No, the holidays have not transformed me into a Grinch (nor you I hope!). And yes, I still firmly believe that training and education lead to a deeper, more trusting, more meaningful relationship with your dog. So why the title?
Training should be fun, not just another chore on your already too-long list. In fact, training can be positive reinforcement TO YOU for completing some odious chore. This takes a little rethinking of how to train. Instead of thinking, “I’ll do some training, then play with my dog”, think, “I can do some training while we play.” See the difference? Your dog does – it’s all play to Pepper! Take throwing a ball, for example. Most people do that because a) it gives their dog exercise, and b) they and the dog both enjoy the game. Yes! But let’s add just a little twist, a little puppy problem-solving. Ask your dog for a known cue or, alternatively, hold the ball and look expectantly at your dog. When the dog performs the requested (or a desirable) behavior, mark it with a click or “YES!” or “GOOD!” and throw the ball. You’ve just done a little training. When the dog brings it back and is about to drop it at your feet, say “Drop it”. You’ve just added a cue to a behavior – more training. See how easy it is? Of course, the dog was dropping it anyway (you don’t want to say the cue if Pepper doesn’t already know it unless he is actually dropping the ball), which gives you another opportunity to mark and reward – with more play! This is particularly good for dogs whom are overweight, as they are being reinforced with something that burns calories instead of adding them.
Play is Nature’s admirably efficient way of honing an animal’s physical, mental, and emotional skills. We are not immune – when we play with our dog, we are moving, learning more about our dog and how to communicate with him or her, and relieving our own stress and concerns. Play makes us happy too! So the next time you have to complete some chore (as in, several times a day), go play afterward with your dog. And have a healthier, happier new year!