Do you find that sometimes you struggle to get your dog to cooperate with what you have in mind? I’ve assembled five handling tricks that can make all the difference.
- Feed from the hand closest to your dog when walking or luring. Dogs are master observers and they notice every little thing we do with our bodies. In order to simplify the picture, and keep it as consistent as possible, you want your body language to match what you are asking of your dog. If your dog walks on your left side, then your food should come from your left hand. Why? For one thing, you want to reward the dog in the place you want them to be. By carrying the food in your left hand, you are considerably more likely to feed exactly in the location you want your dog to walk, which builds that location as a place of reinforcement and a place they will want to spend more time. Conversely, if you held the food in your right hand while walking your dog on your left, you might be more likely to deliver the food slightly ahead of your body since it can be taxing on your lower back to turn your body so that your right hand feeds directly on your left side. The other major issue with crossing your body to feed is that your body language becomes unclear. If I want to walk forward with my dog, I want my dog to see my body language indicating forward movement, with my legs, shoulders, and head facing forward. If I am constantly feeding from my right hand and twisting to feed my dog on my left, my body language becomes contorted: my feet may still be facing forward, but my shoulders and head are now likely facing to the left. This is very unclear body language for my dog. If my upper body facing to the left means walk forward, how will my dog know when I want to turn left? The more clearly you can indicate your desires, the easier it will be for your dog to catch on.
- Learn how to ground yourself. This is important not only for safety, but for teaching your dog that pulling doesn’t work. Practice taking a wider stance with your feet, at least shoulder width apart, and bring your elbows into your sides. Have a friend try to pull or push you over (gently) and practice shifting your weight between your legs to maintain stability. This practice will help you should your dog try to pull away from you.
- Motivate using things your dog actually wants, not things you think they should want. When I was a kid, my mom kept a “treat jar” with candy that she would occasionally use as rewards for good behavior. I specifically remember her asking my sister and I to clean our rooms, and as a reward for doing so, we’d each get to choose a treat from the jar. The only problem was, I didn’t care about the candy. Compared to the task of cleaning up my room, that piece of candy didn’t hold nearly enough motivational power. My sister on the other hand, got right to work. I see the same mistake happen with dogs all the time. We assume that all dogs should want to work for a chosen reward, whether it be attention, praise, a certain food, or a toy we’ve picked. The truth is that motivations change from moment to moment and not every challenge is motivated the same way. A dog may love to come to you for attention and petting in the evening when they are tired and relaxed, but if they are out in the back yard zooming around having a blast, chances are your attention and cuddles aren’t going to cut it. Learn what things your dog truly loves and evaluate the challenge of the behavior in the situation in which you are asking for it. Then make sure you are rewarding behaviors accordingly.
- Add some surprises. When you are working with your dog, you want to make sure you are being consistent whenever possible. For example: use the same cues for the behaviors you want, use your body language consistently (see point #1), and respond consistently to the same behaviors (don’t praise your dog for getting up on the couch with you one day and yell and scream at them another). That being said, boring is boring is boring. How many times have you driven to work on full autopilot? You clearly got to work but somehow you barely recall the drive. Now think about the days where somebody nearly cut you off while driving, or you passed an accident on your way in. Those days tend to stand out because there was variation to the routine. Working with your dog should have some level of routine but it’s variety that provides the spice of life, as they say. You don’t have to drill behaviors over and over to get good training in. Try mixing in some play, taking your training to a new location, or using new props (platforms, different distractions) or even just switching up the surface your dog is standing on. One of my favorite ways to add variety? Putting on music! I find my behavior changes with the type of music we are listening to and that can add a fun bounce to things like leash walking or relax and settle us when working on things like stay.
- Develop a healthy relationship. Handling your dog well is really all about the relationship you have with them. Watching a great dog and handler team (particularly in things like canine sports), you can often see the love shared between the two parties. You want to make sure your dog has a healthy trust in you to a) not put them in danger and b) reinforce and celebrate their success. If they don’t have those two major building blocks in place, why on earth would they want to do anything for you? Spend time having FUN with your dog and be the type of owner they would choose to live with if they got to pick their owner themselves.
A beautiful example of a loving relationship in action during Canine Freestyle competition
Nicole Lorenzetti Yuhas CPDT-KA
This blog is intended to be informative as well as entertaining. It contains my opinion which may not reflect the opinions of any organization I may be affiliated with. My opinions should not be interpreted as those of my coworkers, family, friends, casual acquaintances, and certainly not the opinion of my cat, although my dog probably agrees with everything I say, if for no other reason, than because I provide the treats and meals (cats are less inclined to agree with anyone but themselves). Information provided here is accurate and true to the best of my knowledge but, as information and opinions change, neither the facts nor the opinions expressed here may be true or accurate at any future date. As I don’t currently own a time machine, I cannot be responsible for things that prove to be untrue, or opinions I change my mind about, should those changes become apparent in the future. It should also be noted that, as I am human, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes in the information provided here. Frankly, even if I were a computer, it is likely there would be errors, as computers, in my experience, can be a royal pain in the butt. This blog may contain affiliate links which you are under no obligation to click. If you click them, they will hopefully take you the place I intended. But they may not. As I’ve said, computers can be a pain. If you find yourself somewhere you don’t think I intended, click your ruby slippers three times together and say, “there is no place like home.” If you do that, and click the “back” button, you should be safely returned. Computers can, at times, have a mind of their own. Any training suggestions or opinions expressed here should be taken as information only and should not be seen as advice particular to you or your dog’s unique situation. Please consult with a training professional before taking any action.