There’s nothing more adorable than a wiggly, bouncy little bundle of furry joy. From the first day you take your new puppy home to the day you sit together outside in her seniorhood, dog ownership is an incredible adventure everyone should get to experience at least once.
Unfortunately, owning a dog (as terrific as it is) isn’t necessarily always all sunshine and rainbows. Dogs require a high degree of care, including regular veterinarian visits, high-quality food, love, attention, and training.
Today, we want to talk to you about the last point, training. When you train your dog, you give him the gift of better behavior, but that’s really just the beginning. Properly trained dogs also demonstrate more confidence, safer reactions to unpredictable events, improved socialization skills, and even increased loyalty to their owners.
Perhaps the best reason to train your dog is that dogs with proper training are more confident, less nervous, and better equipped to navigate their world. A dog who lacks proper training often finds the world a confusing and anxiety-provoking place; this manifests as behavioral issues that can turn fun dog ownership into a constant struggle for both of you.
Dogs, much like humans, need self-confidence and self-esteem to be happy. If they’re constantly “in trouble” or being chastised, he may become fearful and reactive. By training him and praising him when he succeeds, you tell him he’s worthy of love and a “good dog.” The idea that this improves confidence is the entire basis of positive reinforcement.
You don’t need to get fancy with your training in order for your dog to feel more confident. Skip the tricks and start with basic training commands instead. Lather on the praise when he succeeds; leave out the heavy discipline or negative reinforcement when he doesn’t.
Instead, focus on consistency and try, try again. You may need to repeat the command 1,000 times, but eventually, she’ll succeed more than she fails. This lets her develop trust in her own abilities and her ability to respond to your commands.
Improve Canine Safety
Training also benefits your dog by ensuring safer dog handling experiences. Even if your dog is mellow and well-behaved, you can’t always predict what the rest of the world around you will do. When you train skills like sit, stay, drop it, and come, you ensure the ability to address potentially dangerous scenarios in seconds.
Proper recall is especially important for dogs who socialize and/or spend time outdoors, especially when it comes to encounters with people, animals, or wildlife. In some situations, it can even be the difference between life and death.
Picture this: you’re strolling through the local state park walking trails with your dog. Suddenly, you see a cougar off in the distance. A reactive or overly curious dog may attempt to “make friends” or attack the animal, leading to serious injury or even death. Recall lets you call him back before it happens, keeping him close by your side while you exit the area.
It isn’t just wildlife you and your dog need to worry about – traffic, people, cars, bicycles, other pets, and even dangerous structures can all pose a risk. Dogs come into veterinary clinics all the time after chewing on problem objects, eating things they shouldn’t, or becoming injured after bolting or running away. A fast reaction to recall or basic command requests may prevent those injuries from occurring before your dog gets hurt.
So, how can you encourage safety from day one? Start training skills like recall and basic commands early in puppyhood. By around eight weeks, your pup’s brain is developed enough to at least begin to explore training; just keep it basic and don’t expect too much. The practice alone is good for his developing brain!
Above all else, be consistent. Early training is more about solidifying patterns and repetitiveness than anything else. As your dog shows signs of success, gradually increase difficulty (e.g., dropping a tasty treat versus a toy or recalling across the yard versus across the living room).
Enjoy Better Socialization
Behavioral problems are the number one cause of canine relinquishment to shelters in the United States. Unfortunately, those behavioral problems are nearly always a result of poor socialization in early puppyhood and proper guidance later on.
Like children who lack interactive play with other children, these dogs don’t understand how to interact with other people or pups respectfully. They may jump up, nip, invade personal space, or even simply be much too excited and overwhelm playmates or visitors, who in turn react badly to their “bad manners.” And when you’re a bad friend, no one wants to play with you – that’s not a good feeling for anyone (human or dog).
So, how can you train your precious pup to be a good friend to everyone he meets? The approach varies depending on your dog’s personality, but most trainers (including the AKC) recommend starting early at around seven weeks. Between the ages of seven weeks and four months old, puppies go through the most significant developmental stage of their life, and socializing puppies is extremely fundamental to their overall well-being. There is truly no better time to being the process of puppy training and socialization.
For best results, begin with play sessions with pet parents and always keep it positive. Start with observing other animals without interacting, and praise good behavior when you see it. If he or she reacts poorly, remove your puppy from the situation and try again another day. Never force your dog to interact socially when she shows clear signs that she’s not in the mood.
As your dog reaches about 14 or 15 weeks, you can expand socialization training by attending obedience classes and/or doggy daycares. Here, your dog will learn to interact safely and securely with other dogs under close guidance and structure. Better yet, she’ll learn good manners from other older dogs, too.
Maximize Physical Health
Training also leads to better physical health for dogs, right from puppyhood all the way through seniorhood. The confidence they develop during training reduces the amount of stress hormones flowing through their bodies at any given time. Like humans, fewer stress hormones translates into a lower risk for heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, and many other chronic diseases.
Most training requires at least some physical activity; active living improves physical health greatly. A dog who is more active and used to exercising daily is less likely to develop diseases like canine diabetes or canine obesity. This, in turn, reduces your dog’s risk for hundreds of other diseases both acute and chronic.
Although you shouldn’t begin a rigorous exercise program until after 14 months, when your new puppy’s growth plates finally come together, agility and fitness training can also be beneficial. The exercise improves physical health, while her successes improve her confidence. The entire experience improves the bond between owner and dog.
Lastly, a regular training routine may help dogs to stay active later into seniorhood than they normally would. Whether it’s just practicing recall or focusing on learning new tricks in old age, senior dogs with a lifetime of bonding and training are more likely to be motivated to move in an effort to please their owners. Active living in seniorhood significantly lowers the risk of many common seniorhood diseases.
Strengthen Bonding & Loyalty
Lassie, The Littlest Hobo, and All Dogs Go to Heaven – what each of these movies had in common was an incredibly loyal dog. A dog really is man’s best friend, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that dogs are automatically loyal as soon as they’re born.
Loyalty stems from bonding and connection. This is true in relationships between dogs, humans, cats, and just about every other semi-intelligent social animal on the planet. Dogs, however, are particularly social and pack-driven animals, meaning that they’re more likely to feel loyal towards the people they spend the most time with.
Training your dog develops loyalty because it fosters a stronger bond between you and your dog. As you guide your dog and praise him over his successes, he becomes more motivated to listen and respond to you. As he learns and masters each skill, he learns to trust your guidance. And trust is, at the end of the day, what loyalty and bonding is all about.
But simply having a stronger bond with your dog isn’t the only reason to foster loyalty. Dogs who are particularly loyal are also more likely to stay close to their humans on walks and/or check in with them regularly while off-leash. They have better recall, fewer “bad behavior” incidents, and a stronger ability to communicate their emotions and/or needs to you. A loyal dog is a happy dog!