The cold days are finally gone, so let’s get out and play. This is the ideal time to go for long, leisurely walks and the ideal time to effortlessly and enjoyably train your dog.
What are the essential ingredients for enjoyable walking? Expecting your dog to walk by your side and to sit when you stop. Most owners experience trouble teaching their dogs to walk nicely on a leash because the animal in a hurry tends to pull. During summer walks, slow down a bit and extend a walk for fun and for the sake of training.
Training tip: Either your dog walks calmly or you stop and stand still. By doing this your dog will learn that he is rewarded (by continuing to move forward) only he when walks calmly by your side. Starting from your front door, if your dog pulls, you stop. Don’t say a word, simply wait for your dog to understand what you want. He’ll go through a little behavioral repertoire, nudging you, maybe whining. Ignore all this and wait for him to sit.
When he responds as prompted, reward him with praise, a piece of his special treat and a step forward. Repeat this process with each step. When he is sitting automatically as you stop, say the word “sit” and increase to two steps in between sits. Then increase to three steps, four and so on. Pretty soon your dog will be sitting on command and understand that the way to get you to continue to walk is to sit when you stop.
In addition to this type of walk where you can window shop, you are going to need frequent time outs to teach your dog to settle down on request. As you stroll through the park, you can stop every 5 minutes and sit on a bench. When you take a seat, ignore your dog until he lies down (at first this may take a few minutes). When he does lie down, calmly praise, wait a moment or two and then get up to continue your walk. By the end of a few walks you’ll sit at a park bench and your dog will automatically calm down.
Perhaps the most wonderful side effect of taking your dog for long walks is the improvement to his social life. Most people forget that while early puppy socialization is a primary concern, a dog’s socialization must be maintained for the rest of his life. That means he needs to meet new people and dogs constantly. If you hear yourself saying “Fido is friends with two dogs in the neighborhood,” then you need to get on top of this as soon as possible.
Walking the city streets is fine, but head to a park and your dog will thank you for days! With each new person he meets ask him to sit to greet and give him a treat. If a stranger wants to say hello, ask them to ask your dog to sit and they can offer him the treat. This way, greeting politely (by sitting) is being rewarded and your dog is making friends with another person by associating them with good things.
While you’re out, make a stop at a local doggie park and let your dog play off-leash with other dogs. The benefits to your dog’s socialization are incalculable, but this is also a good time to work on improving your dog’s recall. Every couple of minutes go up to your dog so you are only a few feet away. Call your dog to come and when he does gently grab his collar and make a big fuss. If no other dogs are around give him a treat and tell him to go back and play. This way he learns that coming to you does not mean the end of a play session, rather that play sessions with other dogs are a reward for coming when called.
If you’re in the park, you can also indulge your dog’s desire for the thrill of the chase by teaching him to retrieve. Until he has established a strong desire to run after an object and bring it back to you, play this game only when he is on a leash (so he won’t learn to run off with the object). You should also limit play to three or four tosses so that his demand for the game remains high. Each time he comes back, make a big fuss and before you know it your dog will be a retrieving fool! On hot summer days you can have him retrieve things from the water. If you have a Newfoundland, you can even teach him to do water rescue!
While a walk is one of the best ways to enjoy a glorious day, for the rainy days there are also many wonderful indoor doggie activities. Teach your dog to run through a collapsible tunnel, to sit up pretty or simply practice “sit,” “down” and “stand.” Teaching your dog to do a new trick means you are spending time with him (what he wants) and adding another word to his vocabulary.
If you have a dog with a wonderful temperament you might consider certifying him to be a Therapy Dog. A weekly visit to a hospital is a great way to maintain socialization, practice “sit” and “down” and of course, make someone’s day.
Make time for your dog and for yourself and you will both be sure to enjoy the dog days of summer!