Modern dog trainers, we talk about wellness a lot. We talk about the Four Pillars of Behaviour Wellness, we talk about the importance of regular health checks and providing enrichment. For our dogs.
But there is a whole other half of the equation: you!
And you need those things too.
You cannot be a good learner when you are stressed, sore, tired, hungry or afraid.
You cannot be a good teacher, either.
Just like your dog deserves to feel safe and relaxed in their home, to be free from chronic tension or stress, to have opportunities to do appropriate enrichment activities and to spend time in nature, so do you! You deserve all those things.
Put your own oxygen mask on first. Ask for help when you need it.
You got this.
You probably need a chiller dog than you think.
Most dogs need more/better exercise and enrichment than they are currently getting. The vast majority of dog breeds can and will go for your daily runs with you, or enjoy hiking and camping on the weekends. Even little dogs like yorkies can be conditioned to do quite extensive exercise!
But while it can be easy to “upgrade” a dog’s exercise level, it is extremely difficult to downgrade. And the dogs we think of as “active” are designed to go way harder than most humans. Working herding dogs can sprint long distances over rough terrain and can work for hours. Our retrieving breeds can swim in freezing water and retrieve an angry and injured canada goose, then turn around and do it again and again.
Some people love the intensity and high exercise needs of an Ibizan Hound or a Vizsla, but many people purchase a dog they think will be a great fit only to be outgunned and overwhelmed.
When deciding on a breed, be honest. How active are you, really? Do you want a pet to go along with your life, or a new hobby that might reshape it? As I frequently tell people there is no right answer, just the honest one.
I also really recommend spending time with multiple dogs of the breeds you are considering, from different life stages. A teenage Great Dane is a very different dog than one that is 5 or 6 years old! Spend time talking to their owners and interacting with them to really learn what living with one would be like!
Take as much time as you need to find the perfect breed or mix for you!
Modern, science based training uses things that the dog likes to build associations and help shape behaviour via positive consequences.
Often times, we will hear that some dogs “just aren’t motivated” or a certain dog doesn’t like treats.
All behaviour is driven by a history of reinforcement, and if a dog is alive they are food driven.
But let’s look at why a dog might be hard to motivate with food!
Did you have the bad puppy at class?
I’ve been there! Lots of people have been there! Puppy class is hard!
It can be so stressful and embarrassing to have a dog who can’t handle a class environment.
So let’s talk about it!
The first thing I want to say is that it is not uncommon for baby puppies to struggle in a class environment. Ideally, a class should be designed for you to learn how to teach your dog, not your dog to learn new skills. Puppy class is one of the hardest environments for dogs to learn in! And when we have two new learners together (you and your puppy), it’s even harder.
Some puppies struggle in a group class scenario, be it because they are frightened, overwhelmed or just plain too excited!
(and sometimes we human learners struggle in a really busy puppy class too! I know I do!)
If your puppy is not taking treats, flailing on the end of the leash, cowering under a chair or barking incessantly, they cannot be expected to learn! Remember, they are babies and they need us to step in when they are overwhelmed. If your instructor doesn’t step in to help you, ask them. “I think my puppy is really struggling right now, are there ways we can make this easier for her?”
If your concerns are simply dismissed, or if the instructor suggests using corrections or punishment with your puppy, get you things and leave.
Puppies are impressionable, and one bad experience can be impactful.
There are lots of ways we can make puppy class easier, but also some puppies thrive better with private training and more mindful socialization outside of a group class setting! There is no one size fit’s all.
Above all, do not feel discouraged if your puppy is “the bad puppy”. I have seen so many problem puppies turn into wonderful adults with patience and good training.
If someone is making you feel less than because your puppy is struggling, ignore them, find someone who will help without judgement. Your puppy is not bad. You are not bad. You have not failed.
Ask for help when you need it, and keep supporting your puppy!
Finding the right dog breed for your lifestyle and family is an incredibly important decision.
And there are some lesser known gems that can be truly amazing pets! Some are rare, some are just underappreciated. Being a pet is a big job, and these breeds are up to the task!
I can’t stress enough the importance of buying a dog only from either a responsible breeder or ethical rescue organization. You can find our guide for finding a responsible dog breeder here!
Before I became a pet dog trainer, I would never have guessed how often I would end up telling people they can exercise their dog less.
As a trainer, I specialize in hyperactivity and high drive dogs in pet homes, and it is not uncommon for my clients to drastically reduce the amount of time they spend exercising their dog. Usually the first part of our training journey together is spent getting the dog’s needs met more effectively and eliminating activities that increase stress and hyperactivity.
We’ve all heard the adage “a tired dog is a happy dog”, but it is simply untrue. A fulfilled dog is a happy dog, and physical exercise is only one part of fulfillment. Research is showing us that decreasing exercise in dogs experiencing hyperactivity and reactivity can improve their welfare. Increased stress hormones in the body can make undesirable behaviours more likely to occur.
The secret of exercise is that quality is vastly more important than quantity. Fewer walks that are of higher quality will serve your dog better than daily walks that make them feel worse over time.
Common types of exercise in pet dogs are either ineffective at meeting their needs (traditional leash walks) or increase stress and hyperactivity (dog parks, fetch, daycare*). Without mental exercise and decompression, dogs can easily adjust to more and more exercise, resulting in athletes who can’t settle.
So let’s look at how we can use our time and resources to get the best results!
Dogs need mental and physical exercise. If we want to target specific fitness goals, like weight loss, muscle building or cardio health, we can do that with exercise and training plans. For example, I build cardio into my dog’s weeks by practicing their recall!
The gold standard of exercise is on a long line or off leash (with a well trained recall) in nature, away from human and dog distractions. This is not always possible for everyone, but when it is we should avail ourselves of it. A leash that is 15-20 feet can turn even a small local park into a much more rewarding experience for our dogs.
If your dog is struggling with their behaviour, and you regularly visit daycare or the dog park, play fetch regularly or primarily take leash walks, changing up your routine can help set you up for success with training!
*There are some dog daycares that are working to create enriching, calm experiences for pet dogs. We recommend Aquapaws in Vancouver and North Van and Mindful Mutts in New Westminster