Summer is upon us, so let’s look at three common summer training troubles that routinely pop up this time of year for dog owners. We’re all outside more in the summer, and by “all” I mean other dog owners, kids off from school, skateboarders, bicyclists and more abundant wildlife. Here are some summer dog training tips to keep in mind when the weather heats up:
Off-leash dog training is crucial for safety reasons. Dogs don’t understand cars, and if a chatty squirrel is observed on the other side of the road, even the most highly trained dog might listen to his dog brain over all of his training and take a run at the squirrel through traffic. Warmer weather brings out dog owners nationwide who want to give their dogs the gift of running off leash — but it is a very dangerous (and illegal where leashes are the law) gift indeed. The best policy is always walk your dog on leash as it ensures safety for your dog and mine as well as all other people your dog may choose to greet.
Recall dog training needs to begin way before you ever unclip your dog’s leash outside. Perfect your dog’s recall in the quiet of your home and then your own securely fenced yard before ever granting this privilege in public (where it is legal to do so). Long ago, I heard a trainer describe off-leash dog work as “canine Ph.D. level training,” and it’s true. Go through all the grades by training on leash first. Think of off-leash experiences as something a dog earns through positive training vs. a natural right. While dogs do love being off leash, unless you’re running them on your own land, we all have to share public spaces, and leashes make it safe for us to do so.
There’s a national epidemic that involves off-leash dogs maiming or even killing leashed dogs. It’s a huge problem, and awareness is the first step in protecting your own dog. Preparation is key.
Always carrying tasty dog training treats with you when you’re out with your dog. If a dog rushes you, throw the treats on the ground in front of the oncoming dog. Sometimes it stops them in their tracks.
Other options include training an emergency U-turn and perfecting it in a quiet environment before you really need it. Also, I don’t let — or want — my dogs “saying hello” to every random dog we see out on our walks. I move away quickly and ask my dogs to “leave it,” a cue they very much understand. Dogs meeting unknown dogs on or off leash always carries a risk. You not only don’t know the health of the other dog, you have no way of knowing how nicely it greets other dogs until it’s too late. Besides, two dogs meeting on leash sets up a situation where dogs can feel tension and feel trapped. I tell owners my dogs already have enough friends, thank you, and I keep on walking. And an excellent recall on your own dog is a must.
It’s a sad reality that so many dog owners ignore leash laws. It’s dangerous and selfish and may very well endanger the off-leash dog and all that that dog encounters. Since it’s happening everywhere, be prepared and be ready to take action.
Generally speaking, kids aren’t in school over the summer, and I love to see them outside playing. Nature is a wondrous thing! However, children and dogs don’t always mix well. Some dogs are terrified of kids, and some kids are terrified dogs. I applaud those parents who do take the time to teach children that they must ask to pet a strange dog — I find on our public walks that kids are often much better about this than adults! But kids are kids, and they often like to run and play and be loud, and that troubles many dogs.
Besides being mentally prepared for running into kids (some of whom are unsupervised), the best advice is to calmly move away from the kids with your dog. Here’s another place where a well-trained emergency U-turn comes in handy. Never force your dog to meet strangers — that’s especially true for children. There is no golden rule that all dogs have to meet all children (or all other dogs, for that matter).
Be alert to your surroundings and be on the lookout for skateboarders and bikers. Better yet, train your dog at home to learn to look at these oncoming, fast-moving objects and then look to you for guidance. I move away and reinforce with great dog training treats the calm behaviors my dogs give me when they see kids, bikes, strangers, other dogs, etc.
Rewarded behavior does, in fact, increase. You need to be a safe distance away from the worrying sound or object in order for your dog to be calm enough to hear you ask for his attention. “Far enough away” is always determined by the dog’s behavior, not ours.
Summer is a great time of year, and you should be able to go outside, soak up the sun and be with your best friend. Just be aware of your dog’s world and his point of view as you are out there enjoying the summer months.
Thumbnail: Photography by Maria Sbytova/Shutterstock.
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Annie Phenix, CPDT- KA, is a professional dog trainer based in Utah. She is a force-free trainer specializing in working with troubled dogs. She is the author of The Midnight Dog Walkers: Positive Training and Practical Advice for Living with Reactive and Aggressive Dogs. For more information, visit phenixdogs.com.