A recent article in the Chicago Tribune highlights how to handle some of the many summer challenges dogs face, tips promoted by the dog behavioral expert Joseph Biggins. As a qualified trainer who implements positive reinforcement training methods, he emphasizes the need to recognize summer obstacles in order to enhance the quality of a dog’s life and their training. Joseph is the owner and founder of Good Dog Training, a dog obedience business founded in 1998. The facilities offer group and one-on-one courses with the distinct purpose of rekindling the owner-pet bond, helping pet parents to better understand why their dogs behave the way they do, and how to effectively encourage positive change.
One important supplement to training is daily exercise, a part of a dog’s life that owners shouldn’t jeopardize, according to the trainers at Good Dog Training. Joseph Biggins comments on the need for ample exercise, and how this can often cause struggles during the hottest months of the year.
“Dogs need to release their energy, and the more they exercise, the healthier they are and the more receptive they are to training. Owners often bring their pets in for a group class without walking them or playing with them at all. They’re essentially cooped up all day and then expected to learn difficult commands and new behaviors,” he said. “Owners don’t realize they’re making it much harder on themselves by bringing an energetic pup to class. If they exercise their dog, even just a stroll around the block, it would make a significant difference in the obedience courses. They’re already tired, and on-top of the mentally exhausting training activities, you can walk away with a worn out dog – or should I say a healthier, happier dog.”
He goes on to mention the challenges presented by those warm summer months. “While exercise is extremely important for your pet, we recommend owners back off of the intensity a little bit during the summer. Knowing how to safely exercise your dog is tricky, especially because not everyone recognizes the signs found in an over-heated dog.
The article also points out that summer presents issues other than dehydration – it also means more encounters which children playing outside and other training distractions. The article looks to Victoria Stilwell on this issue, a dog trainer featured on “It’s Me or the Dog” and “Greatest American Dog.” She regularly stresses the importance of positive reinforcement as well as how to overcome summertime problems. “The earlier you socialize a dog with children, the better,” she said. “But you also have to realize that kids, especially young ones, are kids. Sometimes you have to, as a responsible adult, be responsible for a dog’s interaction. Manage the environment. Have a solid fence around the house, don’t let [your dog] run loose. Keep them on [leashes] around kids.”
As another positive reinforcement advocate, Joseph Biggins responds to her notion of responsibility. “Children aren’t necessarily going to read your dog before running up to him or her, and they don’t know how to be safe in these instances,” he said. “While you can’t teach every child how to approach a dog, you can teach your dog with commands such as ‘leave it.’ However, a fun, energetic child running up to your dog is going to look much more appealing than any other desired treat or toy you’ve practiced with in the past, so even if your dog is an expert at the ‘leave it’ command, always keep your pup on a short leash, especially if he or she is easily excitable.”
The article also brings up the issue of wildlife and dogs in the summertime, noting that some dogs have what Victoria calls a “really high prey drive.” She adds, “Prey drive is hard to deal with because you’re going against instinct. All dogs, regardless of breed, love to hunt. We’ve domesticated [dogs], so that while they may hunt, they’re not good at killing. We’ve bred that out of them mostly. So I think when it’s safe and appropriate, you have to let them chase. When it’s not, you have to stop it.”
Joseph remarks on this aspect of a dog’s life that is enhanced in the summer months. “Create your own games to satisfy this drive in your dog. You can purchase furry-looking critter toys and play fetch or any other game where they have to wait for your cue before they chase and hunt. If you can play this game at a park or on a hike, they will really enjoy it.”
The report mentions that along with the increase in heat, many dogs love to dig to keep cool. Victoria suggests having a sand or dirt pit. “Hide dog toys in there, two or three, and let them dig. They get all their desire to dig out of their system and then they leave the rest of my yard alone. You let them do what they’re designed to do, but in a way that’s appropriate.” Joseph adds to “make sure when you create an area in your yard, it’s in a shady, cool spot.”
Other summer issues pet owners don’t normally consider right away is the fear dogs exhibit during those summer thunderstorms. These hot months are full of loud sounds too, including fireworks, thunder and gunshots. The chaos summer can bring often makes it difficult in consistently reinforcing positive behavior. The article encourages owners to seek out pet-friendly CDs that calm dogs. If a dog is demonstrating immense fear with these sounds, you can purchase Canine Noise Phobia Series CD sets that have sound effects of noises dogs dislike, including thunderstorms, fireworks and gunshots. Underneath these sounds is music aimed to calm dogs, reinforcing positive behavior.
One of the main issues dogs experience in the summer is heat exhaustion. The trainers at Good Dog Training urge pet parents to learn about the signs found in over-heated dogs, and that they don’t ever leave their dog in the car for any period of time. “It’s important to make people aware of these issues, especially dehydration in dogs. They can’t tell us what’s wrong, so we have to take action,” said Joseph Biggins.
Joseph Biggins is the owner of Good Dog Training. He is a certified dog behavioral expert who values positive reinforcement training. He firmly believes that training is a two-way street – noting that owners need to learn about their dog’s behavior before expecting desired results. His obedience school offers group and private packages ranging from beginners to advanced.