Senior Trainer - Taylor Melady
There are many different ways to train a dog. Some people choose to use positive reinforcement only while others prefer more balanced methods. This being said, these are 10 Dos and Don'ts that I advocate as a balanced trainer.
- Kennel Train and use the kennel regularly. Kennel training is so important, especially for puppies. If your dog does not know what to do with its freedom, that freedom becomes a burden. It is unfair to not give your dog proper guidelines and give them free run of the home. When the sofa gets chewed or your dog has an accident he gets yelled at when you get home. How is he supposed to know.
- Socialize. Socialize. Socialize. The best way to avoid bad behavior in dogs is to shape the behavior that you like before your dog even has the opportunity to start making bad habits. For example, if you don't want the dog that chases and barks at the mail man you bring your dog out to meet the mail man in the most fun way possible. Otherwise your dog is going to eventually make his own association with the mail man and that could be what causes that barking or even aggressive behavior. Socialize with everything you can possibly think of!
- Use Kongs and other independent activities. These activities provide enrichment for your dog. Using things like Kongs and Snuffle mats helps to build your dog's confidence. It is important to allow them to do activities like these on their own without you around because it really helps to build confidence. Frozen Kongs are especially good because the dog has to lick them to get anything out. Licking is self soothing. This way, alone time quickly becomes relaxation time rather than an anxiety evoking event.
- Physically exercise your dog. This means leash walking, appropriate play with other dogs, playing fetch, and many other activities. Physical exercise keeps your dog from bouncing off of the walls. Giving physical exercise will help your dog not be tempted to destroy your furniture and your home.
- Mentally exercise your dog. This is very different from physically exercising and just as, if not more important. Mentally exercising your dog allows them to fully relax when they are not doing anything. Behaviorally this is great because your dog will be able to develop a calmer and more relaxed demeanor. Overall your pup will be happier!
- Feeding out of a Maze bowl is just another way to add stimulation to your dogs day. Dogs should always work for their food. If everything is free life quickly becomes boring and mundane. Having a variety of puzzle and maze bowls keeps meal times exciting when you don't have the time to work with your pup for their kibble.
- Feed your dog twice a day on a regular schedule. Feeding twice a day on a regular schedule will help to maintain your dog's gut health. They will be more likely to want to work for treats and they'll feel better too!
- Build a handler bond, it can't all be loves and kisses. Dogs require discipline and not giving it to them is irresponsible. There is always time for the lovins but it is also important to be a leader for your dog so they trust you and can be relaxed in your presence.
- Get proper gear for walking your dog and teach them to respect their leash. Proper gear does not have to be one thing. Proper gear can range anywhere from a prong collar to a properly fitted easy-walk. As long as your dog is not hurting itself (Pulling on trachea or overly straining) and you are happy then the gear is adequate.
- Teach your dog at the very least basic commands, sit, down, wait, leave it. Having these commands in your tool belt and practicing them often will make life so much easier and safer for both you and your dog. Sometimes, you and your dog are going to be thrown into less than ideal situations and having some form of communication between you eases frustrations and makes life with a dog much more enjoyable.
- Do not allow, or even worse, encourage your dog to jump up on you at any time. Especially during puppyhood. Yes it is cute when your puppy is jumping on you and trying to get all of the love in the world. It is no longer cute though when your dog is knocking over grandma and clawing up your legs when you are trying to work.
- Do not free feed! Free feeding is when you leave the food bowl down at all times. Feeding like this causes your dog's kibble to lose all of its value. Feeding is a great opportunity to mentally stimulate your dog but if the food is free then why work for it? Many dogs will also eat just because they get bored. This leads to obesity which can cause a multitude of different health problems. Potty training is also far easier if your dog is only eating twice a day!
- Don't greet your dog too excitedly or pick them up when you come home. If you leave your dog when you go to work all day and then come home and make it the best part of their whole day by smothering them in love and kisses they will remember it. Then each day after they are going to think about that moment you come home all day long. This kind of behavior is what causes separation anxiety. It isn't fair to make you the very best part of their day but then also leave them all day!
- Don't let your dog pull on the leash. I could name a million reasons why this is a don't but primarily how your dog acts on a leash is really telling on the respect your dog has for you. Teaching your dog proper leash manners helps to keep them calm as they begin to trust you to take control of any situation.
- Don't scare or push your dog to do something it really doesn't want to do. All too often people accidentally traumatize their dog because they think they are doing something harmless or funny. For example, let us say you have a dog that attacks the vacuum. Continuing to allow this behavior makes the vacuum coming out an incredibly stressful situation that worsens each time even if you aren't continuing to antagonize your pup. Take your dogs feelings seriously because once they feel one way about a situation it takes a lot of effort to change it to a different feeling
- Be selective with the dogs that your dog gets to meet. In a perfect world every dog would be friends but dogs are much like humans. Not all humans get along because they have different personalities. Allow your dog to pick and choose its friends and don't push them too much to make friends with dogs they don't like or act weird with. No matter how much your dog likes another dog do not let them play on the leash either. Play time has to have boundaries.
- Don't humanize your dog! Humanizing your dog does a lot more harm than good. Everyone wants to baby their dog, including us dog trainers. They become such a central part of a household. This being said, you still need to treat them like a dog. Dogs do not communicate or react in human ways yet we implement human thought processes on them. Making training or even just your communication too complex for them will cause them to start ignoring you. If you treat your dog like an animal and show them love and discipline in ways that they understand then you will build a much stronger bond with them than you will by babying them.
- Don't take your dog to the dog park unless you are prepared to break up potential dog fight. Unfortunately, too many dog owners don't pay attention to or understand their dog's body language and bring overstimulated or even reactive dogs into the park. Inappropriate body language can lead to a fight even with a non aggressive dog. If you want to take your dog in to a park make sure to watch the other dogs in the dog park first to see if they would be a good match for your pup. If it seems like it will be too much for them turn your trip into a training opportunity. Working your dog outside the fence and letting them decompress is a great way to practice them listening to you in a distracting environment.
- Do not let your dog free roam your house without you present if you haven't taught them exactly how to behave with this freedom. If your dog is bored or inexperienced with being left alone they may get into naughty behaviors such as eating your couch, tearing up a baseboard and so much more. It's unfair to allow your dog to fail like this before teaching them how to succeed. Once these bad habits start they're hard to stop, the best way to deal with it is to avoid it all together!
- Always make sure your dog is having fun. If you want to take your dog through dog sports, advanced obedience, therapy work or anything else it has to be fun. You can't force a dog to do their job you have to teach them how to love doing it. If your dog is not enjoying the work they are doing whether it is agility or dock diving don't make them do it! Just like humans dogs can have different interests and preferences and that is totally okay! If you don't know what your dog would enjoy doing start with researching what their breed was bred for. Usually they will be instinctually better and more inclined to do the related sport or activity. Always make sure to positively reinforce your dog when they are doing something right rather than just correcting bad behaviors. This will build a beautiful and long lasting bond with your dog and give them the life that they deserve.