Can I Really Understand My Dog?
Can He Understand Me?

Koko talkingI'd like to propose a new resolution for dog parents...COMMUNICATION and UNDERSTANDING.

When was the last time you tried to teach your old dog a new trick? While the word "trick" can mean something trite or unimportant, in dog training it's just one more way to communicate with your dog. After all, obedience training is nothing more than a series of regimented tricks. Dogs love to communicate with their families...they paw you for treats, they bark warnings, the whine and bug you to throw a toy or fill up a food dish at mealtime...Even that knowing stare you get when it's time to go out is a form of communication. Some dogs work really hard at making their desires known, but many have given up even trying because the human half of the equation is not listening.

Make a resolution to try and teach your dog one trick in the first part of the year...what else do you have to do anyway? It's too cold to be outside! Here are a couple of simple, yet fun tricks you can try:

1. Touch - take a hand full of treats and rub them between your hands. Then place the treats in one hand and offer your stiff palm to your dog in sort of a "high-five" but at nose level. When your dog reaches his nose toward your palm to sniff where the treats have been, say TOUCH and then offer him a treat from the other hand. Repeat this by moving your hand around to different heights and places and each time waiting for your dog to sniff your palm. Once your dog is consistently reaching for the flat palm, say the word TOUCH first, then present your hand and follow up with the treat.

Here's a fun way to increase this game...use a square Post-it note on your palm as a target. Once your dog is consistently touching your palm and the Post-it on command, put the Post-it (or a new one as they get slimy) onto a different surface and start the game again...keep moving Post-it to new surfaces until your dog will touch anything on command.

2. Back - I am sure every dog owner has at some time or another tripped over their dog whether in haste to do something or go somewhere or just because the dog is under foot. Back can not only be a cute trick, it also has practical uses as well. Start with your dog sitting in front of you, preferably looking up at you in expectation of something tasty. Slowly shuffle yourself into your dog's space and when he stands up to move out of the way, mark the behavior with the word "Yes." If you have a clicker this is the moment you'd click, then in both cases deliver a treat. Repeat this process until each time you step into your dog's space he backs up to move, then start saying the word "Back." Eventually you will be able to say back, just lean forward and your dog will take the cue to back out of your way. The fun variation here is to go for precision. Using the channel created by your coffee table and your sofa, play this game so that your dog must back straight. The table and sofa will provide a guide box for your dog to work in.

The last message I'd like to end with today is regarding UNDERSTANDING. There is perhaps no member of our family least understood than the dog. On top of that we have so many expectations of our dogs that frankly don't make any sense to the dog at all. For instance, don't bark...at least not more than once or twice, never mind that it's your primary form of communication. Don't take toys that are not yours...even if they are on the floor and oh by the way, that underwear I left on that pile is not yours either! And my favorite...don't ever growl...you are not allowed to guard anything or have anything of your own...everything is MINE!

Here's the biggest dog training tip I think every single dog owner should know...GROWLING is good! This is the dog's way of warning that something is amiss and when heeded can avert all sorts of problems including dog bites. A dog that does not growl is a dangerous dog!

Learn to understand what the growl means, what is triggering it and if it's something the dog must learn to tolerate to remain with it's family, then seek help to desensitize the dog to whatever may be triggering the behavior.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season with family, friends and of course their dogs and please make a resolution to communicate and understand your four-legged friend!

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