By Katy Cable-TWR
A 3 min. Read
It's the most wonderful time of the year: BACK TO SCHOOL!. The kids are no longer busy with vacations, camps, summer-school, internships or simply spending countless hours sitting around the house on their phones sucking up all your data! I figured back to school time is a perfect week to address one of the biggest mistakes pet owners make: NOT TRAINING THEIR DOGS TO BE GOOD CANINE CITIZENS.
Several of my close friends are dog trainers and puppy-raisers for Canine Companions. I also have friends who train and handle animals for TV and movie shoots. One important thing I've learned is
A GREAT DOG IS MADE NOT BORN.
Sadly, animal shelters are full of dogs who didn't get a proper start in life or the right family to meet their needs. As a result they developed behavior problems. An unpredictable or out-of-control family dog is not only exhausting and difficult to be around, but worse, they can pose a huge danger to property, your family members, other animals or themselves.
I learned this first hand when our family was asked to participate in a new TV show for Animal Planet called "Who Gets The Dog". The concept was three different families share a shelter dog chosen as a good match for their lifestyle. The dog spends an entire day and night with each family while the show documents the visits. Lastly, a team of dog experts chooses who the best-suited family is to adopt the dog. The winning family is awarded the dog and a year's supply of dog food.
We were looking for a small Pug or similar dog that was good with small children and didn't need a lot of space. I also have bad allergies and couldn't have some breeds. No sooner did we get the news from Pugs and Pals that we could adopt Raisin (our first Pug), we also received a call from the show. I declined their offer to appear but they twisted my arm insisting the dog they had was perfect and we would probably want to have this one as well. I again politely refused. The last straw was when they pleaded with me to please do them a favor as they needed just one more family to complete this episode. Poor Raisin went right back to his foster family for an overnight and the TV crew came out.
The minute the cameras were rolling, in bulldozed an enormous, shedding, ball of energy named SULLY. After knocking me flat on the ground Sully proceeded to run upstairs and unleash a good liter of urine on our new white carpet. I took one look at this huge furry dog and realized in an effort to make interesting television, they had pulled a total bait-and-switch. Sully went on to ransack furniture, tear up pillows and destroy pricey decor and it just got worse from there. My then 7 year-old daughter Karley loved the dog and it was too dangerous for us to let her walk him or go near him. I wanted this "DOG-GONE " and our darling Raisin back.
To begin what stands as the thee most exhausting stressful day of shooting in my entire life, we took Sully to our local dog beach to play some games. We no sooner got out of the car when the poor dog went completely crazy tearing down the beach chasing a bird. He nearly got flattened by a UPS truck and was so out of control it took 5 huge crew members to contain him. -And it just went downhill from there. By the end of the day, I looked like a basset hound from allergies and sobbing.
I told the producers we were not interested in keeping the dog. He was not a good fit and it was terribly dangerous. I was so upset at both their negligence and the trauma it put on this poor animal and our well-intentioned family. The final blow was watching the show on TV only to discover they had further manipulated us by editing our segment to only show Sully sleeping or calmly laying down and catching our reactions when he had been bouncing off the walls or trying to catch him before he ran out in the road and was flattened by a delivery truck. We came across as manic and Sully looked like a perfect pet anyone would be crazy not to want.
Fortunately the show was quickly cancelled but with the wonderful trend of people seeking relinquished shelter/rescue pets as well as those opening their hearts to senior, special needs or problematic dogs, it's extremely important to understand the best way to rehabilitate and train animals who got off to a "ruff" start.
First of all: Expect some behavioral issues and address them from the get-go. The most common being housebreaking problems but other stress-related behaviors include excessive barking, chewing & destroying inappropriate items, escape attempts, jumping up on people and hiding.
The most important thing to remember when trying to eliminate undesired canine behaviors is that dogs learn desired behavior through positive reinforcement. Simply put, you must reward good behavior and ignore the bad. What DOESN'T work is any kind of physical punishment or yelling. This will simply add to your dog's anxiety and stress plus it can make your new family member fearful of you.
Training should begin the second your new dog comes home with you. Right from the first meeting you should begin addressing your dog by their name and using basic training commands like: "Come","Sit", "Stay", "Down" and "Off!" If you're lucky you might be surprised to learn your dog can already follow a few. And when they do, give lots of love, praise and positive attention.
On the other hand, you might find that you need to do a lot more work. If your dog isn't getting the hang of basic commands, take it very slow, and work on just one command a day or for a couple of days (or weeks) before overwhelming them with others. Your dog doesn't speak English and repeating commands over and over and LOUDER and LOUDER won’t make your pooch listen any better or learn any faster. In fact, it will just set-back progress. I know first-hand how frustrating it can be so if you find yourself having issues, I recommend enlisting the help of a professional trainer who practices positive reinforcement to show you how to communicate more effectively and offer helpful tips.
Although I'm a huge fan of group training classes, when it comes to a new shelter or rescue dog, I often recommend having a trainer work with you in your home or one-on-one first to get the basics down. You will have much more success in a group class if you have waited until a trusting bond with your new dog has been formed. This might take more time, patience and work. Remember your dog probably had a life of complete chaos and fear prior to meeting you.
It’s also a good idea to assume your dog wasn’t socialized by their previous owners. They might be distracted by other dogs making training nearly impossible.
When I rescued Olive she was a frightened little breeder pup who had never lived outside a crate. She had never seen stairs, been on a walk, or had any loving experiences with humans. She was scared to death being put in a harness, driven in a car and led into a brand new home. In an effort not to completely overwhelm her, I enlisted the guidance of top-notched trainers who advised me to gently and slowly begin exposing Olive to all the sights, sounds, smells, and other living creatures in her new environment. When she got scared, I backed off and went at her timid pace. After nearly two year's with me she still has fear issues with crates, cars and water but she's come such a long way. She is just now learning more complex commands and often does them extremely SLOWLY. I typically wait and repeat commands while she tentatively moves. But I always give her lots of praise and love!
Do your best to make training fun for both you and your dog. Be a life-long learner and continue in classes, refresher courses, agility, therapy, nose-tracking work or other activities. Get suggestions from your vet, PetSmart or local pet store for fun classes, trainers or clubs to participate in. At the end of the day, you are learning and getting just as much out of it as your pooch is.
By addressing behavior issues immediately, they can be corrected and not turn into bad habits which follow your dog into their new life with you. From there, you can literally be off and running on a good solid footing of trust and it's anyone's guess where that may take you. Pugs and Kisses🐾🐾💕