Tuesday, September 28th, 2021

P Shopper Columns


Working as a veterinary receptionist, my mom often sees dogs who are apprehensive during their routine weight check. When owners pick up their pets to place them on the scale, she encourages them to use the moment as a training opportunity - and the rest of the visit, too! Sometimes, it makes more sense for us to carry our pets through situations they're not used to or avoid those situations altogether. But when it comes to something our pets may experience regularly - like stepping onto the scale for a vet visit - it is beneficial in the long run if we help them overcome new obstacles. A cute ten-pound puppy is going to be a lot harder to pick up when it becomes a sixty-pound adult!

It might feel embarrassing to draw attention to yourself by training a pet in public or to have imperfect results, but fellow dog lovers will understand how important your training is! Dogs won't know how to act in new situations unless we slow down and teach them how. Patience and positive reinforcement are key to teaching your dog to associate new situations with something positive, like praise and treats. A dog who is scared to step on the metal scale, for example, can be lured to the scale and rewarded each time they step near or onto it. This teaches the dog that being around the scale means they get lots of yummy food. Dogs won't always learn new skills all at once, and that's okay - training is a process. Remember to train with short sessions and to end each experience on a good note.

Patience and positive reinforcement
are key to teaching your dog 
to associate new situations 
with something positive, 
like praise and treats.

When people adopt dogs from the shelter where I work, I urge them to keep their pockets full of treats. Everything is a training opportunity, especially when raising a puppy or introducing a new dog into a home. Repetition is key when it comes to training. It can be so easy to fall into the habit of telling our dogs "No" when they do something undesirable but never telling them "Yes" when they make good decisions. The more we reinforce those good decisions, the more likely our pets are to keep making them. It also helps to offer the dog an alternative behavior - rather than saying "no" when a dog jumps up to greet you, ask them for a "sit" instead. Dogs have an incredible capacity to learn. It can be especially frustrating when we know how intelligent our pets are, and they just won't do what we expect. When I experience a moment like this with my dog, I often realize that I'm the one who needs to step back and reassess what I'm doing as a teacher. The more effort we put into training, the better our communication and bond will be with our beloved companions.

Breonna Loxley is an animal care technician at an animal shelter. She is an avid artist, writer, and animal-lover. She lives with her parents, a younger brother, two cats, and one dog.