We all want to have a happy and healthy dog in our lives - if you didn’t, you likely wouldn’t own one! As much of our lives as we spend with dogs, they are still a different species. What things can you do to help make your dog even happier?
1. Let Them Sniff
Some of us are stuck in having a dog walk right at our side when we go on a walk. If this is you, consider what walking your dog is really for - it should be to benefit your dog, right? If we didn’t want our dog to get something out of the walk, we could just go by ourselves!
There are absolutely ways to take our dog on a relaxing and controlled walk where they aren’t pulling us down the street, and they are still allowed to sniff and explore and engage that natural doggy part of their brain. One of my favorite ways to teach dogs to walk on a leash that allows them the freedom to sniff is to teach them to respond to leash pressure.
Dogs often pull and pull HARD when they are falling victim to the opposition reflex. If I push you, you push your body back to try and keep your balance. The same happens when dogs pull on the leash. Instead, you can teach your dog that when the leash has tension, they should come back closer to you. This will let you vary the length of your leash based upon where you are letting your dog sniff in order to keep them safe and well mannered but also allow their sniffing.
Not only is sniffing a natural dog behavior that our dogs love to enjoy (After all, they have a sense of smell about 100 times greater than ours. We smell chicken noodle soup, and they smell each ingredient!) but sniffing also lowers a dog’s blood pressure, according to recently published research. This means that this is especially important for hyperactive or worried dogs.
Try letting your dog guide your walk. Let them sniff along the way, and let them stop and sniff if they find something extra appealing! Don’t make your goal the distance that you travel, but the time your dog gets to be out of the house and exploring.
2. Ask for Consent to Pet
Did you realize not all dogs want your physical attention? Many dogs actually prefer to train or play or just be around you without hugs or pats. You can try a consent test to see what your dog prefers!
The Pat-Pet-Pause protocol goes like this:
This protocol helps keep your dog happy by showing your dog that you listen to them and understand what they are telling you. You can help your dog even more by having other family members and friends, or even strangers follow the steps.
3. Let Them Destroy!
Just like how sniffing is a natural dog behavior, destroying toys and shredding things can be natural for many dogs too. Giving them an outlet for this behavior is good for their happiness and mental health, but can also cut down on destruction that we don’t want.
Cheap stuffed toys from the pet store or even old thrift store stuffed animals can be a great way to let your dog exercise their destruction desire. Your dog should be supervised and you should always make sure that your dog is not eating the stuffing or other pieces. Give your dog the toy, let them destroy it, and pick it up and toss is when they’re done. Some of my dogs still enjoy playing with the fabric that originally contained the stuffing, so I will just toss the stuffing and insides and keep the fabric pieces for them to play with as well.
Other items that you can give your dog to shred and destroy include:
You can create a special place you always let your dog shred items in if you’re worried about it backfiring and increasing their desire to shred. Put the game on a cue, make sure you give the items to your dog using the cue, and then play the game for a specified amount of time in the same area each time you let your dog shred and destroy something. These boundaries will help your dog learn that they do get to destroy things - but only when it falls into a certain situation and rules!
4. Build a Dig Box
Another natural behavior that dogs like to partake in is digging! It’s also a point of concern for many dog owners, if their dog is digging up the garden or the yard. Just like with shredding and destruction games, giving your dog an outlet for digging can minimize digging that we don’t want in addition to giving you a happier dog!
Dig boxes can be outside or inside, and the size varies depending on your dog. Outdoor dig boxes might utilize wooden barriers or even a plastic kiddie pool filled with sand or dirt. If you are wanting to make an indoor dig box, shredded paper or fabric scraps will still let them dig around and burrow. You can hide treats and toys in dig boxes to encourage your dogs to use them.
For the tiniest of dogs, even a cat litter box might work well to create a dig box that is easy to clean and refill.
If you are using a dig box to redirect behavior you don’t like, hiding treats and toys will encourage them to dig in the newly designated location. In addition, when you catch your dog wanting to dig somewhere you don’t want a hole, you can move them to their dig box and encourage them to dig there.
Happy adventures on improving your dog’s happiness! What are some of your dogs favorite things to do? What do you do to keep your dog happy?
What was the name of the first dog you trained? For me, it's Mya. I have worked with her sweet lab mix personality since I was just 11 years old and Mya was 8 weeks old. Now, Mya is 12. Still sweet, but it's apparent age is catching up with her between her arthritis and recent diagnosis of canine cognitive dysfunction.
Mya's importance in my life is why MESSY has the M in the name - the M represents the dog that got me "into dogs," Mya.
