When somebody first gets a new puppy, they’re usually too busy playing around to train it. Of course, everybody has to train their dog to the extent that they don’t ‘have an accident’ in the house – otherwise you’d have a whole lot of cleaning to do over the years! However, it’s quite common for owners to be very relaxed about how obedient their pet is. Teaching your new puppy a few tricks and cuddling up to it is great fun, but it’s not the most practical approach. Some of the bad habits which may not bother you when the dog is young may become disruptive or even harmful as your pet grows bigger and stronger.
Nature Versus Nurture
At the end of the day, a dog is fundamentally a social creature. In the wild, they would live in packs with a strict hierarchy. This social system is bred into your dog whether you like it or not, and you need to realise during all of your early interactions that you are setting a precedent. If your puppy learns that it can walk all over you (literally and metaphorically), then it will carry on doing so throughout its adult life. Once the first few months have passed, it can be very difficult to erase the
bad habits that have developed – so start as soon as possible if you want to have an obedient pet.
Your dog needs to learn that you are the leader of the pack. Once this happens, it will happily obey your every command, no matter how big or small it is. This can save you a lot of trouble. You will no longer need to worry about your pet running off, climbing onto the couch with muddy paws, snatching food from the table or, in my case, knocking your elderly grandmother over as it jumps to greet her.
Practical First Steps
First, of course, you need to decide what you want to teach your dog. Will it be allowed upstairs? Is it allowed to ‘beg’ for food as you eat? Do you want to teach it to fetch its own lead when it wants a walk? Write your goals down so that you can keep track of them. Now you need to look for opportunities to teach good behaviour, or to punish bad actions. This isn’t as hard as it sounds – simply coax your puppy to perform the correct action, and then reward it with praise and a treat. For example, you can teach any dog to ‘heel’ correctly by holding a treat in your hand as you walk. Periodically reward your puppy for sticking close by you (which it will do, because it can smell the treat!)
When you wish to reprimand your dog, don’t be physical. Hitting or kicking your dog will only make it shy and wary of you, which is not what you want to achieve. A short, sharp word or phrase works very well. The most important thing to remember is that positive reinforcement works better than negative reinforcement. If your puppy starts chewing your shoes, say ‘Off!’ in a firm voice, and then encourage it to chew a toy instead. Immediately give a reward when it starts to chew the new object.
Paul Worthington is a dog lover first, but also enjoys his Fluval edge aquarium in black gloss.