Roll on Summer!
By Jessica Colson | dog, dog school, dogs, dogs trust, dogs trust dog school, training, dog training, behaviour, picnic, summer, food
It's picnic time!
The weather is getting warmer – hooray! – and so we humans love to eat outside, often sitting on the ground and even cooking food outside too!
Surely this is doggy heaven! Imagine just how difficult this is for our pet dogs… they’re expected to walk through the park ignoring picnics and BBQs, walking calmly past pork pies, sausages rolls and... did somebody say BBQ chicken wings? Surely irresistible for our furry friends!
It’s incredibly important, and part of being a responsible dog owner, to teach our canine companions that having manners around food is a really good choice for them, but this isn’t always easy for them to learn – especially for those dogs (like my own Coco!) who just love food soooooo much! If you think about it, dogs are scavengers and so it is completely normal behaviour for them to eat any food they come across, especially if it is lying on the ground simply waiting there to be discovered by them! And they can smell it so much more strongly than we can too – goodness we ask a lot of them not to simply go around eating everyone’s picnics, don’t we?
In our classes we work hard teaching owners how to train their dogs to wait calmly before being given food, so that they do not have to be nagged or pulled away from food. It’s so much kinder to teach a dog what to do in advance so we don’t have to wait for her to ‘get it wrong and then correct his behaviour’ but can trust her to behave politely instead. Of course this takes patience and practice ‘cos it’s really hard – and it’s something we humans can certainly empathise with too, especially when the fridge is full!
If you are planning to take your dog out to parks where people might be picnicking, or if you are having a picnic yourself and would really love your four-legged friend to join you – they’re a huge part of the family after all! – then help yourself and your pal out by preparing in advance and setting her up for success! At Dog School we believe in the importance of planning and preparing as it can ensure your dog is learning what you really want her to learn! We guide our dogs into making good choices and then reward these so our dogs are very likely to repeat these behaviours in future! So for example, if I reward my dog with something delicious that she really enjoys for turning away from a picnic when I call her then she’s likely to turn away from the next picnic as I call, knowing this behaviour works out very well for her!
Here are some tips for picnic-ing with your furry friend!
- Keep her on-lead! If she runs over to a picnic and finds a piece of pork pie then her picnic invasion has been massively rewarding and she’s likely to do it again the very next picnic she sees! She might also eat something dangerous or toxic for dogs – like chocolate muffins! – so it could result in a very poorly dog and also costly vet’s bills. Don’t be tempted to test your dog by seeing if they will be okay off-lead… you never know what other people have got for their picnic and what your dog could be tempted by!
- Prepare to give your dog an activity to keep her occupied by herself when you guys are eating – we love a kong toy stuffed with a variety of dog treats, small pieces of meat, pieces of cheese, vegetables, anything your dog likes! You can prepare this in advance and pop it in the freezer until you need it… then simply pack this when you go ready to give to your dog while you enjoy your picnic. Everyone’s a winner then, as your dog doesn’t have to cope with controlling herself while surrounded by human food as it will take her a good while to empty the kong toy and this will give her enjoyment and keep her distracted. You could also take suitable chews so that again she has another enjoyable activity to engage in by herself while you eat too. A snuffle-mat is another way to provide her with rewarding entertainment – these are fluffy mats that you can hide treats within so the dog has to ‘snuffle’ them out – you can use small rag-rugs or extra fluffy bathroom-style mats as an alternative.
- Make sure that everyone at the picnic understands how you would like them to interact with your dog so that no-one unwittingly rewards your dog for begging behaviour. Remind your human companions that your dog is learning all the time and everyone who interacts with your dog is teaching her about the world – the one person who feeds her when she jumps up is teaching her that jumping up for food is rewarding! Not a good lesson at all! Tell your friends and family that you’ll fine them a small donation for Dogs Trust for teaching your dog bad habits!
- Being very consistent with how you interact with your dog when you are eating at home is another way to prepare your dog for those ‘eating out’ opportunities. Have a household get-together and decide what you would all like your dog to do during human mealtimes, and commit to sticking to the plan! In our house we decided that we would NEVER feed our dog any human food from our plates, not even the leftovers (like we ever leave anything!) because we have a very ‘food-motivated’ dog! We need her to completely understand that there will never be any reward for begging so that she simply learns not to beg at all because it doesn’t gain her anything… and we’ve stuck to it! So now during our mealtimes our dog simply ignores us because she understands we will never give her anything from our plates! If your dog is struggling with this and pestering you while you’re eating then you can give your dog something else to do while you eat – feeding her own meal from a food-releasing toy for example or having a chew to keep her distracted and occupied in a rewarding way. You can always contact us if you need advice – we’re more than happy to help!
- Teaching your dog to settle by themselves when our attention is unavailable, have good manners around food and people, and to turn away from anything distracting within the environment are all behaviours that will enable a dog to lead a happy life, without getting herself worried or causing anyone else to worry – we teach these vital skills as games within out classes so why not sign up for a course and teach your dog these valuable lifelong lessons!