While you might be wondering how another year has come and gone already, January is already underway. It’s always one of those months where we emerge from holiday celebrations full of resolutions and good intentions for the New Year. Usually around gyms and eating more healthily – most of which fall be the wayside long before we reach February. But a great New Year’s Resolution for you and your dog is to look further ahead and think about how to create a better year for you both!
As a qualified dog trainer and behaviourist, here are four thoughts from me for a happy new year for your dog…
This sounds like it should be a dog New Year’s Resolution, but actually it’s us that should be looking to give our dogs reasons to wag more. Forget about training and ‘obedience’. Stop thinking about what your dog is doing – or not doing – and instead think about how they’re feeling.
Behaviours happen as a result of how a dog is feeling – especially the ones we’d rather they didn’t do. Boredom, frustration, fear, anxiety… All of these produce behaviours we end up labelling as ‘problems’ and have us banging on the door of a behaviourist for help.
In contrast, happiness and contentment generally produce a much more relaxed dog who yes, will still do ‘doggy things’, but these behaviours are far less likely to become problematic.
So for this year, take time to look at your dog – all the time – and think “are you happy – and can I make you happier?” Come to think of it, maybe this New Year’s Resolution should be to do that with everyone in our lives, as well as our dogs, maybe they’d wag more too!
Read more about the signs your dog loves you.
Try something new
It’s really easy to get into a routine with our dogs. After you’ve done all the socialisation, puppy classes, and training sessions, life can slip into a routine of the same old walks and games. Try something new to give both of you a new challenge.
So this New Year’s Resolution is about trying something new with your dog! There are dog sports and activities to suit every breed, size and shape of dog – and owner – and every new thing you do with your dog, deepens the bond between you as you get to learn and succeed together. Some of these use brains, others fitness, some use noses, while others use your dog’s laid back and friendly calmness (such as therapy dogs).
So whether you fancy a bit of Strictly with your Saluki, or Survivor with your Staffie, this New Year’s Resolution is all about finding something that suits you and your dog so you can both have fun!
Get some inspiration: 5 activities you can try with your dog.
Learn ‘dog’ as a foreign language
Learning a new language is a common New Year’s Resolution, so why not make it dog? We often think our lives would be so much easier if our dog could only tell us what they were thinking. Well, the good news is they can and they do – every single day. But unlike humans – who are verbal – our dogs use, often subtle, body language that often goes unnoticed by most owners.
Many incidents where dogs have reacted apparently unpredictably, reactively or aggressively could have been easily prevented by just understanding ‘dog’. Make this a year to make a canine connection – study dog body language and know what your pup is telling you and how they’re feeling.
Read more about signs of stress in dogs.
Reframe your training and behaviour questions
When people come to me with behaviour problems, they nearly always say “how can I stop my dog doing…?”
That’s the wrong question – and nearly always leads to the wrong answer. ‘Stopping’ dogs doing things usually involves punishment, aversives, or at least preventing them having an opportunity to do the things they feel they need to do as a dog, or for their breed/type/personality.
So make your New Year’s Resolution to think about “what do I want my dog to do instead in this circumstance?” Then the answer is easy! You teach them what you do want – or set up situations where that’s likely to happen – and reward them when they do the ‘right thing’. Not only is that positive (for both your dog and you), but you’re giving your dog clear guidance as to what behaviour you actually want them to do that will get rewarded.
New Year’s Resolutions you and your dog can stick to
Have a try – and see if your resolutions can last through the year. Your dog will definitely thank you!