I’ve talked often about the importance of various types of training for your dog, and even went into a fair bit of detail in Dog Training Made Easy. It still surprises me, though, how many dogs lack even basic obedience training. No training at all makes for a very poor canine citizen, and poor training can be just as bad.
Often, when it comes to training, we push it aside, thinking we’ll get to it later. After all, we have busy lives. But you didn’t get a dog with the intention of not making time for him, did you? However, if you absolutely cannot find the time for training, then you owe it to yourself, your dog, and anyone who comes into contact with your dog to at least hand the job over to someone else. This could be a friend, relative, or even a professional trainer.
Finding the Right Trainer
When choosing a trainer, keep in mind that this is not a regulated profession. Virtually anyone can set themselves up as a trainer, so you’ll want to make sure you get the right person. Sadly, there are still trainers out there who think that the best way to get a dog to behave is through punishing undesirable behaviors. They use fear as a tool and focus far too much on the concept that they need to be the alpha in the relationship. Of course it’s important to be at the top of your dog pack hierarchy, but this does not mean dominating in a heavy-handed or cruel fashion.
So, ask around. Word quickly gets out regarding trainers who are too heavy-handed. You’re far better off with a trainer who motivates dogs using kindness and rewards. A well-trained dog is a happier dog, too, so if you’re not able to handle the job yourself, find someone who will get it done for you. You’ll reap the rewards in terms of a stress-free household and a dog that is a pleasure to have as a companion.
Reasons to Train
Often, dogs end up in shelters because of behavioral issues that are very preventable. Taking the time to teach your dog proper behaviors is essential, and not all that difficult. So, with that in mind, here are five very good reasons why you should make training a priority.
1. It Makes for a Better Relationship
When you use positive training methods as opposed to punitive, you and your dog will develop a healthy relationship. You want to make the learning process easy and rewarding. Don’t focus too much on being the boss. You want your dog to respect you, and you won’t get that if you use fear and intimidation. In fact, it could even be dangerous. Instead, use rewards and lots of affection. Dogs who learn this way are more self-controlled, and their behavior is considerably more predictable in stressful situations.
2. Your Dog Will Develop Good Life Skills
It probably seems to you that your dog has a pretty sweet life, but living with humans is not without its challenges. Training helps to ease stress, and reduces the likelihood of inappropriate behavior like excessive barking, chewing, and aggression. You want to make it easy for your dog to succeed, so observe how he reacts to certain situations. Is he overly friendly, jumping on visitors? Teach him more appropriate ways of greeting guests. Is he nervous around new people? Give him his own space, perhaps in another room or behind a baby gate until he becomes more confident. It’s far better to adjust your environment than it is to have an overly excitable or stressed-out dog.
3. It Improves Socialization
It is important to begin socializing your dog at a young age. Unless you want an aggressive dog to protect you and your property (which is something I advise against), you should expose him to as many people as possible, and to other animals as well. Don’t force the dog into any interaction that makes him uncomfortable, though. Again, watch how he handles different situations, and respect his limits. The effects of a bad socialization experience can be lasting, so it’s better to back off and try again than to stress the dog and possibly create problems that can last into adulthood.
4. It Prevents Problem Behaviors
When you work on training your dog, you are setting up a system of communication that will help him to be safe and comfortable in the human world. A dog that is taught to sit, for instance, will be less likely to run into traffic, and also less likely to jump on visitors who may not respond favorably. A dog that is taught the “leave it” command will be less likely to ingest things that could harm him. Learning how to shake hands can be a valuable lesson when it comes to accepting the touch of other people.
5. Your Dog Will Be a Better Companion
The goal with any training program is good behavior, and good behavior should always be rewarded. This doesn’t mean that you have to be stuffing your dog full of treats every time he gets it right. A snuggle and a kind word are rewards, too.
Also, rewarding good behavior does not mean never acknowledging bad behavior. However, no dog ever learns when hit or shouted at. It’s to be expected that from time to time you will have to discipline your dog, but this could take the form of a firm “No” or a time out. Heavy-handed discipline will simply stress your dog, and could even result in aggressive behavior. If that happens, then you will have started something you absolutely have to finish – you’ll need to make the dog submit. Best not to go there in the first place if you can avoid it.
