We all want wonderfully behaved dogs, but it doesn’t happen on its own just because we wish it.  It takes time and effort to create the kind of dog and relationship you want. Here are some basic principles that can help you have a better behaved dog.

  • Have realistic expectations about your dog. No matter how good your dog is, things will get peed on, chewed or scratched/dug up. Barking / meowing, door dashing and/or pulling on the leash can happen with even the best animal.  Accept the fact that dogs are living beings and not china dolls to sit in the corner.  If you have a dog, some time during his/her life, you will loose something of value. 
  • To change behavior you have to be patient and persistent.  Change will not happen over night.  Sometimes it can take weeks or months to change behavior.  The more time you spend and the more often you work with your dog the quicker the change. Despite what some books say, most puppies can’t be housetrained in 7 days.
  • Recognize and meet your dog’s behavioral needs.  Dogs have needs for exercise, social contact with people and other animals and mental stimulation. Problem-solving toys, can provide mental stimulation. Games such as ‘find the hidden object’ and events such as agility can provide all three. 
  • Make it easy for your dog to do the right thing.  Arrange the environment so that the behavior you want is easily produced. The more often desirable behavior happens the stronger it becomes. For example, minimize distractions when you’re trying to teach your dog something new. Put scratching posts where they are easy for your cat to find and use. 
  • Make it difficult for your dog to do the wrong thing.  Arrange the environment so it is hard for your dog to make mistakes.  The more often unwanted behavior happens the harder it is to change.  Close the blinds to keep your dog from barking at those that pass by.  Scoop out your cats’ litter boxes every day.
  • Realize that animals don’t do things out of spite, for revenge or just to make your life miserable. They do what works – that is, what meets their behavioral needs, gets them rewards or allows them to escape or avoid bad things. They sometimes do some things because they are ill.  Dogs counter surf because they occasionally hit the jackpot of a sandwich or chicken leg.  Cats sometimes pee out of the box because they are sick even when they don’t act sick.
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Ways to Build Focus from Your Dog

Focus Building Exercises

  • Plan ahead. Know which exercise you’ll be training and be prepared to promptly and effectively deliver that reward when your dog produces the desired behavior. You miss a learning opportunity and your dog’s focus is dissembled when you send changing body signals to your dog by rooting around in your pockets for a food reward, or trying to untangle a something from your belt.
  • Orchestrate success. Introduce early focus-building exercises in a quiet environment without distractions. As your dog develops its focus skills, incrementally transition the exercises to more stimulating environments. Key the training environment to your dog’s focus skill level with an appropriate progression over time from a distraction-free environment to a highly stimulating one. Prematurely expecting or demanding too much of the dog will set the scene for failure for the dog, for you, and for the overall training.
  • If you are using a ball/toy/tug reward in your training, identify the one that is most favored by your dog and reserve it for training purposes only. Don’t allow your dog to have access to this favored item during idle moments, in the crate, for puppy teething/chewing, etc.
  • Avoid displaying the reward visibly in your hand, and inadvertently making it the primary object of your dog’s focus. A tug can be tucked into your waistband, a ball in your pocket, or food kept out of sight in a pouch at your side, until needed for reward purposes.
  • Keep it up close and personal. Use a leash length that keeps the dog in close physical proximity to you. When using a toy reward in the training, keep it close to your body. A ball on a short leather lead, or a tug with handle, will provide an outstanding reward while keeping the dog physically close to, interacting with, and focused on, you.
  • Make your dog’s play time fun and exciting one-on-one interaction with you. Allowing your dog to spend all of its recreational time with other dogs or other people will diminish your position as the most interesting, rewarding, and desired prize in the universe. Allowing your dog to regularly run freely with other dogs, either at home or at an off-leash park, is squandering time, energy, and focus better spent with you in constructive play in training.
  • Familiarize yourself with the basics of Operant Conditioning and develop your own method of precisely marking desired behaviors (e.g. clicker, vocalization) and rewarding appropriately (e.g. food, toy, praise, release). Build the intensity and duration of your dog’s focused obedience by incrementally extending the period of time between (a) marking the correct response to your command, and (b) rewarding it.
  • Maintain consistency in your total body language, hand signals, and verbal commands. The more precise and unambiguous your communications, the less unwanted distractions to potentially diminish your dog’s sensory awareness of and focus on you.
  • Deliver a clear and consistent command to mark the end of a focused obedience exercise. “Okay”, “Break”, “Release”, and “Free” or “Free Dog” are examples of unique release commands. The release command builds anticipation and focus by signaling the completion of a required behavior and releasing the dog physically and psychologically from the stressors of training. The release command can be supplemented with a reward, or it can be a reward in and of itself.
  • Crate-train your dog and utilize its time in the crate for resting periods between training and play interaction. Allowing your dog to idle around the yard or house 24/7, especially in your absence, creates boredom and encourages the dog to identify alternate sources of stimulus and pleasure.
  • Utilize moments of interaction with your dog as spontaneous training opportunities. Create the environment where your dog is earning each desired activity. For example, require a sit before allowing your dog access to his food bowl; a wait before going through the door into the house; a quiet before being allowed out of the crate or kennel; a teeth, ears, or toes command and examination before petting. Vary the required behaviors to maintain spontaneity and keep your dog alert and focused on you to hear, see, or feel your command.
  • Create an attitude of purpose and direction in your daily walks. A purposeful, energetic walk with many turns and changes of pace and terrain will build the dog’s focus on you and secure its confidence in your leadership. A slow, lazy walk in a straight line will allow your dog to sniff and smell whatever strikes its fancy and encourage a head-down, indiscriminately scenting dog intent on ‘reading the newspaper.
  • Employ the powerful effects of touch. Regular grooming and massage sessions with your canine partner are superb opportunities for bonding. The stronger the bond between you and your partner, the better the focus. Spending quiet, one-on-one time in close physical contact is relaxing and healthful for both you and your dog, and is the surest way to closely examine your dog from nose to tail tip to identify and treat minor health issues before they become major.
  • Shape your dog’s behavior to await your explicit permission to sniff and greet other people or animals. Withhold that permission far more often than you grant it.
  • Take control of the learning curve. Proactively create opportunities for your dog to successfully learn and develop desired behaviors and skills. When this is done correctly, you should be generating 500 opportunities to praise your dog for every one time you correct your dog.
  • Less is more. A five-minute training session with an energetic, enthusiastic, highly focused dog and handler that concludes with a celebration of success will always be more productive than a 60-minute training session with progressively diminishing mental and physical resources that concludes in frustration and failure.
  • At the end of every training or play session, leave your dog wanting more, more, more and enthusiastically looking to you to provide it!
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Chew-toy Training

