PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
“Properly trained, a man can be a dog’s best friend.”
Now that you’ve learned to speak some dog, it’s time to put this newfound knowledge to good use. In order to become the best dog owner you can be, you must take what you’ve learned and incorporate it into a daily practice. The goal is to provide a fulfilling lifestyle that will meet your dog’s needs for exercise, socialization, structure, love, and health. Let’s lay out a “perfect world” plan that we can all try to adhere to. Though we may fall short from time to time, the dog will forgive us for being human.
To keep a dog physically and mentally fit, it is an absolute must that the owner and dog go for walks together. This is one of the jobs that a companion dog performs in order to get a sense of well-being. Dogs require a bare minimum of one hour of walking a day, with one and a half hours or more being the goal. Walks consist of relief walks and exercise/play walks that can be broken up to meet both the owner’s and dog’s needs. Typically, two to three fifteen-minute relief walks are the norm to go with one long exercise walk of an hour or more, or two exercise walks that are at least thirty minutes long. Relief walks can be more lightly supervised than exercise walks. When my dogs need to do their business, I don’t sweat minor misbehaving and occasionally poor manners.
Exercise walks should involve active participation with a dog dad or mom who will maintain a brisk pace, keep an eye on the pooch, and be as interactive as possible. Bring a ball, and have the dog carry a stick. Periodically perform some commands (such as the heeling technique) to bolster the dog’s sense of canine purpose. Keep treats with you to reward the dog, and always remember that having a backyard may allow the dog some extra activity but does not replace the purposeful and intimate time shared on walks.
With respect to weather and walking, it is largely dependent upon breed and a dog’s coat. For short-haired and smaller dogs, temperatures below freezing can warrant a dog jacket, and snow can freeze on a dog’s paws, cracking and damaging skin. Some things to avoid outright are the chemicals and salts placed on the road and sidewalks to melt ice. These are painful, erode the pads on a dog’s paw, and toxic should a dog ingest them when licking himself clean. In these circumstances, snowshoes and waxes can provide needed protection. The wax solution should always be wiped off after the walk.
The rain is certainly harmless, though some dogs are highly averse to feeling raindrops falling on their head, while others are more bothered by raincoats than the rain. This is a personal call, and the dog’s preference will not take long to find out.
The heat is something to be wary of. Dogs are susceptible to sunburn, and they can overheat pretty quickly. Scalding sidewalks can burn their paws and it’s hard to miss a dog hopping on the sidewalk in discomfort. Always walk your dog on the shady side of a street, and do your best to keep his paws wet. Bring plenty of water to keep everyone hydrated, including you.
As for the accessories, I’ll again plug the four-foot leash, since its relatively short length allows for better communication. A good walking chemistry is always interactive, and the leash acts as the artery of communication. The right collar also makes a difference; I much prefer martingale-style collars, because harnesses are impersonal and tend to hoist the dog. More on martingale collars can be found in Chapter 10, “Tips, Tools, and Tidbits.”
Prior to going on exercise walks, make sure the dog shows good manners by remaining seated when the leash is put on. He should also exhibit a calm disposition before leaving the home. This sets the tone for the walk. That said, I offer a little leeway by giving my dogs the freedom to sniff, explore, and do their business when we first get out the door.
Once a dog’s need for purposeful exercise is met, dogs are always psyched to socialize with other dogs and people. Dog parks can be hit or miss, but there are plenty to choose from, so finding a “sweet spot” is just a matter of trial and error. I suggest everyone try a few and revisit the second and third favorites from time to time to keep things fresh. Typically, the same people and dogs can be seen at the park around the same times. It is only natural that you and your dog will have better chemistry in some parks versus others. Once a dog has made friends with a few dogs at the park, be bold and ask to set up a playdate. Knowing fellow dog owners can alleviate some of the responsibility that comes with caring for a dog. Should dog parks prove disappointing, pack walks can fill the void in a dog’s social life. Walking a few dogs together creates a unified sense of drive and purpose between dogs and can help a dog overcome smaller issues, like halting. Once a dog owner and a few dogs get to know one another, walking them together gets easier and easier.
Since training is an ongoing process, incorporate short sessions at the park to reinforce and prove a dog’s knowledge of commands. Work on the “come,” “sit,” and “stay” commands (or any others that need further proofing) in the park. Any dog that can follow commands in the company of other dogs off leash and at play is well trained.
There is a correct protocol to entering and leaving a dog park, which is to have your dog sit/stay before you open the gate. Always make sure no one is coming or going when you are, because leashes get tangled and dog scuffles can take place in very tight quarters. Once the coast is clear, enter and turn the dog loose, but don’t be the person whose head is in her phone or texting while her dog runs amuck. Walk around, greet other dogs and people (if you’re up to it), and take in the action. Some of the most calming times for me have come through watching groups of dogs at play.
