Here are the top 5 things you have official permission to do with your dog(s) without fear of catastrophic repercussions, or even being “wrong.”
Thing One: Use treats to train! Use a LOT! Life is short after all, and rewards go a long, long way in training dogs and making it fun! When working with animals, you need to find an effective motivator to get where you want to go. The science says that animals will repeat what’s reinforcing to them (like the behavior that earned them tasty treats) and they will avoid what is aversive to them as they define it. I always like to be “LIMA” in my training approach to communicating with a whole different species: “Least Invasive, Minimally Aversive.” You can either use the carrot or the stick to train as they say, and as a true animal lover, I prefer the positive side of the equation every time, that’s just how I roll!
Thing Two: Lie on the couch and skip the trip to the dog park. Many of us dog aficionados get a fair amount of guilt about not taking our dogs out to be social with other dogs. Truth be told, not every dog is a dog-park-dog. Some dogs prefer the company of their own pack to the unknown quantities at dog parks, while others do just fine at dog parks. Whatever you do, make it a priority to exercise and mentally stimulate your dog every single day. A pass to lie on the couch only comes after your dog’s exercise needs are met one way or another.
Thing Three: Have your dog wear a leash inside your house for effective management of unwanted behaviors. Many of us have a paradigm that leashes are only for going outside on walks but it turns out they are fantastic tools to prevent bad habits indoors, like jumping on people, counter surfing, door dashing and more! When under direct supervision only, of course.
Thing Four: Be their advocate. Your dog is unique and has his/her own set of views and experiences with the world. I’ll bet you have a pretty good list of what they like and dislike. If your dog is working on trust near strangers or is skittish with new people, use your words to protect the dog and politely say, “No, sorry but thank you so much for asking” to people who want to come over and pet or interact with them. We never want to be considered rude, but I won’t put social norms above my dog’s need for boundaries in any given situation. Not every dog is a fan of approaches and contact from strangers. Watch for signs of consent on your dog’s part. Are they backing away or are they calm, loose or eager around new people? Similarly don’t allow nose-to-nose greetings with unfamiliar dogs if your dog is not a fan. Not every dog is into that, and that’s OK. “Stranger Danger” and dog:dog reactivity can certainly be improved using educated, positive behavior modification practices, but you need to be careful to “train” before you “test.”
Thing Five: Be silly with your dog, embarrass yourself, laugh and play and do all the things that make you fun in their eyes. At the end of the day, dogs just want to have fun, and they could not care less about being “cool” or “obedient” or any of the things two-leggeds prioritize. There’s a time for obedience and a time for partying, make sure your scales are in balance!