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Useful Tips for Dog Owners

How to avoid cabin fever and excess energy craziness

I bet you’ve heard the old saying “a tired dog is a good dog”.  So you walk your dog, or let him run at the park, or maybe even send him to daycare. These are all good things and exercise IS necessary, but did you know that there are TWO things your dog needs in order to truly feel like his excess energy is spent?  Not only does your dog need physical exercise, but he also needs mental exercise.  This is similar to the enrichment programs you may have seen at the zoo to keep the animals from becoming bored, frustrated, and depressed, and it works the same way for your dog.  Giving him a puzzle to figure out, hiding something for him to find, or teaching him a new trick will make his brain tired.  This does him just as much good as playing fetch in the backyard.  With his mental energy spent, your dog is much less likely to become destructive out of boredom or frustration with being stuck indoors.  This becomes especially useful in winter and on rainy days when going outside just isn’t pleasant, and its also really fun to do! Other benefits of exercising your dogs brain are his increased confidence in himself, and a stronger bond between you!

Some ideas for a doggie mental workout are

Play hide-and-seek with your dog.  (This is my favorite.)

Teach your dog to stretch, yawn, sneeze, or shake (like hes wet) on command.  Or if you really want to impress the neighbors, teach him left from right!

€Hide treats or toys around the house, then send your dog to hunt them out.

€Feed from containers that are hard or tricky to get food out of.  There are lots of great ones available for purchase, but don’t be afraid to get creative and make one at home from a cardboard box or empty peanut butter jar. Just make several holes in the sides to teach your dog the concept, and then shrink to one small hole on one side once hes a pro.

How to attain automatic leadership

**Note** Do not try this on your own if your dog has any food aggression issues.

When it comes to being the top dog in your home, there are a lot of well known fact about dogs and dog training that have been proven false by more recent scientific studies.  Unfortunately, many of these fact are still widely circulated in the dog-lovers world, even by some trainers.  In the interest of efficiency, I wont get into too much detail on what has been disproven, but I will shed some light on what DOES work, works better andfaster, and is easier to do!

Here are 3 tips.  If you do these 3 things, your dog is almost guaranteed to see you as his leader.  I cant guarantee 100% because every dog is different, and there is never a guarantee when working with living beings with minds of their own.  However, in almost all cases, this will work.

  1.  Think of your dogs food as money.  If you had all the money you could ever want, you probably wouldn’t think too highly of someone who had the nerve to come along and tell you to do something for them. However, if that person was going to pay you for the work, and it was your only source of income, you’d probably be happy to help that person out, right?  We do it every day at our work-places. The same is true for your dog.  Rather than leaving food out for him to munch on whenever he feels like it, feed him at scheduled intervals (2 or 3 times per day, more for young puppies), and ask your dog to work for his/her money.  You can amp this up further by hand-feeding and asking for work for each handful.  Sit handful.  Down handful.  Shake a paw handful.  And so on.  Your dog will be happy to comply, and you’ve instantly elevated your position in his eyes.
  2. Now that your dog works for his pay cheque, you can also have him start working for his perks and bonuses.  If he brings you his ball to throw, ask him to do something before EACH time you throw it.  If he starts nudging or pawing at you for attention, ask for something and pay his work with love and attention.  If he wants you to open the door, ask him to roll over or sit pretty first.  You are now the owner in charge of all of the good things in his life, and he has to work for all of them.  This isn’t about keeping anything from your dog, its simply about making him work for his good life.  You will now have a happier dog (hes using his brain a lot more suddenly) and he will recognize that you are a very important person in his life.  You are his leader!
  3. Once you have your dogs cooperation in these areas, you can simplify.  Teach your dog to ask nicely by sitting before each of his meals, before the door opens, before the leash gets clipped on, or before the ball gets thrown.  The idea is that instead of mud on your pants (or shirt!) from being pawed at and jumped on, or coffee on your sleeve from being nudged while trying to drink a sip, or being barked at to open the door, you will now have a dog that comes over to you and sits quietly to ask for attention or food.

By following these 3 steps, you dog will happily view you as his leader, and it didn’t require a single wrestling match or alpha roll.

How to bring your shy dog out of his shell

Do you have a dog that is wonderful and sweet, but hides behind you as soon as anyone approaches?  This is not uncommon, and it can be helped.

