The Pet Academy at Kennesaw Mountain Animal Hospital has a curriculum focused on helping dog owners to not only have a well-trained dog, but a well-behaved dog. A well-trained dog will do what you ask, when they are asked. But a well-behaved dog offers appropriate behaviors without being asked. For example, when guests arrive to your home, the door opens and the well-trained family dog immediately starts bouncing up with joy. “Sit!” you exclaim. And the dog does - for a moment. But then the dog is back to jumping on the visitors. Alternatively, a well-behaved dog knows how to greet people calmly with four paws on the floor without the owner having to command him. Can you truly teach an old dog new tricks? Sure you can! The following tips from KMAH trainers Will Lyman and Cheyenne McTyre will put you and your dog on the fast track to success.
Puppies under 14 weeks old are in their critical socialization period. At this point in development, puppies are the least fearful which means they need careful exposure to the world around them to form the coping skills they will need as an adult. Socialization does not simply mean allowing your puppy to play with other dogs: there are many components which include exposure to appropriate dogs (who are good with puppies, and at the proper stage of vaccinations); handling and examinations; grooming, nail trims; being crated; and contact with different surfaces and novel sounds (thunder, fireworks, sirens), etc. Never force your puppy into a situation where they are uncomfortable. Introduce new things slowly and reward them for looking to you when they are unsure. It is important to note that this critical window closes before the puppy is fully vaccinated, which is why The Pet Academy at Kennesaw Mountain Animal Hospital created a Puppy Preschool Program to provide safe exposure opportunities in a controlled, sanitary environment with appropriate and vaccinated dogs.
Keep training sessions short and fun
When training your dog, have a clear idea of your end goal and reward when your dog makes small steps in the right direction. This will help your dog catch on quickly and be more engaged. Keep training sessions short to avoid frustration or burnout, reducing rewards as they progress. Play can be incorporated as a reward or a break in between learning. Make it a point to end training sessions on a good note so your dog maintains a positive association with training.
Clear communication and consistency
To effectively influence a dog’s behavior, we must first understand how they learn. We can influence their behavior by controlling the consequences of that behavior. Behaviors that receive a positive outcome will be repeated, whereas behaviors that do not will start to fade. Pick a few ground rules and incorporate them consistently into your daily routine. Perhaps have your dog stand calmly while you clip the leash on for a walk, make them sit and wait for their food bowl, etc. Effective communication and consistency are essential to your dog’s progression.
Exercise and mental stimulation
It’s important to ensure that you are meeting their physical exercise and mental stimulation needs. Provide appropriate outlets for energy, such as walks, socialization with other dogs, fetch, etc. so that their energy is not channeled into destructive, frustrating or even dangerous behaviors. Mental stimulation is also important and can be done in the form of training, nose work games, sniff walks and food puzzle toys. There are times when mental stimulation can be more beneficial than excessive exercise, particularly with very exuberant dogs. Try to incorporate both types of activities daily.
Routine veterinary care
Health goes hand-in-hand with behavior. Dr. Carrie Friedewald, the owner of Kennesaw Mountain Animal Hospital, cautions that abnormal changes in your dog’s behavior can be an indication that there may be a health issue. An example would be a dog with sore hips may refuse to sit due to pain. Or a dog that suddenly starts having accidents in the house could be showing an indication of a UTI (urinary tract infection) versus the most common belief that they’re not happy about something and acting out. Regular veterinary exams can be the key to getting your pets on track to being happy, healthy and well behaved. Therefore, it is important to stay up to date with regular wellness checks and vaccinations.