By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
A recent study published in the “Journal of the American Medical Association” said that elderly Americans who walk leashed dogs face increasing fracture risks. “Man’s best friend” can sometimes be energetic and unruly. Learn important dog-training techniques and save yourself a doctor’s visit.
Countless millions of Americans own pets—dogs, cats, birds, fish, and innumerable reptiles and small mammals. Pets usually are considered members of the family and loving additions to the home. At the same time, many pets require training in order to become domesticated. While walking leashed dogs is causing more injuries to seniors than in the past, it can be a good idea to brush up on some effective dog-training methods. Let’s take a look at some staple commands for “man’s best friend.”
Reducing Bone Fractures in Seniors – Learning to “Leave It”
One of the important commands any pet owner should teach their dog is to leave something alone. This command is useful since dogs tend to eat anything they find that looks appetizing, and throw it up if it disagrees with them. “They have a ready regurgitation reflex, which you likely have been treated to if you’ve had dogs for any length of time,” said Jean Donaldson, founder and principal instructor of The Academy for Dog Trainers. “They can afford an eat-first, regurgitate-later philosophy of life. They are much less penalized for dietary indiscretion than, say, cats.”
Teaching a dog “leave it” can be challenging because, Donaldson says, “it requires you to notice him refraining—to notice his cessation of trying to get a treat. What I’m actually reinforcing is the absence of a behavior.” By offering positive reinforcement whenever a dog even hesitates from trying to eat something they shouldn’t, the groundwork will be laid. “My eventual behavior is going to be her leaving greasy paper towels, or if she finds an animal carcass, if she finds chicken bones, anything at all that she comes across that I want her to not touch,” Donaldson said.
To do this, Donaldson recommends holding a temptation in one hand while rewarding from the other hand. The dog will eventually learn a kind of superstition about leaving a forbidden item alone and they will respond correctly to the trainer’s voice and commands.
Safety and Walking Dogs – Learning to “Wait”
Training dogs to refrain from eating mysterious and undesirable food is a great first step in preventing walk-related injury for seniors who walk leashed dogs. Often, situations also arise when dogs are unexpectedly running towards objects. Dog owners typically experience a strong pull on the lead while trying to hold their dogs back from chasing the all-too-alluring objects. Fortunately, dogs can be taught the command “wait.”
The first step is to practice at a door that opens to an enclosed area like a fenced-in backyard. This way, the dog will have some experience and practice with waiting when you introduce doors that lead to the street. Once you have a door in mind, Donaldson recommends having several lines of defense. One is the door itself. “So when you’re doing a half-open door, the dog will attempt to charge,” she said. “Close the door. Be ready. Because initially, when you train this, they charge through—of course they do; it’s all they know.” The second line of defense is to have an “umbilical cord,” or a leash tied around your waist. This way, if the dog fails at staying put, they won’t get far. Third, Donaldson recommends establishing a specific command like the phrase, “Okay, you can go through now,” instead of simply the word “Okay,” which can be ambiguous and confusing. As always, positive reinforcement is key.
With patience, practice, and consistency, “Man’s Best Friend” can be made to be obedient and well-behaved. By taking simple steps towards proper behavior, and implementing training safeguards, any dog can learn how to properly perform actions like self-control from eating non-food objects and waiting for their owner’s permission to charge through an open door. This training will result in a happier, healthier dog and will provide far less emotional and physical stress for the owner. It could even save a pet owner from a broken bone and an emergency visit to the doctor.
Jean Donaldson contributed to this article. Ms. Donaldson is the founder and principal instructor of the Academy for Dog Trainers, which has trained and certified more than 700 trainers in evidence-based dog behavior, training, and private behavior counseling since 1999. Ms. Donaldson is a four-time winner of the Dog Writers Association of America’s Maxwell Medallion.