By: Liz Reyes
Clients will very often come up to me with a dog or puppy over 6 months and say their pooch needs to develop better manners or social skills, but that it’s too late. On the contrary, some clients with puppies (between eight weeks and four months) think it’s too soon to teach their pup manners. Bottom line, it is never too late or too early to teach manners.
The first few months
It’s common that your pup will develop or try to develop some of the worst habits in the first year. It’s up to each individual to make sure these are corrected. You can start teaching your puppy manners from the day you bring him or her home, usually at about eight weeks. And most importantly, you can start socializing your pup with other puppies (as long as they are current on shots), people, including children, and in various social settings. The training sessions won’t be anything formal or voluntary on their part without a reward or treat, but start teaching your pup sit, stay, down and come. As soon as your pup is 10 weeks, enroll him or her in obedience classes, such as Puppy Kindergarten.
The first year
It has happened to some clients; they tend to neglect obedience training and realize once their pup is seven or eight months, he or she is a complete terror. Biting, digging, jumping, pawing or destructive behavior, are signs of a puppy who needs manners. It is not too late to get your dog in shape if this happens. A puppy or dog class is important at this stage because it allows for socialization, and for “out-of-control” dogs to run off their energy. In a lot of cases, too much energy is the main source of destructive behavior. Obedience classes teach you the hand signals associated with commands, as well as creative ways to correct when they aren’t listening or are distracted easily.
Socialization is the key here. The more you teach your dog to socialize, the better. Not all dogs are ready for this, however. Remember that dogs have three instinctive reactions: freeze, flight or fight. Most will freeze or flight, but some will fight. A shy or nervous dog forced into socializing may growl, snap or bite out of fear. Start socializing your dog slowly. Take them to a place with light pedestrian traffic. On their first day of socialization, don’t take them to a community park with kids and people everywhere. When your dog starts to become familiar with passerby’s and accepts their presence, reward him or her with a treat. Soon, your dog will be able to be approached by strangers and stop barking, jumping, crying or reacting to anyone passing by. It’s also important to take them to group classes where they can interact with other dogs and other owners. Dog parks are not recommended because there is no expert supervision and you don’t know how well other people have desensitized their pooches. It’s a Dog’s World’s Yappy Hour is a safe alternative because all dogs are screened, and socialization with other owners and dogs are monitored by a trainer.
It’s often you will have quick visitors in and out of your house. Possibly someone stopping in to pick up a family member, someone who is dropping off a product, or someone entering to perform a service. These are all opportunities to teach your dog to sit and greet people instead of jumping up on them. Use treats and rewarding attention to teach your dog to sit and be petted by visitors. Make sure and give a treat to the dog as he or she is being petted. Instruct those greeting your dog to stop petting the dog and even turn their back on the dog if he gets out of the sit command. Next time a visitor comes through your dog will remember that he was rewarded with treats and love for sitting.
The place command
When people come to visit, do you schedule your dog to be at the groomers or have to lock him or her up? A solution is the ‘place’ command. Teach your pooch to go to their place or spot on command and keep them there when company is over. You do this by training them on their leash and guiding them to their spot or place by coaxing with a treat. It’s important not to change the spot or place and to practice the routine daily. When a dog does not listen, give them a delicious treat like a stuffed Kong or Bully Stick so they calm down. Another solution is use a pet tether to keep a disobedient dog in the place command. This works when you have a puppy with high energy or a dog that wanders away from the place while they’re still learning or being trained.
Approaching other dogs
Again, dogs will show aggression because of fear or shyness. Socialize your dog with other dogs as young as 10 weeks. Just because your dog does well in a setting like Yappy Hour or obedience classes, doesn’t mean he will always, so take caution. Never allow your dog to approach another dog without first getting the owner’s permission. Even though your dog may be friendly and out going, the other dog may have some issues and it is proper etiquette to check with the owner first. If your dog always pulls you to greet other dogs, this is a perfect training opportunity for the heel, stay, or watch me command. Don’t allow your dog to have bad doggie manners by pulling to get to other dogs. Besides, if your dog is pulling to meet another dog and you allow him to do so, you have just rewarded the unwanted behavior of pulling on the leash. Keep your pooch on a leash whenever he is approaching other dogs and go with him or her. Study your dog’s body language and approach. Keep in mind that dogs can often feel territorial, depending on the approaching grounds, and this can make for a usually friendly dog to show some signs of aggression. Allow the dogs to sniff and approach each other for a few minutes before you let them loose to play and run, in a controlled setting only. If you are unsure on how the dogs will get along, leave the leash on so that you can grab either dog easily until everyone feels comfortable.
Liz Reyes is the owner of It’s a Dog’s World in Chino, Ca, which offers group and obedience classes, private training and in-kennel training. E-mail Liz at [email protected] for more info.