For the next few weeks, carry his favorite treats or toys when you go out on walks.  Whenever anyone looks interested in approaching your dog, ask if they would help you do some training and explain that it will only take a minute.  Most people who have already shown interest would love to help! Give them some treats, and have them toss the treats to your dog to start making him think strangers are a source of good things.  If your dog is not quite that shy, have them crouch down and offer treats.  Ask them not to reach for your dog, but they can pet him if he asks them to.  Never force your dog to meet or approach anyone, but if he does on his own, praise him!  Reward any bravery he shows, and when he attempts to retreat again, allow him to go but stop praising and rewarding.  You can also have guests do this in your home very calmly while sitting on the couch or at the table. When all attempts to be brave are rewarding and nothing bad or scary ever happens, and hiding is not rewarding, your dog will slowly begin approaching new people more and more easily.  The more you practice, the faster it will work, but be careful not to overwhelm your dog.  Little but often is the best way to practice.

On this same note, never attempt to pet a dog that is being forced to meet you.  A dog that’s afraid and unable to escape is likely to bite!

How to teach your dog anything in a nutshell

Start by making sure your dog is getting good nutrition and plenty of mental and physical exercise.  This will keep him alert and happy to work with you.

Decide what you want to teach your dog today.  Pick ONE thing at a time and decide exactly what you want that one thing to look like.  The more clear it is in your head, the easier it is for your dog to figure it out, because your responses will naturally be more clear.  While you’re working on this, don’t worry about anything else.  For example, when teaching stay don’t worry about whether your dogs sit is perfectly straight.  After all, you’re working on stay, not sit.

Once you know what you want, break it down into baby steps and work on them one at a time.  For example, if you’re working on stay start with just shifting your weight, then moving one foot, then taking one step, then two, etc.  Build slowly and reward at each step.

Make each step so easy for your dog that its almost impossible for him to fail! Remember to stay calm and cheerful.  If he doesn’t get it right away, be persistent until he does, then throw him a party like hes the smartest dog you ever met!  He will think hes pretty smart too, and hell think working with you is super fun.

A really useful command to teach is a release command to tell your dog when his/her sit, stay or heel is over  Its important for him to know that each command he learns means to do that thing until he is released from it.

A last important point is to let your dog think things through and make decisions for himself.  If you’re pretty sure he knows how to high-5, ask for it and then wait with your hand ready.  Let him think for a minute or so.  If he tries the wrong thing, just gently ask him to try again.  When he gets it right, make it worth him remembering for next time!

A few quick tips to reduce nuisance barking.

Dogs like talking just as much as we do!  They do it by barking, growling, whining, howling, and a whole bunch of other sounds that defy description.  What if your dog gets a little carried away and you’d like him to talk a little less?  Here are a few tips to reduce the barking blues.

Why is your dog barking??  Consider these possibilities:

  • He wants your attention.  He wants you to give him something, do something for him, or let him in/outside.
  • He’s bored.  We are busy all the time, and come home tired at the end of the day, wanting to relax.  Our dogs have been at home relaxing all day and now that we’re home, they want to do something!  Sometimes they also tell the neighborhood how bored they are while they’re waiting for us to come home.
  • He’s scared.  He sees someone or something that is worrying him, and he’s warning it to stay back.  
  • He’s guarding “his” territory.  Your dog is letting “intruders” know that they are in his space.  This space may include 20 feet past your fence, and may mean that everyone walking down the sidewalk needs to be warned of their unwanted presence.  
  • He’s excited!  He wants to play, or wants to say hi in an overly excited, exaggerated way.
  • It feels good.  Barking releases endorphins, so it is rewarding in itself.  It’s very similar to laughter for humans.  It just feels good!  Once your dog has gotten into the habit of barking, and has realized this, he may do it for no reason other than to feel happy.
  • He’s getting older.  If your dog is getting up there in years, consider the possibility of dementia or deafness. If this may be the case, talk to your vet about medications that may help the dementia. Teaching a deaf dog to be quiet is the same as teaching any other dog, but you may have to use something other than your voice as the “cue”.  Try using hand signals, a flashing light or a vibrating collar (NOT a shock collar).  
  • His buddy  made him do it!  If you have more than one dog, you may have a case where they really get each other going.  You will have to train each dog individually before you can expect to achieve quiet with them all as a group. It takes a little more time, but it’s worth it!!  
  • His breed!  Did you know that barking was a desirable trait in some breeds?  They were bred to bark, and to expect them to suddenly stop now is asking them to go against their nature.  No dog needs to bark ALL the time, but some will feel the need to bark more than others.

