If your dog could help you make New Year’s Resolutions, I think they might include a few of these:
“This year, please teach me to walk nicely on a leash and harness. When I pull in a collar I choke and can’t breathe. Work with a certified dog trainer, give me treats beside you, and use a front-attach harness or gentle leader to help.
This year, please leave me alone while I’m eating. You don’t like it when I steal food off your plate, so don’t put your hands in my bowl. Show me that when you approach my bowl it’s a good thing by adding some treats instead. If I have something and you want it back, teach me to trade for a treat or a toy.
This year, please teach me to greet humans nicely so they won’t knee me or yell at me. That hurts and it scares me. While I’m still working on it, ask the humans to turn their back or ask me to sit instead.
This year, please allow me to do the things that dogs do naturally. Give me toys to chew, take lots of time to let me sniff, give me some safe ways to run and chase. We may be two different species but we share one home so lets do things we can both enjoy.
This year, instead of punishing me for something I did wrong, show me the right way and reward me for the good choices that I make. When you teach me this way, I will offer good behaviour more often. Don’t believe me? Check out animal learning theory for yourself!
This year please do not keep talking to me like I am a human and asking me to do behaviours that I have not been taught. I don’t speak your language, and I learn more easily when you use hand signals first. When you do teach me words, say one word before the hand signal so I can connect the two.
This year, if I try to play or ask for your attention by putting my mouth on you, please don’t hold my mouth shut. I do not know any better as I naturally explore things with my mouth. This teaches me that your hands are scary so I might bite when you touch me. Instead, teach me how to play with toys and how to accept petting without biting.
This year, remember that I don’t care how many fancy outfits you buy me or how expensive my toys are. All I want is to enjoy life’s experiences with you. Teaching me to be a good family member will expand my world and allow us to do more together.”
Originally published in the Chronicle Journal December 29, 2022