New Year, ‘New’ Dog

Written by A.R.F. Volunteer Shane C.

We are well into January of 2024 and if you have already abandoned your resolutions (no judgements), it is not too late to pick up something else. Perhaps you are still on track, going strong, and want to add something else in. If you have a dog at home then great news lies ahead. A fun goal in the new-ish year is to improve on behaviors and training with your pet. This can range from learning a new behavior and being rewarded, setting stricter boundaries, or playing games. Whether with a newer puppy or a dog who has been a part of the family for years, your dog will benefit from the stimulation found in completing various tasks and adding enrichment each day.

If a new, furry family member has found their way into your home then you have been very busy. Basic commands and potty training should be at the forefront of your training. The key here will be high praise and high reward (cheese, beef jerky, etc. are considered high-reward) for the task completed to reinforce the particular behavior. Take it a step at a time (i.e. learning the ‘sit’ command, then learning to sit, further holding the sit position after being rewarded, and so on). With training a dog, there is a lot to unpack. Too much for one single article. However, applying a step-by-step process with rewards for success will reinforce the necessary behaviors for further training and learning. 

The next possible improvement involves both puppies and dogs alike: setting stricter boundaries. This can be tough since the winter months can be brutally cold and there is no one better than our furry companions to keep our feet warm. However, your dog should be invited up onto the bed or couch. Should your dog invite themselves up, assertively tell them, ‘off!’ Once all four paws are back on the floor, praise and reward. After a few minutes, invite them up. Repeat this process until your dog understands to wait until properly invited. This also helps when guests are over who might be startled at a dog jumping up to where they are sitting.

Okay, now our dog has the basic commands, boundaries and discipline. Time to play a game called: Hide and Go Treat! This will require the high-reward treats mentioned earlier, ‘sit’ and ‘stay.’ Have your dog sit and stay, go hide the treat (somewhere close to start), release your dog and have them find the treat. Once they do, praise them (‘good boy/girl,’ chest scratches) and give them another treat. Continue to play for a while, increasing the distance from where your dog sits to where you hide treats. If you have more than one dog, alternate turns. This will help reinforce name recognition, discipline and boundaries. This game is fun for everyone and can pass quite a bit of time during the colder months.

New Year resolutions are more fun when you stick to them with a companion. Especially if the companion is your dog. Improving behavior, setting boundaries and playing games can still be hard work but does not mean the process should be a drag. Your dog wants to know when they have done a good job and seeing their face light up while praising and rewarding them is the best part of the process. Not to mention a better behaved dog down the road. Keep yourself warm this winter by working on tasks every day. Avoid calling these ‘resolutions’ and spend time with your dog, having fun and learning something new. 

What types of games do you play with your dog? How did you reinforce a new behavior? We would love to hear your processes in the comments below.