Dog training should begin the moment you bring your new dog home, whether he’s a puppy or an adult. If you adopt a dog over the age of two, don’t expect it to come trained or housebroken, since rescued adult dogs are likely to have been neglected and abandoned by the previous owner due to lack of time or behavioral issues that were blamed on the dog but were ultimately the owner’s responsibility such as housebreaking a dog.
Older dogs may be calmer and easier to train, but will require training, discipline, and role-establishing techniques as well. Dogs have a great ability to break old habits and learn new ones at any age.
The goals of dog ownership and training should be to create a happy, confident dog with a good dog-owner relationship, while avoiding behavioral issues. All owners want a calm dog that listens and is well-behaved both on and off the leash, and to have confidence in their dog at all times in all situations. By understanding how to train your dog and following these three basic dog-training rules, you will be well on your way to reaching these goals.
Become the Leader of Your Pack
Dogs are pack animals and are happy as long as they understand their place in the pecking order, regardless of whether they are on the top or the bottom. If you want to be in control of your dog, the number one thing you need to do is establish yourself as the alpha dog. If you let your dog control you, instead of you controlling the dog, your dog will develop behavioral problems and won’t listen consistently.
If you fail to establish yourself as the leader of the pack, your dog will take on that role himself, leading to behavioral issues such as aggression toward people and other dogs. Your dog can sense that you’re not in control and will feel the need to protect you, even when it’s not necessary. If you have a dog that is aggressive or consistently attacks other dogs, it is likely because you have allowed him to establish himself as the alpha dog and he feels it is his job to maintain that he’s in charge.
Even if you adopt a calm dog that doesn’t seem to need a lot of discipline, there are still some easy strategies you can use to make sure that you are the dominant one in the relationship. You will be using your dog’s natural instincts in order to train him.
- Never let your dog walk past your heel. This puts you in front of your dog and shows him that you’re in control. If you hike on trails with your dog off-leash, make sure that he follows you instead of running ahead.
- Make eye contact with your dog whenever you speak to him or give him a command. This shows him that you are in charge.
- Don’t feed your dog until after you’ve eaten. Make him wait until you’re finished and feed him immediately afterward. Pack leaders often provide the kill for the rest of the pack, eating what they want first and then leaving the rest for other pack members to feast on once they’ve had their fill. Of course, never feed your dog handouts from the table, and you may want to train them to stay out of the kitchen completely.
- Don’t allow your dog to sleep on your bed on sit on the furniture. This is your domain and allows him to be on the same level as you. You must establish that certain areas of your territory are off-limits to him.
- Don’t let your dog lie down with his back toward you, which is the body language that an alpha dog uses to establish his role over a lower dog. If you see your dog’s back to you in a room, ask him to get up, sit, and lie down facing you.
Use Positive Reinforcements Only
Once you’ve established yourself as leader of your pack, you can train your dog to follow your every command without ever having to use punishments, violence, or even raise your voice. Dogs are much more willing to listen when they understand that they’re following the pack leader.
One of the first commands you’ll want to teach your dog is what “no” means. Whenever you see your dog doing something you don’t like, whether it’s going to the bathroom inside or chewing on your favorite shoe, immediately stop the behavior and give him the “no” command in an even but firm tone. Then you must also show him the correct behavior that you want to promote.
In the case of going potty indoors, you’ll want to take him outside to the appropriate potty spot or over to his indoor dog potty to allow him to finish, praising him for performing the correct behavior. When you catch your dog doing something like chewing on your shoe, take it away from him and give him one of his own chew toys. You will need to be consistent with your training and make sure you go through these steps each time you need to correct your dog’s behavior, in order to avoid confusing him.
Socialize Your Dog
Dogs are social, pack animals that like to be around other dogs, people, and animals. If your dog never sees anyone but you, he’ll learn that other people, dogs, and cats are unusual, foreign, and threatening.
Puppies are easier to socialize since they haven’t learned as many aggressive behaviors, and it’s important to make time for your puppy to be around your friends and their dogs, cats, and kids, on both your turf and theirs.
Adult dogs can be socialized as well, but they may be more timid or aggressive and it may take longer. Over time, dogs get used to the environments they are exposed to, making them happier dogs because they feel comfortable in a variety of situations.
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