For my friend, Antonia, that dog was named Snickers.
Antonia and I met in the 4-H Dog Project over a decade ago. While I was new to training dogs and figuring out what "showmanship class" even meant, Antonia and Snickers were crushing it already - they had been training and showing as a team for several years already and I remember wishing my own dog would just pay attention to me already! I'm grateful we had the chance to meet in the 4-H Dog Project, as it led us to a friendship as well as opening MESSY together.
The second S in MESSY represents Snickers, the dog that got Antonia "into dogs."
Antonia and Snickers showed me that reactive dogs aren't "bad" dogs. I learned that grumbly dogs needed a "bubble" of space, but also that training is a wonderful way to bond with our dogs. Even on rough days of training, I can still see Antonia smooching Snicker's face and saying "you bad dog!" in the most cheerful tone imaginable - teaching me to love and appreciate my dogs no matter what. I saw them have a lot of successes, and heard about others, including when they took the Champion at the State Dog Show in Obedience!
As we graduated 4-H, worked our way through college and jobs and relationships, we always had our two "first" dogs. Those first dogs represent a journey that we've been on since little fuzzy puppies came home to us as kids. Along that journey Antonia welcomed Eden into her life - the E in MESSY. The other S and the Y represent the dogs our friend Kennedy owns and grew with through her 4-H project and beyond - Sammy and Ton(y).
Even with the addition of other dogs, Snickers was always Antonia's constant. For the both of us, Snickers and Mya will forever be the dogs that all other dogs will be compared to and the dogs we will love for teaching us so much along our training journeys. Snickers and Mya represent our "crossover" dogs - the dogs that taught us to be kinder, to strive to be better owners, and to seek the most dog-friendly training methods.
As any dog owner knows, our dogs simply do not live long enough. Snickers passed away on December 30, 2019. She was just a few months shy of her 17th birthday.
I've been reflecting over the past few days about all that Snickers and Mya have given to Antonia and me, and grieving for my friend who is without her constant dog; her always dog; her first dog.
It is truly impossible to list all the ways that Snickers shaped who Antonia is as a person, her life path, and her friendships. I'm grateful to Snickers for bringing me a friend and a business partner for when MESSY was starting. Even now, in different states and with busy lives, I know I can bounce ideas for training and growing MESSY off of Antonia.
I hug Mya and Windigo a little tighter now, appreciating time we get to spend together as it comes and not taking it for granted.
Rest in peace, sweet Snick. Thanks for being a part of shaping my life, too.
Kids and dogs go together like peanut butter and jelly, right? In truth, the right kids and dogs can be the best of companions, but some may need more guidance than others when it comes to learning how to interact. Follow along below for some fun ideas that your dog and kids can play together to further their bond in a safe and fun way!
1. Hide and Go Seek
This game is my FAVORITE because not only is it so much fun for all parties involved, but it’s an excellent way to practice your dog’s recall at the same time! You can never have too much practice with a recall, plus it’s a great way to tire out your dog in the winter months.
Give each kid involved a pocket full of treats or kibble. This game works best with multiple youth (or you can join in, too) so that someone is available to hold or occupy the dog. Start with one person hiding and one person holding the dog. When the person has hidden, they should then begin to call the dog in a fun, loud, and excited voice. Have them keep calling and talking until the dog has found them, and then instruct them to reward the dog. Once they have finished their reward and are ready for the next person, they can call out “OK, ready!” so the next person knows to call the dog.
While the 2nd person is calling the dog, the 1st person can then hide again and the process repeats. If there are more than 2 people playing, just set a schedule ahead of time. Oldest to youngest, or alphabetical, can be ways to decide the order of who is calling the dog next.
2. Teaching a New Trick
Training in and of itself can be a great way to have kids and dogs interact in a safe manner. For older children, they are often able to train the dog themselves with minimal guidance from adults once they have been taught. It’s still a good idea to supervise, however, because youth are not as capable of controlling their feelings and dogs can definitely be frustrating! Use training as an opportunity to help the youth grow and learn, in addition to just the dogs.
Younger kids can still help out in training. Some considerations are to have them give treats once they hear the click or marker word (this gives you the ability to control the marking, which can be the difficult part of some behaviors). If you are working on a simple behavior, such as a hand target, some youth can also participate by watching for the dog’s nose to touch your hand. They can then operate the clicker and you can give the rewards yourself.
