5 Ways to Encourage Positive Behavior in Your Dog
Dog training can be tough, especially when there is a lot of information out there on how to train your dog, and much of it is conflicting, sending us into even more of a tailspin than a puppy chasing their own tail! Dogs are full of energy and curiosity, much like young children, therefore they need to be taught desirable behaviors and “manners,” and they need direction when it comes to what activities to engage in. This will allow them to interact effectively in a variety of circumstances and feel positive about themselves, while also evoking your own feelings of pride as a dog parent!
We thought we’d offer a place to start in terms of encouraging your dog’s positive behavior, in hopes that they’ll replicate the behavior until it becomes second nature. The most important thing to remember is to keep situations positive in order for your dog’s behavior to be positive, so keep it fun and enjoy the time you spend together!
- Emphasize and focus on commands and recall
Commands are an essential part of dog training and if a dog practices them enough, they become habit quickly. Learn the core commands that you would use with your dog on a regular basis and practice over and over to ensure that they will respond to you on the first call. If a dog does not respond to a command at once, then they still need practice where their training commands are concerned. The basics like sit, down, stay, and come can take work and perseverance, but patience is the key as you work with your dog for however long they need for the commands to sink in. Every dog is capable, regardless of age, to become a pro at their commands. With older dogs who have been in shelter or undesirable situations they may need a little extra work with their training as they have not been exposed to commands and recall in the same way that puppies or younger dogs have, but all dogs are all capable of progress and learning positive behavior. It’s up to you as their owner to bring it out of them and give them the direction they need.
When reinforcing commands, use encouragement like treats and praise, and keep at it until they recognize that they want to follow your lead. But, again, keep the experience positive since the ultimate goal is your dog’s positive behavior, too!
- POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT- Reward your dog with treats and praise
The way to ensure a dog knows their commands well is with positive reinforcement like treats and praise. This goes beyond command training only, however. When you are working on anything with your dog, whether it be training, tricks, and any mental enrichment challenges, then treats and praise as rewards will create a positive experience for both of you. Once your dog learns the command or trick expertly with treats, you can start to phase them out since the behavior will then be second nature. But it’s still nice, and uses reinforcement, to reward them even if they are expert level! Dogs will be eager to learn and please when they know they will be positively rewarded, so make sure you always have those treats on hand! Tiny bite-sized treats that are made for the purpose of training are best if your dog will be performing and practicing repeatedly. A bigger treat that takes time to chew and consume might pull their focus away from the task at hand, and it’s best to keep them engaged in the training without their attention being drawn elsewhere. And, if you happen not to have any treats on you, then always utilize praise when your dog performs a desirable behavior. Surely, they love being told how good they are! Right?
- Challenges, training, games, and exercise
If your dog does not have enough stimulation in their daily life, then undesirable behavior is likely to emerge. Keeping up with their training is important so that they learn appropriate behaviors, but also for mental stimulation so their mind is exercised and fulfilled. The same idea goes for mental enrichment games and challenges like nose work, puzzle games, hide and seek, and so on. And of course, exercise is incredibly important for a dog to live a happy and fulfilled daily life. Their bodies and minds need to be stimulated each day, just like ours do as humans. When your dog is content, their behavior will reflect their positive lifestyle as well.
- Get the whole family involved
If you are not your dog’s sole owner, or the only one who interacts with them regularly, then get the whole family involved in their training and routines also. Your dog benefits from consistency and does much better when they know what to expect from all people around them on a daily basis. If you have taught them new commands or implemented new routines, then be sure to communicate this with any of their other caretakers. Whether it’s your children, spouse, roommate, dog sitter, and so on your dog’s positive behavior will continue to be reinforced if everyone in their life is on the same page!
- Keep training and situations fun
If training sessions are upbeat and on the shorter side, it will create a much more positive experience for you and your dog. You will both tire easily when it comes to training, and your dog will start to lose focus if the sessions are too long. So, a few shorter sessions a day go much further than one long session to allow them time and energy to reset. During training it’s very important, as we discussed above, to offer positive reinforcement and remain upbeat. It’s easy to get frustrated if we feel our dogs are not picking up on something as quickly as we’d like, but it’s key to remain collected because your frustration will only breed frustration in your dog as well.
Training also acts as quality time between you and your dog, which is so important for strengthening bonds. They might even start to view it as structured playtime because they will be rewarded and having fun when they get their commands and tricks right. They might also start showing off their training outside of sessions just to be rewarded by you. Positive reinforcement is always the answer as it lets you be your dog’s leader, but also allows you to maintain their trust and respect.
You, your dog, and those around you will all benefit from your dog’s positive behaviors and good manners. Other ways to ensure that dogs are the best they can be, in good spirits, and feeling well are to get regular wellness exams from the vet, have a healthy and nutritious diet, get lots of exercise, mental stimulation, love, and attention. And, of course, that your dog knows how much you care for them by the quality time you spend together and the positive ways you respond to them!
Shay Siegel is a young adult author, freelance writer, and editor from Long Island, NY. She has a BA from Tulane University and an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Always a lover of animals, Shay had several cats growing up. She's now a dog mom to the snuggliest rescue pit bull, Bernie. She enjoys writing on a variety of topics and sharing her love and knowledge of animals with others!