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  • Writer's pictureToby

Is your dog an optimist or a pessimist?

Dogs are often seen as one or the other. This will determine how they see their world and how easily they adapt to changes in their environment. Pessimists may tend to over react to new people, new dogs and new environments. Our aim is to help our dogs become optimists and the good news is the research says that it is possible! Fun, bonding activities together using positive reinforcement will go a long way to helping your dog feel more comfortable in his world. Positive reinforcement means 'adding something to make the behaviour stronger. This may include treats, toys, a ball or a sniffy walk. It's important to remember that reinforcement is in the eye of the beholder. Your dog gets to choose what is reinforcing so don't be a stingy boss. Find out what he likes and do lots of it! A few simple ways we can help our dogs become more optimistic include:

  • Teach some focus games that encourage your dog to respond to you instead of the environment. As Victoria Stilwell says 'think of it like a shield between you and the outside world'. Start teaching these behaviours at home without distractions before 'taking them on the road'. Some of the games I start with include putting front paws up on an object (Paws Up), place their nose on the palm of my hand (Nose touch), come around the outside of my legs (Around) , come between your legs and sit (Middle). The list is endless with so much available on youtube now as well.

  • Change the routine by feeding in different ways (snuffle mats, lickimats, scatter food), going for a drive or hike together and/or trying some fun new trick training. You might even like to schedule a training session with another dog friend or family member (?)

  • Set up some fun nose work activities where your dog goes searching for yummy treats, a favourite toy or a ball. Collect a pile of boxes appropriate to your dog's size and height and spread them around the yard with smelly treats hidden inside. Scatter food in a ball pit or hide food under empty plant pots. Sniffing is very therapeutic for dogs. It helps reduce Cortisol levels and elevates Dopamine (aka the 'Happy Chemical') in the brain. Nose work will also tire your dog out, help them sleep better and be more relaxed overall.

Below is a great little video on how to introduce nose work in boxes by my colleague Peta Clarke.




Most of all, ensure that whatever activity you are going together is fun for both of you. It's all about building relationships based on trust and mutual respect. Who doesn't want this type of relationship with all of our loved ones ? PS The use of punishment techniques in training is known to result in pessimistic dogs. Aversives add stress, affect your relationship with your dog and cause reluctance to try new things (for fear of 'being wrong')... Happy New Year, Toby xx

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