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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Although the difference between your leather recliner and your dog's squeaky toy may be obvious to you, your pet can't distinguish his toys from yours without training. © Ben Lawson
Although the difference between your leather recliner and your dog's squeaky toy may be obvious to you, your pet can't distinguish his toys from yours without training.

© Ben Lawson

October 2008

Creature comforts

Some basic help for getting dogs on track as companions

Kiera Wiatrak

Basic training for dogs
Tips for resolving common behavioral problems
Training you and your dog

Basic training for dogs

Training leads to happier pets and a more comfortable home. Dogs, like most people, view relationships as a social hierarchy. If you are continually at your dog's beck and call whenever he wants a treat, affection or play time, he will soon believe he is in charge. Training sets some ground rules so you can have fun with your dog without worrying about aggressive behavior.

Training also requires time, but it's an investment that pays dividends over your long-term commitment. It strengthens your bond by providing both of you with the tools to communicate effectively with each other. An obedient dog is also a safer dog. A dog that knows to come immediately when called is in much less danger if he escapes onto a busy street or gets into a fight than one who doesn't.

By training your dog, you take on the role of teacher. Just as with a child starting kindergarten, the teacher's attitude determines the student's success. During training sessions, it's imperative that you maintain a positive attitude. If you're grumpy, your dog will pick up on that and won't learn to trust you. Obedience training is an exchange – good behavior for love and affection. If you don't hold up your end of the bargain, neither will he.

Make sure to be patient and consistent. If you only enforce commands some of the time, you will only confuse him. If your actions teach him that you're only serious about commands when it's convenient for you, he will only follow them when it's convenient for him!

Start training when your puppy is young. Just like people, this is when dogs' minds are ripe for absorbing information and they want your approval. Also, teaching your dog good habits before he's had time to learn bad ones is much more effective than shaping ingrained bad behaviors.

Here are some tips for resolving common behavioral problems

  • Chewing

    Although the difference between your leather recliner and your dog's squeaky toy may be obvious to you, your pet can't distinguish his toys from your possessions without training. To make matters more obvious to your pet, don't dote on your dog by providing tons of toys. Too many toys makes it more complicated for your dog to remember what is and isn't ok to chew. Keep it simple.

  • Jumping on people

    As much as you may love that your dog is excited when you come home, jumping on people is a problem, especially when your dog shows the same enthusiasm for people who may be afraid of dogs, or jumps on small children or seniors who are not tall enough or strong enough to withstand it. Dogs naturally jump to establish dominance, hierarchy and submission. The key to preventing this behavior lies in gently but clearly establishing that people are the boss. You need to react consistently and promptly. If you return your dog's enthusiasm when he jumps on you, he'll never understand the behavior is unacceptable. Instead, teach your dog to sit using treats as positive reinforcement. Every time he starts to jump, tell him firmly to sit, provide hand signals and give him a treat if he obeys. Slowly phase out the treats until sitting at your command becomes automatic.

  • Constant barking

    Dogs bark when they feel isolated, lonely, territorial or fearful. don't reinforce this behavior by giving him the attention he seeks. Instead, distract your dog from barking by dropping a few coins into an empty can and shaking it gently. This will surprise your dog and temporarily stop the barking. Then, reward him with affection and a treat for being quiet. React consistently because you make or break your dog's behavior.

Training you and and your dog

Attending obedience classes with your dog, taking part in dog groups and clubs, or hiring a trainer is a fantastic way to get specific instructions on raising an obedient dog. Experienced trainers can ascertain individual needs of your family and your pet. Dog trainers and experienced pet owners also train people by giving hands-on demonstrations and feedback on techniques you can't get from a book. To choose a trainer, ask for recommendations from your veterinarian or friends who have completed courses and enjoyed the experience. Ask to sit in on a class before signing up to make sure the training methods are positive. Local dog clubs, dog breeders and vets may also recommend websites for finding a trainer who is right for you and your pet.

Kiera Wiatrak is an editorial intern with Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.