Happy New Year! January is Train Your Dog Month. In 2010, the APDT began the National Train Your Dog Month to promote the importance and benefits of Dog Training so that our dogs can be happy and healthy companions. According to the APDT “too many dogs are turned into animal shelters each year for behavior and training issues that could be easily solved with proper socialization and positive, gentle, science-based methods of training.” Addressing behavioral issues early on and being proactive can help prevent these behaviors from turning into serious problems. In honor of Train Your Dog Month here are some dog training tips and resources:
1) Puppy Socialization: for those of you who have or are getting a puppy, socialization is one of the most important things you can do to give your puppy a head start. Socialization should start early. Even if your puppy does not have all his/her shots, you can have people come visit your home. Once your veterinarian clears your puppy for walks around the neighborhood, you can get your puppy used to the sights and sounds of a city for example. Brief car trips (to minimize motion sickness) where the puppy can stay in the car and watch people walk by is also helpful. You don't want your puppy's early car trips to be just vet visits as this can set up a negative association. So short, fun excursions are important for early socialization. Go slow, try not to bombard your puppy with too much at once. We want these experiences to be positive! Enrolling your dog in a well-managed puppy class that uses positive and gentle methods is one of the best ways for your puppy to get exposure to people and other dogs in a safe, controlled environment. For an explanation of why socialization is so important, here is a position paper written by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior: AVSAB Puppy Socialization Paper
I cannot stress enough how important puppy classes are. Many dogs who are surrendered at shelter in rescues did not receive adequate training or socialization during the critical period in their puppy hood. Training classes can nip a lot of potential problem behaviors in the bud and head off more serious behavioral issues in the future.
Here are a few of my favorite puppy books:
2) Rescues and Older Adoptees – many people choose to adopt older rescues. The issues rescues face are different from puppies. While rescues have outgrown many of their puppy behaviors such as play biting and destructive chewing, they may not be house trained and may have fear or anxiety issues from being in a shelter, abandonment or other stressful experiences. It is important to be patient and work through these issues at your dog’s own pace. Respect your dog’s comfort zone and work at the speed your dog can handle. Pushing your dog too far too fast can trigger fear issues and set your training backwards a few steps. If your dog is ready for group classes, then that is a good start. If your dog is very fearful or reactive, then private training may be a better first step. A great book that deals with the unique issues that rescue dogs face is Pat Miller’s “Do Over Dogs: Give Your Dog a Second Chance for a First Class Life.”
3) Maintain Realistic Expectations About Your Dog – besides respecting your dog’s comfort zone it is also important to be realistic about your dog’s abilities and personality. Some dogs may never be the social butterfly you want them to be and are in reality a homebody that prefers human companionship. Shy, older dogs may not enjoy dog parks and in the case of some middle-aged or senior dogs, large, group classes may be too stressful. However, that does not mean you can’t find a fun activity the two of you can do together, train in other settings or find dog friends that your dog can have one-on-one play sessions with. My Shiba Inu is not that social with other dogs now that she is an adult. Once she reached maturity, she stopped playing with dogs at the dog park and would spend the entire time sitting with strangers at the park. It was at this point, I decided that she was no longer getting that much out of being at the dog park and instead I took her on excursions in the city or hanging out in cafes which she seemed to enjoy more. Respecting your dog's physical limitations is another factor to consider. My big, clunky 90 pound Akita is probably not the best dog for agility training (nor would I want to subject his aging joints to this particular activity). Forcing a square peg in a round hole, is not always the best for the dog and it can lead to unnecessary frustration on the owner’s part. Try to find activities that your dog also enjoys and work at your dog's own pace.
4) Find Fun Activities to Do With Your Dog – Training is a great way to bond with your dog, but it does not have to stop there. There are other ways to spend time with your dog such as hiking, camping or playing games. If your dog is very energetic and athletic, agility or other dog sports like flyball may be a great outlet. Try to figure out what activities your dog really enjoys.
To find out more information on dog sports here are some good sources:
Agility - http://www.akc.org/events/agility/index.cfm
Rally - http://www.akc.org/events/rally/
Tracking - http://www.akc.org/events/tracking/
5) Incorporate Training into Your Daily Routine – many of the things you learn in group class have practical applications in real life and should not end once the class is over. For example, “stay” or “wait” can apply to boundaries such as the front door or the curb and help teach your dog not to run out in traffic. Having your dog go to their bed or place is helpful when guests come to the home or when the doorbell rings. Incorporating training in your daily routine helps reinforce these behaviors so that your dog will retain these skills throughout his/her life. On walks, I practice “sit,” “wait,” “stops/halt” and recalls (“come”). Having a solid recall is one of the most important things to teach your dog and should be reinforced throughout your dog’s lifetime. If your dog has not had any training go to http://www.apdt.com/ or http://www.trulydogfriendly.com/ to find a trainer or group class in your area.
6) Keep Training Fun - I like training sessions to be short, fast-paced and fun. Since I own Northern breeds (Shiba Inu, Akitas) that tend to bore quickly and easily, I try to keep them engaged by changing things up and keeping it interesting. Overly long training sessions, especially for young puppies and the more independent breeds, can lead to frustration for both you and your dog.
7) Exercise – a great New Year’s resolution is exercising with your dog. This is both beneficial for both and your dog! Exercise relieves tension and stress and stimulates your dog’s senses.
For more information on Train Your Dog Month go to: http://www.trainyourdogmonth.com/tips/
So with this New Year why don’t you make dog training one of your New Year’s Resolutions! Wishing everyone a happy and healthy year.