Ideas for things to teach with kids and dogs include:
Some of these behaviors come in handy for kids to know, too! Back up in particular can be useful if there is a larger dog and the kid is looking for space to walk by the dog. Rather than physically moving the dog and risking a potential altercation, they can ask the dog to move out of their way.
3. Find the Treat
This game is great for energetic dogs, because not only does it give kids a way to interact with dogs safely, it also gives dogs an opportunity to use their amazing nose! Dogs have a sense of smell about 100 times better than ours. Sniffing also lowers their blood pressure and engages their brain in a way that’s much more tiring than just a walk.
To start this game, make the treat hides easy for the dog. I like to start with one room that the treats are in, and ask the dog to stay out of sight or shut them in a room until the treats are hidden. Some easier hide examples include putting treats on the opposite side of piece of furniture but in the open, or putting a treat near a table leg but not actually hiding it out of sight. As your dog learns what “find it!” means, you can start to gradually make the hidden treats harder and harder.
Harder hides might mean putting the treat under the edge of a couch cushion or even working higher, like on the edge of a TV stand. Use your imagination!
Starting with smellier treats and progressing to less smelly treats is another way you can increase the difficulty. Let your kids hide the treats (help them with difficulty if they can’t decide what is too hard or too easy for the dog on their own) and then encourage them to cheer and play along once your dog has found the treats!
Fetch is definitely a case of knowing your dog - it might not be ideal if you have a dog that gets over aroused during fetch and might accidentally nip a child’s hand or knock them over. However, if you have a dog with good fetching manners, this can be a fun classic game for kids and dogs to play.
Good rules of fetch include a dog waiting politely for the ball to be thrown (either nearby or running off and waiting, that choice is up to you!) instead of jumping at the ball. Dogs should also have a solid drop it so that kids don’t have to reach into the dog’s mouth. I like using a tool like the Chuck-It! in these cases, because it gives kids the ability to throw longer and harder than normal, but also gives them a way to pick up the ball without putting it in their hands. Even the most well-behaved dog might accidentally try and grab a ball out of a child’s hand, which can be a scary experience for some kids!
5. Obstacle Course
Finally, teaching your dog a few simple cues of “up” and “off” and “through” can open up a wide variety of potential obstacles for kids and dogs to play with! You don’t need an official agility course just to have some fun.
Keep your dog’s health in mind first and foremost. Don’t ask them to jump too high or to exercise too much, especially if they are recovering from an injury or overweight. If you have questions about your dog’s ability to safely engage in an activity, check with your dog’s veterinarian.
Some fun obstacles to play with include:
Use your imagination with what you have around you! Some dogs prefer different types of obstacles, so see what your dog loves best and have fun showing youth how to safely interact with the dogs and obstacles.
What games have you played with kids and dogs?
Friends of MESSY, it’s time for some big news.
MESSY Dog Training is moving to Iowa!
I (Alex) recently got engaged to my wonderful fiancé, Connor. Connor moved about a year ago to the Cedar Falls/Waterloo area for work. I will be moving this summer to join him down in Iowa. Unfortunately, this means I will not be renewing the lease on my current building in Mankato. I’ve LOVED working with all of you in Mankato for the past two and a half years that MESSY has been open. I’ve been able to grow and learn as a trainer thanks to your help, and I hope I’ve been able to help make a difference for you and your dogs as well. Working with owners and their dogs to have better communication and a happier relationship is such an incredible passion of mine, and I thank each and every one of you for letting me share in your training journey with your dog.
Even though MESSY will no longer have a physical building in Mankato, that doesn’t mean we are going away! You can still always reach me via email, Facebook, phone, or any other way you’ve communicated with me before. I’ll be available for virtual consults (which have their own exciting opportunities – more on virtual consults to come soon!) as well as coming back to Mankato to visit family and friends, so private lessons or seminars can be set up on occasion. Our new online classes have also started to launch. Take a look at our current free class, Effective Reinforcement, by registering on our website. More online classes on an exciting platform for online learning are also on their way!
Cedar Falls/Waterloo – I look forward to joining you soon for in person consults and training.
Please reach out to me with any questions. MESSY classes in Mankato will end the week of May 20th, so you still have plenty of time to take a class before I move! If you are interested in something and don’t see it on the schedule, send me an email and we will try and make it work.
I’d also love to help direct you towards trainers more local to Mankato who can assist you with further training, if continuing with me for virtual lessons are not best for you and your dog.
I’m sad to leave this wonderful community in Mankato and the friends (human and dog) that I’ve made, but I’m looking forward to the adventures to come.
