Last month’s article (4 Things Dog Trainers DON’T Do), was sparked by a conversation I had with colleagues over lunch. After talking about all the things most professional dog trainers don’t do (that most dog trainers do do), it’s time to turn the tables and explore the four things professional dog trainers do (that dog owners may not).
The point of these articles is to shine a light on some things you may want to use with your own dog. These aren’t secrets really, but things you may not be aware of and that might lead to positive changes in your household and with your dog.
Most dog trainers crate train their dogs. Even if it’s just for the duration of house training and puppy teething, we’re fairly adamant about (1) teaching our pups to love the crate and (2) using the crate to both protect the dog and our belongings! While some people still feel that crating a dog is cruel, we’ve raised 15 pups in 15 years (service dog puppy raisers) and all of those dogs have been great in their crates.
Why crate? It saves our sanity and it protects our dogs from injury (and it saves our shoes!). Crates, when properly used, keep a dog out of trouble – they can’t chew up the sofa, dig up the carpet, raid the counters, or pee on the floor when they’re crated. They can’t raid the garbage, rip the curtains, or chase the kitty when they’re crated. It gives us peace of mind – we know that while we’re away the dog is safely contained away from windows, electrical cords, and other potentially dangerous items. We have a higher degree of confidence that there won’t be pee or poop to clean up when we return and it’s comforting to know that both the dog and our house is safe.
Feed from Toys
Most of the service pups I’ve raised haven’t eaten out of a bowl until they’re at least six months old, usually it’s closer to a year old. Food stuffed toys come in lots of shapes and sizes. As more research on the ways of the canine mind is gathered, there are more options for dog owners to entertain and feed their dogs. I’ve written articles on food stuffed toys (with videos, too), so I won’t go into detail here.
Why feed from toys? Feeding from toys provides a couple benefits to your dog (and to you!). First, it slows down those dogs that seem to inhale their food. You know them: you put the food bowl down and within 30 seconds that bowl is emptied and the dog is pushing the bowl around the floor looking for more. A food stuffed toy helps your dog beat boredom. Food stuffed toys are like puzzles for dogs. Those toys require your dog to use his brain power (and sometimes his jaw power) to figure out how to the food out of that toy. Solving puzzles like food stuffed toys can really work your dog’s brain, which in turn actually tires them out without you doing a lot of cardio work along side them. Not that cardio’s a bad idea, mind you
Use Management Frequently
If you’ve ever put your dog behind a gate while you answer the door, you’ve used management. I think dog trainers utilize management a little more frequently than dog owners, although I’m not quite sure why that’s the case. Very often, part of my training solution for a client who has called me to help with their dog’s problems involves management.
Why management? Often, management can take the place of training. For example, when we have a new puppy in the house, all our bathroom trash cans are placed on top of the toilet tank. Those trash cans will stay there until the dog is about six months old. That’s management! Puppies love to explore. They love the contents of a trash can! If, during their exploratory phase, they repeatedly find the rewards (what we call trash) in the bathroom waste basket, they’re actually learning to check waste baskets for goodies. If that waste basket is out of their reach, they’re less likely to learn to waste basket surf, as it’s just not an option for them. Other examples of management: gates to prevent access to certain rooms, fences to prevent roaming, crates to prevent house training or chewing disasters, keeping shoes in the closet to prevent chewing, and keeping counters free of food and crumbs to discourage counter surfing.
Brain Games and Training
Dogs are capable of some fairly impressive mental feats. Did you know your dog’s olfactory skills are capable of detecting one tablespoon of sugar in the amount of water it takes to fill two Olympic-size pools! Your dog can learn left from right? You can teach your dog the names of all his toys? Research on canine cognition has exploded and we’re learning that dogs are capable of a lot more training concepts than we ever imagined.
Why brain games? Often, destructive behavior results from boredom. Dog trainers keep their dog’s minds busy to ease boredom. A thinking dog is usually a more satisfied, healthy, and better-behaved dog. Professional trainers tend to use training to not only teach our dogs new things, but to bust the boredom rut. It’s easy for you to teach your dog new things, too! Invent a game of your own, sign up for a tricks class, enroll in a nose work or scent game class – the possibilities are endless!
Hopefully, you’re doing some (maybe all!) of these things with your dog already. Good for you! If not, consider adding one of these into your daily life with your dog. Then, when you’re ready, add another! You’ll find, I hope, that you – and your dog – are happier. And isn’t that what it’s all about?
Carol Hibner Saunders says
Crate training is also important because at some point the dog is going to have to go to the vet (spay/neuter, illness) or board while the family travels. Being comfortable with confinement will lower the dog’s stress levels in stressful situations.
I have always put my pup’s food in a plastic bottle that has a small hole in the lid. (Started with water bottles now onto empty peanut butter and some others) Takes a good 15 minutes to get it all out. I periodically change the shapes and sizes of bottles. She is now getting good though and can unscrew some of the caps.
She can also retrieve over 60 named items and she’s only 8 months. The energy and desire to learn are amazing. I would love more data on keeping dogs busy…especially since I am am training her as a service animal and there is not a lot that is not wildly expensive. A few vids on great games would be super……..
My dogs *love* their crates. I have two that I keep in the house at all times with crate doors open. I can frequently see them in their crates sleeping.
Laurie Luck says
It’s great, isn’t it? I love that my dogs seek out their crates and treat them like their own room.
I’ve tried putting food, & even treats, in those toys that require some thought & problem solving skills, BUT she won’t work at them. I don’t know how to get her to desire it enough.
Laurie Luck says
I’ve actually created a video for this very issue! 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdohXpguNxg
You are absolutely right! I do these things and most times I find that owners do not consider management and are quite surprised when you show them how that works. They don’t look at food as something to work for either and are baffled when I discuss how it can be so rewarding for both them and the dog.
I like the idea of feeding from toys! I currently just put treats in my pup’s toys but when she gets really excited about dinner time I will make her work for it a little more and turn it into a little training/play session. To see if she can pick the right hand with the food in it or see how many times in a row she can catch the food. What kind of food toys do you recommend?
Laurie Luck says
Hi Karlee, glad your dog is already acquainted with food and puzzle toys. I have written on the blog about some of my favorites. You can search for food dispensing toys to find the article, but here is a quick list: frozen, stuffed Kongs, Busy Buddy Kibble Nibble, Busy Buddy Tug A Jug, and the Kong Wobbler. I’ve also been known to sprinkle dinner in an empty Amazon box, fold the flaps, and let the dog get in and dig and rip to get the goodies. ?