How can you make it stop?  Try these 6 tips:

Dogs can learn to be quieter, but keep a few things in mind:

  • The longer your dog has been singing to you, the longer it may take for him to learn quieter behavior.
  • The more proactive you are, the easier this will be.  Starting asking him to be quiet the instant he starts barking, or even the instant you see his ears go up and his eyes get that look that tells you things are about to get exciting.  Don’t let him bark until you’re really annoyed before you start working on your training plan.
  • If you suspect fear is his reason for barking, you will need to build his courage around the things he is afraid of.  This is a little more complex, so I will address this issue in a blog (soon).

1. Whisper.  Yelling at your dog increases the volume and the negative energy in your home.  Try whispering instead.  Your dog may just have to stop barking to hear what you’re saying, and as soon as he does, you can throw him a party!  That will be much more likely to stop him again in the future when he hears you whispering, than yelling, which he probably just sees as you barking along with him.

2. Be Consistent.  The more consistent you are, the easier and quicker this will be.  Inconsistency will only confuse your dog. Barking must be allowed or not allowed for all the same scenarios, regardless of who’s home, what mood you’re in, or how busy you are.  If barking at the mailman is ok, but barking at the pizza delivery guy is not, then that’s the way it is EVERY DAY!  (Hint, it’s easier if barking at the door is ok, or not ok, regardless of who it is.  My personal home rules are bark at everyone a couple of times, and then stop.  I just need to be alerted, I don’t need a whole soap opera!)

3. Remove his reason for barking.  For example, if he barks at people or animals passing by the living room window, close the curtains or move him to another room.  Or if he barks at when he’s in the yard, supervise him while he’s outside and bring him in as soon as he starts barking. Never leave him outside unsupervised for extended periods of time.

4. Ignore or Time Out.  If it’s your attention that he’s barking for, ignore him completely, or put him in “time out” until he’s done.  As soon as he stops for 3 seconds or more, reward him!  Give him what he wants only when he’s quiet.  If you’re using time out, it’s important that you are neither angry nor cuddly when you put your dog into his time out area.  It can be his crate, or another room, but move him there without speaking to him or making eye contact.  Don’t pet or cuddle him, but also don’t yank or grab him roughly.  Just gently and calmly take him to his timeout place, close the door, and turn away.  Let him out only when – and as soon as – he is quiet.  Once he understands that quiet is what you’re looking for, start waiting until he quiet for 5 seconds, then 10, then 30 before rewarding him.  This will help him learn to stay quiet.

5. Teach your dog a “be quiet” cue.  Your dog can’t bark and sniff at the same time, so have some tasty treats ready for the next time your dog starts barking.  Hold the treats in front of his nose and ask him to be quiet.  If he stops to sniff the treats, wait exactly 3 seconds, and then give him the treats!  By waiting for 3 seconds of quiet before letting him have the treats, you are rewarding the quiet, NOT the barking!  3 seconds is enough for your dog to not associate the eating with the barking.  This only works if your treats smell so amazing that they are more distracting than whatever he’s barking at.  Get super stinky treats, and hold an entire handful of them!  Trust me, one will not be enough.   Again, once he understands that “quiet” means “stop barking”, you can start asking for more than 3 seconds, and work your way SLOWLY to longer and longer quiet periods.  If your dog quiets down, then starts barking again before getting his treat, either your treats aren’t tempting enough, or you’re waiting too long.

6. Exercise and Entertain!!  A tired dog is a good dog.  If your dog is getting enough physical AND mental exercise, he is much less likely to be bored or to have an excess of frustrated energy.  A dog that is not bored or frustrated is much less likely to bark excessively!  How do you give your dog a mental workout?  Try hiding his meals in various toys, under the coffee table, inside an empty plastic bottle with no lid, under a towel or blanket on the floor, etc.  Of course, there are also tons of off-the-shelf mental stimulation toys you can buy.  Either way, if he has to figure out how to get every bite, his brain will get a good workout.

Good luck, and enjoy trying these tips!

I would love to hear from you! If you’d like to tell me how they went, or if there are other tips you’d like to see. Email me at:

centeredcanine@gmail.com