Gail Fisher's Dog Tracks: A simple antidote to a dog's bad behavior - training
The idea behind Train Your Dog Month is that January (or any month!) is a great time to start training your dog, if you haven't started already. You might think training is more difficult in the winter. After all, it's cold, your yard is snow-covered or your street might be icy, but there are a lot of behaviors you can teach indoors in your home. It doesn't take space to train good behaviors to your dog.
Sadly for us dog trainers, most owners don't attend a training class or work privately with a trainer for their dogs. Further, few owners use books, DVDs or other sources to learn about training. The majority of dog owners rely on what they tried with previous dogs, their "gut feelings" about how to teach good behavior to their dog or they simply don't do any training at all.
But lack of training isn't without consequences: It results in behaviors that owners won't put up with, leading to failed adoptions. Poorly behaved, untrained dogs are brought to shelters or given away to a new home because of behavior problems, problems that can nearly always be eliminated with training.
Shockingly, according to the National Council on Pet Population Study & Policy, dogs that are turned in for behavior problems are likely to have been owned for less than three months! This statistic is both startling and troubling. Think about a recently adopted dog. He bonds with his new family, and as he's getting to know them, he's feeling his way in the new environment - called the "honeymoon period" when a dog's behavior is often suppressed. Then he starts to relax and come out of himself. This might mean that he starts to exhibit behaviors that the family doesn't love - not because he's "bad," but because he isn't trained. Rather than seek help from a trainer, the new owner simply gives the dog up - once again homeless and unwanted.
How sad, when there is a simple antidote to dogs being given up for adoption - training!
With just a little training and socialization, dogs are more likely to find "forever homes" right off the bat! As soon as you get your dog or puppy, start training the new family member right away using positive reinforcement and dog-friendly methods, such as marker training. Training teaches the dog the rules of the house, gives the dog clear-cut boundaries and helps create and build a strong, bonded relationship.
Especially important for a puppy is socialization. Virtually all leading authorities and institutions recognize the importance of socialization during a dog's important early developmental periods - especially between 8 and 16 weeks of age. I have long advocated for early training, despite some owners' fears that their puppy might contract an illness if its attends classes before inoculations were completed. The late Dr. R.K. Anderson, DVM (Diplomat, American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine and Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists) wrote, "The risk of a dog dying because of infection with Distemper or Parvo disease is far less than the much higher risk of a dog dying (euthanasia) because of a behavior problem."
So if training helps prevent and eliminate behavior problems, if training and puppy socialization helps create healthy, well-rounded adult dogs and if training gives owners a well-mannered dog that can fully participate in their activities and lives - heck, that means any month should be Train Your Dog Month. But it's January, so how about getting started right now!
Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog," runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. If you would like a topic addressed in this column, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write c/o All Dogs Gym & Inn, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. You'll find past columns on her website.