We’re guessing this does sound pretty familiar, and heck, even the seasoned dog owners among us can get a little lazy, a little too comfortable, and things just start to slip. We sometimes forget that all that work we put into establishing a strong relationship and learning how to be the leaders our dog/s needed…well, it wasn’t just one-time work. It isn’t something that we do once and move on. It is a way of life.
So what can you do when find yourself in this situation? Well first, hopefully you still love your dog and aren’t much for pointing fingers (in case the context isn’t clear, it likely isn’t your dog’s fault anyway!). ;) Next, you get down to business and set the reset button. When we set the reset button for a dog, and for ourselves, we go back to basics. For some, this may feel like way, way back and maybe even a little insulting when you first consider it. Don’t get caught up in this line of thinking. The truth is, sometimes the most basic and simple elements make the biggest impact, and they can also be the first things we let go of as we get more comfortable in our life with our dogs.
A big consideration when going back to basics and determining how much of life’s necessities and rewards are earned by your dog, vs your dog simply choosing and taking as she pleases. Here http://k9deb.com/nilif.htm and here http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/pets/dog-behavior/should-you-use-“nothing-in-life-is-free"-with-your-dog are a couple articles about “Nothing In Life Is Free”
(NILF) or “No Free Lunch.” NILF is a great starting point, or a great place to revisit if you previously implemented a similar structure or system. I know every time our household dynamic needs some fine tuning, I go back and review NILF information.
Some recoil at the thought of making their dog earn everything. We as humans like our freedoms and we commonly project our feelings and desires onto dogs, when in reality they think very differently and they desire different things as well. Earning both necessities and fun extras in life helps our dogs understand the family structure and their role in it and it also provides mental stimulation (I want xyz, these are the ways I earn xyz). Often people will report they already do practice this kind of lifestyle, but when you really start asking questions and digging, it becomes clear that they have slowly given over those decisions and privileges to their dog without asking that they earn them anymore. So don’t glance over this idea and say “oh I got it!” without really, really thinking about your dog’s day and how they get each thing they want and enjoy.
Once NILF is being addressed, the next big consideration is physical and mental exercise. Obviously, each dog has different needs on this front, take the time to assess where your dog’s needs fall and if you could be meeting them better. Keep in mind, physical exercise and mental exercise can be very different and covering just one won’t always do the trick. A common problem is a dog who you feel has had enough physical exertion, but is still driving you crazy at the end of the day! Well, the need for mental stimulation didn’t get met, even though you took those three walks, or whatever else you think should have left your dog snoozing the rest of the day away. Training and games are of course great ways to hit on that mental stimulation side of things (future blog post alert!).
Oftentimes, once these areas are addressed, we see dogs and owners back to their happy place in no time! Occasionally there are other angles that need to be looked at, such as health concerns or diet (for the record, we recommend raw feeding or grain free kibble). We’d love to hear your thoughts, have you ever had to set the reset button? What did that look like for you and your dog/s?