By Michelle Mullins, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP
Brrrrr! It’s winter here in Virginia, and the coldest one we have had in quite some time. If you’re like us, you are in a deep freeze that keeps everyone stuck indoors watching movies, playing board games and growing ever more bored with indoor activities I’ll bet you could use a change of pace! Training your pet can be just the thing you need. Training strengthens your relationship and is fun for everyone.
I always think the winter months are the best time to train your dog or cat. Whether basic manners or cute tricks, learning any behaviors is mentally and physically stimulating, which is just what you both need to ward off the winter blues.
Plenty of time – You tend to spend more time at home and indoors when it’s cold. Use the time to polish up your dog’s “Come” and develop a solid “Stay.” I always say, “Train, don’t complain.” If your pet has a behavior you really don’t like, now is a great opportunity to teach him something else. For example, have a pup that loves to jump up on people? Train him to sit when people approach instead.
Boredom buster! – Training is fun and keeps both you and Fido from getting bored. Everyone needs something to do, so why not teach a fun new trick? Could your kitty learn to lift a paw or “Shake?” Would Fido fetch your sweetheart a Valentine’s card? My boy was working on, “Touchdown” for the big game!
Not enough space? – Being stuck indoors to avoid Jack Frost can make for tight quarters but you don’t need much space for training. So many behaviors can be taught in one spot, like lay down, spin, shake and “Bow.”
Get Moving – I love to work on loose leash walking, off lead heeling, come when called and fetch. With fewer distractions you can strengthen these behaviors before you move them back outdoors in the spring.
There are so many great things you can teach indoors. Here are a couple of my favorites to train and practice indoors.
Tip – For all of these training sessions start with some very small, tasty treats or use a small handful of your pet’s kibble. By using part of their dinner and training before they eat you limit calories and have an attentive animal.
Heeling – Walking beside you, off lead
Try a game called Find the Sweet Spot. The sweet spot or “heel” is the space right next to you with the dog close to your side. The left side is common but use whichever you prefer, just always be consistent.
- Walk around the room at a normal pace and let the dog do the same. When he decides to come close and gets near the “Heel” position say “Yes” and give him a treat.
- Don’t stop walking. Each time the dog finds the spot say “Yes” and treat him. Soon he will choose to walk near you because that is best place to be!
- Practice for a few minutes and then take a break. Several short sessions each day will keep him excited about training.
- After you have practiced this a few days and he is immediately starting to walk at your side, you can add a cue like “Heel” or “Side.” To add the cue say the cue you choose as he approaches your side and reward him as before. If he is staying beside you turn and walk the other direction or sit down and then stand back up so you have the chance to cue him again.
Touch a Target
Teaching your pet to touch a target is a very valuable behavior. Once he will touch the target you can use this to position the pet for grooming, move him to another spot, come to you and much more. The goal is to teach your pet to touch your hand with his nose.
- Grab a handful of small treats or kibble. Don’t hold these in your hand, use a pocket or treat pouch.
- Present your hand a few inches from your pet’s nose.
- When he touches your hand with his nose say “Yes” and give a treat.
- Repeat this several times. Removing your hand each time so you can then represent it.
- Once he is consistently touching your hand begin presenting the hand target slightly farther away, a few inches right or left or above and below his nose. You will quickly see how targeting can be used to get other behaviors.
Click with your pet
Now is a great time to learn clicker training with your pet. Clicker training is a fun, effective way to train anything.
Check out these resources to get you started:
Get started with the basics of clicker training: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=F36KmqPzxvc
How do you plan to stay warm and chase away the winter with your training? I’d love to hear from you!