Happy holidays to all! I hope everyone is staying warm and enjoying the time of year — and especially getting outside with your dogs.
As many of you know, I don’t have a dog at the present time. This surprises people more than any other fact about me. See my recent blog article titled “Dog Trainer, not Dog Owner” if you want to know why I may be the only dog trainer in the world that doesn’t own a dog. The short answer is that I feel guilty every time I leave a dog home alone. I don’t like living my life feeling guilty so I don’t currently have a dog. But, it’s more than my dogless status that distinguishes me from most other trainers:
- I advocate that dog owners play tug-of-war with their dogs daily
- I believe it’s nearly impossible to have a well-adjusted dog if you don’t go to the off-leash dog park or daycare
- I modify my approach for each dog and owner depending on their unique situation
Most trainers and books tell you not to play tug-of-war with your dog, that it will make your dog more aggressive. Playing “tug” absolutely can make your dog more aggressive, if not done properly. If you drag your puppy around all day on a rope she will definitely get more aggressive over time. But if you play tug the way I recommend, the opposite is true: not only will your dog not get more aggressive, your dog will become less aggressive. More about my views on aggressive play can be found in this blog article. The specific guidelines I recommend for playing tug with your dog can be found here. Because the proper technique for playing tug can be demonstrated more easily than described, see my instructional video on how to play tug here.
Just as with playing tug, it is a common belief that off leash dog parks are one of the worst things you can do for your dog. Like playing tug, dog parks can be very bad if not done properly. Criticisms are that dog parks are dangerous and that your dog will learn bad habits there. It is undeniably true that the dog park can be an extremely dangerous place. You don’t want your dog around unruly Rottweilers and Pitbulls; your dog can get killed! Just as with playing tug, I’m not suggesting that you turn your dog loose in the off leash dog park and step aside. He needs structure there, despite the aura of absolute freedom! He needs you to show him what’s allowed and what’s not. The biggest challenge at the dog park is that the other dogs there need boundaries too, and most owners don’t provide them. See my off leash dog park guidelines here.
When done properly, there really is no substitute for dogs being able to run full speed, to chase and be chased by other dogs. Other dogs can challenge your dog in ways that you can’t. If you watch dogs play, you will see that they constantly keep each other guessing and anticipating their next move. That challenges and engages your dog both physically and mentally and that’s MUCH more effective than physical exercise alone. Even if you have two dogs that like to play with each other it’s not nearly the same as the dog park. Two dogs that live together quickly figure out how each other plays and then the game is not nearly as challenging.
At the dog park your dog has to learn to read and respond to other dog’s social cues — dogs your dog doesn’t know. Some of those dogs don’t know how to play. It uses a lot of brain power when your dog has to figure out if those other dogs are playing or being aggressive! It’s like playing a long game of chess — while running up a hill!
This combination of mental stimulation and exercise tires your dog on multiple levels! Even if you took your dog for an hour bike ride or run every day (which you should never do with puppies less than one year old), your dog might come home and plop down for 20 minutes, maybe even an hour. If you go to the off leash dog park for an hour, once your dog is comfortable enough to run and chase and play the entire time, your dog will come home and plop down for three hours and won’t move! There’s no substitute for that.
Dog day care can be even better, and a lot less time consuming for you. A nine-hour day of running around and playing with other dogs is like ten trips to the dog park! Most dogs will be tuckered out for a few days after that. Be sure that the day care facility you choose does a good job of screening dogs and is well-supervised.
This brings us to the last item on the list of what distinguishes me from most dog trainers: I individualize my approach for each unique situation. Not all dogs and owners respond the same way to the same techniques and no single method works for all dogs and owners. The key to changing dog, and more importantly owner, behavior is to find what works. The only way to do that is to figure out what isn’t working and try different approaches until you get the result you want. Figuring out what isn’t working and why can be extremely difficult. Look for a future blog article on this complex topic! In the meantime, play tug, head for the dog park, and happy training to all!