Do you see this dog surfing on your counter as you read this? Do you know the one who jumps on you during your Zoom calls? This is your ticket to happiness in 2020. The ability to quarantine your furry friend – whether it’s a new “pandemic puppy” or your long-time pet – is one of the most positive ways to direct your energy right now.
Dog training is more fun and dramatically more effective when it doesn’t have to be pushed into an uncomfortable, stressed time window. Those of us fortunate enough to have a “new normal” that involves being at home a lot in stretchy pants have a unique opportunity – to use our household routines to make all day a handful of things easier to arrange one-minute sessions.
Try it! This is a huge silver lining to benefit from this pandemic. It will hardly feel like you’re doing a lot, but a month later you will have a completely different relationship with your dog, an addicting new hobby, and some unexpected moments of joy in your home.
THE SECRET OF DAILY REINFORCEMENT
Would you like to know why quarantine works so well? The answer is “sit”. Every dog beats it out of the park when it comes to “sitting”. Unfortunately, this is the right thing for many dogs. “Down” is a blank look. “Staying” is anything but. What if you lie quietly on a mat while someone is cooking? Forget it.
Then why is “sitting” always a solid skill?
Here’s the key: It’s the only thing all owners incorporate into their day-to-day lives. Every time they feed the dog they ask for a seat first. Dog does behavior A; Dog receives reward B. Reinforcement every time, 365 days a year. That makes for solid behavior.
Quarantine training finally gives you the ability to naturally apply the same approach to a variety of other cues. You can make an association in your dog’s mind between the things you do every day and the behavior for which they can be rewarded, so that your daily movements become clues for dog behavior that you enjoy. In a month, report on the way your calm dog is staring at you and how you get upset while you video your friends your dog’s new tricks.
CUP OF COFFEE & “BOTTOM”
How often do you pour a cup of coffee, juice or water every day? How many times does your dog chase you in hopes that you will grab a snack from the refrigerator to share with him? Here’s how to turn that habit into an easy training win.
Put a cute ceramic container of your dog’s nibbles or treats on the counter. Every time you go to the kitchen to fill your mug or glass, lure your pup to the down position with a piece of nibbles or treats. In a week, every time you venture near the treat jar, your puppy will throw a fabulous’ down ‘which will make you laugh and exclaim,’ Yes! What a good dog! “Now the ‘down’ is just as strong as the ‘sitting’ and you are on your way.
BREAKFAST & “WAIT”
You already have the nice place in front of the dog bowl. How about a “wait” cue? Your puppy is sitting and you are holding the bowl. You say “wait” and pause for a second or two while the puppy holds that seat, then put the bowl down: “Okay!”
After taking seconds to focus each day for a week, you’ve given your dog an incredibly helpful clue. Now you can break off the wait for a joyride. Each day gives you a dozen ways to ask for a “wait.” Practice when your puppy is storming out the door, pushing through the gate, getting in the car, or spinning on the couch. Your puppy will still have access to these things, but now they come because of your cue.
Guess what happens after a month of this unofficial training? You can add “Waiting” to the solid column. Plus, you’ll have fewer micro-frustrations that crept into your home every day.
DINNER & TRICKS
You can also practice sitting and waiting for dinner for the puppies. Or. . . You could use this time to teach and practice something else. How about a shake before the bowl goes down? Or a twist? Or how about developing a little routine at some point? Maybe a spin-sit-shake-down-wait, then the bowl?
The result? A smile for the whole family every day. Another nice upswing in the psychological feeling at home. Somehow this puppy is just getting cuter!
TOO MUCH SCREEN TIME? WORK ON SOME RECALLS
Is there a chance someone’s family is spending way too much time in front of screens? How about a fun, loud game – outside if possible – every night after dinner for 10 minutes? Load up with something tasty, cut into small pieces. (That leftover chicken from tonight? Cheddar cheese?) Divide the treats between you all, form a large circle, and call your pup back and forth between you. She gets a delicious nibble when she runs over to the person she just called. So easy. So effective.
Most of the time, the owners don’t actually practice the recall. But they definitely use it! They use it to keep their pups away from all the fun things – the dog park, the neighbor’s yard, the deer they hunt. All you have to do is turn that “come” keyword into something your dog is sure to ignore.
But if you take 10 minutes each night to play this game with happy voices, lots of cheers, and always the very best of goodies, that word will suddenly make your pup’s ears race when it comes down to it. It could save her life one day.
ZOOM CALLS & “PLACE”
It’s like clockwork: as soon as the zoom meeting starts, the dog scratches your elbow. You push her away and she jumps onto your thigh. Your colleagues were amused when this was new. It’s not new anymore.
This is a unique opportunity to teach “place”. Place a mat near your desk. For the first day, every time you see your puppy near this mat, throw a piece of her nibble or treat on it. She’ll hang out more near the mat. Once she does, only toss the treat if she actually steps on the mat, then only when she is standing Completely on the mat and ultimately only when it is on the mat. Once she does this reliably, call it “place”.
Eventually, if you start a Zoom call and she’s staring at you, you can say “place,” and she will know that the most rewarding place to be right now is her mat. Do you want to make this behavior absolutely stable? Put another mat in the kitchen. Every time you cook, practice “sitting down” or “sitting down” to eat a meal.
Gosh, she’s starting to look like such a good dog, isn’t she? Like a movie dog. Now the whole family sees her lying there and suddenly feels really happy. What a lovely thing to feel in 2020.
BATH & “STAY”
Does your dog follow you around the house all day? To like . . . all Day? It’s okay. You can admit it: you always have company when you go to the bathroom. Let’s turn it into multitasking!
If your dog has an initial “stay” where you can step a foot away for a moment, this is a perfect opportunity to turn that into the stay you can want when the relatives get the food for the vacation unload and the gate is wide open!
Again, let’s prepare by keeping a small jar of goodies on the counter. As you approach the bathroom door, turn around and ask your dog for a “down.” Reward yourself with a treat and ask for a “stay”. Step one foot in the bathroom, come right back and reward yourself. Repeat this a dozen times over the next few days until the puppy has a tendency to stay on the bathroom threshold.
Now you can really use it. Do you have to use the bathroom? “Stay.” Pup now knows that each of these moments is a chance to be pampered by lying quietly at the door.
Once you have a very solid indoor stay, make the most of the daily walk to the mailbox! Attach a long leash to your puppy’s collar and ask him to stay down on your front steps. Then take a few steps towards the mailbox but be right back and deal with it. Then do it again, but go a little further. Repeat this process until you can go all the way to the mailbox and back, giving the puppy a great reward every time he keeps this stay until you return.
See how it is path more fun for you and the dog than just pushing the door in front of your face and trudging to the mailbox? Dog training = happiness.
DOG TRAINING AS A WAY OF LIFE
Most people vaguely think they could exercise with their dogs if they only had the time. The thing is, how much time does it take to ask about that “sitting” in front of the pet bowl? Law.
That is the secret of the quarantine. With a tiny A little preparation and intent – but very little time – you will discover that you and your dog can do amazing things together. Just try it out and see! You both have so much ahead of you.