Are You Doing Your Homework?
by Barbara DeGroodt
The most successful way to train a dog is with consistency, rules, and repetition right from the start. There should be rules when you get a new dog, no matter puppy or adult. These should begin the day the dog enters your home. If you don’t take the time to set a solid foundation for your puppy to grow into adulthood, you can’t hold the dog responsible for his mistakes. I know I’ve been guilty of thinking a behavior is cute when a puppy is young, but will it be cute when he is an adult? Who hasn’t laughed at the puppy growling when playing with a toy or barking at a bicyclist going by, will it be as cute when that puppy is a 70-pound dog? Have you ever done a procedure over and over again, only to be told you’ve been doing the wrong thing for months? Doesn’t feel good, does it? A dog that is rewarded with laughter, treats, play, etc. over a period of time doesn’t understand why today it is no longer acceptable.
Some of the most important rules for your puppy or new dog have to do with house training, how to behave around doors, and the very important and often elusive “come” command.
When I’m asked about housetraining the first thing I tell people is they must limit the amount of area in which the dog/puppy has freedom until he is reliably house trained. By doing so you can observe his behavior, then you can begin to identify the pre-potty behavior and you can help the dog “go” in the correct place.
The other important rule for puppies and dogs has to do with going through doors. Knocking people over to get through a door, or squeezing through someone’s legs at the door probably won’t be cute in a month or two, so begin the day the dog comes home. Teach him he must wait until you tell him “outside” (I try to avoid “OK” as a command because we use it too frequently in daily language). This will keep your dog safe and making him a better doggy citizen.
Ah yes, and the well ignored command of “come”. This is always a great one, but once again we should look at it as our dog does. When you call your dog, is it always for something he finds negative? When at the park do you only call him to you to put him on a leash to go home? Maybe he wanted to play a bit longer. Or did you call him to you to scold him about something? After awhile “come” will become associated with lots of negatives, and who wants to come to that? How about calling him to you and giving a treat, then telling him to go play some more? Doing that a couple of times, each time you’re out, will aid in developing the “come” command into one which your dog will eagerly respond to.
A well-trained dog’s mental development is equivalent to a 2 or 3-year-old child’s mental development. Think about that for a minute. How do you begin to teach a child new things; by repetition, setting goals, mastering one task before beginning another and lots of rewards and praise. The training program for your dog should be the same. Baby steps forward means only baby steps back if you run into an obstacle. The old adage, slow and steady wins the race, applies here.
Whenever my dogs don’t do something I think they should, I first look at myself to see, did I really put in the time to teach this behavior? If not, shame on me! Now, be honest with yourself (no one’s looking) have you been fair in your training program with your dog or are you holding him responsible for things you failed to teach consistently? If so, back up, remember dogs forgive us for much of what we do, take a deep breath, apologize to your dog, and begin a training program that is behavior based, leaning toward teaching and not punishing, seek assistance, if needed.
Be honest with yourself about how much time you are putting into your dog’s training. Are you practicing daily? Even if only for ten minutes here and there? Are you being consistent? I’m not the Training Police; I’m here to guide people through the rough patches of owning a dog in today’s world. It doesn’t bother me if you don’t find time to train but it does concern me when the dog gets blamed or even worse when dogs end up in shelters because people didn’t do a good job teaching them the rules. If your dog fails there is a very good possibility you failed your dog, but it’s never too late to start over and do your homework! Happy training and many happy years with your pet.
Barbara De Groodt is the owner of From the Heart Animal Behavior Counseling and Dog Training in Salinas, CA and has been an animal behavior counselor for over 30 years. Barbara was one of the original founders of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, APDT (under the guidance of Dr. Ian Dunbar); she’s a professional member of International Association Canine Professionals and several behavior organizations, as well as a certified animal trainer. She is a regular speaker at Western Career College’s Animal Health department and lectures around the world to veterinary groups, law enforcement agencies, trainers and pet owners. From the Heart is located in Salinas, CA. Barb De Groodt can be contacted at (831) 783-0818. www.fromtheheart.info.