As kids go back to school and adults return to work after summer holidays, do you ever wonder how all of this affects your dog? Do these changes in routine impact your dog’s schedule? We turned to dog trainer, Anya Kopchinsky, for some answers!
Question: Tell us about yourself and your work with dogs!
My name is Anya Kopchinsky (@blondesandbullies). I am a fear-free certified dog trainer (Canine Professional Dog Trainer- knowledge assessed – “CPDT-KA”). I have been working in shelters and in rescue for 15 years and, in that time, found my true love of pitbull-type dogs, leading me to foster over 300 of them! I have my own training business in Fairfield, CT focusing on aggression and fear issues in dogs.
Question: Do dogs understand going back to school?
A dog’s schedule is dictated by routine, so dogs certainly understand a change in their routine. Frequently, dogs will pick up on the signs of you leaving (known as pre-departure cues) and will know you are leaving before you actually do. For example, when you pick up your keys – or when the kids put their backpacks on! – dogs understand you are about to leave. So, from a departure cue standpoint, dogs understand back to school. For many dogs, this is not a problem, but for some, separation anxiety can start to be triggered by these little pre-departure cues.
Question: Do they understand the difference between weekdays and workdays? How?
They understand that your routine is different on the weekends, so that day looks different for your dog’s schedule, but they can’t count the days and know the weekend is coming – every day is a weekend for them! Dogs are really always living in the moment – we can learn so much from them.
Question: Sometimes it appears that dogs lose what they learned in training. Why?
If a dog loses what is learned in training, this is because the owner was not involved in the training. Dogs think in pictures – meaning, they understand related to certain environments. When the picture changes (different handler, different environment), they do not translate as easily. This is why it’s important to work WITH a trainer not just have a trainer train your dog.
I think we have to keep in mind that what we are asking our dogs to learn in training is often unnatural to them, and it is not intrinsically valuable to them. So we have to make what we accompany training with a loonnnngggg reinforcement history. This means lots of rewards, treats, and petting when they correctly do the thing we want them to do.
And, since dogs think in pictures, training needs to be practiced in new environments and under different distractions. Thirty days of dog boot camp just isn’t enough. Dogs, like us, are constantly learning and adapting to their environments and finding what’s rewarding for them in the moment. Consistency and making training fun is key.
Question: In the spirit of Back to School, what are some refresher training tips you can give to people for their dogs?
I love this question! It’s great to start to practice your leaving routine before you start to leave your dog for hours at a time. As kids go back to school and we return to the office, it will be hard for our dogs to go from no time alone to 8 hours alone. These changes to your dog’s schedule can cause anxiety for some pets. To help your dog adjust, start with 5 minutes. Prepare your dog for spending more time alone by walking to the mailbox or leaving for 5-15 minutes. Then you can gradually increase the amount of time you spend away from your dog.
It’s also important to keep your dog mentally stimulated. My biggest training tip to my clients is simple: Ditch the Dog Food Bowl. Dogs are foraging creatures – dog noses have tens of thousands of more sensors than human noses. Challenging dogs to forage for their food in kongs and puzzle toys provides mental stimulation that they enjoy. At first, make these foraging challenges easy for your dog, and harder as time goes by so they can continue to problem solve and gain confidence. I love to use cardboard boxes with treats in them for dogs that love to rip stuff up!
Enriching your dog’s life with training and natural outlets will keep most behavior issues at bay. I use high value treats throughout the day to encourage and teach the behavior I want.
Question: You train a lot of rescue dogs. Is it harder to train older dogs or dogs who have been let down by humans in the past?
It can be harder to train older dogs but if you go slow and use positive reinforcement dog training, older dogs are just as open to learning, if not more. Older dogs are so eager to please. Once a dog learns HOW to learn, they can do anything.
I just took in a few dogs from a dog fighting bust that didn’t even know the command “sit” at 5 years old. Now, they sit, wait for doors, and are learning the commands “down” and “stay” after just a few weeks of learning!
Question: What do people tend to get wrong when training their dogs?
Hands down, I see people not reward dogs enough when dog training. Think about it: dogs need a paycheck or they won’t keep doing what we want. As training continues, it builds a positive relationship between you and your dog, and the paycheck increases even more. Your dog will start to do things just for the hope of reward or just for the social benefit.
Question: If you could give some advice to pet parents, what would it be?
It’s important to educate yourself about dog body language. For example, a wagging tail does not always signal a happy dog. It’s important to understand and watch out for a dog licking their lips, tense bodies, and yawning. By understanding these cues, you allow your dog to tell you they are uncomfortable in these small ways before taking their cues further to get you to listen.
Also, exercise is necessary for dogs – in fact, exercise is downright life altering for dogs! All the training and enrichment in the world doesn’t match the impact and the feeling for a dog of being in nature. How do we exercise our dogs? In my opinion, a walk around the neighborhood is not enough. Being stuck to you on a tight leash, without much communication, is not very fun for dogs. Go explore with your dog! Take your dog on a long, relaxing decompression walk!