If you’ve ever read anything I’ve written about dogs, you know my #1 advice for a happy pup: WALK.
But sometimes, you can’t go for a walk (weather!) And sometimes, if we are being totally honest, it’s Sunday and your just being lazy. This is the situation that I found myself in today. Me – not wanting to go outside due to a hot, humid Houston day. Buffy – bored.
If you’ve ever been in this situation, let me offer a piece of advice: Teach your dog a new word. Dogs need mental stimulation as much as they need physical stimulation. It’s a win/win: your pooch will be happy that you bust their boredom AND they will actually be physically tired once you’ve finished playing teacher. The word you choose does not need to be a command (example: sit, down, etc) or it could be an object…or a location…or a person. Get creative! (And think how impressive your pup will be at your next party.)
I guarantee (yes, GUARANTEE!) that this process will be easier than you think. (Warning – Your first session will be PAINFULLY slow, but hang in there!) Remember, ALL breeds of dogs will enjoy this easy exercise. Vocabulary lessons aren’t just for labs.
Follow these 5 SUPER EASY steps to school your pooch:
(1) Choose your new vocab word carefully – Make sure the new word doesn’t sound like any commands your pup already knows. If you are working on objects that can be retrieved, make sure your dog is comfortable with the object, and it won’t be painful to carry in his or her mouth. Keep the words short and easy to understand. (ex. ball, rope, pen)
(2) Listen to your own voice – The number one mistake of people training their dog is to repeat the word/command until the dog complies (which could make the word sound like a longer, more complicated, completely different word!) Say the word once, and say it the same each time. By changing our tone and inflection, we humans can easily confuse dogs without even realizing it. “Give me FIVE!” “GIVE me five.” and “GIVE ME FIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” all sound like different commands. Say it once, and then wait (even if it’s a full minute) until your dog obeys and you can praise him.
(3) Remember past lessons – Dogs speak no English…. seriously, it’s easy to forget. If your dog doesn’t know “come”, he or she might not even show up to class! If your pooch doesn’t know “sit”, that should be lesson #1. In fact, I start each of my sessions with a few “sits” and “downs” – commands that I know my dog knows like the back of her paw. This gets her from crazy co-ed to studious pupil.
(4) Get in the mood – Cesar Milan calls it a “calm submissive state.” Whatever you call it, be aware of your dog’s mood before you begin your lesson. If your dog is all worked up because the mailman just passed, it is not a good idea to try to use a vocabulary lesson as a distraction. Also be aware that your mood matters too. If you just remembered you forgot to pick up the dry cleaning you HAD to have for tomorrow and are stressing about it, your dog will pick up on your anxiety. (Oh, and plus, you are much more likely to get frustrated with your poor pooch.)
(5) Be Patient – This is definitely the most important advice. I know, I know…you are thinking “Duh! I know I have to be patient.” Think about however much patience you think you need. Now multiple it by 10. That’s really how much you need. When I get frustrated, I try to put myself in their paws. What if I went to China and someone was trying to teach me Chinese? How quickly could I hope to recognize, understand, and remember a handful of words?
If you can follow these 5 easy (I mean, really, they are SUPER easy) pointers, your pup’s IQ will raise in no time. With short sessions on a (fairly) regular basis, my own dog knows everything from “kiss” to “bring me the remote.”
…and we didn’t even leave the house!