Ahhh . . . a new year. A clean slate. A chance to start over and do everything right this time. We all strive to be good pet parents, but busy schedules and competing priorities often make it hard to find time for training, exercising and bonding. But this year will be different! And here are four tips to help you become the pet parent you always wanted to be!
Step 1: Set Training Goals
I find making a list of goals for you and your dog helps focus your efforts and stay on track throughout the year. There are hundreds of things you can do with your dog – whether you have a puppy or an adult dog – and having a plan that is goal-oriented helps you prioritize so you can pick and choose what works best for you and your dog.
Where you live and your lifestyle will dictate many of the goals you set. For instance, if you live in the city your goals are going to differ from someone who has a farm with acreage. First things first and general manners are a must; but after that there are always things to add that will build on your dog’s skills and increase the quality of time you spend together.
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As an example, here’s a list of training goals that I came up with for my puppy:
- General Manners:I’d like for my puppy to learn to sit, down, stay, and take treats nicely.
- “On Your Bed” Training: Teaching her to get “on your bed” is a great way to target train. It helps to be able to send her to her fleece blanket to wait for us when my husband and I are rock climbing so she’s safe and out of trouble.
- Solid Off-Leash Recall: We live an outdoors, mountain lifestyle, and we like being able to walk, hike and camp with our dogs off leash. This means they must recall (come back to us) off of dogs, people, and wildlife. Check out my post on building a consistent recall.
- Socialization: We want her to be able to play appropriately with other dogs and meet people.
Step 2: Get the Gear
I will be the first to admit I love shopping for dog stuff – my dogs have so many collars and leashes – but I also have specific gear for running, hiking, and camping. No matter what your training and activity goals are for you and your dog this year, make a list of the gear you need so you are prepared for the adventure ahead of time. The basics may include:
- Leash: I recommend a 4 or 6 foot leash for walking, and a 15-20 foot “long line” for recall practice
- ID Tag with Name and Phone Number: Be sure to also put your rabies tag or registration tag on your dog’s collar; the ID numbers on these tags are connected to your information.
- Treats: Choose soft, easy-to-chew treats for young puppies. And for any training session, make sure to have high-value treats in different flavors to keep your dog motivated. For help navigating the treat aisle, check out veterinarian Dr. Jen Deming’s post on choosing treats that aren’t just empty calories.
- Food: Choose food with the right nutritional content for age, size and activity level
- Bowls: This includes travel bowls, puzzle feeders and slo-bowls
- Toys: Make sure you have different shapes, sizes and textures
- Crate: If you choose to crate train for time home alone, night time or travel time
- Weather-Appropriate Attire: This includes coats for warmth, booties, or coats to deflect heat
For more dog gear tips, check out my post, Five Things Your Dog Trainer Never Leaves Home Without.
Step 3: Develop a Training Plan
Training your dog starts the second you bring them home and continues throughout their lifetime. And no matter how old your dog is, there’s always time to train new behaviors and break bad habits. When creating a training plan, some important questions to ask yourself include:
- How would like them to ride in the car? In a crate, in the back, or is dog your co-pilot?
- What are your house manners? Are they allowed on furniture, access to all rooms, and where do they sleep?
- Personal space? Are they allowed on your lap? Do you plan to carry them around with you? How do you want to be greeted?
These are all personal choices, and understanding what you want from your dog will better enable you to create clear boundaries to lessen the chance of having to deal with bad habits later. Also keep in mind, dogs may generalize to other people and other locations; so if they can sit on your lap, then they might think they can also sit on grandma’s when she comes to visit, or that they can jump on every couch they come across.
If you already know how to teach basics such as sit and down, continuing training into more specific goals will keep you and your dog on track and excelling (expanding your skill set). If group classes aren’t your thing, look up a trainer who offers private lessons; often they will meet you at your house, or at an area where you want to work on a skill. Be sure to do your research when picking a trainer: look for certifications (anyone can call themselves a dog trainer,) ask your veterinarian whom they recommend, and always ask for references.
Step 4: Establish a Routine
We all understand that having a well-behaved dog or puppy is an investment of time and love. The most important thing is to come up with a plan that works for you and fits into your lifestyle. Come up with a routine that will get everybody on track and allows time each day for walks, feeding, potty breaks, training sessions and/or classes and so on. Dogs, as well as humans, do well with routine, so make a schedule, list, calendar, or whatever you think will work for you, and try your best to stick with it. Having a dog is a serious commitment. It is also seriously fun and rewarding with the right plan and people working with you.