Bringing a new dog of any age into your home can be a challenge to your patience, confidence, and housekeeping abilities. A new furry family member won’t know the rules of the household or how he should behave. It is up to you to teach your pup appropriate behaviors.
You can choose to teach your dog on your own, engage the services of a professional dog trainer, or take training classes together at your local pet supply or feed store.
While your overall interaction with your puppy can make the difference in your dog’s success or failure, there are several other factors to consider when training your dog.
Socializing your dog is essential to instill good behavior. You can introduce your puppy to new people, places and other animals as soon as his vaccinations are complete. The majority of puppy socialization occurs in the first 16 to 20 weeks of life. Waiting past this critical period can put you and your dog at a disadvantage. Older un-socialized dogs may take a bit longer to get past fears and other concerns. These animals may also require a professional trainer or veterinary behaviorist to move through pre-existing psychological and emotional issues.
The relationship between you and your dog
Working with your dog on a daily basis allows you to learn about each other’s personalities, habits, likes and dislikes. A confident, calm and kind pet parent can help a fearful or less-socialized pet to mature and feel safe in new or strange situations. On the other side of the training coin, spending time with your pet allows you to adjust your training regimen to fit the needs of your individual dog.
Genetics can play a part in behavior. Dogs with fear and aggression-based behaviors have problems dealing with everyday stress. These issues are often breed-related and can be seen in the parents or littermates of these pups. Conversely, confident dogs have little to no reaction to environmental stresses. They are curious, easier to distract, and like to explore. In most cases, new dog owners may find difficulties handling dogs with these “outgoing” and “demanding” behavior temperaments.
The training and living environment
Your dog’s environment contributes to how they adjust to family life and develop good behaviors. Presenting your family members, your home and your yard to your new dog can either be a confidence-building experience, or one that reinforces fears. Training your dog in different parts of your house, teaching on walks, and working with him as you both go through everyday life can promote your new dog’s curiosity and confidence.
Why is Training Your Dog Necessary?
Training your pup fulfills several purposes in our relationships with our furry friends. We can teach them appropriate behaviors and fix already existing bad habits (like jumping on people, or begging for food at the table, for example).
Basic commands are critical for your dog’s safety that they should always be taught and taught well. These three lifesaving obedience commands are “come when called,” “wait at doors,” and “leave an object (or creature) alone.” Dogs that don’t understand, or refuse to listen, can become seriously hurt if faced with an emergency.
You can hire a professional dog trainer who works with you and your pup to teach the proper techniques. Enrolling in group training classes can be fun, and help with socialization. You can research online resources from such websites as Pet360.com and the ASPCA. Please note: If you choose to hire a professional trainer, insist on finding one that is bonded, belongs to professional dog care associations, and comes with recommendations from satisfied clients and veterinarians.
Positive vs. Negative Reinforcement
The Humane Society of the United States recommends using positive reinforcement when training your dog. Positive reinforcement training uses praise and/or treats to reward your dog for doing something you want him to do. Since the reward makes him more likely to repeat the behavior, positive reinforcement is one of your most powerful tools for shaping or changing your dog’s behavior.
Proper timing is necessary
The reward must occur immediately—within seconds—or your pet may not associate it with the proper action. For example, if you have your dog sit but you reward him after he stands back up, he’ll think the reward is for standing up.
Keep commands short and simple
Use one-word statements like “Sit,” “stay,” “down,” “come,” and “leave it,” assert the animal’s instincts for quick, distinct sounds.
When your pet is learning a new behavior, reward him every time he does the behavior. This is called continuous reinforcement. Once your dog has reliably learned the behavior, you will want to switch to intermittent reinforcement. You continue with praise, but gradually reduce the number of times he receives a treat for doing the desired behavior. Ensure that you don’t decrease the rewards so rapidly that you frustrate your learning dog.
Negative reinforcement revolves around punishing inappropriate behavior. Rather than punishing your dog for mistakes he made before, you should concentrate on teaching your puppy how to act in the future.
It is much quicker to teach your dog what you want him to do and reward him for doing it. Your pooch eventually will learn what you want and need him to do. Frequent or extreme punishment is a significant reason why many dogs dislike being handled. It is much more effective to reward your dog for doing it your way rather than attempt to punish him for the many, many ways he could do the task incorrectly.
Training Mature Dogs Vs. Puppies
The Austin Humane Society details training guidelines when deciding what age of a dog is appropriate for you, your family and your lifestyle.
