Owning a dog definitely has its ups and downs. When they start out as puppies, they’re biting everything with their super sharp teeth, but they melt your heart with that look of love they give you. As they get older, they pull a little on their walks, but it is so dang cute to see them so excited! Eventually, your pup will have some behavioral problems, but you can tell they don’t know any better and you need to take actionable steps to intervene. No matter what stage your pup is in, behavioral training is a great proactive measure to teach obedience, safety, and mental stimulation. Your dog’s behavior will tell you plenty about their mood, health, needs, and wants. By establishing a good connection via training, you and your pup can work together to meet their needs. And, do not feel bad if you do not have all the answers; no one does! It takes a village, so include a trusted veterinary professional that you can turn to for answers, treatment options, and understanding.
If you want specific information about training, behavioral markers, and local suggestions, call our Cloud Peak Clinic directly, and we will give you any advice we can. Our number is (307) 347-2781, but we would prefer it if you stopped by our clinic during our business hours so we can work together to give your dog the best quality life possible.
Now, let’s discuss the basics of dog behavior training!
Why is Behavioral Training Important?
Not only is training extremely beneficial to you (less chewed up furniture, less barking, more obedience, etc.), but your pup will have a better quality of life, too! It is important that you establish solid boundaries so that your pup learns what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable, allowing them to use that knowledge in the future. By setting boundaries, you are setting a routine, or even a flow for the house. For example, let’s say you teach your pup the word “out” means “leave the room my owner is in.” After some repetition, your dog will know to sit outside the kitchen, even if you just say the word “out” while you’re busy doing dishes. You will not need to physically intervene, giving you some of your sanity back.
Speaking of sanity, dogs need mental stimulation to stay mentally sharp and slow down negative effects of old age. Dogs are great companion animals and some love to lounge around, but it is crucial to challenge their brain and give them tasks that scratch any primal urge they may have. No matter what age, slow feeders are a great supplemental way to stimulate their brain and provide them a good mental workout.
Another important, but perhaps overlooked, reason to begin training your pup is to establish a strong bond between yourself and your pet. As your animal learns new skills or behaviors, they will look to you for guidance and commands, allowing you to better mediate their behavior. As a pet owner, you need that strong connection and understanding so that you can properly address their needs, and give them the loving home they deserve.
Dog Behavior Training Techniques
Every dog is different and requires vastly different training techniques to learn the desired behaviors. Each dog has their own motivation, ranging from being food-driven to drooling over a specific toy; you need to find what will motivate your pup and work from there. Let’s talk about different training techniques to give your pet the best quality of life imaginable.
Let’s start with the basics: positive and negative reinforcement. The names themselves are pretty self-explanatory, but to give more information, positive reinforcement involves rewarding the pup once the desired behavior is displayed to encourage that same behavior. On the flip side, negative reinforcement involves punishing any unwanted behaviors to stop and prevent the behavior from happening again. Within these general terms, there are much more specific details to dive into. Every form of reinforcement will look different from pet to pet, so you need to find your dog’s main source of motivation.
If your dog needs a good amount of love and attention from you, your agreement or disagreement of their behavior will go a long way. Whether you are focusing on negative or positive reinforcement, verbal attention could go a long way to affect change. When verbally communicating with your dog, use simple, short words that convey a clear message. For example, you might want to say “you are such a good puppy and I am so proud of you,” but you should actually stick to a few words, like “good boy,” in a happy tone to convey your pride. When your dog is focused on your words and the tone of your voice, your pup can likely be trained with verbal communication.
Obviously, every dog loves food, but some dogs are much more willing to work for it than others. When it comes to food and feeding, dogs typically fall into two categories: freeloading and contrafreeloading. Let’s say you prepare two dinners for your pup. One meal is a super tasty meal served in a big bowl that is easy to eat out of, and the other is the same meal presented as a puzzle the dog will have to solve in order to eat. Between the two, which is your pup picking? If your dog would go for the easy first meal, your dog is showing freeloading behaviors. And if your furry friend would pick the second option, you are looking at a dog that is opting into contrafreeloading.
First, let’s go over freeloading behaviors. Freeloading feeding describes a dog that is not willing to do much work for a meal. For example, a dog might prefer simple meals they can just devour in a simple bowl, or receiving treats for doing no work. Often, these dogs are not motivated to work for food because they know they do not have to work for their next meal. If your dog is freeloading, we do not recommend turning to food to reinforce behavior.
In comparison, contrafreeloading describes a dog that will always choose to work for their food versus being given it. Dogs that opt into contrafreeloading are often looking for tasks to complete or work that needs to be done. By giving your food-driven pup a complicated meal, the dog is forced to use their brain to figure out the food puzzle. Mental stimulation is a driving force behind the pups that choose contrafreeloading, so give your pet something that will challenge their brain. Contrafreeloading is a general term that can describe actions like giving your dog a lick mat or giving your pup a treat when they complete a desired behavior. For these types of dogs, they will do anything you ask just to get a little treat, so use that to your advantage.
If your dog is not interested in what you have to say or the treats in your hands, turning to toys as a reward could be exactly what they need. When it comes to training with toys, you have a few options, but negative reinforcement is not really one of them. To begin toy training, you need to establish which toys are for training/ rewards and which are for your pup to use at any time. Keep the training toys separate so that your dog understands that there is an expectation of them when the toy comes out. Next, you will want to determine what your “yes” cue is. Oftentimes, trainers will use clickers to tell a dog that they did something correctly, which is their “yes” cue. Lastly, you will want to determine what games can be utilized as a reward for your dog. If you want to learn more about how you can use games like tug or fetch to train, we recommend checking out this link! There are a few ways you can use toys to benefit your pup; it’s just about finding what works well for you and your pet.
You Do Not Have to Train Alone
No matter what training route you go down, it can feel really overwhelming to become the sole trainer for a dog. There are so many different techniques to keep track of and test with your pet, so why do you have to manage it all on your own? At Cloud Peak, we care deeply about every patient that comes through our doors, and that includes the quality of their home life. Our staff wants to be part of your pet’s care and training, and we have plenty of experience to help you whenever you need it. If you want to begin your pup’s training, get in contact with our staff so we can develop a plan of action. Give us a call at (307) 347-2781, or visit our clinic in person! If you come by our clinic, make sure to bring your dog so they can get to know us. We look forward to helping you in any way we can!