Why Should Pet Dogs Be Trained?
You are not a shepherd. Your dog does not need to work for a living. Why, then, should you train your dog? Since the first wild canid and human beings discovered that they could live together, we have selectively bred dogs to perform certain tasks. These tasks include hunting, guarding, herding, tracking, pulling carts and too many other jobs to fit on this sheet of paper. Very few of the early dogs were kept as pets. The whole concept of pet-keeping is a fairly recent one.
Your dog, no matter what its breed, will have probably had working ancestors. A dog is an intelligent creature which needs mental stimulation. Finding ways that your dog can work for you will improve your relationship and fulfil certain needs for a dog. You will probably find that your dog will be tired after doing some work because he will be forced to use his brain.
Other than your dog’s mental well-being, there are more important reasons for training. We live in a society which is becoming more anti-dog every day. Public pressure and new legislation means that the onus is on every dog owner to keep their dog under control in public places. In our own homes, it is also very important that our dogs know what is required. As pack leader, we feed, shelter, protect, provide veterinary treatment, groom and many other things for our dog. In return, we should expect our dog to bring pleasure to our life. For many, dog ownership has become less of a pleasure. They cannot walk their dog due to it’s misbehaviour, friends will not visit because the dog is a nuisance, neighbours complain about the noise and many people lose their furniture to destructive dogs. Pet dog training may not solve all of these problems on its own, but it will provide a basis for developing a good relationship with your dog.
Punishment & Reward
Dogs will not do anything unless there is a good reason for doing it. There are usually two different reasons. The first is to avoid pain and the second is to obtain something pleasant like food or a toy. For some dogs, the punishment method works. But for most, it will ruin the dog/owner relationship. Punishment must happen within two seconds of the undesirable act to be effective. Most dogs do naughty things when we are not around to catch them. This makes punishment completely useless and can confuse the dog. Rewarding good behaviour is far simpler and much more effective.
Reward-based training includes “Lure and Reward” and other methods such as “Clicker Training” borrowed from marine mammal trainers. Different methods suit different people and their dogs and an individual programme tailored to your needs will be provided. The use of modern methods increases compliance to owners’ commands and helps maintain a good owner/animal relationship. When your dog begins training he will learn how to learn. This means that teaching him will become easier and easier. For the owner, the major requirements are common sense and patience.
Older dogs (six months upwards) have had the time and opportunity for their previous learning (e.g. pulling on the lead) to be strengthened often by inadvertent rewards from their owners. Previous learning and the use of inappropriate equipment (eg choke/check chains, short leads etc) will interfere with new learning. The reasons for this and how to overcome previous learning will be explained to you during the initial session.
Your puppy is learning from the moment you bring him home, therefore you can begin his/her training at the earliest time. However, you must ensure that the puppy’s vaccination programme is complete before attending classes. Your veterinary surgeon will advise you on this, but as a general rule you can attend classes a few days after the final vaccination. Alternatively you can arrange for initial training to take place in your own home before vaccinations are completed. General puppy training covers the normal developmental stages of pups, the sensitive period for socialisation, lead work, sit, down, stay and recalls and how to avoid and reduce the development of problem behaviours, eg excessive mouthing, destructive chewing and jumping up.
Jim is a pet behaviour counsellor and founder of The Pet Behaviour Centre, where he specialises in solving problem behaviours in companion animals. Jim graduated from Southampton University with a Master of Science degree in Companion Animal Behaviour Counselling.
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