Essentially, what you want to do is guide your dog through the process of learning how to make good choices. This will make for a strong, healthy bond between you and your dog, and you will have a truly loyal and obedient companion.
So, make the time to teach your dog. He will have a more fulfilling life if he understands good manners and is properly socialized. Failing to train is a disservice to your dog, and can lead to serious problems later on. The process doesn’t have to be intense or difficult. In fact, the more fun it is for you and your dog, the more satisfactory the results will be.
Dealing with Challenges
At some point, you are going to have to deal with challenging behavior. On the worst days, you might even wonder why you ever thought getting a dog was a good idea. Don’t be discouraged, though – we all have those days. When you come up against challenges, stay cool and stick with the program. It may be very tempting to shout at your dog or give him a swat, but don’t do it. He probably won’t understand why you are so angry, and you could end up with behaviors that are even worse than the ones you are trying to overcome.
There are seven common bad habits that dogs have. Sooner or later you will probably come up against at least one of them.
1. Going Potty in the House
House training problems are the number one reason why dogs end up in shelters. That’s unfortunate, because virtually any dog can be house trained, as I’ve pointed out in House Training an Older Dog. If your dog has suddenly forgotten his house training, you may need to start over again from scratch. First, though, it might be a good idea to have him vet checked to rule out any physical problems that could be causing the trouble.
Begin by restricting the areas your dog is permitted to occupy. If you’ve never crate trained before, this might be a good time to start – most of the time dogs are reluctant to eliminate where they sleep. Adopt a feeding schedule so that you’ll be able to identify the times he’s most likely to want to do his thing. Take him out after meals and naps, and within about 15 minutes of any time that he’s had a big drink of water.
You could try lining his area with potty pads, but I actually think this is counter-productive. After all, he’s still doing his business in the house, so unless you want the pads to become a way of life, it’s better to work on behavior modification instead. If you find it difficult to catch him doing his thing, go “umbilical” for a few days – keep the dog on a leash that you have attached to yourself. That way, you’ll know instantly if he’s about to go potty.
I know I keep harping on this, but don’t punish your dog. You’ll only frighten him, and it will do nothing to correct the behavior. If anything, it will just encourage him to hide his doings from you.
House training takes patience, but it can usually be accomplished in a matter of days.
2. Jumping on People
Dogs are naturally enthusiastic, and they want to greet the people they come into contact with. Humans, on the other hand, might prefer a somewhat less exuberant greeting. The best way to correct this behavior is simply to ignore it – when your dog jumps on you, simply turn away. Don’t react negatively, just wait until they have all four feet back on the floor, and then offer praise.
If you’re out and about and worried about your dog jumping on strangers, use your leash to control him. Also, don’t let anyone break your rules – some people are perfectly fine with having dogs jump on them (in fact, I’m the first person to admit I don’t mind being bounced by a friendly dog), but if you allow the behavior with even one person, your dog is not going to understand why it’s not okay with others.
If you really do love a good face-to-face with your dog, you can also train him to jump up only on cue. I pat my thighs when I’m telling my dogs that it’s okay to jump up, and they know that unless they get that cue, they’re not supposed to do it.
There is no such thing as a puppy that won’t chew. After all, they’re teething, so make sure that you don’t leave objects around the house that you don’t want chewed. If your puppy does start gnawing on something that you aren’t able to remove (your furniture, for instance), tell him “No,” and give him something that he is allowed to chew. The Busy Buddy Twist ’n’ Treat toy is ideal. It works with a variety of treats, and you can adjust it for quick dispensing, or for a more challenging experience. The small size is available at Amazon for just $5.99, a 24% saving over the list price of $7.99. It is also available in extra-small for $3.29 and medium for $9.98.
Keep in mind that a bored adult dog may also chew, so make sure he has plenty of toys to keep him entertained.
Let me say right at the outset that you don’t want your dog to never bark. You want your dog to be able to alert you to danger, after all. What you want to do, though, is control the barking. A bark or two when the doorbell rings or a stranger approaches is not a problem. Undisciplined barking, on the other hand, is most definitely is a problem, and it’s one that you’re going to have to deal with for the sake of your sanity and that of your neighbors.
One of the most effective ways to deal with repetitive barking is to ignore it. Then when the dog stops barking, tell him “Quiet” and give him a treat. Soon, he’ll connect the reward with not barking, and also with the verbal command.
