Have you heard? January is National Train Your Dog Month! It’s the perfect time of year for you to learn how simple, fun and rewarding it can be to have a dog, if they are trained well. For those of you who have just welcomed a new dog or puppy into your home, congratulations! For those who have a well-loved pet, I am sure you loved sharing the holiday season with your dog! Whether your dog is a new addition to your family or a well-loved member of the family, training your dog is beneficial for many reasons. Patience, consistency, and a deeper understanding of a dog’s behavior can lead to happier, healthier and harmonious households and more fun for everyone.
Speaking of fun, did you give your dog some new toys this year or have you been thinking about it? Toys are a form of enrichment and improve the quality of life for your dog and are often incorporated into a training plan. Here are some questions that I am often asked about toys. Can a dog have too many toys? What if your dog destroys the toys you bought for him? What if your dog doesn’t seem interested in the new toys? So here are some tips to make those new toys more enriching to your dog.
- One simple way to prolong the enjoyment of toys for your dog is to rotate toys every few days. If you have 8 toys total, you could have 3 or 4 available to your dog at any one time and every few days change one of them to a different toy. This will keep your dog interested in the toys and avoid the common problem of disinterest that frequently comes a few weeks after a toy is given to your dog.
- If your dog typically destroys toys, you can supervise his play time. When he is playing with a toy appropriately, reinforce him with a treat. As soon as he starts to interact with the toy in a destructive manner, immediately correct him with a simple noise or mild correction, like saying the word “wrong.” If he does not stop the destructive behavior, remove the toy and put it away, out of sight.
- If your dog shows no interest in the new toy, there are a few different ways to increase his interest. Add some kind of food to the toy like peanut butter or place treats on it or under it to increase your dog’s interest. If your dog is clicker trained, a method of training focusing on positive reinforcement that uses a sound of a “click” to pinpoint when your dog is doing something correctly, click any time your dog shows any interest in the new toy. Any time you positively reinforce something, like interacting with the toy, your dog is more likely to do that again in the future.
Whether you are just acclimating to a dog in your house or you have had one for years, this time of year is a great time to increase the amount you are training. Mentally stimulating your dog has some similar benefits to physically exercising your dog. Your dog needs physical exercise every day, but in the winter months it is more challenging to get your dog the same amount of exercise as other seasons of the year. Training your dog keeps him mentally stimulated, satisfied, and out of trouble, and is an investment that will help you create the positive relationship with your dog that you will both cherish.