How To Become A Dog Trainer

So you want to be a dog trainer? It’s common for dog lovers looking for a career change to consider dog training as an option. Being a dog trainer can be an incredibly rewarding job. You spend your days surrounded by dogs, plus you get to help people and their pets live together happily and harmoniously. However, people often call a dog trainer only when they have a problem on their hands. This might mean working with reactive dogs or those with separation anxiety or other issues. It can be stressful and challenging trying to help owners work through such issues, and happy endings are never guaranteed. So, if you desire to be a dog trainer but your only credentials are owning or training your own dog, be aware that you have work to do.

Train Your Own Dog

The first step in your journey should be training your own dog. If you don’t currently own a dog, find one you can spend a lot of time with so you can build a regular training routine. Don’t just teach the basics like “sit” or “down.”  Teach advanced skills too, such as staying put with the added challenge of distance and distractions. The AKC Canine Good Citizen test is an excellent goal to work towards. Also consider taking up a dog sport with your dog so you can really dig into the technical aspects of training like timing, rate of reinforcement, and reward placement. Finally, modify any problem behaviors as you encounter them. In the end, your dog doesn’t have to be perfect. But your potential future clients will need help with all kinds of behaviors, so you need hands-on experience with whatever you might be required to teach. All that experience will help to hone your abilities. Training is a mechanical skill, so before you can demonstrate it to students, you need to develop a high level of proficiency by practicing on your own dog.

Apprentice With Other Dogs

Training your own dog is valuable but remember, your dog loves you and will forgive your mistakes. Fumbling with treats or accidentally rewarding the wrong behavior won’t bother your canine companion. However, your clients might not be so patient. Plus, a good dog trainer knows more than one method to train a behavior. For example, the lure-and-reward method might have easily helped your dog learn to sit, but another dog could need a completely different approach. The best way to polish your skills and practice other approaches is by working with dogs who aren’t your own. You can ask friends and family if you can teach their dogs. Or, you can talk to local shelters or rescue organizations about working with their dogs. An even better idea is to apprentice with a successful dog trainer. That will not only give you access to more dogs, but you will also have somebody monitoring your technique and guiding your development. Check with local dog trainers in your area to see if anybody is willing to take you on as an apprentice or assistant.

Train People to Train Their Dogs

A secret about dog training is that most dog trainers don’t train dogs. They train people. Your main job as a trainer will be to teach your clients how to do the training for themselves. That means dog trainers need people skills. Even if you prefer pets to people, you need the ability to motivate your clients, shape their abilities, and reinforce their successes. Therefore, no matter how many dogs you’ve trained, until you’ve worked with human clients, you only have part of the necessary package. Again, you can work with friends and family and guide them to train their own dogs. Or you can apprentice with a professional trainer and gain experience with their clients.

Educate Yourself

There are a lot of myths about dogs and their motivations, but modern dog training is based on the science of animal behavior and learning. Therefore, part of becoming a dog trainer is educating yourself in those areas. For example, it’s important to understand the four quadrants of operant conditioning or how classical conditioning works. You won’t be able to problem-solve for your clients or adapt your techniques to a given situation if you don’t understand the principles behind your techniques. There are plenty of excellent resources regarding dog training that can help build your knowledge. For instance, training schools, like the Karen Pryor Academy, offer a variety of dog training courses and webinars, both in-person and online. Just be sure to look at the credentials of whoever is offering the course to be sure their teachings are scientifically sound. The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers maintains a list of resources that can help you start your search.

dancing dogBecoming A Certified Dog Trainer

Now that you’ve worked with dogs and people, and taken the courses, you’re ready to jump into dog training. First, join a professional organization like the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. Membership in organizations like this will show your clients you are serious about your new profession. Plus, your membership will provide you access to information and courses that will keep you up to date on all the latest training advancements. An extra bonus is being included in the organization’s trainer locator database, allowing potential clients to find you more easily. Next, look into certification. You don’t need any formal education or certification to call yourself a dog trainer. However, if you’ve done all the hard work, why not prove it to your clients. For example, to earn the title of Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed with the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, you need to complete a minimum of 300 hours of experience training dogs in the last three years as well as pass a 180-question multiple-choice exam. With standards like that, certification will ensure potential clients have faith in your skills and choose you over other dog trainers. Lastly, never stop learning! The field of dog training is ever-evolving, so it’s important to stay on top of the latest research and techniques to ensure you become the best dog trainer you can possibly be.… Read More »