Often, a dog will bark because he wants attention. Again, ignore the behavior. Then, when he stops, pay attention to him. He’ll get the idea that in order to get the affection he’s asking for, he has to be quiet.
5. Pulling on the Leash
A lot of dogs do this. They think they should be walking you, instead of the other way around. If your dog pulls on the leash, stop and wait. Move on when he stops pulling. Never let him pull you toward anything – if you do, you’re rewarding the behavior. When he stops pulling, it’s okay to lead him to where he wanted to go. He’ll understand that he’s more likely to get what he wants if he doesn’t pull.
This is a common problem with puppies. They nip at your feet when you’re walking, or at your hands when you’re playing with them. If it happens when you’re walking, just stop. Wait until he calms down, and start moving again. Praise him when he doesn’t nip.
If he’s nipping at your hands, offer a toy. If he grabs at your hand instead of the toy, take the toy away until he calms down.
Nipping is fairly easy to correct. At some point, too, the puppy will likely outgrow the behavior even if you do nothing.
7. Stealing Food
Stealing food is a very undesirable behavior, and can be dangerous as well. Not all human food is safe for your dog to consume. You need to teach your dog the “leave it” command. Put him into a sit/stay, place a treat on the floor and tell him “Leave it.” When he’s able to hold the position for a short period of time, give him the treat. Do this several times, with longer intervals. Ultimately, he’ll understand that food items are off limits when you say “Leave it.”
There is also an advanced method you can try, if you have time and patience. It’s called auto leave it. What this means is that all food is off limits unless you tell your dog that it’s okay for him to have it. This can be very useful, because it not only means that your dog won’t be getting into your groceries or that pizza you left on the countertop, it means that no one will ever be able to induce him to eat something that could harm him. You’ve probably heard horror stories about people poisoning dogs, and auto leave it training can prevent this from happening.
To train your dog to auto leave it, put a bowl of food out in the yard, and scatter some treats around as well. Then put the dog on leash, and walk around the yard. As he moves toward the food or the treats, pull back on the leash, and deliver a firm “No.” Don’t yank him – you just want to correct him, not punish him, or frighten him. Vary the location and the types of treats. When the dog passes the food and treats without pulling on the leash, praise him – this is one instance where you don’t want to use food as a reward.
I would also suggest that you put out some antifreeze as well. Many dogs are poisoned with antifreeze – they love the taste of it, but it’s lethal, and the death it delivers is horrible. Don’t do this if you have any doubts about your ability to control your dog, and be absolutely certain that you have safely disposed of every drop once the exercise is over. You want your dog to know that antifreeze is something that he absolutely must stay away from – you don’t want to risk poisoning someone else’s pet.
It can take several days to accomplish auto leave it training. When you notice that the dog is making a conscious decision to leave things alone, praise him enthusiastically. It’s not enough to have the dog respond to a correction – he has to decide to walk away.
Once the dog is good at leaving food and treats alone in the yard, take him on a walk around the neighborhood. Have someone ahead of you drop treats at random, and correct the dog if he moves toward them. You will also want to have someone the dog does not know come up and offer him a treat. Correct him if he tries to take it, and praise him if he refuses it.
Auto leave it takes a bit of work, and it could be a while before you can be absolutely certain that your dog will not take food without your permission. It’s worth the effort though. So how will you know when you’ve got it right? If you can put a raw, oozing, bloody steak on a plate in the middle of your kitchen floor, go out for an hour or so, and when you come back, find the steak still sitting there, still oozing and untouched, then your dog has learned auto leave it.
Now you know why you must train your dog. It’s not just for your benefit; it’s for his as well, and for the benefit of other people whom he may come into contact with. A well-trained dog is less prone to anxiety and destructive behavior, and a pleasure to be around. Certainly there will be some issues that will crop up as you journey through life with your faithful companion by your side, but most are easily dealt with. Patience and persistence are the keys to success.
It is generally best if you train your dog yourself – it makes for a deeper, stronger bond between the two of you. But sometimes, our life circumstances change, so if there are good reasons why you can’t train your dog on your own (illness, perhaps, or a temporary change in your work situation), then hire a professional trainer. Choose carefully, though – effective training has to be done with a kind voice and a gentle hand, not with punishment and harsh words.