For Puppies (Ages 2 months – 1-year-old)
Their training needs are HIGH. Young dogs need crate training, basic dog training, house training, leash training and other behavioral guidance techniques to fit nicely into a family.
Puppies require daily training sessions, often over weeks to months, depending on the dog and the household’s needs.
Puppies are NOT ALWAYS a good fit for families. They have high energy levels and need a lot of exercise to keep them from acting out. They cannot be trusted to be left alone and unsupervised lest they get into trouble.
While you may never be sure what their adult size, personality and temperament will be, you can usually garner a FAIRLY GOOD idea of their history.
For Mature Dogs (Ages 1 year and up)
Their training needs are MEDIUM. Many adult dogs available for adoption have had house training, are crate-trained, know several tricks, and walk on a leash.
The time commitment is MEDIUM to LOW, depending on the age of the dog. Adult dogs still want your attention, but they are typically more self-sufficient than a puppy. Depending on your dog’s breed, behavior and age, his energy levels and exercise needs will vary but generally are much lower than that of a puppy.
With an adult dog, what you see is what you get. While a dog may act slightly different in a shelter than they do in your home, when you leave the shelter, you will have a good idea of what size, personality and temperament your new pet is. However, discovering any history that may hinder training can be problematic.
When Training Doesn’t Work
If your pup appears not to learn or is resistant to training, there may be good reasons that what you’re doing isn’t working. You may need to ask yourself the following seven questions:
1) Are you training your pooch inconsistently?
Instead of “training then forgetting,” keep your dog’s established behaviors sharp by working them randomly and regularly, several times each day.
2) Do you repeat commands over and over to make your dog comply?
Once you are confident that your dog knows a behavior, ask only once. If they ignore you, it’s either because you haven’t taught it correctly, the dog is distracted or is simply rebellious. Move your dog to a quiet spot and try again. If the response is still not there, go back to basics and re-train.
3) Are your training sessions too long or too short?
Each teaching session should only last around 20 minutes. Any longer than that and your dog will lose focus. If your dog appears bored, shorten the session and make sure to end it on a positive note. Ten 1-minute sessions in a day trump one 10-minute session every time.
4) Have you moved your training sessions from one environment to another?
You’ll need to stay in a safe, enclosed arena at the beginning of teaching your dog. As training progresses, however, the more times you work with your dog in different places, around new people, or other animals, the better he’ll respond in busy situations.
5) Do you rely too much on treats and not enough on praise and esteem?
Treats are a great way to start the learning process. But once your pooch learns the behavior, replace treats with praise, play, toy interludes, or whatever else he likes.
6) Do you get emotional during sessions?
Train with force, anger, or irritation, and you’ll intimidate your dog and turn training sessions into inquisitions. You should train with excessive energy, high squeals of delight, and over-the-top displays of forced elation. You will stoke his energy levels far beyond what is needed to focus and learn. Calm, kind, and confident behavior will get you the best results.
7) Do you train to the quirks of your dog?
Like human children, our furry children have varying personalities and quirks that require us to teach them how they learn the best. Bring confidence and patience to a shy dog, control and reason to the big oaf of a dog, and base your training strategy on your pup’s personality, age, size, breed, energy level and history.
Know when to enlist professional help
Some animals have issues that resist training, that can be considered dangerous, and that are not easily taken care of with in-home training. Separation anxiety, phobias, inappropriate elimination, resource guarding, people aggression, animal aggression, and unruly manners such as jumping, digging and compulsively barking may require that you seek additional help.
Seek a consultation with a veterinary behaviorist. A veterinary behaviorist is a veterinarian who has undergone rigorous specialized advanced training through a residency. This specialty is much like being a psychiatrist for animals. Vet behaviorists are trained to diagnose and treat behavioral issues in your pet through cognitive therapy, training issues and the use of medication if necessary. Your regular veterinarian should be able to recommend a behaviorist in your area.
Need help with dog training in the Austin and Dallas area? VIP Pet Services now offers dog training for pets and their people! If you need help with basic training, leash manners, and general socialization, contact us to set up an appointment.
Blog By: Cate Burnette
Cate Burnette is a semi-retired registered veterinary technician with clinical experience in small and large animal medicine. With 30-plus years of journalism experience, she went back to school after 9/11 to work with her first love: animals.
The pet parent of four cats, three dogs and one ex-racehorse, Cate is a certified rescue volunteer with the American Humane Association’s Red Star Emergency Services and served with the group in New Orleans doing animal search and rescue after Hurricane Katrina. She is also a horse safety and horse management expert and has volunteered with US Pony Clubs as a district commissioner and horse management judge.