Find a Dog Trainer

Brown Lab mix and his trainer A dog trainer can help you discourage unwanted behavior in your pet and encourage desirable behavior. They teach the basics: house-training, crate training, and correcting behaviors like digging, barking, chewing, jumping up on people and pulling on lead. Trainers generally don’t have medical knowledge or enough expertise to deal with serious behavior problems, but they are the least expensive option among the behavior professionals. The trainers at Best Friends have found that dog training built on a positive relationship is the kindest — and also the most effective — method of training. Training methods that build a positive relationship with the dog have lasting beneficial effects. When you have a good relationship with the dog, you have the animal’s trust, and he/she wants to spend time with you and work with you. Training based on punishment or dominance negates any sort of positive relationship you might develop with the animal. Anyone can claim to be a trainer, so ask questions like the following if you’re thinking about hiring someone:

How were you trained?

Look for someone who has had life experience, someone who has been around animals, not just taken classes. Ask about formal training, but keep in mind that many good trainers are self-taught through experience. Also, the best trainers keep themselves well-informed about new training methods and theories.

What training methods do you use?

You want to find a trainer who uses relationship-based training methods — someone who will give you and your pet a positive experience. You don’t want a trainer who uses punishment or compulsion training (in which the dog is compelled to perform a behavior and physically corrected for noncompliance).

How much experience do you have?

The trainer should have at least six months of experience. Anything less and the person may not know how to work with problem behavior in a calm, confident manner. Animals can sense a lack of confidence, and the training will be less successful as a result.

What types of animals have you trained?

Some trainers work with a variety of animals and some only work with one type. It’s most desirable for the trainer to have had experience working with a wide variety of animals, since you learn something different from training each type of animal.

Are you certified by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers?

This is the only national certification for pet dog trainers.

Can I contact a few of your customers?

Often the most helpful information comes from those who have used the services of the trainer you are interested in. While you’re talking to the trainer, take note of whether the trainer is patient and clear when explaining the training process and answering your questions. After all, your dog isn’t the only one who will be in training. You will be, too, and you’ll need to have good communication with the trainer. We recommend that you visit during one of the trainer’s sessions to see the style, techniques and tools being used. If the trainer does anything that you are uncomfortable with, keep looking. You can find a certified dog trainer through, the website for the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. You can also find a trainer through the Association of Professional Dog Trainers ( If there are no trainers in your area, contact one of the trainers listed and ask him/her to recommend someone. If you are told by a trainer that he or she is not qualified for your case, ask for a referral to a behavior counselor or animal behaviorist.… Read More »

5 Reasons Why You Need to Train Your Dog

5 Reasons Why You Need to Train Your Dog

Train Dog Our dogs should bring us joy, companionship, and a sense of pride. But when a dog continually disobeys or exhibits behavioral issues, dealing with them can be a constant source of stress for both us and them. Making sure your dog is properly trained is the responsibility of every dog owner—not just for your dog’s welfare, but for your own peace of mind as well. No matter its age, breed, or temperament, every dog can benefit from a little instruction. Here are five reasons to consider training your dog, or having her enrolled in an obedience class.

1. Training benefits both dog and owner

When it comes to training, your dog isn’t the only one reaping the rewards. Working regularly with your dog helps you to understand her needs better, making you an even better owner as well. It can also be a great source of exercise and open up new possibilities for you—the better behaved your dog is, the easier it is to take her along wherever you go.

2. For their own safety

The better you can control your dog with voice commands, the better you can protect her when unrestrained. A dog that bolts when off the leash is much more likely to run in front of a car, or to slip out the front door before you’re ready to leave. Also, should your dog ever become lost or need to be placed in a shelter, being well-trained only increases the likelihood she will behave well, or in the event it’s necessary, be placed with a new family.

3. It helps your dog to be more sociable

As your dog learns to respect boundaries and behave properly in social situations, other dogs (and people) will be more comfortable and at ease around her as well. As a result, more of these interactions will be positive experiences for your dog. If he begins to enjoy these social encounters, your dog will be more relaxed and manageable with each interaction.

4. Training makes boarding your dog go smoothly

That increased sociability we just mentioned becomes even more critical when it’s time to board your dog or when friends offer to take her in while you’re out of town. It’s one thing for your dog to obey owner’s commands, but a successfully trained dog will also follow others’ orders when you’re not there. Unless you want to cut your vacation short because your dog isn’t playing well with others, making sure she’s properly trained should be a top priority.

