Vail Pet Talk column: Be your dog’s best friend; train it
The holiday season brings with it new puppies and kittens! Since most of us have time off during this time of year, it is a great idea to get on top of training your new puppy. We all know there is no sense in trying to train a cat (I am just kidding).
Here is the sobering news, and I hate to be a Debbie Downer: The leading cause of death by far of pets less than 6 years old is euthanasia due to behavioral problems. I mention this because I want to stress the importance of training your dog properly and starting early.
There are a lot of differing opinions on training, and there are many resources out there for you, including books, DVDs, the Internet and professional dog trainers. In this article, I will cover some of the basics as I see them. Like most everything else in life, there is no “one fits all” solution.
1. Who is the boss? Dogs are pack animals, and they appreciate social structure. Your new pup may challenge your authority, depending on its breed and whether it is an alpha or not. Without being overbearing, you need to let your new pup know that A) you are in charge and B) that the new pup occupies the lowest rung on your family ladder.
That may sound mean, but the lowest rung in most families is still a great place to be. If you have children, especially toddlers, then your puppy may try to challenge them, as well, with play biting or other aggressive acts. Even though this biting may be playing, it is a tool for hierarchy, so I would discourage it. If your new puppy is nipping at your kids, then correct it firmly. Also, have your kids feed the puppy. Control over food is a well-respected power.
2. Establish a bathroom. It may sound odd, but you want to establish a pooping area outside of your house. For the first few weeks, take your new pup to this area solely for the purpose of going to the bathroom. No playing in the poop area! If your pup poops in the house, don’t flush it down the toilet. Instead, take it to the pooping area outside and leave it there.
Most people respond to this advice with, “Well, I never would have thought of that, but it makes sense.” If your pup urinates in the house, then get a cleaning product that will eliminate the odor. General bathroom rules: Pups need to urinate after waking up and defecate after eating.
3. Get a training crate. Most pups enjoy having a crate all to themselves. We look at a crate as jail, but they look at it as their own house. Dogs were cave dwellers in the wild; if you watch where your new pup falls asleep, often it is under a table or in a corner. The idea here is that most (most) puppies will not poop where they sleep; you want the crate big enough to move around in but not so big that they can poop in one end and go sleep in the other.
If your puppy cries in the crate the first few nights, move it to where you cannot hear them cry, place a source of music in the room on low volume, and put one of your unwashed T-shirts in the crate (preferably not one in your current T-shirt rotation). Experts say do not use the crate as punishment, but in my opinion, using it for timeouts is OK. The main principle behind crate training is that eventually the entire house becomes their crate.
4. Stay positive. Positive reinforcement runs circles around negative training. If you catch your pup in the act of soiling, chewing things it should not be chewing or other inappropriate behavior, then a small corrective action goes a long way. Remember, it is not what you say but how you say it. Say it firmly and with a harsh tone. I have had clients correct their dogs in the hospital in such a nice way it cracks us all up, “Come on” I tell them. “Say it like you mean it or your dog will not take you seriously.”
It is OK to get physical with your dog but not in an abusive way. I cannot stress this enough. Have your veterinarian or trainer show you the correct way to apply a physical correction. Dogs are animals, and animals do respond physically. But do not cross the line into abuse. Being physical does not mean beating your dog. Understood? Try at all times to stay on the positive side. Carry small treats with you and reward your puppy often. Use positive and fun-sounding words. “Go poop” has a great ring to it. I am not joking here; all of the experts agree on using fun-sounding, uplifting phrases when training your dog.
5. Toys are us. Chewing, especially your wife’s new sandals, is not cool. Puppies like to teethe as their baby teeth fall out and adult teeth erupt. Get plenty of toys; a Kong is my personal favorite. I don’t love rawhides — too much gastrointestinal upset. Whenever you catch your dog chewing, take away the offending object and replace it with one of its toys. My old cocker pup Rudy was the cutest with her toys. She would take them out of the bin and spread them throughout the house every day. Then I would pick them up and put them away. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
I have mentioned some of the more common areas of training your new puppy. It is far from inclusive. My personal favorite is a book called “The Art of Raising a Puppy,” by the Monks of New Skeet. There are many good sources for new puppy training out there. Remember to get started early and be consistent. Just like your kids do with their school homework, train every day. You can’t expect to train one day a week and see any progress.