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What Your New Dog Needs

Dogs aren’t human. They’ve evolved alongside us and they’re so sensitive and have emotions and behaviors that seem so much like our own that sometimes it is hard to remember. Dogs are not human.

I’m asked for new dog or puppy advice a lot. And there’s really too much to include in just one conversation or one article. There are tons of entire books dedicated to the topic and several of them are quite thorough and really all of the advice you need. (Resources can be found here) But its often quite difficult to find the time, the self control, or the understanding to sit down and read a whole book on something that seems so intuitive. In the interest of trying to help, and with the knowledge that no single article is going to cover everything a new dog or puppy needs, I’ll make an attempt here.

Consistency

Unlike humans, who have a lot of variation in what kind of schedule (or lack) makes them work best, dogs thrive with consistent rules, feeding times, access to enrichment, and a schedule. All dogs need this kind of structure. When dogs are allowed to make the rules and humans are inconsistent with appropriate reinforcement, everything falls apart quickly. Potty training, crate training, basic manners, and socialization all rely on consistent structure.

Training

Dogs learn from every interaction they have with us and with the world in which we live. Even deciding to not train your dog is going to result in the dog learning new things. Dogs are a different species, with different biological imperatives, and they “speak” a different language. So decide before you get your dog (or as soon as you do at the latest) that you’re going to teach your dog your language and your rules. And then do it.

Compassion

We all need more compassion. This need encompasses more than just healthcare. Your dog isn’t TRYING to test your patience. He isn’t stubborn. He’s doing the thing he thinks is right. If it isn’t right, it’s your job to teach him what is right by reinforcing the behaviors you want. And until you’ve done that, its your job to take a deep breath and deal with the consequences. Shelter dogs and recently adopted dogs may need more compassion than a beautifully reared and well bred puppy. They’ve been through some trying circumstances and they don’t know what your rules are yet. But puppies need the same consideration: they’ve been torn from their litter, their family, and everything they’ve known. You’re in for some sleepless nights before they understand what you’ll want from them. Stock up on coffee and chocolate.

Socialization

My opinion on socialization differs slightly from common conception. I don’t think my dog should want to rush up to every stranger or strange dog. Not every dog is wired that way (though some are) and that’s ok. It’s also ok if they’re extra friendly and outgoing. My main goal with every dog’s socialization is to help them understand that their focus should be on their handler, no matter what is happening. Scary new stranger? Look to dad for reassurance. Exciting new thing? Look to dad for direction. Dogs need to experience every new thing under the sun so that they can learn confidence that will help them be calm and content throughout their lives.

New family members are a challenge, no matter what their species. If you’re struggling, its ok to ask for help. If you want a list of THINGS to buy, visit a pet store, ask in a group, email me and I’ll send you links. But mostly, your new dog doesn’t need new THINGS, he needs you.