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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Expand your dog's bubble!

When I get a new dog, I make an immediate and automatic commitment to begin training and keep it up for the rest of the dog's life with me.  The sooner I start the basics, the sooner I'll be able to relax and enjoy my new dog, instead of wondering what she'll find next to chew up, or where she'll decide to go potty in the house.

Since I don't have huge blocks of time that I can dedicate to getting the training done, I have to incorporate it into my own daily routine of living.  I get lots more training done this way than I do if I try to set aside 20 minutes a day to "drill" on obedience exercises.  I'm lucky if I get five minutes to do that each day.

So my dog learns "on the go."  She goes with me everywhere it's practical and safe to take her.  She got her Doggy Boot Camp basics at home on a leash, and now we practice those basics (paying attention, walking nicely on a leash, sitting, lying down, staying on command, and coming when called) in the real world.  It "generalizes" the behaviors she learned at home; that is, she learns that expectations for her behavior are the same wherever we are, whether it's in the house or in a strange parking lot.

Lots of people leave their dogs at home because they're difficult in public.  I call these "snow globe dogs" because they live in a protected bubble and never get to experience the thrills of going to PetsMart, playing fetch at family reunions, or enjoying their human's company at a sidewalk bistro.  These folks often think that bringing their dog to a group obedience class will solve the problem and improve the dog's social behavior.  Granted, the social contact with new dogs and people in a new environment will help. But what will you do when the class ends?

Don't expect your dog's behavior in public to improve UNTIL YOU TAKE YOUR DOG INTO THE PUBLIC VENUE.  Yes, it may feel awkward the first few times you try to walk your dog around a Costco parking lot.  But each time you do, the task will become easier because your dog will be more relaxed.  Everyone's excited in a new environment.  Once the environment becomes familiar, the anxiety diminishes...and the experience will be much more enjoyable for both of you.

I take my dog on "educational field trips."  We'll drive up to get the mail.  We'll walk around the grocery store parking lot for five minutes before I do my shopping.  We'll practice obedience exercises in the aisles at Lowe's, where she can be distracted by forklifts, friendly employees, and little kids. Every time I get her in and out of the car, we're practicing safety techniques.  Every time a semi whizzes by us on the highway, we're desensitizing her to "the world."  We're expanding her bubble.

Wherever my dog accompanies me, she's sharing my own protective bubble.  It's my job to keep her there.  But my bubble moves in all directions, so my lucky little Dolly gets to explore the entire world with me.  I want her at my side.  That's why I got her.

Expand your own dog's bubble too.  Next time you're going to the dump or the feed store or the grocery store, take the dog.  Practice good behavior getting in and out of the car. Always require good manners.  Saunter into PetsMart and encourage your dog to be polite, even if the other dogs in there act like idiots. 
 The "real world" is the best training classroom for your dog!

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