Incarceration is defined as “the state of being confined in prison; imprisonment.”
All your choices are made by others when you’re incarcerated. Someone other than you decides what you wear, when you sleep, when you get up, when and what you eat and how much you get to eat. Activities you would normally do without thinking are prohibited.
This strange new world with lack of choice would be confusing and stressful and you just might act out in frustration.
So what does all of this have to do with dog training? Quite frankly, a lot.
Our dogs need choice in their lives.
If you think about the lives of dogs in our homes, they’re essentially incarcerated. They have little choice. We control nearly every aspect of their life. Most often we expect a dog to understand and comply without question or protest.
Consider this: A dog has wants and needs, just as humans do. And they also need choice in their life, just as you do.
When we bring a dog into our home, we owe it to the dog to provide for all of his needs and many of his wants.
It’s our responsibility to provide enrichment activities (mental stimulation), physical exercise and social interactions (with people and with dogs).
An easy enrichment idea is to simply take your dog for a nice slow walk, merely following behind your dog (yes, let your dog lead!). Let him explore and sniff each and every leaf, twig, tree stump and rock and other dogs’ “pee-mail” too. We call that a sniff walk. Your dog gathers more information with their nose than we’ll ever be able to fully comprehend.
Nose games are a great way to provide mental enrichment. Every dog has a seeking system, so why not let them use that sense to find yummy treats or valued toys? Not only is it great for your dog, it’s fascinating to watch a dog work with their nose. Trust me, you will be entertained and impressed.
Repeat after me, “Play With Your Dog.” One more time, please. “Play With Your Dog.”
Whether it’s a rousing game of tug, the Find It Game or the ever-popular Chase Me game where dog always wins by catching up to you, it’s fun for you and your dog!
There’s nothing better than seeing the look on your dog’s face when they’re having fun interacting with you. After all, you are their hero.
And there’s an additional benefit in all that game playing. You’re building a strong reinforcement history with your dog.
Reinforcement strengthens behavior.
And dogs learn by association too. By playing and spending time with your dog, they’ll see you as the source of fun times and good things. That bond you’re building with your dog really comes in handy when beginning to train needed family manners and also recall.
Let’s take recall (calling your dog to come), for example. Try to think about it from the dog’s perspective. Your dog is outside (nirvana) on the other side of the yard and fully engaged in exploring some fantastic smell, and you call your dog to come to you. In order to leave that amazing smell behind, there needs to be a really “good” reason to return. That smell is highly reinforcing!
If you’ve played with your dog and spent time with your dog, you’ve developed a powerful reinforcement history and it makes the choice much easier for your dog. It’s worth it to bound over to you!
Say “No” to further incarceration.
Bust your dog out of jail!
Go play with your dog. Take your dog for long slow walk and let them sniff. Play games with our dog. Have some fun together. Play is good for both ends of the leash!
Jim Ross is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and the owner of Cold Nose College Blue Ridge. He studied at the Karen Pryor Academy of Animal Training and Behavior, is professional member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG), the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), is trained in pet first aid and CPR and carries the Pet-Tech First Aid/Canine CPR caregiver designation. Jim is also a volunteer professional dog trainer working with the detainees and their shelter dogs within the Rescued Program at the Colwell Probation Detention Center in Blairsville, Ga.