Does your dog delight in jumping all over your guests? Does she selectively ignore you when you call her name? Does she chew up your slippers and bark to her heart’s content? Do you have the doggie equivalent of a person who cuts in line while blabbing on her cell phone?
If so, don’t fear! January is a time of new beginnings—and it’s also National Train Your Dog Month. Whether your lawless canine is a new puppy or a seasoned mischief-maker, there’s no better time to lay the groundwork for a better-behaved (and happier) dog. Read on for some reasons why teaching your dog basic obedience will make both of your lives better, and how to get there.
A well-trained dog is happier. Teaching your dog to obey you might seem harsh or overbearing, but training can make your dog’s life less confusing and more rewarding. Without training, your dog may be frustrated when her natural behaviors like barking and chewing result in unpredictable punishments. Through training, you give her a clearer idea of what is expected of her, while also keeping her mental and physical muscles engaged. And a better-trained dog will be happy to be included in events that were previously off-limits to her, such as being allowed to politely mingle when you have company over.
A well-trained dog has a stronger bond with you. A 2013 study found that dogs bond with their humans much the way babies do with their parents. When their owners were present, dogs in the study worked much harder to solve a food puzzle than when a stranger was present. Your encouraging presence could be the key to teaching your dog better manners. Spending time training your dog, even in very short increments throughout the day, helps to develop mutual trust and respect, and allows the bond to grow even more.
A well-trained dog is safer. Obeying your commands may prevent your dog from getting injured—or from injuring others. For instance, upon spotting another dog across the street, your dog’s reaction may be to race towards this new potential friend (or enemy!) For a well-trained dog, though, her owner’s firm command trumps her impulse, potentially keeping her from being hit by a car, getting in a dog fight, or even injuring a person in her enthusiasm to jump on them and lick their face.
A well-trained dog has a home. One study by researchers at The Ohio State University found that bad behavior was the number-one reason that people surrendered their dogs to a shelter. Better training might have saved many of these dogs from becoming a sad statistic.
How to do it:
Stay positive. Positive reinforcement training is a powerful and humane way to teach your dog. When your dog shows a desired behavior, immediately reward her with praise and a small treat. Eventually, she will associate this treat with her behavior, and you can slowly begin to reduce how often you give her the treat.
Stay calm. Although a badly behaved dog may try your patience, dogs respond best to calm, positive training rather than aggressive methods such as hitting or staring. A 2009 study found that using aggressive methods to train dogs backfired, resulting in even more aggressive dogs. And dogs may not make the connection between a punishment and the behavior it’s discouraging.
Be consistent. Most dogs want to please their owners, but may be confused about what their owners want. Dogs respond best to very short, clear commands that are the same coming from every human in the household. For instance, you might use the word “down” for a command to lie down, and “off” to discourage jumping on people. And be sure to stick with what you’re training—don’t enforce a “no jumping” rule some of the time, but let it slide at others.
Use prevention to your advantage. Dogs who chew, bark and dig holes in the sofa may simply be bored. Be sure that your dog gets enough mental stimulation and exercise; some breeds may require a lot of both. And for puppies with an insatiable chew drive, keep valuable or potentially dangerous items tucked safely away on high shelves.
Pick the right trainer. Some dog behavior problems may require the input of a professional. We’ll continue to celebrate National Train Your Dog Month with an article offering tips on how to find the right dog trainer. Stay tuned for more! –Meredith Southard
An animal lover since she could shriek the word “doggie,” Meredith Southard has written for national and statewide publications on topics such as wildlife rehabilitation and rescue, conservation dogs, and the animals of Ohio’s wetlands. On warm spring nights she can be found traipsing around vernal pools with a flashlight, looking for salamanders and frogs.