January is National Train Your Dog Month! At a time when many people are making resolutions, why should you add "train my dog" to your list? Here's my top three reasons for training your dog...
Build a happy, healthy relationship
Positive training is all about figuring out what motivates your dog and leveraging those motivators to influence their behavior. This requires you to get to know your dog-- What makes them tick? What's their favorite flavor of treat? Do they like tugging or chasing more?
You also get to know a bit about the science of learning and dog behavior. Besides the nerdy rush you get from learning about new things (Just me? Oh...), you'll understand how your dog is processing the world and why they do what they do. It's so much easier to connect with someone when you understand their perspective and motivations.
Perhaps the best part, in my opinion, is that eventually you start to read your dog's mind! No, not literally of course, but pretty close to it. Training and a bit of research will give you incredible insight into dog body language. Dogs are communicating with us all the time, and when you start to learn the basic vocabulary, you realize just how much your dog has been telling you all along! Once you know how to listen, you and your best friend are pretty much unstoppable.
The depth of communication and friendship that can be gained with just a handful of treats and a simple noisemaker will never cease to astound me!
Make everyone's life easier
Training isn't just about teaching a dog specific, formal behaviors to perform on cue. Training is about teaching another species how to live and interact appropriately in our world and our homes. Dogs aren't born understanding our language, customs, manners, or expectations; it's our job to teach them what we want them to know in a fair and humane way.
Consider this: every time you interact with your dog, you are training them. If your dog jumps up on your legs and you pet them, you're training the dog that jumping up is an effective way to get petted. If you ask the dog to sit before you throw the ball, you're teaching them that sitting is the effective way to get the ball thrown. If your dog is lying peacefully on their bed and you tell them what a sweet pup they are, you're teaching them that begin quiet on their bed is a good thing to do.
If your dog does something that makes your life or their own more difficult, address it! Decide what you would like the dog to do, reinforce them for doing it, and avoid reinforcing or allowing them to practice anything besides that behavior. Et voila! A trained dog!
It's a ton of fun!
In my house "Do you want to play some games?" is one of the most exciting invitations my dog can hear. Training doesn't have to be stuffy or orderly, nor does it have to be purely incidental and casual. It can also be an active, delightful pastime to enjoy with your dog.
For my dog, training is a fun game; an engaging puzzle that she tries to solve with her favorite human.* It includes treats, and sometimes the treats get tossed and gets to chase them! She also gets to use her body and move around, jump, roll over, and interact with different objects.
For dogs, positive training is pretty much that wonderful day in grade school when you walked into the gym and discovered and obstacle course set up-- except with treats!
Hop to it
So really, there's no excuse not to make training your dog a New Year's resolution. You can start today, you've already got all the supplies, and it can be as energetic or leisurely as you choose. You'll even learn a few things and have fun with your dog! What gym membership or diet can say that?
*I flatter myself. I'm pretty sure every human is Nina's favorite human.