Building Better Behavior

Here are two keys for helping your best friend be a well-behaved member of the family – management and exercise.

Management – One of the most important behavior strategies is management – setting up the environment so that desirable behaviors are easy and problem behaviors are inaccessible. Whether as puppies or adults, dogs don’t arrive knowing the rules for living in your house – they need to learn what’s okay and what’s off limits.

Baby gates, play pens, closed doors, tethers, leashes and harnesses all help to keep your dog where you want her and prevent her from making mistakes. A dog can’t chew, dig, jump on, or eat what she can’t reach. While your dog is safely confined, providing appropriate chews and toys encourages good behavior. While she’s being carefully supervised, play games that reward sitting, coming when called, staying in place and so forth to start building habits out of those behaviors. All the while, your pup is too busy paying attention to you or excavating food from her toys to go off and dig up the carpet or gnaw on a family heirloom.

Exercise – One of my favorite training proverbs says, “A tired dog makes a happy owner.” Another variation says, “A tired dog is a well behaved dog.” Both point to the same truth. Conversely, a dog who’s bored and bustling with pent up energy is a problem waiting to happen. “Ho hum, say – that lamp shade looks like a good chewie!” “Hey! There goes the cat – I’m gonna getcha, kitty!”

A lot of my clients cite walking as the main form of exercise they provide for their dogs. But most dogs need something more strenuous and aerobic. Perhaps your dog can chase treats or kibble down the stairs for some exercise, or teach your dog to run on a treadmill. (Always check with your vet before adding a new exercise regime.) Additionally we need to provide mental stimulation for our best friends. Clicker training to teach good manners and cute tricks is likely to be as tiring and relaxing for your dog as chasing a tennis ball!

Bob Ryder, CSAT, PMCT-4, CPDT-KA

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