5. Because you can teach old dogs new tricks

There are plenty of myths out there that might be stopping you from moving forward with your dog’s education. But many of them are just plain wrong, and some may even be causing you to encourage bad behavior. For one, a dog’s age is no indication of his capacity to be trained. Older dogs may be need a few physical accommodations, particularly larger dogs or those with weight problems, but they can learn to take instruction just as well as younger dogs. A well-behaved dog experiences less stress, interacts better with others, and forms a stronger bond with you. At Pet Palace, our team is committed to helping your dog live the healthiest, happiest life possible, and a well-behaved dog will have much more fun on her next stay with us. Contact us or stop by one of our locations to make your next reservation.… Read More »


train a dog with these tips on training a dog, tips to train your dog January is National Train Your Dog Month! Training is a very important part of being a dog owner; it teaches discipline, provides mental stimulation and bonds the two of you. But we know training isn’t always as simple as snuggling up with your pup…it takes time and energy from both you and your dog. Thankfully you’re in luck! This month training your dog will really pay off if you enter our Train Your Dog Contest…get all the details here! Here are our best 5 tips for training your dog (and winning our contest)

1. Be Patient

Training takes energy, effort and TIME! When you’re training your dog (puppy or adult), you are changing their behavior; it will take more than one attempt. You’ll want to start with the basics (think sit…stay…) and build on those achievements. You are communicating with an animal that does not speak the same language as you! Your dog wants to understand, but give them time to understand your expectations and commands…be really patient!

2. Never Blame Your Dog

We mentioned that patience is key; along with that comes your attitude with training. Always keep a positive attitude when training (and talking to) your pet…refrain from yelling or scolding and never blame your dog! When you offer positive reinforcement for even the smallest accomplishments, dogs will be more likely to repeat those positive actions because they aim to please you!

3. Train at the Right Time

Dogs (especially puppies) have a LOT of energy; they will listen and train much better after releasing some of it. Take your pup for a long walk or visit the dog park before you plan to train to ensure they’ve gotten plenty of exercise and they’ll be ready to listen and you can make the most out of your training session.

4. Use the Right Treats

You’ll be amazed at how much harder your dog will work for a high-value treat that they love! The treats you choose to use will impact the success of your training. Rewards like Freeze-Dried Tripe or Rabbit Bites are perfect for training because of their size (small enough to toss to any size dog), ingredients (100% all meat) and packaging (convenient resealable bags).

5. Give Praise

If the treat comes more than a few seconds after your pup has done what you’ve asked, they have no idea what they did to earn it…or you may have inadvertently reward the wrong behavior. While your dog will be happy to take it, you failed to reward what you were teaching. Also remember to always use a happy and upbeat tone when rewarding!   Follow these five steps to training your pup and you’ll be well on your way to a well-behaved and trained dog! And don’t forget to document the training process and post a photo to your Instagram story or feed using. Contact Us today.Read More »

The Top 5 Benefits of Having A Pet

woman kissing dog

The Top 5 Benefits of Having A Pet

May is National Pet Month! While we celebrate pets every day, we’ll take any chance we can to talk about them. There are plenty of reasons to bring home a pet. Sure, they come with their own challenges just like anything good, but if you’ve ever owned a pet, you know that they give us more than we could ever give them. And here are five reasons that prove just that. Move More From daily walks to playing around the house, a cat or dog can motivate you to get up and be active each and every day. Without a pet, it can be easy to spend the weekend on the couch. But pets require daily activity, and they aren’t shy in reminding you. Dogs especially lend themselves to fun ways to move more. From walks and runs to games of fetch, canines can help owners spend more time on their feet, improving their overall health. Heart Health The increased activity levels that come with owning a pet inevitably mean better overall cardiovascular health. But it’s not just because of the activity that cats and dogs are good for your heart health. Scientific research has actually shown that owning a pet lowers the risk of a heart attack. These studies concluded that pet ownership lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, which lowers your risk of heart disease. It also doesn’t hurt that owning a pet decreases your stress level, too, another factor in heart health. Less Stress Through the good and bad, cats and dogs are always there for you, and the unconditional love they offer each day reduces your stress levels. They can make an owner forget about a rough day at work in a matter of moments. Studies have shown that petting a dog can actually lower your levels of cortisol, a hormone that causes stress. Dogs and cats can also reduce the impact of anxiety and depression. Overall, they offer a healthy and wholesome way to destress and unwind. More Social The moment you take home your dog or cat for the first time, you become part of a community and a very large one at that. A majority of American households own at least one cat or dog. Chances are, there are at least a few of those individuals that live on your street or in your apartment building. Having a dog or cat is an excuse to get to know them. For example, taking your dog on a walk around the neighborhood or to the dog park is a great way to meet new people. There are even social media groups where dog and cat owners congregate to celebrate and cherish their pets. Help with Learning Disabilities Not all heroes wear capes; some have fur. Cats and dogs play a critical role in the well-being of those struggling with a variety of mental and physical health issues. From veterans suffering from PTSD to senior citizens struggling with cognitive function, cats and dogs have a special ability to enrich people’s lives. Whether they are emotional support animals, or a constant companion for a child struggling with a social disorder, dogs and cats can play an integral role in helping us heal and cope. There are so many reasons to bring a dog or cat into your home. They have scientifically proven health benefits for owners. Through caring for them, they can actually help you become a better you. While the benefits are clear, the best parts of owning a dog or cat are the unexpected ways they will make you smile.… Read More »

