Katherine Wilson talks to Judy Bernard of Proper Paws about laying the groundwork for a well-behaved dog
People like to joke that bringing home a puppy is like bringing home a baby. I have to disagree! It’s not like bringing home a baby, you are bringing home a baby, albeit a really fuzzy one that goes from infant to terrible twos over a couple of months! Both involve lots of doctor’s appointments, new gear, danger proofing, accidents in the house and a few destroyed shoes, dishes, couches, etc. Adopting an older dog isn’t much different – they might be house trained but need help integrating successfully into your family.
How can you train a Ms. or Mr. Manners?
Concord Animal Hospital’s Katherine Wilson sat down with Judy Bernard, Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed, member Association of Professional Dog Trainers and owner of Proper Paws Dog Training right here in Concord to get her thoughts on how to lay the groundwork for a well-behaved dog. Proper Paws Dog Training offers services ranging from puppy socialization to group and private training for older dogs and behavioral consultation.
Katherine: how should new dog owners prep for training before their new dog arrives?
Judy: First, it helps if all the family members are on the same page when it comes to the rules we are going to ask the puppy to live by. Will the dog be allowed on the couch? Where will they sleep? Will it be ok for the dog to be in all the rooms in the house? Sometimes these issues are easy to agree on, but sometimes it takes a discussion and even negotiation to reach agreement. Just like with our kids, we need to have agreement on what’s allowed and what’s not, so that we can all be consistent. Inconsistent reinforcement will confuse the puppy and training will be much more difficult.
Second, its ideal to pick a trainer before your pet comes home and try to time classes so you start two-three weeks after your pet’s arrival, earlier. I always encourage people to visit classes in advance, chat with trainers and be sure they are a good fit for you. We are lucky to have many qualified trainers in the area, but do check for qualifications and certifications and ask or observe the methods these trainers use. As with the Veterinarian industry, best practice in dog training is force free and positive reinforcement. Also, be aware that many times there is a wait to join classes or get private training time, so ask about availability.
Also, if the trainer does early socialization classes you can begin those as soon as the puppy has been checked by your vet!
Judy Bernard demonstrates touch training
Katherine: what should owners consider in their dog’s first week at home to lay the groundwork for a well-behaved dog?
Judy: It’s really important to give your new dog some time to adjust to their new surroundings, keep visitors to a minimum, consider a crate or other safe spot when they need some “me” time and create a routine that will address the puppy’s bathroom needs as well as providing adequate daily exercise of at least an hour a day.
You can also begin to reinforce appropriate behaviors right away, it’s easier to prevent bad habits than it is to correct them. Consider using a clicker or a word such as “yes!” followed by a tasty treat to reinforce your puppy for all the behaviors you like, such as going to the bathroom outside, making eye contact, sitting, coming to you or walking into their crate.
Katherine: how would you recommend that all members of a family all get involved in a dog’s training?
Judy: There are lots of things that will need to be done for and with your new puppy and we need to be sure to match responsibilities/tasks to the right family members. Even the youngest can help with feeding and making sure there is fresh water available with a bit of supervision. Children that are a bit older will be able to play appropriate training games (again with supervision), and even older children (age 10-14) may be able to take the puppy out for bathroom breaks and/or walks in safe areas. Everyone in the family can learn to reinforce and praise for appropriate behaviors.
However the bulk of training requires an ability to predict the dog’s behavior, prevent behaviors that are undesirable and reinforce the desirable behaviors in a timely way. These skills are typically found in adults and often lacking in children. My recommendation is always that the basic skills be left for adults to train, while we find appropriate activities and games and tricks for kids to teach.
As a side but important note: it’s critical to always supervise your new dog with children. Your kids need to learn how to behave around your dog and visa versa and both often lack impulse control! The most important skill for humans to learn is to respect the dog's choice to accept petting, being picked up or engaging with a person. It’s ok for the dog to decide they don’t want to engage!
Read Prep Your Pet for a Baby for tips on how to introduce a human child to your pet children
Katherine: are there different considerations for training a puppy versus an older dog?
Judy: Yes and no. Puppies require lots of time to train and there is a lot for them to learn, but they generally don’t arrive with much baggage. While older dogs may be housebroken they might also have behaviors that need adjusting, such as begging or jumping. Both require time and consistent reinforcement of the behaviors we do want while preventing the behaviors we don’t want. It also takes time to develop a bond with both puppies AND older dogs, this bond is enhanced through training and is critical for developing some of the most important behaviors like ‘come’ and leash walking.
Katherine: how much time should new dog owners expect to spend on training each day?
Judy: When I have clients with new puppies I generally give people a guideline of 2-5 minutes at a time 10-15 times a day, so between 20-75 minutes of training every day. Older dogs typically have greater attention spans and can go longer with fewer sessions. That said, I believe it is more effective and realistic to incorporate training into your regular interactions with your puppy or new rescue, than to set aside ‘training time’. So we make training our dogs a habit, rather than a chore. Examples of this include asking the dog to sit and/or wait for his food at every feeding. I even make it a game so people ask for the behavior 4 times with 2-3 pieces of kibble in the bowl before filling the bowl up for the 5 and final ask. Other ideas include, asking your dog to wait at the door before going out, asking your dog to sit at every curb you come to, playing games to reinforce the ‘come’ behavior, reinforcing your dog for being calm whenever it occurs, reinforcing a sit whenever your dog wants something, reinforcing eye contact at any time, reinforcing your dog for coming to you – even if you haven’t asked for it.
The bottom line in training is if we reinforce the behaviors we like they will repeat, and dogs are ALWAYS doing behaviors, we just have to watch for the ones we want and let the dogs know it!
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