By Val Masters, CPDT, CDBC, Community Services Director & Behavior Specialist
One of the best things we can do for our dogs is train them. In addition to the basics, (sit, stay, wait, come and walking politely on leash), training our dogs also includes teaching them good manners, being fair and consistent in what we expect, and setting boundaries so that our dogs will be enjoyable companions in our homes.
The Sacramento SPCA Behavior Department helps hundreds of pet owners every year! We offer a free behavior helpline, group dog training classes, behavior handouts on our website, and private behavior consultations. These services have been offered to the public for 10 years, and our offerings will continue to expand. In 2012, we received 2,272 behavior help line calls, held 262 private behavior consultations, assisted more than 600 people and their dogs through our dog training classes, and provided a variety of information to thousands of people who visited our website to get help for their pets’ behavior issues.
Start with a Solid Foundation
When we bring a dog into our home, they do not know what the rules are. It is up to us to teach them. Your relationship with your new dog starts forming the moment you first meet. As much as you may want to hug him to pieces, it’s best to let him set the tone. Canine social behavior is very different from ours. The things we do naturally – approaching head-on, making direct eye contact, reaching out and hugging, patting on the head – can be very intimidating and off-putting to dogs. Canines approach in a curving path, averting their eyes, and sniffing flanks before deciding to offer and accept more intimate body contact. A great resource to help us understand more about our dogs is “The Other End of the Leash,” by Patricia McConnell, Ph.D.
Even after your initial introduction, you can learn a lot about who your dog is by watching his body language. Does your dog stand tall and forward, taking everything in stride? If so, he’s likely an assertive, confident dog. Does your dog’s tail wag gently at half-mast and his expression stay soft regardless of what – or who – is going on around him? Then he’s probably an easy-going, friendly dog. Does your dog tend to hang back, looking a little worried, letting someone else take the lead? That means he’s probably more timid, and lacking in confidence.
Consistency is key. It is important that everyone in the family agree on what the house rules are, and that these rules take effect as soon as a new dog arrives (or should start immediately if you already have a dog in your home). Dogs do best when their world is predictable. Let’s say you allow your new dog on the sofa the first week, then Mom yells at him for getting on the sofa when his paws are muddy. The next day Sally invites him back up to watch television next to her. His world is unpredictable. Unpredictability causes stress, and stress causes behavior problems. I suggest everyone in the family sit down and agree on important questions, such as: (1) Is the dog allowed on the furniture? All furniture, or just some? If just some, which pieces? (2) Who will feed the dog? When, where and what? (3) Who will walk/exercise the dog? When and where? (4) Who is supervising and potty training? (5) Where will the dog sleep? (6) Who is the primary trainer (everyone should participate in training) and what methods and cues will everyone use? (7) What other behaviors are going to be reinforced, and which ones are not?
Part of training also includes making sure that “good stuff” happens when your dog performs behaviors that are desirable. Conversely, unwanted behaviors make good stuff go away, or the dog is ignored or refocused to do something you do desire. See our behavior handout “How Do I Get My Dog to Behave” on our website.
In addition to setting the tone and structuring things in your household for the best possible success for living with your dog, it is also extremely important that your dog is exercised – both physically and mentally – every day. How much and what type of exercise depends on your individual dog’s needs, but it is important that your dog is exercised until he is tired – every day. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get more information and ideas for exercising your dog’s mind and body!
Dog Training Classes
Every dog should be taken through basic dog training classes, where the dog will learn good manners such as sit, down, stay, come, walk politely on leash, and wait at the door. The Sacramento SPCA offers basic, intermediate, and tricks classes for you and your dog. We recommend trainers that utilize positive reinforcement training methods. For more information about our classes, please visit our website.
Beyond Basic Training and Behavior Issues
Unfortunately, a number of dogs miss out on important socialization lessons, while others just have hard-wired behaviors that require more than teaching and working on the basics. When dogs are not well socialized, or not properly socialized, it may result in reactive behavior (barking, lunging, whining), timidness/shyness, fearfulness, or possibly aggressive behavior (which may be exhibited toward novel items, certain people, some dogs, cats, or other environmental stimuli). If your dog has adverse reactions to novel stimuli, it is important to see a behavior specialist to help you help your dog to change these negative associations to positive associations with situations/people/dogs. The Sacramento SPCA offers private behavior consultations to help you address any of these concerns with your dog.
Whether you are looking for resources to help you with your pet’s behavior issues, want to take a group class, need one-on-one assistance, or just want to know more about why your dog does what he does, the Sacramento SPCA can help!
Visit the Behavior & Training section of our website for more information.