What Does It Take to be a Good Dog Trainer?

Are you considering a career as a dog trainer, but not sure if it’s a good fit? Here at the Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training and Behavior, we’ve worked with thousands of dog trainers across the globe to help them build successful dog training businesses that help dogs and people live better together. We polled our team to find out what the most important traits are in a prospective dog trainer

                     Do you have what it takes?

  1. Great dog trainers like working with people If you imagine working with dogs, dogs, dogs all day long, don’t forget that most of them come with people! As one professional dog trainer we know likes to say: “Dogs do not have bank accounts.” To which we answer: Not yet, anyway! Good dog trainers enjoy interacting with people as well as canines.
  2. Great dog trainers have good observation skills Are you able to see the big picture without losing the minute details? Dog behavior can be subtle and quick. In addition to observing the dog, trainers must also observe the human at the other end of the leash as well as keep the surroundings in view for potential distractions.
  3. Great dog trainers think on their feet Flexibility is a must for dog trainers, and we are not talking about the kind you need to stay on your feet while being greeted by a large, exuberant pup! (Ok, maybe a bit….) From last-minute schedule changes to sudden rainstorms to quick shifts in the carefully crafted training plan you spent all night creating, trainers who can think on their feet have the advantage in this profession.
  4. Great dog trainers have good public speaking skills Teaching group classes requires being comfortable speaking to people from all walks of life. If you just read that and thought “Nope, not me,” rest easy. Speaking clearly and confidently is a learned skill. With practice and motivation, you can master the skill of speaking to larger groups than you ever imagined. Bonus: Confidence naturally develops as you increase your understanding and knowledge of the subject you are speaking about so never stop learning. Speaking of learning…
  5. Great dog trainers understand the value of certification and continuing education. As we understand more about dogs and how best to teach them, staying on top of the latest trends and information in dog training is essential. Good trainers are tuned in to new data and keep their skills sharp. Reading, attending lectures, conferences, webinars, and seminars all show that you are committed to staying current in an ever-changing field. It’s also a terrific way to network with like-minded peers (more on that to come). Certification demonstrates that your expertise has met or exceeded standards for your industry. That’s good for you, your clients, and the industry at large.
  6. Great dog trainers use technology to their advantage Ok, this isn’t a must, but dog training is steadily increasing its online presence. Training online using live streaming technology is no longer uncommon and trainers who are willing to try it can excel. This is an especially helpful option to clients with dogs that cannot yet be comfortable around other dogs or people, for example. Building confidence can start at home without the distraction of a new person in the environment. Likewise, keeping good records can be made easier with programs that translate spoken words to text. Professional dog trainers are their own marketing department, bookkeeper, publicist, and more. Thanks to online programs, many of these tasks can be completed more easily than you may think.
  7. Great dog trainers employ regular networking practices Some trainers prefer working with puppies, others prefer teaching dog sports. Developing a network of trainers in your area to refer those cases you prefer to not take on can help you and your network grow. Chances are, you will begin to receive referrals from them in return. It is important for dog trainers to have a strong social network of like-minded peers. Finding your tribe and nurturing those relationships can be essential. That’s yet another reason we created the Dog Trainer Course with its built-in graduate support so VSA students can build their own network from day one.
  8. Great dog trainers make training fun for the dog (and the human)! Modern dog training methods rely on the science of learning and behavior to teach. Gone are the old days of “yank and crank” training methods. We know that positive training works. It is backed by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (and other esteemed professional organizations). Learning shouldn’t hurt or be scary. What it should be is effective. Positive training is not only effective, but it is also fun for both the teacher and the learner. And that’s a win-win!
So do you have what it takes to be a great dog trainer? We’re here to help! Sign up for our free starter course now, or jump right in with one of our dog trainer courses.… Read More »

10 Training Tips for Your New Dog

dog eating treat out of hand Once you bring your new dog home, it’s smart to begin training immediately. But where should you start? What’s the best way to train a puppy? And how do you train an adult dog? There are a number of options for training your new pet. Whether you opt to train your puppy or dog yourself, take classes or hire a private trainer, you can implement the following basic training tips right away to make the process easier.

