Happy 2022! Why not start it off on the right foot by resolving to follow through on five key resolutions with your dog in mind?
- I’ll never yell at my dog again. Yelling isn’t just mean. It’s counterproductive. A dog’s brain can’t translate a harsh voice into the behavior you desire because it doesn’t provide a blueprint for how to get it right. It’s the equivalent of a couple in an argument: “You know what you did.” No, he doesn’t. You’ll accomplish much more by telling your dog what to do rather than focus on what he shouldn’t be doing. Redirect his attention with a wonderful treat or cooing words when he won’t “come” or is nosing a stranger. That kind of response takes more patience — and more trial and error. But the lessons your dog learns from your collaborative “lesson plans” will stick much better.
- I will give my dog enough exercise every day. A couple of short outings daily for a dog to relieve himself is not exercise. It’s just “going to the bathroom.” A dog’s body, like a person’s, is meant to really work. Take your pal for a romp off leash. If possible, throw a ball or Frisbee for him. Take him to agility classes or Rally-O or fly ball training. Such physical activity is good for a dog’s brain as well as his body. Exercise boosts the brain’s level of serotonin, just like for people, and helps bring on a feeling of calm. Keep in mind, too, that a tired dog is much less likely to get into mischief, which will help you stick to Resolution number 1.
- I will be consistent with rules. Dogs are very uncomfortable without consistent rules, so much so that they would rather never be allowed to have table scraps than be given them sometimes and shooed away at others. That’s because they feel most secure when life is predictable and what is expected of them is clear. “Imagine a classroom of kids with no clear rules and then the kids being punished for going too far without ever knowing what ‘too far’ is,” says the head of the Tufts Animal Behavior Service, Stephanie-Borns Weil, DVM.
Being consistent is not being mean. It’s simply deciding where you are willing to indulge your dog and where you are not. That, in turn, will let your dog know that the “system” works rather than has glitches in it. Why make a gambler out of your pet, having him keep trying something that might bear fruit but that might just as easily get him into trouble?
- I will make sure my dog has plenty of fun things to do, and I will do some of those things with him. Boredom is the scourge of dogs. After puppyhood, too many are simply fed and perfunctorily walked and then left to their own devices for the other 23.5 hours a day. It’s really important to engage with your pet in activities that will make him happy. If you are not hale, you do not have to worry that you can’t play catch with him or go on long hikes with him. Quiet activities that also make a dog happy include brushing him, training him to do tricks like fetch a toy from another room, petting him (while watching television is okay), and even calling out to him here and there and saying something sweet. That doesn’t mean the dog should go without physical activity. You can hire someone to play active games with him if you can’t. But there’s lots you can do with your dog that he will enjoy and that doesn’t involve physical exertion. You owe it to him.
- I will praise my dog when he gets things right. To paraphrase an old adage, you catch more dogs with honey. It means an awful lot to a dog to be complimented by his human guardian. It accomplishes a lot, too. Our experience here at Tufts has proven over and over that canines behave better — and more consistently — when they are rewarded for their good actions rather than reprimanded for their undesirable behavior. People feel better about this approach, too. It leaves us with a much better feeling to make a loved family member feel good about getting something right than making him feel bad about getting something wrong.