Dog’s Eye View: Management position open
August 25, 2017
You might as well be in charge. Somebody's got to do it. If not you then who? Or what?
One of the first things we stress in our puppy class is to start training early and make it a part of your life. Training never ends. We all know what happens when we stop exercising, right? The pounds sneak back and the endurance takes a hike. Training for the family dog is like that, too. If you aren't in charge of your dog's education, who is? I can tell you who, the environment, your other dogs and people walking by your house. Left to self-education, your dog tends to learn coping skills from the environment. That would not be my first choice in education
I'll give you an example: Your family is off to work and school, and Fido is left home with access to the yard or the beautiful view of the street from your living room. It's quiet, and he's a bit stressed, because there has been someone home with him all summer. Where is everybody? Then, he hears the jingle of a dog's collar and sees someone walking their dog on the street outside.
"Hey! In here! I'm all alone! Don't come any closer! Translation: Bark, bark, bark! Slobber, and scratch on the window. Then, the dog walker is out of sight, and Fido is thinking, "Whew, that was close."
The environment just taught him that barking made the strangers go away. In one lesson, he's learned that barking works for making people go away. Each time the behavior is repeated, it becomes stronger.
Example number two: If you leave your dog outside to run loose in the neighborhood, he is learning to patrol the environment around your house. As the dog has free access to "territory," given the right temperament and access, he can become quite territorial. This sets up conflict with other loose dogs in the neighborhood. On top of that, dogs can dislike sharing with the kids in the neighborhood, as well. So, what do we do with our home-alone dog?
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Management opportunity available! Take the time to teach your dog that home alone has its advantages. You can stuff and hide several hollow bones around the house. If you play the game Find your Bones ahead of time, you manage the game, set the rules and have some fun with your dog. If you are worried about overfeeding, substitute part of each meal rations to feed a bit throughout the day. Your dog burns calories on his hunt to find the bones. It's mentally stimulating and provides enrichment. Then, set up the game just before you leave on a short mission — five to 15 minutes. When you get home, go with your dog to recover all the bones. Put them away until the next scheduled trip. You can even put them in the freezer so it takes longer to empty them. This is a great way to keep a teething puppy busy.
This exercise also helps with mild separation anxiety. Giving your dog something to look forward to when you are gone helps. Then, when you get home and complete the search with your dog, you are sealing the deal, telling the dog, "When I'm gone, I will leave you with something fun to do, and I'll be back."
For dogs that are stimulated by what they can see, you can remove access to that area or use frost-colored contact paper to cover the window temporarily. Removing visual stimulation is a first step, adding enrichment with the Find your Bones game and creating a positive greeting ritual upon your return will help your dog connect the dots and begin to relax when he's home alone.
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 30 years of experience. She has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, as well as Certified Nose Work Instructor through the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC here in Northwest Colorado.