Top 10 Dog Training Tips

These top 10 tips from professional dog trainers will help get you and your new pal on the right track.  

Tip 1: Choose Your Dog's Name Wisely

Part of the fun of bringing home a new puppy or dog is finding the perfect name for them. But did you know certain names are better for training? It helps to consider a short name ending with a strong consonant that they can always hear clearly. A strong ending, like in the names “Jasper,” “Jack” and “Ginger,” perks up puppy ears — especially when you place emphasis at the end. If your new pet is an older dog, they’re probably used to their name at this point. However, changing it isn’t out of the question. And if your new pal is coming out of an abusive situation, a new name may even represent a fresh start. Dogs are extremely adaptable. If you decide to give them a new name, use it consistently and soon enough your pup will respond to it. Whatever their name, be sure to associate it with fun, pleasant experiences as much as possible, rather than negative ones. Ideally, your pup should think of their name in the same way they think of other fun stuff like walks or dinnertime.  

Tip 2: Decide on the House Rules

Before your new furry pal comes home, decide what they can and can’t do. Are they allowed on the bed or the furniture? Are parts of the house off limits? Will they have their own chair at your dining table? If the rules are determined early, you can avoid confusion — for both of you.  

Tip 3: Set Up a Private Den

Like humans, dogs need their own space. As early as possible, give your pup their own private sleeping place, such as a crate. Your dog will benefit from short periods left alone in the comfort and safety of their den; it can also be a valuable tool for housetraining. Be sure to reward your puppy or dog if they remain relaxed and quiet in their den.  

Tip 4: Help Your Dog Relax

When your puppy gets home, give them a warm hot-water bottle and put a ticking clock near their sleeping area. This imitates the heat and heartbeat of litter mates and will soothe your puppy in their new environment. This tip may be even more important for a new dog that previously lived in a busy, loud shelter, particularly if they’ve had a rough time early in life. Whatever you can do to help your new pet get comfortable in their forever home will be good for both of you.   owner playing with dog

Tip 5: Reward Good Behavior

Reward your puppy or dog’s good behavior with positive reinforcement. Use toys, love and lots of praise — and don’t forget the treats, such as DENTASTIX™ treats. Let them know when they’re getting it right. Along those same lines, never reward bad behavior, as it’ll only confuse them.  

Tip 6: Teach Your Pup to Come When Called

Come, Jasper! Good boy! The first command you teach your pet should be to come. Get down on their level and tell your pup to come using their name. When they do, get excited and use lots of positive reinforcement. Next time, try the “come” command when they’re distracted with food or a toy. As your puppy gets older, you’ll continue to see the benefits of perfecting this command.  

Tip 7: Train on "Dog Time"

Puppies and dogs live in the moment — two minutes after they’ve done something, they’ve already forgotten about it. So when your pup is doing something bad, use your chosen training technique right away so they have a chance to make the association between the behavior and the correction. Consistent repetition will reinforce what they’ve learned.  

Tip 8: Discourage Jumping Right Away

Puppies love to jump up in greeting, and some adult dogs have learned bad habits. When your puppy or dog jumps on a person, don’t reprimand them; just turn your back on them, ignore the behavior and wait until they settle down before giving positive reinforcement. Never encourage jumping behavior by patting or praising your dog when they’re in a “jumping up” position.  

Tip 9: Say No to Biting and Nipping

Instead of scolding your new pet, a great way to discourage your mouthy canine is to pretend you’re in a lot of pain when they bite or nip you — a sharp, loud yell should work. Most dogs are so surprised that they stop immediately. If verbal cues don’t work, try trading a chew toy for your hand or pant leg. This swap trick can also work when a puppy discovers the joys of chewing on your favorite shoes. They tend to prefer a toy or bone anyway. If all else fails, interrupt the biting behavior and respond by ignoring them.  

