How much fun is teaching a dog not to jump on people, to get off the couch, and to stay off the counters? How about the stress of living with and training a reactive, aggressive, or fearful dog?
Dog training is too often seen as a chore, or even as optional. There’s a whole world beyond puppy socialization and basic manners. Training should be engaging and entertaining for both you and your dog, giving each of you critical skills in inter-species communication.
Enrichment is critical for all dogs, and positive training can play a crucial role in providing this for them. Mentally active dogs are happy dogs! Providing your dog with enrichment toys, such as Kongs and Nina Ottosson puzzle toys, is an excellent strategy to relieve boredom, but it doesn’t compare to the relationship-building that happens when you are actively engaging your dog in training.
The best training is based in the dog working to gain something they want to have. That could be treats, toys, or even access to another activity they want to engage in. Training that is based in stopping a dog’s behaviour tends to be stressful and frustrating for a dog, shutting them down, and doesn’t act as enrichment. Look for a sport or activity that your dog seems to take particular joy in. That could be because they inherently enjoy the process, or it could even be that they were bred for that purpose.
There are many different activities you can get your dog involved in, and some will require you to be far more involved than simply going to a single training class. Here are a few that most owners haven’t heard much about:
You can train your dog in scent detection just for enrichment, for competitive sport, or even as a career (for example, bed bug sniffing). You will teach your dog to look for a specific odour and then “indicate” to you that they have found it, for example, by sitting in front of the location of the odour. The great thing about this sport is that it requires very little space and can be trained in your living room.
Tracking is similar to scent detection in that it involves using scent to find something, be it a track or an item. A tracking dog will learn to use scent to follow a trail a person has travelled, and the dog will “indicate” dropped items in a similar way to a scent detection dog. Tracking requires a larger outdoor space in which to train.
Treiball is a relatively new sport that looks like a combination of herding and soccer. Dogs are directed from a distance to move several large exercise balls across a playing field into a goal net. Any breed or type of dog can participate in Treiball, not only herding breeds.
Many breeds of dogs have been bred specifically for herding ability. They will move livestock such as sheep, goats, and cattle across distances and can separate individuals for vetting or other procedures. The best candidate for herding will of course be a herding breed; however, many non-herding types have successfully been taught to herd livestock. The major difficulty with herding is finding access to livestock and a knowledgeable instructor to ensure safe, happy dogs and livestock.