By Joan Hunter Mayer
No matter your summertime plans for Memorial Day, Fourth of July, or Labor Day, these top tips can help your dog be a perfect guest – or host.
Your Dog’s Summer Skill Set
If you and your inquisitive canine will be hosting or attending BBQs and other gatherings this season, now is a great time to brush up on your summer skill set. For instance, does your pup know the difference between ‘down’ and ‘off’? Do you sometimes cue ‘wait’ when you really mean ‘leave it’? Whether teaching new skills or refining existing ones, here are some general guidelines to help make training a breeze.
Top Tips for Teaching Doggy Life Skills:
- Focus on setting your dog up for success, rewarding the behaviors you want, and preventing unwanted behaviors from being practiced through management.
- Remember to carry treats on you and have them strategically placed in various areas so you’re prepared to catch your dog in the act of getting a behavior right (even if you didn’t cue it!). With fanny packs back in fashion, it makes dog training that much easier to prepare for – same with cargo shorts and leggings that have pockets!
- Training can and should be fun, rewarding and successful for both teacher and pet. Remember to make sessions fun for yourself too, so you can stay motivated. Think short, sweet, and doable.
- When a dog is doing something we don’t want, we ask him to perform an alternate behavior and reinforce him for that instead. (Example: For polite greetings, cue and reward ‘go to your mat’ because it is impossible to do that and simultaneously jump on guests.)
- Be precise and consistent in determining the behavior that matches the cue.
- Practice, practice, practice! Getting creative about where and when you practice, will really help your inquisitive canine generalize fundamental skills so you have them when you need them.
- Reinforce heavily with rewards your dog loves when you want to make a behavior stronger.
- Always go back to an easier level of teaching if your dog doesn’t understand what you want. By doing this you will help your pup build self-confidence with a (new) behavior. Plus, it will help your inquisitive canine want to stay in the game of learning new skills.
With these tips in mind, let’s take a closer look at some specific skills that will be very useful for summer get-togethers, and throughout the year.
With swimming and BBQ season in full swing, it’s not only a matter of nice manners, but safety, to help your doggo learn a very solid down/stay. So, here’s a quick refresher on training ‘down.’
While holding a treat in your hand, say, ‘down’ in a cheerful tone of voice to your dog, then pause for a second or two to see what he or she does. If your dog lies down, then yay! Reward your clever pooch!
If your dog doesn’t lie down, refrain from repeating the cue. Using your food or toy, lure your dog into a down position by putting the treat up to the tip of the nose, and slowly down toward the floor, all while keeping the lure on the nose like a magnet. The moment your dog lies down, deliver a treat! Remember, just say ‘down’ once, pause, then lure and reward if needed.
It will also help to reward your dog with praise, petting and/or a treat whenever you happen to find him lying down. This reinforcement will help with learning “down” because he’ll be more likely to try this position. It will also help with general behavior at home. If you reward your dog often for lying quietly around the house, he’ll lie quietly around the house more often!
If Fido seems to struggle with learning this behavior, how can you help? Are you using a verbal or visual cue? Or both? Are you saying “down” (once) or, “Fido, lie down”? Be consistent in the cue. Use only a verbal or visual one (such as a hand signal) independently, and not together at the same time, or you’ll always need to use both cues together. Think of verbal cues and visual cues as each being their own separate language.
Do You Mean ‘Down’ or ‘Off’?
Again, for optimal training success, be precise in what you are teaching. ‘Off’ is not the same word as ‘down.’ Usually, for dog training purposes, ‘off’ is used to cue a dog to ‘move your body away from an item or person.’ It could be an object that the pet might be allowed to engage with (food, a person, a piece of furniture such as a couch) but the timing isn’t right, or the specific location is not preferred (such as a counter or table).
As described above, we usually use the cue ‘down’ for lie down. So, using ‘down’ for ‘please get your paws off the counter (or that person)’ might be confusing to your dog.
However, if you would like to cue and reward ‘down’ because that is an alternate behavior that is incompatible with jumping on guests or counter surfing, that can be an option. ‘Leave it’ or ‘wait’ could also work here. In that case, first determine if Fluffy can eventually have the food/item, or greet the person, perhaps as a reward for waiting politely. If so, you’ll want to cue and reward ‘wait,’ not ‘leave it.’ Here’s why.
‘Leave It’ vs ‘Wait’
‘Leave it’ is not the same as ‘wait.’ There’s a difference. ‘Leave it’ means stop what you’re doing – don’t touch ‘it’ ever – and come here so I can reinforce you for making a good choice.
Use the ‘Leave it’ cue if your dog is going after an endangered bird at the beach, you dropped your heart medication on the ground, garlic cloves or chopped onions fall on the kitchen floor during meal prep – in other words, for items that are, and always will be, completely off limits.
‘Wait,’ on the other hand, is good for teaching impulse control. Use that cue for a toy, a ball, a treat – something the dog can eventually have.
Whether you’re hosting your own event, attending someone else’s, or just relaxing around the BBQ, a well-mannered dog will (almost) always be invited to participate, and likely get invited back. We hope these tips help you and your inquisitive canine harness fun-in-the-sun and unleash safe and happy summertime adventures together!
Reference:  People Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Pets. ASPCA.org
The Inquisitive Canine was founded by Santa Barbara canine behavior consultant and certified professional dog trainer Joan Hunter Mayer. Joan and her team are devoted to offering humane, pawsitive, practical solutions that work for the challenges dogs and their humans face in everyday life. Here’s to barking with the dogs, cheering for the humans, and having fun!