As you’re setting resolutions and making plans for everything you want to accomplish in the new year, don’t forget about your dog! Dogs may not be stressed about what the new year will bring, or sad about the lost months collectively known as 2020—they live each day joyfully in the moment. But It’s easy to look at the new year as a jumpstart for building new routines with your dog in order to give them the best year possible, as well as improve their behavior and quality of life.
Before January starts, think about things you want to do with your dog in the new year, including things you want to teach or manners you want to brush up on, or even making a commitment to spend more intentional time together. January has been dubbed National Train Your Dog Month by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, which makes it a great time to reevaluate your dog’s daily routine and habits. Here are five resolutions you can make with your dog to improve your communication and add enrichment to your dog’s life.
Resolution: Brush up on your dog’s manners
Whether your dog is constantly getting into the trash, barking at delivery trucks, or chewing on things that don’t belong to them, one big goal you could set for you and your dog in 2021 is to work on these behaviors around the house.
If your dog likes to get into things like the trash can or has been known to steal snacks off the table, make a commitment to remove tempting items from areas your dog can reach. You can install baby gates to prevent your dog from getting into rooms that aren’t dog-proofed, as well as making sure your dog has lots of dog-safe chews and toys at close reach.
If your dog barks at the doorbell or whenever she sees someone walk past your house, try to get your dog’s attention with a yummy treat when they exhibit this behavior. After a few repetitions, your dog will begin to associate the sound of the doorbell with a reward and will come to you for the treat instead of barking. Patience is key here; don’t yell, punish, or scold your dog — they’re just trying to alert you about the doorbell.
You can also check out the American Kennel Club’s Virtual Home Manners Title program, which is appropriate for both adult dogs as well as puppies. The title tests skills like walking nicely on a leash, being polite when humans are eating food, and other household manners.
Resolution: Fight canine boredom before it sets in
When dogs aren’t given enough enrichment, they are likely to get themselves into trouble. Bored dogs have a tendency to be loud and destructive. The amount of exercise your dog needs will depend on their age, breed, or mix of breeds.
In the new year, plan to get outside with your dog every day, even if it’s just for a walk around your neighborhood. Dogs experience the world through their sense of smell so make sure to give plenty of time for them to sniff trees, grass, and other things they spot along the way.
Looking for ways to add enrichment to your dog’s day without leaving the house? Turn your dog’s mealtime into a game! Puzzle toys and bowls are available from most pet stores, or you can hide your dog’s food or some treats around your home or under blankets on the floor to encourage your dog to hunt out the food.
Resolution: Find and practice a new sport
From parkour and tricks to obedience and agility, there is a sport out there for just about every dog and person to play together.
My dog is a champion trick dog and was just named the No. 1 dog in her breed in a National Trick Dog Competition — and she achieved all of those titles and accomplishments via video at home. She also earned two rally obedience titles this year.
Resolution: Keep better track of your dog’s appointments and needs
It can also be helpful to keep a regular training log to help you track your progress and stay motivated. This year, I used a bullet journal to track all the activities I do with my dog. If you’re looking to organize your training goals, a simple weekly checklist can also help you track the number of walks you take together and which tricks or skills you practice, as well as keeping a log of regular grooming like nail trims, ear cleaning, and coat brushing. Not only will this help you track those daily and/or weekly goals—at the end of the year, you’ll be able to look back and see all the work that led to a better relationship with your dog.
Resolution: Pace yourselves as you go
The key to successful resolutions when it comes to dog training is making sure the goals you set are realistic for both you and your dog. If your dog has spent their whole life lounging on the couch, it’s impractical to decide that you are going to go running together every day. Not only will this substantially increase the risk of injury to your dog, but it also is pretty unlikely to be fun for either of you.
Instead of trying to do everything at once, pick one thing each week or month as a focus point. By aiming for small training goals, you and your dog will be much more likely to stick with your training plan. Remember every interaction with your dog during the day is an opportunity to spend intentional time together and work on skills. For example, you can ask your dog to practice “sit” or “down” before putting on their leash to go outside for a walk, or you can incorporate grooming into your nightly television watching.