Longer walks. More fetch. Cycling. More dog park trips.
A common response, or rather, remedy, to behavior problems is more exercise. More intensity. More, well, GO!
I'm all for exercising dogs, but here's the question to ask: can you keep up? Really? For how long? If you're a marathon runner, maybe your answers are a bit skewed. But for the rest of us, our dogs will very often be more athletic than we are. They can run longer, faster, and more often. They can chase balls longer than we can throw them. And all that "more"? It's likely increasing their endurance and habituating them to intense physical activity. Meaning you'll need...yep, you guessed it. More!
So, if you find yourself taking the "tire them out" approach but still struggling, let's try taking the concept of "more" and putting our own spin on it.
How about more...
Patience at thresholds?
Controlled, slow, movement on walks and in the house?
By adding more of all the above, you'll shift gears from focusing solely on your dog's body to focusing heavily on their mind. And believe me, working your dog's brain can yield a far more pooped pooch then hours of running.
To be clear, you should 100% exercise your dog daily, but balancing physical exercise with mental work may just be the ticket to a calmer more peaceful dog.
That's the question!
Answer? No. Don't dog park.
That was easy.
Oh, you want more? Ok ok..
Here's the thing. Dog parks look great on paper. They're dedicated spaces for dogs to run and play and blow off steam. What's not to love?
Well..real life is a little less ideal. First off, every park is different, and there's probably some great ones out there. But generally speaking, they're risky, to say the least.
Your typical dog park is a free-for-all in every sense. Dogs have little to no training or structure, and owners rarely have legitimate control over their dogs. They're also likely not super aware of what body language to look out for, how to judge if play is getting too rough, or how to address nasty behavior. Also, they probably aren't even really paying attention. I'm not judging, I'm just saying.
Even if everything is looking OK, when it comes to groups of adrenalized dogs in a high-drive state, things can escalate in a hurry. And all it takes is one moment going sour to cause some damage. It's not uncommon at all for a trainer to get a dog that was happy-go-lucky easy peasy.
Until. Until that one dog, that one time, at that one park got nasty and pounced on him/her. Now, the dog's fearful, unsure, reactive, skittish. And who could blame it? That kind of stuff can be traumatizing. Sure, it can be worked through, but why take the risk in the first place?
Big events aside, the fact is bad habits rub off. Taking your pup to the park to "learn how to socialize"? How do you know the random dogs there have any skills worth passing on? Or that they're interested? Chances are, the "lessons" learned will be all the wrong ones.
And let's not even get into medical stuff (really think all those dogs are vaccinated, on flea prevention, AND routinely dewormed??)!
I'm coming down a bit harsh here, and if your park works for you and your dog, don't stop just because of some guy on the internet! But, it may be worth considering the risk/reward ratio, what your training and behavior goals are, and how dog parks might be affecting them.
The title of this post is an idea put forth by the great Stephen Covey. He talks about it in terms of how we, as people, relate to one another. The gist is that how we see ourselves, others, and the world in general greatly affects what actions we take in our lives, particularly in times of conflict. This, in turn, affects the result that we're left with as a consequence of those actions, or what we get.
I think the point he was trying to make was that we all have biases and preconceived ideas. It's just the way it is. But, if we learn to be mindful of and recognize them, we open ourselves up to new ways of thinking, new paradigms. Then, as a result, what we get from the world can also change.
That's all well and good, but what's this got to do with dog training??
Well... a lot!
Many people find themselves not only struggling with their dogs, they feel stuck too. Hopeless, even. Too many times to count I've spoken with owners who are convinced of what their dog can, and can't, do.
My dog can't relax. Or walk well on a leash. Or go to the park. Or come when I call. The list goes on.
I don't blame the owners. After all, there's A LOT of mixed information out there. Nor do I deny that dogs do have limitations. Not every dog can perform at the highest of levels, especially if they've got years of anxiety or aggression to work past.
But, maybe if we change the way we SEE our dogs and their behaviors, we might change what we DO, or our approach. If Mr. Covey is right, this should change what we GET.
So, if you're struggling, maybe take a look at what beliefs you can change. Can you open yourself up to a new training method? A new way of relating to your dog? A new way of thinking about how your dog fits into your life, or what their needs are? How about what your needs are?
These are just a few examples, and they might not be right for you or your dog. But, they also might be worth examining, just in case.
Here's what I do know: your dog can change, because you can change. Your dog can learn a new way of being, because you can learn a new way of seeing them. And it's all downhill from there.