Tip 10: End Training Sessions on a Positive Note

Your puppy or dog has worked hard to please you throughout their training. Leave them with lots of praise, a treat, some petting or five minutes of play. This almost guarantees they’ll show up at their next class or training session with their tail wagging, ready to work! Bonus tip: When your puppy is old enough, think about getting them neutered or spayed. The same goes if you adopt a dog. A neutered or spayed dog might be more docile, less aggressive and more open to successful training.… Read More »

Psychological Benefit of Owning a Dog

Psychological Benefit of Owning a Dog Anyone who owns a pet understands that there are many important benefits to that pet and owner relationship, and researchers have long known that there are some profound psychological advantages. Studies going back almost 30 years show that there are many physiological changes that occur when you interact with a friendly dog including lower blood pressure, slowed heart rate, and relaxed muscles. Since then, animals have become important in many mental health therapies. Among the most common is the use of dogs as emotional support partners. It is now well established that dogs reduce stress in a variety of ways that can ameliorate anxiety and other mental health issues.

Oxytocin Release

Most people realize that there is a pleasurable response for you and the dog when you pet it, but few understand the complex chemical interplay that is occurring. This kind of interaction produces the hormone oxytocin which is the same hormone instrumental in bonding mothers to infants. Oxytocin is made in the hypothalamus and is released during sex, lactation, and childbirth. It plays a key role in emotional bonding and social recognition. Oxytocin is often referred to as the “love hormone” because it rises in people who are romantically aroused. Oxytocin also appears to be important in stress responses. One 2006 study of mammalian voles found that if they were given oxytocin, their anxiety, depression, and cardiac stress levels all declined. Other studies indicate that this hormone may be important in partner loyalty because it stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain. Playing with a dog will promote oxytocin production in both the human and the pet. It is enough to merely make eye contact to initiate this neurochemical pathway. This positive feedback is why people bond so readily with dogs and why they are such good emotional support animals. This hormone may play a key role in childhood anxiety mitigation. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of 643 children found that 21 percent without dogs tested positive for anxiety while only 12 percent with dogs tested positive.

Our Role as Pet Owners

In addition to the biochemical processes that occur when we interact with dogs, we also derive psychological benefits from being responsible pet owners. It is important for people to feel needed even if that feeling comes from a pet. Caring for others can provide meaning and purpose that can boost self-esteem. Although this kind of psychological boost is more obvious with a pet like a dog that can return the affection, it has been shown in other owner and pet relationships. One 2016 study revealed that elderly people who were given crickets to take care of experienced an increase in mood during the course of this care. It may seem obvious, but it is important to recognize that we enjoy companionship. A host of research supports the idea that having an animal companion produces emotional benefits including
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Less loneliness
  • More conscientious
  • More extroverted
  • Less fearful
  • More physically fit
Not only can pets boost our mood and mental health, but they also provide a buffer against negative emotions. A study of 97 undergraduates found that pets could mitigate feelings of rejection. In fact, the study participants did not even need to interact with the pet to experience this encouragement; just writing about their pet was enough to boost their mood. One key benefit of having a pet is their immersion at the moment. Because they do not worry about the past or future, and they are so playful and carefree, they provide powerful examples of mindfulness.

Pets as Therapies for Mental Illness

Given the many positive effects that pets have on people, it is hardly surprising that several mental health therapies involving pets have been developed.  A 2016 study from the University of Manchester that included 54 patients with illnesses like schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, and PTSD found that having a pet improved illness symptoms. Not only did pets distract these patients from suicidal thoughts and auditory hallucinations, but they also improved their self-worth, sense of identity, and personal meaning. Just as importantly, pets also provided a sense of control, security, and routine. One of the study’s authors said that pets offer unconditional support and validation that can’t be found in family or social relationships. It should also be noted that pets compel us into healthy habits. A prime example of this is how having a dog requires us to take the animal for walks on a regular basis. This not only forces us to leave the confines of our homes, but it also immerses us in nature which boosts our mood. Furthermore, we must get into the habit of feeding, grooming, and medically treating our pets. That means we must remain attentive to their needs and behaviors. This requires a measure of physical activity and scheduling that also benefits the owner. If your pet requires walking in the morning, then you will need to adjust your schedule to accommodate their needs. If you are grooming your pet on a regular basis, this usually translates into better self-care as well. Pet owners who must maintain the bodies and appearances of their pets also tend to take better care of themselves.  For people with chronic health conditions, this means that they are more likely to follow their doctor’s orders and take the initiative in caring about their health. If there is one very unhealthy habit of mentally ill people, it is a tendency to isolate themselves. Having a pet like a dog not only provides a positive social interaction, but it also helps bolster relationship building with other people.  Dogs especially follow human cues, so they help nurture emotional development which helps kids make friends easier. Dogs often require walks and playing with other dogs. These interactions provide important opportunities to socialize with neighbors and other pet owners. These chance meetings can quickly grow into friendships that offer emotional support, validation, and personal enjoyment.… Read More »

