If I could suggest skills to develop in yourself this year to improve the way you live and train with your dogs these would be top of the list. If you'd like to read more context for this post and how dogs have motivated me to grow as a person and live better, check out part one, Who will you be to your dog?
Go to a class online or real life, watch a YouTube video or download an app like Headspace or Calm. The research on meditation shows that it changes the structure of the brain. In practice this allows people who meditate to be less reactive, reduce stress and feel more energised, less depressed and many more wonderful things. Do it. It may seem weird, hippy, or nonsense, but it's not. Commit to a daily routine even if it only involves a couple of minutes. Look forward to bringing a calmer, happier and more joyful attitude into your life with your pet.
Want to get good at dog training? You'll need ace observation and timing skills so that you can mark desirable behaviours before following up with reinforcers. My advice to you is this- the camera doesn't lie. Either you caught the moment something awesome happened or you missed it. Get good at capturing action shots and you can transfer this skill into dog training (clicker training)
Direct don't block
How many times do you tell your dog to "stop", "no", "leave" or "off"? Most of us using these words or similar are presenting them in a spirit of blocking behaviour, as opposed to asking your dog to do something we are asking them to cease acting at all. Is this reasonable? Your dog is a living creature so I'm pretty sure in almost all circumstances, it's not :/ I want you to develop a habit of noticing when you seek to block behaviour. Pause and ask yourself "what can my dog do right now?". This habit will give you the opportunity to either teach your dog something new, or request behaviour your dog already understands and likes. I promise your dog will like you a lot better for making this change
When do you spend time with your dog outside of the necessary walking, playing, feeding, grooming etc? Could you sit with them more often, for example, reading a book beside their bed, or working with them under the desk? Could you set a timer to get up from the laptop once every hour and do something small together such as stretch, walk to the garden, get a drink or stuff a food toy? Could you commit more daily time to brushing their teeth or coat in a way that they appreciate? Are you always on your phone when you're with your dog? Perhaps you could make a commitment to putting away your phone or turning off the TV so that you can be truly present with your dog.
Maybe 2018 is the year to brighten up your relationship with your dog. Why don't you make a list of cool places to visit, classes to take, people to see, dog-friendly pubs/cafes/hotels, etc... and pick 12. Then open your diary and commit to doing one a month for 2018. It may be that your dog is lacking certain skills that would enable public activities, but you can schedule sessions with a behaviourist or trainer to overcome behavioural challenges. I offer classes which you can book here. In the meantime, take time to bake together, play a dog board game, learn canine massage skills, there are so many possible activities!
Personally I will be improving my fitness in 2018. I'm committing to daily yoga, regular massages and a weekly running class so that I can take up running with Viv. As a Siberian Husky she needs a lot of exercise and running in harness is good for her body, mind and soul. Thank goodness for dogs! Without whom I might never have wanted to improve myself so much. This time next year perhaps I'll be fit enough to run a race with Viv!
I hope this post inspires you to take up one new action for your dog in 2018. Let me know if you're making a commitment to change something for yourself and your companion animals in the comments below.
Wishing you Happy Training and a wonderful New Year!