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My Dog Training Framework: The Wellness Wheel

I believe dog training is so much more just simply dog training. When we choose to get a dog, we choose to share our lives with that dog. Our dogs are family members that we want to integrate into our daily lives. Gone are the days where dogs stay home only to greet you when you come in the door after work just to lay by your feet on the floor as you watch TV. Sure, those lazy days absolutely do happen, but now, more often than not, we want to share our lives with our dogs. We want them by our sides. We want to take them for walks and on adventures, and we want them to travel with us. They add so much fun and value to our lives and make us healthier and happier, and we want them by our sides.

If your dog struggles with reactivity or barky lungey behavior, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, defeated, and just plain sad. When we consider all aspects of our dog’s mental and behavior wellness, we can support each area individually so that they’re mentally healthy, and we’re able to work with them to overcome difficult feelings and emotions.

So, how do we do that? We do that by addressing each of the 6 pillars in my unique Wellness Wheel framework. These 6 pillars create the foundation of our dog’s physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. When we work to improve each pillar, that’s when we can start living an easier, more calm, and better life together.

What is the Wellness Wheel Framework?

The Wellness Wheel framework is made up of 6 pillars. These 6 pillars are the foundation of my dog training programs and are truly the foundation of a living a good, healthy, and active life with your dog, whether your dog is reactive or not.

The First Pillar – Physical Health

I like to think that this one is pretty self explanatory. I believe in a holistic approach to veterinary care. Buster is an allergy dog with mast cell cancer. As a puppy, conventional medicine failed him. I firmly believe that our holistic care is what has allowed him to live a long and healthy life that, thankfully, has not been negatively impacted by his allergies and mast cell cancer. However, I understand that holistic care isn’t for everyone, and that’s why it’s wonderful to live in a world where we have options!

Regardless of whether you opt for holistic care or conventional care or even an integrative approach to blend both, we know it’s important to take our dogs to the vet at least once yearly for things like a physical exam and bloodwork. Especially as dogs become older, changes start to happen in them quicker.

In addition to regular exams, it is super important to keep our dogs fit and healthy in everyday life! Just like in humans, it’s important that we keep our dogs a healthy weight and keep them physically active with walks and hikes. Plus, not only is this good for your dog – but it’s good for you too! These activities with your dog increase your bond, get you out in nature, and increase your own fitness level! Especially as our dogs age, it’s important to keep them moving, this helps keep them limber and helps their joints stay in good condition. Keeping them fit really does help them age more gracefully and easier.

The Second Pillar – Environmental Health

I lovingly refer to myself as a hippie, and you’d be shocked to know that a lot of good principles for remaining environmentally healthy also transfer to our dogs’ lives!

I’m probably more affected by this than the average person because of Buster’s intense sensitivities, allergies, and mast cell cancer, but I opt for things like homemade and natural vinegar based cleaners, plant-based “free & clear” type laundry detergents, and I’m careful about what type of products and chemicals come into my home. I also opt for things like reusable silicone bags instead of plastic, reusable glass jars, and microfiber towels or rags instead of paper towels.

I understand, once again, that it’s a wonderful world we live in because everyone can make their own choices for what does and doesn’t work for them and what does and doesn’t fit into their lifestyle.

I just think this is something that we need to be more aware of, and as a supportive coach for you and your dog, I want to give you the information so you can then make the best decisions for you, your dog, your household, and your lifestyle. Our dogs spend the majority of their time inside our homes, so it’s important that we’re aware of what kind of products and materials they’re exposed to.

The Third Pillar – Relationship

This one should be pretty self explanatory, but if we’re sharing our lives with our dogs, we need to have a good relationship with them! Just like relationships in any aspect of your life with family, friends, or even coworkers, our relationship with our dog is really the foundation and building block for everything else we do in life together. If the relationship isn’t strong, secure, healthy, and happy, then everything else will come crumbling down.

Dogs are pretty easy-going, so it’s pretty easy to ensure that we have a good relationship with them! This includes things like giving your dog agency and choice when you can, using a clear marker and reward system so your dog knows what to expect when you’re communicating, and having fun and enriching times with your dog when there’s no training involved, like sniffaris or personal play. Sometimes, we just need to let our dogs be dogs and to express and fulfill their natural behaviors!

The Fourth Pillar – Management

Any good training program absolutely has to include a management plan and management techniques, because it’s absolutely impossible to be actively training your dog 100% of the time. Sometimes, management is easier for you and your dog, and you need to know what management options you have available to you in certain circumstances so that you can go ahead and implement those.

If you’re dealing with reactive or otherwise difficult behavior, especially in the beginning of any good training program, you’ll likely need to use a good amount of management. This is to help you and your dog immediately start living a better and easier life and to set everyone up for success from the beginning.

The Fifth Pillar – Enrichment

In recent years, enrichment has really taken off in the dog training industry, and it’s becoming more widely known, which is phenomenal! Enrichment is an important part of our dogs’ lives, and we need to make sure we’re meeting these needs.

There are so many different forms of enrichment, and it absolutely does not have to involve spending tons of money on new toys or products. We can create a thorough enrichment program just from stuff you already have at home! Enrichment activities are first and foremost to support your dog’s mental health, but they can actually support your mental health as well!

The Sixth Pillar – Training

This one is understandably the bulk of the Wellness Wheel, especially if you’re dealing with unwanted behavior. I strictly use rewards-based, science-backed methods for training, but there’s so much more to it than simply rewarding good behavior. Changing your dog’s underlying emotional response to transform barky lungey and reactive behavior into a calm, alternative behavior, like handler focus, takes a lot of time and effort, but it’s absolutely possible. I’m here to tell you that you can absolutely adventure and travel and do all of the big things with your reactive dog, and once we transform the reactive behavior, most people will never even know your dog is reactive!

Most reactive dogs who bark and lunge on leash struggle with other things too, like physical handling, resource guarding, and being calm in the house. Our training plan includes these other aspects to ensure that your dog is being behaviorally supported in a well-rounded way.

How Does It Work?

Every initial consultation lasts anywhere from 1-2.5 hours depending on the complexity of the case. During the consultation, we review your dog’s history and discuss your goals, then we discuss the Wellness Wheel and introduction to the science-y aspect of dog training, like learning theory and behavior modification. After the consultation, I’ll compile all of my notes and format them into your own personalized Wellness Wheel, which will include all of my recommendations and of course the training, enrichment, and management plans. In order to make lasting behavior and lifestyle changes, you’ll select the follow-up program that best suits your needs so we can continue working together, and I can support you in your journey.

With my support, once you’re armed with the knowledge and skills to implement the Wellness Wheel, you and your dog will be well on your way to living an active, easier, and happier life together.

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