Raising a Happy, Confident Dog
We love our dogs, especially here in Central Oregon, deemed one of the most dog friendly regions in the country. However, love may not be quite enough when it comes to helping our dogs thrive in our sometimes confusing human world. Here are the five most important things you can do to help your puppy or dog learn the appropriate social skills and behaviors to become a wonderful companion:
- Early socialization.
- Proper management.
- Positive, reward based training.
- Regular physical exercise and enrichment.
- A trusting relationship with their people.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these elements and how they form the foundation for raising a confident and well-behaved canine member of the family.
Socialization is the process of exposing your puppy or newly adopted dog to all of the various unfamiliar objects, people, and other animals they will encounter in a variety of environments. Hopefully, this process was started before you even brought your puppy home by the breeder. While it is important to continue the socialization process once your puppy arrives in your home, it has to be done in small steps being careful not to stress your puppy or new dog. Puppies need frequent breaks and rest from stimulation, especially if there are young children in the home. Newly adopted dogs that have been living in a shelter or rescue situation also need a slow introduction to the bigger world. Socialization will include sounds, sights, handling, and association with other people and appropriate animals. You can take your puppy to “puppy classes” once they have had their first set of vaccinations for the opportunity to learn appropriate play interactions with other puppies. It is always best if these classes are small, supervised by a trainer, and include an older “teacher dog” in the group. Don’t forget to also include your Vet Clinic in the socialization process to help your puppy build a positive association with the Veterinary staff.
Just as you wouldn’t hand the keys to the car over to your five year old child, you also can’t give the new puppy or dog the run of the house! Management is the process of manipulating the environment to set the puppy up to be successful, and limiting the chances for mistakes. The first step is to help your puppy or dog learn to be comfortable in a crate or small pen for containment. This is a critical step and must be accomplished through positive reinforcement. You want your puppy to think of the crate as his safe and familiar space. It should never be used in a punitive manner. The process of housetraining your puppy to eliminate outside is also dependent on the use of a crate. You can enlist the help of a qualified trainer to help you with this process. The new puppy or dog must be supervised when not in a contained area. We all have stories of just how much trouble a puppy can get into left unsupervised for even a short period of time!
You will also need to “puppy proof” your home to remove objects of interest that look like fun chew toys. Puppies need to chew and they need to be directed to chew on the appropriate toys. A common mistake new owners often make is to have multiple toys strewn all about the house thinking the puppy will always choose the toy. However, with so many toys around, the puppy can’t really differentiate between the toys and your shoes or other objects you don’t want them to chew. A more effective strategy is to create a special interest in one or two toys by playing with your puppy using that toy and making it very special, then putting it away. When the puppy’s attention has gone to something you don’t want them to chew on, bring out the “coveted toy” and engage their interest in that toy.
Most importantly, if your puppy or new dog makes a mistake by chewing on something inappropriate or eliminating in the house, it is usually because we weren’t doing our job of supervising! Resist the temptation to punish your puppy, as this often leads to a fear or stress response. Always think of redirecting your puppy to the correct behavior and rewarding it.
Positive Reward Based Training
Over the past several years the science of dog training has made significant advances. We have a much better understanding of how dogs think, learn, and communicate. Unfortunately, some uninformed trainers still promote the outdated concept of dominance or pack theory based on non-relevant studies of captive wolves. Dogs are social animals who evolved by learning to cooperate and avoid conflict. The use of any type of force or aversive training is not only less effective, but can be harmful often leading to anxiety or reactive behavior. The most effective training technique is positive reinforcement or reward based training. In this type of training, you reinforce the desired behavior with something desirable to the dog, which increases the frequency of that behavior. Training should be humane, fun, and enhance your relationship with your dog. Seek out a professional dog trainer that adheres to a force-free philosophy to help you learn how to successfully train your puppy or new dog.
Physical Exercise and Enrichement
Dogs naturally enjoy movement and play activities throughout their lives. They need daily exercise and we are lucky to live in an area that provides so many opportunities to get your dog outdoors. With the proper gear and preparation, your dog can enjoy hiking, swimming, or even paddle boarding with you! Our area also offers many dog related activities such as agility, scent work, tracking, or search and rescue. Again, it is important to properly prepare your dog for specific activities and build their fitness level slowly before taking them on that 20 mile hike! Also be aware of environmental conditions, as it is easy for dogs to get over heated. If you have time constraints, set up a little fun obstacle course in your own backyard and teach your dog to walk over various surfaces, climb, and jump, or find objects you have hidden.
A Relationship Built on Trust
Trust is the basis for a positive and rewarding relationship with your canine friend. Dogs rely on us for nearly everything, and we exert a lot of control over their lives – when they eat, where they sleep, when they have access to play, and even when/where they eliminate. We also have a responsibility to keep them safe and meet their physical and emotional needs. Hours spent alone, inconsistent training and expectations, or a stressful environment will all lead to behavior issues. You can help your dog trust you by learning their communication signals and body language so you can respond appropriately. Again, a professional trainer can help you recognize these signals. Most importantly, be patient with your new puppy or dog. With the appropriate socialization, positive training, and regular exercise, you will be rewarded with a well-behaved, confident and joyful companion!