In this new era of social distancing, my training tips will focus on activities you can do at home with your dog to exercise them, both mentally and physically, otherwise known in the force-free dog training community as “canine enrichment.” In fact, I am challenging you to do some sort of enrichment activity with your dog each day and share that with the Mod.Dog Community on Facebook.

Challenge 1: Train for Meals

True confession time: I don’t train my dogs nearly as much as I should. But, I do feed them…every day…twice a day. Dog’s gotta eat, right? That’s why we find it so effective for reward based training, it’s what’s known as a “primary reinforcer.” But the point of this post isn’t to get all science-y on you, it’s to help you think more creatively about feeding, training, and enriching your dog during this time of limited contact and movement in time and space.

If you have a dog who loves to gobble his food, then HOORAY. Instead of dumping his kibble in a bowl and watching him scarf it down in 2 minutes flat, portion out some of it and play some training games! Millie happens to be one of these dogs, so why not have a little fun? This video explains:

Intro to Train for Meals

If you’re on the other side of the spectrum and have a dog that is free-fed and not “interested” in his food…well, stop free-feeding. You may find that turning mealtimes into fun and fast-paced games may change your dog’s attitude, or you might consider switching up his diet to something more interesting. Either way, keep your dog guessing by throwing a few extra yummlies like bits of cheese, hot dog, bacon, etc. in to keep him guessing and motivated to earn.

Furthermore, if you’ve got a dog who is highly ball/toy motivated, then you don’t have to play this game with food at all. Have him earn a throw by performing a behavior or trick. Simple!

Performing known behaviors to earn dinner.

Here, I’ve taken her repertoire of known behaviors and tricks and made them into a game of “earn the kibble.” Keep in mind, this is not a training technique video; I’m not teaching her any new behaviors here. These are all things she knows, some very well, like “touch” and some not so well, like “spin,” so please don’t get hung up on my training technique (or lack thereof). This is just a game to get her moving and to engage her brain. She performs a skill or trick, I mark it with a click or a yes, and throw the kibble to 1) reward her, and 2) reset the game. This is what we call a “twofer” in training. Technically it should be a threefer, because of the added health benefit for her: running for the reward.

The benefits of this game are enormous. Here are just a few that I can think of:

1) Mental Stimulation: Which trick are you going to ask me to do next, mom???

2) Physical Exercise: I’ve got to run over there to get my reward, then run back to you to perform my next skill? Game on!

3) Reinforcing known behaviors and training new ones: This is a combo of asking Millie to do things she knows how to do really well, like touch-target, as well as newer tricks, like high-five (she literally just learned that yesterday).

If your dog doesn’t seem motivated by this game, here’s some troubleshooting tips:

  1. Dog wanders off: Make sure to practice in a low-distraction, small(ish) area at first, expand the area and distractions as your dog learns the game.
  2. Pick up the pace! The biggest issue with keeping dogs motivated is that humans are just plain slow. Try to speed up repetitions and go as fast as you can to keep your dog engaged.
  3. Use happy talk to get your dog excited! Speak in a high, happy tone and give your do lots of praise and positive feedback for a job well done.
  4. Signal the start/end of the game with verbal cues like “Ready!” to start and “All Done!” to end.
Millie bows to end the session