Believing one is finished with training a dog is tantamount to being finished with learning as a person. When refining the basic commands, maintaining specific skills, or ironing out the kinks of a lingering issue, it’s worthwhile to schedule a fifteen-to-thirty-minute session into the day. The best times are mealtimes, so the dog can earn its dinner, or after exercise, when the dog’s energy has been somewhat depleted. General maintenance of a dog’s repertoire can be worked in as the opportunity presents itself. Every dog will provide its owner with daily opportunities for training. For example, when giving your dog a new play toy, have the dog perform any combination of commands before it runs off to play. A dog that remains on a training maintenance plan keeps the knives sharp, and these knives cut out a lot of potential problems. Should things get mundane, look up a trick or a complex command and work on teaching that to your dog. Outside of exercise walks, training is where our bond truly flourishes.
Now that the dog has been taken out, exercised, trained, and enjoyed some structured play, he should be a pleasure in the home. That may sound ambitious to some, but a well-trained and exercised dog must be able to relax on his own and give his owners space when needed. A dog’s energy level inside the home should be relatively easy to moderate. A dog will need a few toys to play with, treats and chew toys to gnaw on, and periodic play sessions. Toys lose their value quickly, so leave only a few out at a time in order to retain some novelty; buy new ones when the old ones start to feel lackluster.
What is an acceptable level of playing in the house is a personal choice. Personally, I love playing tug-of-war with rope toys in my apartment because there is no major movement involved and I can do it sitting down or standing up. Being able to successfully allow your dogs to get riled up indoors is a matter of being able to control a dog’s energy levels. A firm knowledge of “drop it,” “go to (bed, crate, spot),” and “stay” are required. When a dog can perform these commands in the heat of play, that means it is able to access its internal calming switch, which is a sign of good training. Feel free to pat yourself on the back.
Nothing provides a sense of calm and well-being like being on the receiving end of affection. A good dog owner knows how to let the dog spend appropriate time curled up by her side and is also aware of the dog that gloms on and “loves too much.” A constant need for affection is often a precursor to separation anxiety, so affection should be doled out responsibly and on your terms. Responsible owners dedicate time for themselves and practice quality separation with the sit/stay/go to your spot commands or by using a crate or gate. Have a designated spot for your dog when you’re eating and always be aware that a dog is best occupied when it has a place to go and/or an activity it is supposed to be doing.
The rules of the roost are clear, and when they are not, there is a protocol that dictates. In my house, my dogs are allowed up on the couch or in my bed when they are invited, and prior to this they must be relaxed. Chilling out is a lot more fun for everybody when the dogs are chill.
When it comes to food, puppies eat three to four times per day, while adult dogs get fed twice; exercising portion control is vital. We should also offer some food or treats by hand every day. Dogs should be fed after exercise, as if offering a bounty for a successful hunt. A dog should exhibit calm before being fed and should be sitting in a designated spot while the food is being prepared. When placing the food bowl in front of the dog, have him wait for a moment before releasing him to eat. Occasionally practice desensitization by placing treats in his bowl while he’s eating, and feel free to use the “drop it” command with chewable treats to ward off food aggression.
In order to maintain a dog’s general health, you must implement a sound practice of brushing and grooming. Dogs need to have their teeth brushed a couple of times a week, while a proper bath, depending on the breed, is needed roughly once per month, barring special dirty circumstances. Curly-haired and longhaired dogs, such as poodles and Yorkies, can benefit from more frequent bathing than their shorthaired counterparts. Dogs that run on pavement will not need their nails clipped; otherwise, keep them short by clipping when needed. Brush your dog’s coat a few times a week for a couple of minutes to help keep the hair or fur clean and prevent it from knotting. This is also a good time to check for parasites, such as ticks and fleas. Finally, keep your dog’s ears clean by wiping them weekly in a noninvasive fashion with hypoallergenic baby wipes.
Although an individual’s daily routine with a dog may vary some depending upon lifestyle and locale, I believe these suggestions are worth aspiring to, and our dogs are certainly worth it.
Remember that little quiz I asked you to take back in Chapter 3, “Listening with Our Eyes”? The one where I asked you to assess your dog’s energy levels, temperament, desire to engage, confidence, and accelerometer on a scale of one to ten? If you recall, these numbers were to be estimated across a handful of environments. Did you store those numbers in a safe place, like I suggested? If you didn’t, I hope you remember, because . . . I’d like you to perform this exercise once more. Just off the top of your head, come up with a current number. Now take the new number and pit it against the old. Did they stay the same? Is the number higher or lower? Better or worse? This is something I often do with my clients. I get this number when we meet, and a few months later, I request that they do it again. I can tell how much they’ve worked by this number, and so can they. When it remains unchanged, someone hasn’t been doing enough with the dog. In most cases, though, that number will head up or down in the preferred direction. Hopefully, that is or will be the case with you. Should you have been too busy with this book to apply any of your newfound dog-speak, I’ll give you a pass for now. For the rest of you, it is my sincere hope that things are moving in the right direction. I hope to see you with your dog soon . . . on a four-foot leash . . . with some slack . . . walking briskly . . . communicating . . . leading all introductions . . . and loving your dog.