The "stay" cue is something most of us teach our dogs, and for good reason! It's super useful. Your dog can learn to:
Because it is such a versatile cue for our dogs to learn, it's important that we teach it to the best of our ability to make sure it's as useful as possible. In my years of teaching classes, I've come across 3 common mistakes owners make that can hinder their ability to teach an even better "stay" cue.
1. Repeating the Cue
When we ask for a "stay" we should teach our dogs to stay in that place until we say otherwise. It can be really tempting, however, to keep your hand help up like a stop sign and say "stay....stay....stay..." the entire time. We want our dog to succeed and stay even longer, right? That might feel like the best way to lengthen your stays.
However, think to some of the scenarios mentioned above. Wouldn't it be nice to ask for a "stay" one time, and then answer the door and greet your guests? Practice training *yourself* to say stay a single time, and slowly raise criteria and time as the dog is able, rather than continually saying the cue. This will give you a more useful stay for various life situations in the future.
2. Not Using a Release Word
A release word is critical when teaching your dog to stay. Your release word means "the stay is over now, you can move." Having a clearly defined release word, and only rewarding when your dog remains in place until they hear the release word, will help your dog understand what stay truly means.
Sometimes owners are in the habit of saying "come here!" or just simply clicking and rewarding when their dog is done with their stay. However, we should always train that release word so that your dog can easily be released without a clicker, or if you don't actually need to call your dog but just want to let them explore, or retrieve the ball they've been waiting to fetch! "OK" is a common choice, but we tend to say it often in our daily lives. More unique choices include "break," "free," and "all done!"
3. Always Calling the Dog
Finally, it can be really exciting as you being to add distance to your training to be in the habit of always calling your dog to you. You ask for a stay, walk away, and in the excitement of your dog staying in place, we call our dogs to us, adding in a recall practice at the same time.
While it is important to practice recalls often, in fun situations like this, we want to make it clear to our dogs that stay is not *always* a pattern of:
Happy training! What areas of "stay" do you and your dog struggle with the most? What parts go well?
Earlier this week on Facebook we announced that we now have our first online class. This class is currently *free* as an introduction into the future on learning online with MESSY Dog Training. Check it out here:
You can also access it for the time being by simply creating an account using the "log in/register" button in the website header.
I created Effective Reinforcement to help dog owners delve into what is reinforcing for their individual dogs. Without some sort of reinforcement that the dog desires, it can be very difficult to motivate your dog - leading to difficult and frustrating training. This course is divided into four sections:
Each section consists of bite sized information so that dog owners (such as yourself!) can easily refer back to it without searching through a lot of information on a web page. There's also a free PDF that comes with this course to serve as a worksheet for working through what reinforcers are best for your individual dog!
This course is the first released in our upcoming online training series since it makes a great starting point for all training. If we don't know how to best motivate and reinforce our dogs, all the rest of the training we do down the road has to potential for frustration (human or dog) to sneak in due to a lack of effective reinforcement.
If your dog is easily excited about everything except you when you are training, or if you are looking to revamp your reinforcement ideas, you will definitely want to check out Effective Reinforcement. We are always here via email to assist you further, or if you have any feedback on the online course itself.
Have a topic you would like to know about via online learning? Drop us a comment below!
Hello friends, old and new! This blog has been in the works for a long time, and I am so excited to finally share all the content that's always popping into my head (or out of my mouth when I'm around dog trainers)!
My name is Alex, and I've been training dogs since my 4-H days when I started working with my mix breed dog, Mya. Mya was my "crossover" dog and a dog that I learned SO MUCH from - I will forever be grateful for her and my experiences in dog training and the dog world because of her! She's just a few weeks away from turning 12 now, so she is mostly retired from agility and other competitions and is enjoying the life of a spoiled senior dog.
A few months ago I was able to fulfill my dream of owning a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, and added Windigo to the family! Windigo is named after Isle Royale National Park, a place near and dear to my heart after backpacking across the island. He's currently 9 months old, and full of energy and "nonsense" as he's frequently reminded! He's being trained for obedience, rally, and agility competitions in the future, as well as whatever fun tricks or sports present themselves along the way.
Outside of dogs, I am a graduate student working on my Master of Public Health degree, participate in historical re-enacting, and try to spend as much time in the woods as possible. My fiance and I enjoy camping and hiking, and of course the dogs love it too! My love of science and my love of dogs collided when I began to learn about the science of learning, and how we can apply it to better the lives of our dogs. I also LOVE teaching.
Drop a comment or send an email with suggestions for anything you'd like to see on the blog. I look forward to sharing more musings on life with dogs and scientific training with you in the future!