Engaging with your dog in a meaningful manner

Liz Mahony is an experienced Dog Trainer and Holistic Therapist for all animals. In her monthly column, Liz aims to promote mutual respect between carer and dog.  Contact Liz at

Yesterday was a busy day for me. After walking Juno, I went to see a family to help train their puppy who was showing signs of running wild! When I finally finished there, it was home to write up my report in the afternoon. Those reports always take time because I try to give people all the training tips and information to help them keep going.

Juno was delighted to see me come home but not so impressed with the fact that I settled down to type up my report immediately after lunch. She was very good and lay quietly near me while I worked. Her only sign of impatience was when she kicked her back legs against the sofa. (She always does this to let me know she’s waiting for action!)

Finally, with the report wrapped up, I turned to her to let her know it was her time. We had a cuddle and then I picked up some treats and told her we were going to have some fun. I don’t normally carry treats for Juno unless I’m teaching her something new and then I might use a clicker as well.

She dashed out ahead of me and I asked her to perform all the commands. She did everything with great gusto. ‘You want me to sit and stay and come to you from a distance? That’s easy.’ And she came at great speed to sit in front of me gazing into my eyes for the treat!

‘Which side would you like me to sit – left or right?’ and as I indicated she lined herself up on the particular one. ‘This is such fun’, she said and I found myself laughing and enjoying her enthusiasm. ‘What else would you like me to do?’ 

That’s when I asked her for all the tricks I’d taught her. So she spun and twirled like a dervish on command, played ‘Peek a Boo’, threaded her way in and out of my legs, gave me handshakes and waves with her right paw and high fives with her left. She was like a breath of fresh air, totally focused and enjoying herself immensely.

After that, we had a game of footie, a short walk to round it all off, then back home for her evening meal. Juno was now content with life. I, too, was left feeling relaxed and happy. And it hadn’t taken an awful lot of effort. Little Juno had given me so much in that short time. But that’s what dogs do, if we let them.

It doesn’t take much to engage your dog in play. Not only did Juno get ‘quality time’ but it was an easy way to reinforce the training commands. We came away feeling satisfied, bonded and both of us in thoroughly good humour.

Training your dog should never be a chore. If it is, then neither of you enjoys it, and you have to ask yourself why. As far as I’m concerned, teaching your dog new things is a game. I ask Juno to show me what she can do. She gets lots of praise and encouragement and then rewards if she manages it.

If it’s all done like that, your dog will be more inclined to oblige whether you have a treat or not in your hand. Never keep training your dog until he refuses to do anything or performs a command with a sulky, bad grace. I saw this first hand with a man who was a perfectionist and a bit of a control freak. When I first saw his puppy, she was lively and certainly had a bit of attitude. He trained her so hard that the next time I saw her, she was a very unhappy dog who would do nothing for anybody.

It’s only necessary to train your dog to perform the commands for two to three minutes per day. That’s plenty. Longer sessions only make a dog bored and cantankerous! But, even when your dog knows all the commands, it’s no harm to remind him of them. If you make it entertaining and enter into the spirit of the game, you’ll get huge enjoyment just like I did.

All dogs want is to be part of our lives but in a productive way. So engage their brains; help them reach their potential. They will continue to surprise you with their ability to problem solve.

All they want is someone to take the time to listen to them!


WCP Staff

WCP Staff Writer

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