Fun, Cognitive Training Games to Make Your Dog Smarter

There are lots of objectives when it comes to training your dog, but beyond the obvious skill and relationship-building aspects to training, another advantage is that it challenges your dog and ultimately makes them smarter. And who says it can’t be fun? Beyond basic obedience training, there are also plenty of fun games for dogs and interactive dog toys that will be cognitively stimulating on top of being entertaining — for both of you! Read on to learn about several games and activities that will greatly benefit your dog.

 Teach Your Dog to Make Eye Contact

dog keeps eye contact Teach your dog to give you eye contact. Hold a treat to your forehead or by your eye and ask your dog to look at you. Gradually fade the food to use a hand signal and a verbal command to ask your dog to look at you. Not only does this basic behavior help you get your dog’s attention when he is distracted, but eye contact also triggers a release of oxytocin in both you and your dog. Oxytocin is the hormone for attachment between parent and child. Scientists call these “eye hugs.”

Switch Up Your Dog Walking Routine

If you really want to make sure you have your dog’s undivided attention, now and again you should switch up your routine. An easy way to do this is by changing the route you typically take when you walk your dog. You can start off by going in a different direction or making a left when you normally take a right, but can also try somewhere completely new to challenge her even more. Exposing your dog to new sights, smells and sounds will throw them for a loop, so you want to make sure that they are paying attention to you and following your lead. Make sure before exposing your dog to a new walking environment that it’s safe for both of you.

Hot & Cold Game

beagle pays attention The “Hot & Cold” game uses verbal communication and vocal tone to help your dog find a hidden treat or toy. Hide a treat when your dog is not looking. Use a calm tone for colder if your dog moves away from the hidden treat. Use a more excited tone for “hotter” as your dog gets closer to the hidden treat. This game increases listening skills. It also helps build the special “language” shared by you and your dog.

Snuffle Mat

Looking for a way to engage your dog? A snuffle mat is a perfect item for curious dogs. This large, interactive nose work mat provides hours of mental stimulation and fun for your pup.

Teach Your Dog to Solve a Problem treats on a string

Let your dog figure out how to pull a string to get a treat. Tie a ribbon or small rope to a treat and hide it under a small platform or piece of furniture, far enough back so they cannot reach the treat with their mouth or paw. Encourage your dog to investigate and see how long it takes for him to tug on the string to retrieve the treat. Reasoning skills are essential for developing puppies and older dogs alike. Successful problem solving is also a big confidence booster.

DIY Interactive Treat Game for Dogs

nesting bowl of treats games Use plastic storage bowls that nest inside each other, either ones that are the same size or ones that go from large to smaller. Place a treat in the bottom container, then place the second container on top. Continue layering treats and containers. Include one treat in the top, open container to get your dog started. Be sure to do this under supervision so your dog does not try to eat the plastic containers. You can work up in level to make this more difficult, by adding more containers as your dog figures out each level.

Put Dog Treats in a Plastic Bottle treats in a bottle game

For this game, use plastic soda bottles, a metal rod, and a wooden base to create treats-in-a-bottle. Put three soda bottles through the metal rod and secure them in the wooden base. Put treats in two of the bottles and watch your dog try to get the treats from the bottles

Fun and Plush Dog Puzzle Toys

Outward Hound Hide A Squirrel Puzzle DogSimilar to the games above, there are a variety of puzzle toys available that will be especially invigorating for your dog if they’re food motivated. The objective, of course, is to have them use their brain to earn the reward. These interactive toys improve your dog’s memory, as well as teach them to focus on a specific task for a period of time.

DIY Dog Agility Course

This is not only mentally stimulating for your dog, but physically as well! You can easily make an obstacle course out of common household objects or buy affordable dog agility set online. Set up your dining room chairs and have your dog weave through them, or set up a broom or mop to have them jump over. Your dog will be following your cues to get through the course, but they’ll be having so much fun they won’t even realize you’re training them! If you find your dog is truly excelling with this, you may consider getting them involved in agility.

