Use What You Have!

Still spinning off Arthur Ashe’s quote: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” It’s just so apt for dog-training that I can’t resist!

Dog training doesn’t require any special equipment! Except for a collar, you can use just what’s around the house! Even to train leash-manners, you don’t have to go to the store! The leash can just be a piece of clothesline or old belt! Of course, the real thing with a clip is easier to put on and take off, but as far as practical function, you just need a hunk of rope!

A collar, leash, and some treats and you’re good to go!  And the best treats I’ve ever found for training aren’t some in some expensive pet-store package —  regular ole hot dogs and white meat chicken!  Dogs are meat-eaters and there’s nothing that says, “YUM!” in your dog’s book like that meaty flavor.  I almost said “real meat” but not sure hot dogs apply.  However, they’re as “healthy” as most processed dog snacks and dogs LOVE THEM!  I usually reserve the chicken for small dogs.  Not that they don’t like hot dogs, but too much salt can overload those little ones really fast!

[NOTE:  Dogs don’t have taste buds for salt because, as wild carnivores, they got enough from their diet of meat.  A dog’s system isn’t designed to get rid of salt (because they don’t sweat) as easily as humans, so they can get “salt poisoning” – an electrolyte imbalance – easier than we can.  Big dogs because of their size, don’t usually run into problems with a tiny bits of hot dog during training, but Toy breeds and puppies don’t have much body mass!  So I use chicken just to be on the safe side.]

You don’t have to worry about this “feeding people food” making the dog beg at the table, either.  Unless you teach a dog NOT to beg at the table, they mostly all do, anyway!  If you never feed scraps from the table or counter, a dog won’t really expect to get hot dogs and chicken when the family is eating.  They’ll try to fool you by begging, on the off-chance that they can sucker you into it, but they recognize dinner time as different from training time!

I always pull out the good stuff to teach new behaviors or when working someplace new or with new distractions, so the dog is really motivated!  However, reviewing learned behaviors, especially in familiar places won’t need anything special.  Most of the dogs I know are very happy to work for a piece of their kibble, if nothing else is offered.

Your dog isn’t food motivated?   I’ve had a lot of clients tell me that.  Never believe them until I’ve tried hot dogs and chicken!  Most dogs are food motivated, but it might take a little experimentation to find what they really like.  It might be hot dogs or chicken or bacon or peanut butter (ou can put a bit on a spoon to let them lick a reward) or Cheerios or frozen peas!  However for those dogs who are really PLAY motivated, the chance to chase their ball or Frisbee can literally make them sit up and roll over!  If your dog loves squeaky toys, then a crackley container from bottled water usually gets ‘em going just about as well !

Interested in some of those “dog sports” but don’t want to invest in equipment before finding out if your dog is good at/enjoys it?  Be creative!  The first step in training a Dock-diving dog is to teach them confidence in the water – so start with a kiddie pool and work up!  Dogs that have great fetching and catching skills are great at fly-ball; if you’ve got one of those, bounce a ball off a wall to train catching  accuracy.  Play hide and seek – asking your dog to find you and/or his favorite toy to see if you’ve got a dog that might be good at tracking!  I knew Kita would LOVE agility long before buying jumps and dog-walks!  At the park, I encouraged her to walk along a seat on a bleacher, and she didn’t want to get down!  She learned the tire jump with a hula-hoop!  A blanket-over-table “tunnel” showed me she had no fear of enclosed spaces!

You wouldn’t think that a life spent training for and working in theater would transfer well to dog-training!  However, those of us in community theaters – especially the education departments of same – learn how to “make due and make it marvelous!”  with what we HAVE because there’s never enough money for what we’d really WANT!  This attitude and way of looking at things really helps in the dog world, too!  Instead of wishing to be in a different time or place, or waiting to start until we have everything needed, I’ve learned to DO what I can, with what I have, right where I am at the moment!  Otherwise I might never get started at all!

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