|Image courtesy of http://jonathanturley.org|
One of my most cherished bosses in the world once used the analogy that there are 3 “legs of the bar stool” of that particular company that supported our department and its efforts. Without one of those “legs” the entire operation would come crashing down.
I love the first day of group dog training classes, where I get to share my philosophy on training and get students on the same page before they even bring their dogs to class. This is where I, too, get to use my own “bar stool” analogy when it comes to obtaining good dog behavior. Except in my version, there’s four legs to the bar stool. Let’s face it, when there’s something as unpredictable as dog behavior at stake, you want to make sure you’re on the most stable foundation possible…
Leg 1 – Nutrition
What you put in Fido’s mouth is just as important as the behavior you expect to receive out of him. Think about your own diet and how it would affect your behavior. For example, if you ate a steady diet of McDonalds everyday, do you think you would look and feel your best? (Remember “Super Size Me?”) Do you think that the way you feel might impact your attitude and interactions with others?
It’s imperative that your dog receives a well-rounded and balanced diet. Does that mean you can’t treat him now and then with a well-deserved doggy ice cream treat? Certainly not. But his ideal everyday diet would consist of a foods that are high in protein and nutrients and relatively low in fillers. There’s a plethora of information on pet food, and it’s important to trust the professionals like pet store owners and veterinarians for information, as well as do your own consumer research on brands, like through DogFoodAdvisor.com.
Leg 2 – Exercise
First and foremost, you should consult with your veterinarian to determine what type and how much exercise is best for your dog. That being said, unless your dog has a medical condition that prohibits exercise, I think it’s safe to say that your dog (and you!) will benefit from regular exercise.
Some dogs are okay with a short leisurely walk every day. Some other dogs won’t be satiated until they’ve sprinted in the park for a solid hour and a half. Regardless, most dogs that are under-exercised will undoubtedly find a way to communicate their needs. This might manifest itself in chewed furniture, shoes, door jambs, unsupervised toilet paper and paper towel rolls and kid toys, or something more serious like jumping, barking and general over-exuberance.
Leg 3 – Good Health and Hygiene
Certainly, nutrition and exercise contribute greatly to good health. Even so, there are many afflictions that a dog might suffer from, despite these things. Allergies, orthopedic issues, general pain, injuries and infections are all common conditions in even healthy dogs. Has your dog’s behavior changed or gotten worse recently? Maybe Fido’s not feeling well.
It’s important to get him to your veterinarian, or least put in a call to them, to get their professional medical opinion if something seems a little off. It may be nothing, or it could be something… Isn’t it worth your peace of mind and your dog’s comfort to find out for sure? Of course, to ensure you are doing everything to prevent some of these common ailments, be sure to maintain good canine hygiene, including keeping toenails clipped and cleaning ears, teeth and even those most-aversive anal glands.
Leg 4 – Training
Did you really think the dog trainer was going to leave out dog training?! Of course training basic obedience is imperative to having a polite, well-behaved dog. But why does it come last in the list? It’s not because I’m saving the best for last… It’s truly because if the other three things are not in place first, the likelihood of success with your training plan could be diminished.
Is it possible for an unhealthy, under-exercised, under-nutritioned dog to learn new tricks? Absolutely. However, it’s with the success of the trainer, not the trainee, in mind that I rank training fourth in the list. If your dog is set up for success before you start, then you, as the trainer, will also find an increased chance of success and desired results. This also means less frustration and a better bond with your dog.
So there you have it in a nutshell… the four legs of behavioral success. Without one of these four legs in place, you risk the chance that your dog’s behavior won’t be as stable as possible. Without one of these legs, the entire operation may just fall apart. Do yourself and your dog a favor and always prop yourselves for success from the very beginning. Happy training!