Play Hide and Seek With Your Dog

This isn’t just a kid’s game! It’s a fun game to play with your dog — with you being the ultimate reward. Ask your dog to sit and stay, while you take your time finding the perfect hiding spot. When you’re ready, ask your dog to come and find you. Since dogs’ sense of smell is pretty incredible, it shouldn’t take very long for them to find you. Reward them once they discover you. Over time, you can pick more challenging spots to hide in so they have to work extra hard to figure out where you are.

Teach Your Dog New Tricks

Teaching your dog a new trick (whether they’re young or old) isn’t always the easiest, but it’s definitely rewarding for both of you. This is something that you may have to work on overtime, but will develop attention and obedience skills. One fun one to start with is Under the Bridge. Simply sit on the floor with your knees slightly bent and use a high-value treat or your dog’s favorite toy to tempt them to move under the “bridge” your legs have made. Make sure to give them a lot of praise once they’ve accomplished the task! Mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise for a well-rounded dog. These games and others strengthen not only your dog’s mind but your bond with your dog.… Read More »

5 Ways Pets Can Improve Your HealthIf a dog lived in the home,

A pet is certainly a great friend. After a difficult day, pet owners quite literally feel the love.

In fact, for nearly 25 years, research has shown that living with pets provides certain health benefits. Pets help lower blood pressure and lessen anxiety. They boost our immunity. They can even help you get dates.Should you get a smart collar for your dog or cat? | iMore

Allergy Fighters

"The old thinking was that if your family had a pet, the children were more likely to become allergic to the pet. And if you came from an allergy-prone family, pets should be avoided," says researcher James E. Gern, MD, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

However, a growing number of studies have suggested that kids growing up in a home with "furred animals" -- whether it's a pet cat or dog, or on a farm and exposed to large animals -- will have less risk of allergies and asthma, he tells WebMD.

In his recent study, Gern analyzed the blood of babies immediately after birth and one year later. He was looking for evidence of an allergic reaction, immunity changes, and for reactions to bacteria in the environment.

If a dog lived in the home, infants were less likely to show evidence of pet allergies -- 19% vs. 33%. They also were less likely to have eczema, a common allergy skin condition that causes red patches and itching. In addition, they had higher levels of some immune system chemicals -- a sign of stronger immune system activation.

"Dogs are dirty animals, and this suggests that babies who have greater exposure to dirt and allergens have a stronger immune system," Gern says.

Date Magnets

Dogs are great for making love connections. Forget Internet matchmaking -- a dog is a natural conversation starter.

This especially helps ease people out of social isolation or shyness, Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University in Atlanta, tells WebMD.

"People ask about breed, they watch the dog's tricks," Kaslow says. "Sometimes the conversation stays at the 'dog level,' sometimes it becomes a real social interchange."

Dogs for the Aged

"Studies have shown that Alzheimer's patients have fewer anxious outbursts if there is an animal in the home," says Lynette Hart, PhD, associate professor at the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

"Their caregivers also feel less burdened when there is a pet, particularly if it is a cat, which generally requires less care than a dog," says Hart.

Walking a dog or just caring for a pet -- for elderly people who are able -- can provide exercise and companionship. One insurance company, Midland Life Insurance Company of Columbus, Ohio, asks clients over age 75 if they have a pet as part of their medical screening -- which often helps tip the scales in their favor.

Good for Mind and Soul

Pet owners with AIDS are far less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets. "The benefit is especially pronounced when people are strongly attached to their pets," says researcher Judith Siegel, Ph.D.

In one study, stockbrokers with high blood pressure who adopted a cat or dog had lower blood pressure readings in stressful situations than did people without pets.

People in stress mode get into a "state of dis-ease," in which harmful chemicals like cortisol and norepinephrine can negatively affect the immune system, says Blair Justice, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health and author of Who Gets Sick: How Beliefs, Moods, and Thoughts Affect Your Health.

Studies show a link between these chemicals and plaque buildup in arteries, the red flag for heart disease, says Justice.

Like any enjoyable activity, playing with a dog can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine -- nerve transmitters that are known to have pleasurable and calming properties, he tells WebMD.

"People take drugs like heroin and cocaine to raise serotonin and dopamine, but the healthy way to do it is to pet your dog, or hug your spouse, watch sunsets, or get around something beautiful in nature," says Justice, who recently hiked the Colorado Rockies with his wife and two dogs.

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