A dog is a social and inquisitive animal. He needs to do something, especially if left at home alone. What would you like your dog to do? You must provide some form of occupational therapy for your puppy to pass the day. If your puppy learns to enjoy chewing chewtoys, he will look forward to settling down quietly for some quality chewing time. It is important to teach your puppy to enjoy chewing chewtoys more than chewing household items. An effective ploy is to stuff the puppy’s chewtoys with kibble and treats. In fact, during your puppy’s first few weeks at home, put away his food bowl and, apart from using kibble as lures and rewards for training, serve all your puppy’s kibble stuffed in hollow chewtoys — Kongs, Biscuit Balls, Squirrel Dudes, Busy Buddy Footballs and sterilized bones.

For errorless chewtoy-training, adhere to a puppy confinement program. When you are away from home, leave the puppy in his puppy playroom with bed, water, toilet, and plenty of stuffed chewtoys. While you are at home, leave the puppy in his doggy den with plenty of stuffed chewtoys. Every hour after releasing the pup to relieve himself, play chewtoy games — chewtoy-search, chewtoy-fetch, and chewtoy-tug-o’-war. Your puppy will soon develop a very strong chewtoy habit because you have limited his chewing choices to a single acceptable toy, which you have made even more attractive with the addition of kibble and treats.

Once your dog has become a chewtoyaholic and has not had a chewing (or housetraining) mishap for at least three months, you may increase your puppy’s playroom to two rooms. For each subsequent month without a mistake your puppy may gain access to another room, until eventually he enjoys free run of the entire house when left at home alone. If a chewing mistake should occur, go back to the original puppy confinement program for at least a month.

In addition to preventing household destruction, teaching your puppy to become a chewtoyaholic prevents him from becoming a recreational barker because chewing and barking are obviously mutually exclusive behaviors. Also, chewtoyaholism helps your puppy learn to settle down calmly because chewing and dashing about are mutually exclusive behaviors.

Most important, chewtoy chewing keeps the puppy occupied and effectively helps prevent the development of separation anxiety.

What Is a Chewtoy?

A chewtoy is an object for the dog to chew that is neither destructible nor consumable. If your dog destroys an object, you will have to replace it, and that costs money. If your dog consumes the object, you may have to replace your dog. Eating non-food items is extremely hazardous to your dog’s health.  The type of chewtoy you choose will depend on your dog’s penchant for chewing and his individual preferences. For maximum benefit, feed your dog or puppy out of a stuffed Kong or similar chewtoy – to keep him busy and satisfy his need to chew.

