Is This Fun For Your Dog?
Is This Fun For Your Dog?
Summertime is the arguably one of the best times to be a dog: long days, vacations with your family or to a fun kennel, lots to see and smell outdoors! Most people with well-behaved dogs do enjoy taking their dogs out with them and you will often see dogs at picnics, street festivals, hiking, etc. This all sounds great! However, this all sounds great to us as people who love dogs. Do we know how our dogs feel about it?
How your dog feels about or perceives things should be one of the top things on your mind as you enjoy this summer. It’s a frequent question in dog sports and in the competition world, but it is a good one for all of us to adopt. Blobfest was this weekend in Phoenixville, commemorating the 1958 release of the “The Blob” (Phoenixville’s only real claim to fame) and it was surrounded by the usual street festival and road closures everyone has come to expect. What’s been new in recent years at events like these and First Fridays across the country, is the amount of pets you’ll see attending with their owners and socializing – or avoiding socializing – as the case may be. There were even pet adoption tables at some of these events with kittens and puppies from local rescues waiting to meet people and begin the adoption process.
While many owners were proud and anxious to introduce their lovely new designer pup, their massive purebred behemoth, or their rescue from the wrong side of the tracks to every person and dog in sight, it quickly became clear that what was intended to be a fun conversation starter for the owner was quickly becoming miserable for their pet.
What’s fun for you is not always fun for your pooch. This is not to say that there were not plenty of tail-wagging, tongue-out smiley faces, but there were a similar number of wide-eyed, straight-backed nervous dogs whose owners had no idea they’d likely rather be home on the couch.
I find myself in this predicament pretty regularly with my lazier dog. She is social and well-behaved in public, but doesn’t have the stamina to really explore the places I’d love to take her. If I want to take her to an event, I must take into consideration how far and how long I expect her to be “on.” Will she collapse or misbehave if I don’t? No, she likely wouldn’t be that exhausted until she is far past the point of “no fun.”
My goal is never to push her to the point of exhaustion. I want her to have fun with me; a cooperative and shared experience. Due to her temperament, I know this means that if I want to take her with me I should plan to drive around for a while to find close parking, limit her time outdoors, and leave while she is still engaged. This often means I go to events that are otherwise dog friendly without her and ogle jealously at the people who are out having fun with their dogs, but I know my dog would not be one of them.
What does this mean for training specifically? When working with your pooch, be sure to check in often to see that your pet is still having fun. Even stays can be fun if they aren’t drilled repeatedly and are rewarded richly.
How do you know if your dog is having fun? Give them a choice. If they choose to continue or to engage, it is pretty safe to assume that they are having fun. The choice must be clear and must be fair to give you an honest incite. Old school electric collar trainer will often say that the dog had the choice to preform or avoid the shock. What kind of choice is that?!
I think we can all agree that given those options, the dog has very little freedom of choice. In order to really know whether your dog is choosing to be in the training game with you, they need to have the choice to walk away or disengage without any repercussions. This is not to say that you can’t stack the deck in your favor. I would never recommend giving an impulsive dog the choice between heeling for a cookie and chasing a squirrel. I know I would lose in this situation and potentially reward my dog for leaving the heeling game.
Instead, I would stack the deck and start in a boring room. The dog can choose me or sniffing nothing fun in particular. Can sniffing be rewarding? Sure! But sniffing a boring room is not as fun as tasting a cheese cube. At no point am I giving the dog the choice between working and something aversive; just simply working or something neutral. The dog is free to walk away anytime, but the cheese stays with me!
As dogs improve in their skill set (i.e. as you practice), training becomes more fun for both of you and your dog will choose training in more and more distracting situations. The key is to make sure it really is fun for both of you, not just one party.
When working with your pooch or just planning a fun outing, set your dog up to have fun too!
Head Trainer- Perfect Pooch
BA, CPDT-KA, AKC CGC Evaluator