I'm a practical girl; I don't want a lot of stuff taking up space. If I have something, it’s because I use it. A lot. This article was born when I realized that over the past year, I've found myself recommending the same things to clients, both in-home training and in my group classes. These are the things I simply couldn't live without, things I use every day with my own dogs. This month, I'll give you an inside look at the three things I can't live without (and I recommend you don't live without them either).
Food Stuffed Toy
Why it's on the list: Inexpensive, easy to use, used every day, solves many problems (or prevents problems from developing)
Specifics: The two I use the most are Kong and Busy Buddy. They come in all kinds of sizes, colors and shapes. Some you can stuff with gooey things (Kong and Busy Buddy Squirrel Dude) -- and even freeze to make it more challenging for your dog -- and others can replace your dog's food bowl (check out Kong Wobbler, Busy Buddy’s Magic Mushroom for two “food bowl replacements).
Why you should have it: You can't find a better tool to teach your dog to love the crate (another tool I can't live without) than a food stuffed toy. The crate becomes the delivery spot for all things food-stuffed! After just a few deliveries, your dog will start to run to the crate as soon as you prepare his toy!
This is also a great way to teach your dog how to enjoy being alone. A dog focused on his food stuffed toy won't also be barking and worried that you're away from the house (or in a different room). If you need some alone time (yes, even I occasionally need some time away from my dogs -- to work on this article, for instance), give your dog a food stuffed toy and enjoy the silence and dog-free-ness. This is a great solution for both you and the dog. Wanna know how to stuff one? Check this short video out.
Wondering how to teach your dog to enjoy and unload a food-stuffed toy? Put a little bit of peanut butter, cream cheese, or yogurt just inside the opening and show it to your dog. You may need to hold the toy for him at first, until he gets the hang of it. Make it super-easy at first, so the dog understands very quickly just how rewarding the toy is.
Why it's on the list: effectiveness, solves many problems (or prevents problems from developing), occasionally not an option (injured dog, veterinary stays, grooming appointments, boarding, etc.)
Specifics: There are several types of crates: hard sided (airline) crates, soft (fabric) crates, and metal (wire) crates. My favorite crate (for a dog that's comfortable being crated) is the soft crate because it's light and easy to move (great for traveling with your dog).
Why you should have it: A crate helps keep your dog out of trouble. Your dog can't chew the sofa, pee on the rug, or get into your closet to chew your shoes if he's in his crate. I couldn't raise a puppy without a crate -- the crate is both a playpen for the pup, as well as a house-training assistant. It's also where the pup relaxes, eats his meals, and enjoys his food stuffed toy. All good things come from the crate.
The crate can be mandatory if your dog is recovering from an injury. Crate rest is often prescribed for dogs recovering from surgery. The crate limits your dog's mobility and increases the chances of a quicker recovery. Often, boarding kennels may require that your dog be crate-savvy so they can ensure your dog's safety. Sometimes, groomers will hold your dog in a crate either before or after grooming, so it's very important that your dog is comfortable with crating.
If your dog hasn't ever been in a crate before or has a bad association with the crate, use the food stuffed toy to help him discover that the crate contains all things fabulous. Feed your dog's meals in the crate, deliver all treats and food stuffed toys to the crate. Check out how much this dog loves the crate!
Why it's on the list: it's crazy effective. This is the primary way I teach all my dogs, client's dogs, and service dogs their good manners and skills.
Specifics: There are a couple types of clickers out there -- different sizes and types, and some are softer than others. It's really a matter of personal preference (which one feels better in your hand, and which one your dog prefers).
Why you should have it: Put simply, there's no easier or faster way to teach your dog good manners than with a clicker. The clicker tells your dog when he's doing something right and that he's earned a reward. As soon as your dog figures out that when you click, he gets a treat, he's on board immediately, trying to get you to click him. Because he's trying to get you click, that means he's trying to do what you want him to do. Right away, you and the dog are on the same page, trying to reach the same goal. No more fighting with your dog! Here’s a great example of a dog learning to wait at the gate with the clicker.
There you have it: the three tools I don't live without and the tools I recommend most often to my clients. They're all relatively cheap and worth every penny in the problems they prevent and the solutions they provide.
Is there something on YOUR list of things you can't live without? Leave a comment and let us know!