What does your dog know how to do? Can they do it anywhere/everywhere?
What level of performance are they capable of? Only once in a while when there is nothing else going on, or in front of a crowd?
Are the things they know only next to you or is there speed and distance involved?
What do you actually do with your dog – the same old stuff over and over or is there growth and advancement in the repertoire?
I propose that in order to have a dynamic and fun relationship there needs to be at least one new thing learned/trained daily. For the trainer this offers creativity and imagination, for the dog this offers the ‘all-hands-on-deck’ relationship (in other words, you as a trainer must be present in order to train, not just in the room or hiking next to ______ or mindlessly petting ______)
How do you do this?
1) Think of all the things you’d like to improve about your doggy interactions – speed, accuracy, understanding, focus.
2) Think of fun things you’d like to do with your dog.
3) Look at books, YouTubes, videos, circus acts – anything there?
4) Go back to the basics or go forward to some new sport.
5) Visit a pet store find some new toys, puzzles, games.
6) Join a club or class, take up agility or showmanship or rally or scent work or pulling or …
What if there’s one big thing that you think your dog can’t overcome?
1) Find a good, positive-based trainer, talk to a Vet, read a professionally written book or blog.
2) Start with your relationship with the dog. As a trainer my first thing with a dog is building a relationship, I want them to trust me and with trust comes willingness to try.
3) Try a humane new tool like a Gentle Leader Head Halter or a Thundershirt or even medication if your vet thinks it’s called for.
4) Take that big thing and break it down into its parts. Example: Dog isn’t trustworthy off leash – doesn’t come, won’t listen, will chase things, may go with or bark at people, is scared of …, or is aggressive towards …
What things does your dog really like? What things was he bred to do?
Take his personal preferences and his breed instincts and use those to meld a training program. A lab is likely to do well retrieving in the water (put on a long line, use the thing he most likes to fetch, as long as it floats, take him to a nice lonely public boat landing on a lake, go into the water and encourage him to do it too. Then move on to boating or stand up paddleboarding or directed retrieves or dock diving … make this dog talented!
Build on each success, but also plan in some failures so he becomes more resilient and persistent. Get him doing something exceedingly well, then take to someplace that is more distracting or go to the same place on a hot day on the weekend when lots more people will be there. Expect performance to suffer, go back several steps and build it up in that environment. Then if its good enough, move on to someplace with more features that make it difficult.
Get outside your comfort zone with your dog. Set yourself up with the right tools and an escape plan, then just do it.