Well, well, well, here we are… at the end of another year. Was it a year filled with music, flowers, friends and family? If your answer was a resounding yes, fantastic.
If your answer was yes – but the music was on to drown out the endless barking, the flowers were continually knocked over by an expert counter-surfer, and your friends and family have been jumped on so many times this year that now they refuse to come over next year – then not so fantastic, right?
Celebrating a new year marks the symbolic end of a great journey in our lives. Sure, it was only one calendar year. But the best part about celebrating a new year is the renewed hope that, even though things may not have been great in the past year, there is a chance that things can start anew… fresh… unspoiled.
It’s time to put the past behind you and move on. Thus, enters the New Year’s resolution. Goals such as losing weight, quitting smoking and stop wasting money are among the top resolutions each and every year, and consequently, some of the most commonly broken resolutions (Time Magazine, 2011).
Maybe some of these items are on your resolution list. To be successful at change undoubtedly takes a focused commitment and, indefinitely, a lifestyle change. Of course, there will be times that don’t come so easy, where you fall off of the resolution wagon. The same could be said for your dog’s behavior, too.
Okay, so maybe your dog isn’t counting calories or slapping on a nicotine patch, but heaven knows they definitely spend a ton of our money. Especially when that money goes towards replacing that soiled carpeting, reupholstering the chewed couch and re-landscaping the entire hole-dug yard.
So is it time for a doggy resolution in your household? Great, let’s get started! But first, there are some things to know about doggy resolutions. First, you’re going to need some gear. Just as if your resolution is to get in shape, you’ll need the proper shoes, clothes and equipment.
Except instead, you’ll need some quality walking or running shoes, some reliable cold weather gear and the correct training gear for your dog. Yep, it’s time to get some quality exercise for your dog. This will help drain some of that excess energy that she has so that there’s less energy available to jump, chew, dig and countersurf.
And similar to the smoker that constantly wants a cigarette, there are a few options to begin changing your dog’s behavior. First, there’s management. If you wanted to stop smoking, you’d throw out all of your cigarettes, not purchase anymore, and perhaps stay away from environments and situations that make you want to smoke.
For your dog, this translates to management of the environment. Use baby gates, exercise pens and doors to prevent your dog from accessing the things that trigger the unwanted behavior. Remove the temptation, and your dog will find success more easily. (Tip: There are many stylish and décor-friendly options for containment offered by In the Company of Dogs.)
But sometimes management alone isn’t enough. For example, my sister tried to quit smoking cold-turkey several times. Although she stopped buying cigarettes and didn’t keep them around, it didn’t stop her from wanting them, especially after mealtimes. She knew that she had an addiction to the physical act of smoking at certain times. So she picked up knitting. She knitted after breakfast, lunch and dinner, and at any other time she craved a cigarette.
In other words, my sister created a replacement behavior for smoking. So maybe your dog’s replacement behavior will be un-stuffing a Kong instead of chewing on the couch, or performing a spin upon being greeted instead of jumping on visitors. Help your dog be successful by providing a replacement behavior for the unwanted behavior.
(By the way, my sister has turned her “replacement behavior” into a fabulously successful yarn and fiber business, Dyeabolical. Shameless family plug… but it proves a point!)
Lastly, please know it’s going to take time. Experts who work with human addiction have said that it takes 28 days of a behavior to create an addiction (and consequently to begin to overcome one). There are actual physiological changes that must occur in one’s body, and we can’t ignore that as part of changing behavior.
Please come to terms with the fact that changing your dog’s behavior will take time. Sometimes there are quick fixes, and sometimes there are not. Beware of perceived quick fixes that might ultimately cause more harm than good, like shock collars. Your dog needs time to burn new and better neurological pathways in her blessed little pea-brain, especially if unwanted behaviors have been practiced for years upon years.
So enough chit-chat… Let’s start the doggy resolution! A great place to start in January is here, with the Association of Pet Dog Trainer’s “National Train Your Dog Month.” There are some fantastic and free resources for you to use for training your dog. Joining a group training class is also a wonderful option for you and your family.
And if your doggy resolution is a success, my New Year’s wish for you is that you just may “accidentally” end up accomplishing some of your own personal resolutions. Let’s see that Time Magazine list of top unbroken New Year’s resolutions again:
- Lose Weight and Get Fit
- Quit Smoking
- Learn Something New
- Eat Healthier and Diet
- Get Out of Debt and Save Money
- Spend More Time with Family
- Travel to New Places
- Be Less Stressed
- Drink Less
How many of these personal resolutions might be accomplished via your commitment to a doggy resolution? I would venture to say at least six…Have a happy, healthy and safe New Year everyone!