There is more to training a dog then just taking him to kindergarten class when he is a young pup and then hoping he turns out to be a good dog as he matures. Training covers not just the sit, stay, and heel parts of dog obedience but also manners such as not jumping on strangers and that counter-surfing is not acceptable. Many of us disregard the manners portion of raising a well-behaved dog until it is too late – he now stands higher then the dinner table and helps himself to whatever takes his fancy on your plate. Or, with little dogs, we ignore all aspects of training or manners because it is just as easy to pick the dog up then it is to train it to not jump on people.
But how do you go about training a puppy? Same way you do with children – encourage good behavior while stopping bad behavior before it happens. Dogs and children learn in a similar fashion and some of the best behaved children are ones raised in a household with well-mannered dogs as the parents used the same principles on the kids as they learned on the four-legged members of the family.
Obedience class, including puppy kindergarten, is the first step in owning a well-rounded dog. It teaches you how best to get your puppies attention, how to train the basics and how to look after the physical well-being of the pup. For the pup, it is all a ton of fun and socializing. They do not really understand that it is actually school and they are actually learning the whole time they are there.
After puppy class is the first level of obedience training and more and more trainers are basing the first few levels of class on the kindergarten model – play session, training session, learning session all within the hour class. Each trainer has their own idea on how to best to teach or train a dog and while some will use treats, some do not with the argument that the dog then learns to only perform for the food. There are also trainers who believe in negative reinforcement – harsh commands and tugging on the leash to make the dog behave. Positive reinforcement teaches the dog what appropriate behavior is and, in most cases, offers a better end result. If you were constantly being told ‘no’ and never told you what you were allowed to do or when you did something right, don’t you think you would become frustrated? Dogs work on very similar logic as us so encouraging good behavior while stopping bad behavior is far superior to only using the negative.
How far you take your dog in obedience training is up to you. Many people enjoy the work and others prefer to switch to a less strict, more enjoyable form of training that still enhances the bond between them and their pet. Examples would be agility, fly ball, hunt trials for sporting dogs, earth trials for terriers, lure coursing for sight hounds and tracking which most breeds of dogs are able to do to some degree. Even a trick class can keep the learning process moving forwards and having a few tricks up your dog’s proverbial sleeves is always a crowd pleaser.
Manners in the house or away from class is a little more difficult as there is no one around to tell you when you are doing something right or not. Again, constantly saying ‘no’ only frustrates your dog (and you) so when the pooch is doing something good, let them know. Once they know a few commands, tell them ‘good sit’ when they are sitting being a good dog or ‘good down’ when they are laying down instead of begging at the table. What about if he is chewing on something he shouldn’t? Tell him ‘no’, take it from him and then immediately give him something he is allowed to chew on telling him ‘good ball’ or ‘good chew’ depending on what it is you give them. You have told them that what they are allowed to chew on or play with so they learn what their toys are and what is not.
Table or counter surfing is the worst habit a dog can develop! No food is sacred and once they get away with it once, they will always be on the look out for the opportunity to strike again. The best advice on this behavior is prevention – do not leave food on low tables such as coffee tables or on the edge of a counter. If you see a nose coming up and sniffing the counter, give an immediate ‘no’, make them get out of the kitchen and lay down (no ‘stay’ required – you are only trying to get them to understand appropriate kitchen behavior). The kitchen should be considered a sacred place for all dogs in the house – a place where they behave, are well-mannered and listen to what you say. Never let them romp around or play in the kitchen area (at least in the food prep portion) – there are too many temptations and it is far too dangerous of an area to have a dog think they can ‘self-serve’. For really big dogs like Great Danes, make the whole kitchen an off-limits or ‘by invitation only’ area.
Most household manners can be trained in a similar fashion and as long as you and your family are consistent with the rules, your dog will quickly pick up on what he is allowed and not allowed to do. Simple and effective training methods will help make a well-mannered and well-trained dog out of your unruly pup!