By Katy Cable-TWR
A 3 min. Read
Happy Spring! Now that we’re thawing out from our harsh winter here in So Cal (we got a few days of some hard rain!) it’s time to hit the hiking trails, beaches and dog parks! With that, one of the biggest mistakes dog owners can make becomes very apparent! Can you guess what that is? If you answered: NOT TRAINING THEIR DOGS TO BE CANINE GOOD CITIZENS, you get a gold star!
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 to meet their basic 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 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 had bad allergies and couldn't have some dog breeds. No sooner did we get the news from the pug rescue 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 started 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 one of the most exhausting stressful days 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 weren’t 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! We got our sweet pug Raisin and lived happily-ever-after. The good news is, thankfully the trend of people seeking relinquished shelter/rescue pets, as well as senior, special needs or problematic dogs, is going strong! With that, 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. 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 problematic canine behaviors is the best way to teach a dog what you desire is through positive reinforcement training. 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. Treats work great too!
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 possibly 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 my current pug 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, which was often, I backed off and went at her timid pace. After nearly eight years with me she still has fear issues and she can be a resource guarder but she's come such a long way. She now knows complex commands and loves agility games. I still work daily on her more serious issues and give her lots of praise and love! A daily dose of CBD has also been a game-changer for improving her anxiety and aggression.
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 your local pet store for dog trainers, fun classes, or clubs to participate in. You don’t even need to have a puppy to take classes and learn how to train one. Canine Companions offers puppy training classes and you can learn from the best. At the end of the day, you’re 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. For more great tips and blogs on other pet topics, visit my website and sign up for my weekly blog. Thanks so much for reading.