Thursday, September 23, 2010

Responsible Pet Ownership- Part II- Everybody Loves to Learn!

Training is also something you should consider before you bring ‘baby’ home. Decide how training will be handled- it will take up a lot of your time. If you will be the primary “trainer” make sure that you work with everyone else in the house so your pup will obey their commands, and they use the right commands. If you’re only going to do basic household manners and take your puppy to someone else for obedience training, make sure that you spend adequate time working with that trainer to be sure YOU are trained as well.
Also, if not before you bring home your new friend then at least very soon after, decide what behaviors you will and will not tolerate- what is cute or no big deal now might be a huge problem down the road. Its far easier to correct a small problem when your pet is first introduced to your home, than to wait until it becomes an issue in 6 months or a year after the behavior is already “ok” in your pet’s mind.

Consistency Counts!
As with everyone and everything, being consistent is important for training your new friend. First and foremost, consistency makes training faster and easier. If you are consistent in telling your puppy that you don’t want him pottying in the house or chewing on your cords, or telling the cat you don’t want it on the counter, then they will get the message a LOT faster than if you only send the message half of the time. Also, if you are not consistent in what you ask of your pet, it might lead to confusion about what it is you actually want, or how “wrong” a certain activity is. And confusion will just delay the learning/training process. Also, train your dog to behave with everyone as you would want it to behave with particular people- kids, grandma, the queen of England. If there is a certain behavior that is not ok for your dog to do around certain people, it is not ok for them to do it around anyone. If you are worried that your dog could knock a child or an elderly person to the ground and hurt them if it jumps up, then your dog should not jump up on anyone. Period. It would be lax of me to not mention here that maintaining consistency will take a fair amount of discipline on your part. It’s pretty easy to “forget” to reinforce a given lesson when you’re tired, had a long day, etc. Just make sure that you are maintaining your focus, and the payoff will be huge in the long run.

Which brings me to my next training point- the importance of play. Play has a very important role in training, believe it or not. In all mammals, play is an important part of babies’ development- it helps them to learn coordination and the skills that they will need as an adult. It can be used as a reward for a job well done, it serves as a break and a mental reset between lessons. It also helps TREMENDOUSLY to burn off some extra puppy energy, making for a calmer, quieter, less inclined to get into mischief puppy. Which makes YOU a happier owner- I promise. So take some extra time on your potty breaks to throw a ball, play tug-o-war, toss a Frisbee, whatever it is that your pup likes. Make time to play with your pet every day, not only will it help them to burn off some extra energy, but it will also reinforce the bond between you.

To this end, going for regular walks also helps. Not only will your pup learn leash manners and become more socialized as they encounter new situations, but they will likely have to take a nap when you get home.

What you choose to train your dog to do is up to you. Some people don’t “need” anything other than “don’t potty in the house.” Others want some basic obedience commands like “come” or “stay” and a few more rules, like stay off the furniture and don’t chew my stuff. Other people want their dog to be able to do 100 tricks. Where you fall is up to you, but I should point out that basic obedience commands will help your pet remain safe. If your puppy goes to chase an errant ball across the street and you see a car coming, the command “stay” could save his life.

Keeping your dog’s mind engaged in learning new things will help to keep them from getting bored and make them feel useful. Don’t forget that if you get excited when your dog learns something new, they will be happy that they have pleased you and work that much harder to learn the next new thing. Teaching your dog new things will make them feel like they have a job to do and will reinforce to them that they are important to you. Like people, dogs take joy in learning new things and there is no reason that training should just be for puppies! Dogs of any age can continue to learn and grow mentally throughout their whole lives.