It’s not always easy to find time for your dog, especially if you have work, a family, school, and other committments weighing heavily on your time. However, it doesn’t always take hours of hard work to prevent problem behaviors like barking, chewing, jumping, nipping, pacing, and begging. Eliminating a problem behavior that’s firmly entrenched can be very time-intensive, but if you’ve got an average dog and want to prevent future problems while improving her current behavior, all you need is an extra 15 minutes a day.
That doesn’t mean you can replace meeting your dog’s exercise needs with these 15 minute training sessions. However, if you can give up one section of the paper, 15 minutes of surfing the web, or half of a TV program, and dedicate that time instead to training your dog, here are five ways you can use that time to improve your relationship with your dog and build productive behaviors while preventing undesirable ones.
5. Learn a New Game
Playing games with your dog isn’t just a fun way to strengthen your bond: It’s an important and necessary part of your relationship. Almost all mammals, humans included, use play to reinforce friendships, build desirable behaviors, and to make exercise more enjoyable. Playing a game for 15 minutes every day will help both you and your dog enjoy one another’s company and communicate better.
One fun game that reinforces a potentially life-saving behavior is “Ping-Pong Dog.” This works best with a big house or yard and a large family, but you only need at least two people. Everyone playing stands in a different place, preferably out of one another’s sight, with a pocket full of treats. Take turns calling the dog and giving him a treat when he comes and sits in front of the person who called. Play for 15 minutes every day, and see how fast you can get your dog to bounce between the players for a snack! Coming when called is perhaps the most important thing you can teach your dog, and “Ping-Pong Dog” reminds you to practice this behavior and make it fun and rewarding for both of you.
4. Feed a Raw Meaty Bone
Some people see chewing as a problem, but the problem isn’t chewing– it’s chewing the wrong items. Chewing is a great behavior to encourage in your dog, so long as it’s directed appropriately. It entertains your dog, keeping her busy and out of trouble, it cleans and strengthens her teeth, and it can engage her mentally in an interesting challenge. To maximize the benefits of appropriate chewing, feed raw meaty bones at least a couple of times per week.
Before feeding raw, make sure your dog hasn’t had kibble in approximately 12 hours. Kibble digests slowly, and raw foods digest rapidly, so combining the two in the same meal is a recipe for an upset gastrointestinal tract or a bacterial infection. Choose an edible bone appropriate for your dog’s size. A small dog like a Pomeranian or Scottie might do best with a raw chicken neck, a mid-sized dog like a Corgi or Border Collie could enjoy a turkey wing, a large dog like a Labrador Retriever or Golden Retriever should get something like a turkey thigh, and a giant breed like a Mastiff or Saint Bernard can gnaw on a pork neck or whole prey like rabbit and chicken. Don’t feed weight-bearing bones from larger animals, like beef soup bones or elk legs, unless you know your dog very well and are sure he won’t chew so hard he breaks a tooth.
By feeding raw meaty bones at least twice a week, you’ll reduce the buildup of plaque on your dog’s teeth and save on toothbrushing time and dental bills, as well as see improved general health. If you and your dog love raw, you can even explore a half-raw or 100% raw diet. But, before you throw that raw meat down, take the time to “bone up” on safe raw feeding practices.
3. Teach a Trick
Any dog can learn dozens of tricks. Every dog learns at his own pace, but every dog, young or old, can with time learn enough tricks to impress the neighbors and charm children. If your dog doesn’t know any tricks, start with the basics: Sit, down, and stay. Use a clicker to make capturing and shaping behaviors easy. For dogs who are familiar with obedience training, but haven’t gone beyond utilitarian behaviors taught in Obedience 101, try simple, fun tricks like “shake” and “spin.”
Don’t worry if your 15 minutes is up and you haven’t produced exactly what you want. Animals learn better in many short sessions than fewer long sessions. Set a timer and quit at 15 minutes, whether you’ve gotten the whole behavior down pat or not. Review the work you did, note any errors you made that you can correct next time, and give your dog treats and praise for her hard work. Train every day, and you’ll soon hear, “There’s Steve and his dog Fido– Fido’s the smartest dog in the neighborhood!” as you walk by.
2. Grooming and Hygiene
Especially if you own a longhaired breed, it’s easy to let grooming slide until clumps of hair are falling out all over the carpets, the dog has mats, and you need a professional groomer to correct the damage (and cause $30 to $150 in damage to your wallet). Fifteen minutes of daily grooming can prevent many problems, both physical and behavioral.
Start by brushing your dog from head to toe, from his rump forward. This will clean shedding hair out of the coat, and the physical contact with your dog strengthens your bond and reinforces calmness when touched. For an extra behavioral “oomph,” keep your clicker and treats on hand, and click and treat every time your dog stands still, head facing forward, with a relaxed expression while you brush.
Don’t forget to keep his nails trimmed flush with the ground in order to prevent gait irregularities and the associated pain and lameness. It’s also important to brush your dog’s teeth if he’s fed a kibble or canned diet. Most raw-fed dogs don’t need tooth brushing. Finally, most dogs can benefit from regular ear cleaning. Have your vet recommend a product and teach you how and how often to clean his ears. In exchange for time spent on grooming and hygiene, you’ll have a happier, healthier dog, and a family to match.
1. Teach Self Control
There’s never a bad time to teach your dog that nothing in life is free. Expect a behavior in exchange for everything, from setting the food dish down at mealtimes to opening the door or letting her off the leash. Implementing this systems from puppyhood will help to ensure that you avoid bolting, owner-directed aggression, begging, and many other undesirable behaviors. Self control and patience are skills every dog needs, and in addition to the NILIF system, daily exercises in self control are enormously beneficial to your dog’s behavioral health.
Start with simple exercises like asking your dog to sit and wait while you walk ahead of her through a doorway. Give a release command quickly, and make sure to click and reward both for sitting as you walk through the doorway, and for getting up and coming to you when released. You can progress slowly, so long as your dog is doing well and isn’t becoming frustrated, to requiring that she wait as you go out the door and take a few steps away before returning, leashing her, and continuing on your walk. Food-related self control exercises are also handy, but should never be undertaken with a resource guarding dog except under the guidance of a professional. For dogs that don’t resource guard, you can reinforce patience by placing a treat on the ground while your dog is in a sit-stay, counting to three, and cuing her to eat the treat. Slowly increase the count. Can you get up to 60?
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