The start of every New Year sees many of us making ambitious plans to get fit, improve our lives or make positive changes for the future, although not all of these things make it as far as the end of January, never mind to the end of the year itself!
Many dog owners also make New Year’s resolutions for their pets too, and the start of 2019 is a great time to make a plan to work on some common behaviour issues and skillsets that many dogs in the UK lack, or to correct bad habits that our dogs have picked up over the course of the past year.
One thing that all dog owners will likely already know is that teaching a dog a new skill that they will reliably display or correcting an existing behavioural problem takes time, and a couple of enthusiastic training sessions at the start of the year with no follow-up after that is not likely to make a huge difference.
However, if you make a plan for the longer term and accept the reality that you might need to spend a little bit of time daily or regularly over several weeks or even months working on your dog’s skills, you can make sure that your dog finishes up 2019 displaying better behaviour, responses, and skills than they started the year with.
In this article we will suggest four skills to work on with your dog during 2019 if you’re in it for the long haul and are prepared to put the work in over the course of the year to make a real difference.
Read on to learn more.
“Recall” is a word that is virtually meaningless for some dogs, who will not exhibit a reliable capacity to return to their owners when called, either in any situation or when it really counts (such as if your dog is chasing a smaller animal or running toward a road).
Recall is commonly accepted as perhaps the hardest command to teach a dog and achieve reliable compliance with, and this is because paying attention to one’s handler and changing behaviour or direction as a result of receiving a command when something interesting is going on or if your dog is pursuing something in many ways goes against the dog’s instinctive nature.
You will have to work quite intensively with a new puppy to teach them the basics of recall compliance, and when you move things out into the wider world with all of its competing stimulus, it can feel as if your dog has forgotten everything they learned before.
For adult dogs that have never or that rarely return when called when it counts, the process can be even longer and harder.
However, a lack of persistence combined with a lack of understanding of the recall command and how to incentivise it for your dog is what ultimately results in poor recall skills – so if you decide to make 2019 the year of reliable recall, bear in mind the fact that you may be well into the latter half of the year and with a lot of hard work behind you before it all really starts to come together.
A great many dogs find fireworks daunting, anxiety-inducing or downright terrifying, and react very badly to the loud bangs and bright flashes of light that they create. However, because we are only really faced with fireworks regularly around Halloween, bonfire night, Christmas and New Year, it can be all too easy to put the problem to the back of our minds during the rest of the year when fireworks are not a continual possibility in the average street.
Tackling and resolving firework anxiety in dogs is something else that may take weeks or month to achieve, and you need to be willing to work on exposing your dog to stimulus that emulates the bangs and flashes and managing their responses to them for a reasonably long period of time in some cases before it will pay off.
However, if you find yourself spending the eve of 2019 once again trying to coax your dog out from under the sofa or cleaning up puddles of pee from inside of the house, you might find that the motivation you need is right there to enable you to commit to making your own life and that of your dog easier in the future when the fireworks later on in the year begin in earnest.
Many dogs pull on the lead, and while some began doing so when they were puppies, this tends to be a problem that develops over time in adult dogs. This can make walks challenging and unpleasant, although this is certainly a problem that the committed dog owner can fix.
Correcting pulling on the lead can be intensive, but if you are committed to doing it properly, you will likely begin to see results in days or weeks rather than months.
Don’t yank or pull your dog back or provide constant pressure on the lead to try to keep your dog by your side – teach your dog that until they walk to heel, you’re not moving, and will stop and wait for them to behave until you continue.
This is likely to be quite intensive and challenging at first, making walks long, frustrating and difficult, and you’ll probably get fed up very quickly or be tempted to just let your dog get on with it and try again another time. But if you knuckle down and have a plan to correct your dog’s pulling, this is a skill that your dog should have down within a few weeks.
Identifying bad manners in your own dog isn’t always simple, as dogs are quite clever at very slowly adjusting their behaviour and testing the limits until you suddenly seem to find yourself dealing with a pushy or disrespectful dog without really understanding how this happened.
If your dog pushes past you through doorways, begs for food, jumps up at guests or refuses to move from a seat they should not be on, this is something you should work on before it begins to apply to every aspect of your dog’s life, to the point that you are no longer the boss – they are!
Begin by looking to identify ways in which your dog might be displaying poor manners and if you do find a sticking point, look a little deeper to see if this behaviour is replicated within other activities too.
When you are clear on what you are dealing with, you can begin to re-establish yourself as the boss and pack leader, correcting your dog’s responses and preventing future problems too.