and aggression.

The take home message is that training is great because it makes you think about the rules and stick to them. In fact, it’s a great idea if you draw up a list of house rules and display them on the fridge. (No, not for the dog to read, silly). That way all the family knows what is and isn’t allowed and can act accordingly for the benefit of their furry friend.

6.3 The Importance of Play

You’ve only to see a Staffy grab a tug toy or a Border collie run after a ball, to know the joy play brings to a dog. Indeed, this makes sense when you think a dog has the mental ability of a two to three-year-old child.

But more than that, play has a physiological effect on their body. Play triggers the release of oxytocin and other feel-good hormones which promote a feeling of euphoria and well-being. At times of stress the levels of these hormones dip down, but they can be replenished through play. Many rescue dogs come with behavioral problems born from an insecure past, but through play you can help have confidence in the good things in life and their hormones will chip in to help them feel better. Of course, play isn’t restricted to rescue dogs, but is something dogs of all ages need to indulge in.

So for a balanced outlook on life, don’t look on play as optional but as essential for a happy, confident dog.

6.4 Learning to Relax

If you regularly post photos on Instagram of your dog belly up, asleep in unusual places, then suggesting you teach him to relax may seem strange. OK, fair point. Some dogs are blessed with brilliant pet parents and are of a naturally chilled disposition. However, some dogs are highly strung, others are in pain, some come from rescues, while others live in a perpetual state of anxiety. It is these dogs that need to learn how to relax.

You can start by checking out how you pet your dog. Sounds weird? It’s not meant to be. However, many people pet their dogs with fast, heavy strokes or rough-house their dogs. Many dogs soak this up because they adore their pet parent and love the attention, but as to whether they wouldn’t prefer a deep, relaxing massage instead…

Try switching and see what happens. Go for the chest or flanks, avoiding ticklish places, and when you stroke your dog slow right up. Make long, slow sweeps following the direction of their coat, whilst applying moderate pressure. Do this for 20 – 30 minutes, so when you settle down to your favorite TV show is a great time to indulge.

6.5 Praise as a Motivator

Hopefully by now both you and your dog are enjoying the benefits of reward-based training. But have your considered praising your dog just for…well…being good?

It’s all too easy to take the quiet calm behavior for granted and only get steamed up when the dog puts a paw wrong. Think about it. When the dog chews your favorite handbag he gets LOTS of attention but, when he’s resting quietly in his bed he’s largely ignored. How about turning things on their head?

Make a point of praising your dog for being quiet and peaceful. Grab that opportunity when he’s on his bed or padding along nicely on the lead. Don’t overlook the power of praise to motivate when he’s being good so that he wants to stay being good. Do that and you’ll find his behavior improving for very little extra effort.

6.6 Diverting your Dogs Attention

And finally, know that if you want your dog to stop a bad habit, then offer him an alternative activity to distract him. For example, if your dog barks when guests arrive, train him to fetch a toy as a gift for the visitors. He’ll be so busy fetching the toy and then holding it in his mouth that he can’t bark.

But seriously, giving the dog an alternative action to put their energy into is a lot more effective than simply saying, “No, don’t do that.” Plan ahead, and next time your dog looks like he is about to get into trouble, distract him with a noise such as a squeak from a toy, and then suggest an alternative occupation for him.

Just be careful you don’t accidentally reward the first behavior, so, if necessary, get him to do several “Sit” and “Lie” sequences so that alternative activity is a reward for those. And if you’re doing a thousand things at once and need the dog to be quiet for half an hour, provide an activity to absorb him (such as licking out a Kong) rather than putting him out in the yard to create his own entertainment, such as barking or digging.

Well Done!