Dinner from Chewtoys, Not from Bowls

Customarily, puppies receive their entire daily allotment of kibble at dinner, which often becomes a jackpot reward for boisterously barking and expectantly bouncing around. Moreover, if you allow your puppy to wolf down dinner from a bowl, he will be at a loss for what to do for the rest of the day. In the wild, dogs spend a good 90 percent of their waking hours searching for something to eat, and so in a sense, regular bowl-feeding deprives a dog of his principal activity — searching for food. Instead, after eating, your inquisitive puppy will search for entertainment for the rest of the day. Most likely you will consider your puppy’s choices of occupation to be mischievous misbehavior.

Without a doubt, regularly feeding a new puppy (or adult dog) from a bowl is the single most disastrous mistake in dog husbandry and training. Although unintentional, the effects of bowl-feeding are often severely detrimental for the puppy’s household manners and sense of well-being. In a sense, each bowl-fed meal steals the puppy’s raison d’etre — its very reason for being. Within seconds of gulping his meal, the poor pup now faces a mental void for the rest of his day with nothing but long, lonely hours to worry and fret, or work himself into a frenzy.

As the puppy adapts to fill the void, normal behaviors such as chewing, barking, strolling, grooming, and playing become stereotypical, repetitive, and maladaptive. Specific behaviors increase in frequency until they no longer serve any useful function except to pass the time. Investigative chewing becomes destructive chewing. Alarm barking becomes incessant barking. Strolling from one place to another becomes repetitively pacing, or racing back and forth. Investigating a shadow or light becomes a neurotic fixation. Routine grooming becomes excessive licking, scratching, tail-chasing, head-pressing, or in extreme cases, self-mutilation.

Stereotyped behaviors cause the release of endorphins, perpetuating their repetition, and in a sense, the dog becomes drugged and hooked on mindless, repetitive activity. Stereotyped behaviors are like behavioral cancers; as they progressively increase in frequency and squeeze most useful and adaptive responses from the dog’s behavior repertoire until eventually the “brain-dead” dog spends hours on end barking, pacing, chewing himself, or simply staring into space.

A vital facet of your puppy’s early education is to teach him how to peacefully pass the time of day. Feeding your puppy’s kibble only from hollow chewtoys keeps your puppy happily occupied and content for hours on end. It allows the puppy to focus on an enjoyable activity so that he doesn’t dwell on his loneliness. Each piece of extracted kibble also rewards your puppy for settling down calmly, for chewing an appropriate chewtoy, and for not barking.

Chewtoy Stuffing

An old chewtoy becomes immediately novel and exciting when stuffed with food. If you use kibble from your puppy’s normal daily ration your puppy will not put on weight. To protect your puppy’s waistline, heart, and liver, it is important to minimize the use of treats in training. Use kibble as lures and rewards for teaching basic manners and reserve freeze-dried liver treats for initial housetraining, for meeting children, men, and strangers, as a garnish for stuffing Kongs (see below), and as an occasional jackpot reward for especially good behavior.

Kong Stuffing 101

The basic principle of Kong stuffing ensures that some food comes out quickly and easily to instantly reward your puppy for initially contacting his chewtoy; bits of food come out over a long period of time to periodically reward your puppy for continuing to chew; and some of the best bits never come out, so your puppy never loses interest. Squish a small piece of freeze-dried liver in the small hole in the tip of the Kong so your puppy will never be able to get it out. Smear a little honey around the inside of the Kong, fill it up with kibble, and then block the big hole with crossed dog biscuits.
There are numerous creative variations on basic Kong stuffing. One of my favorite recipes comprises moistening your puppy’s kibble, spooning it into the Kong, and then putting it in the freezer overnight—a Kongsicle! Your dog will love it.

Kong Is King!

If from the outset you always confine your puppy with a selection of stuffed Kongs and Biscuit Balls, chewing these appropriate chewtoys will soon become an integral part of his day. Your puppy will quickly develop a socially acceptable Kong habit. And remember, good habits are just as hard to break as bad habits. Your puppy will now spend a large part of his day musing over his Kong products.

Let’s pause for a moment to consider all the bad things your puppy will not be doing if he is quietly engaged with his chewtoys. He will not be chewing inappropriate household and garden items. He will not be a recreational barker. (He will still bark when strangers come to the house, but he will not spend all day barking for barking’s sake.) And he will not be running around, fretting, and working himself up if left at home alone.

The wonderful thing about teaching a puppy to enjoy chewing chewtoys is that this activity excludes many alternative, extremely annoying puppy behaviors. A stuffed Kong is one of the best stress-relievers, especially for anxious, obsessive, and compulsive dogs.

A Kong for a dog is also one of the best stress-relievers for the owner. There is no single device that so easily and so simply prevents or resolves so many bad habits and behavior problems.

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