Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 45 seconds.
The thrill and anticipation of bringing a new dog into your home can be truly amazing. You wait and wait for the day to arrive as your excitement mounts and builds to bursting point! Finally, it happens. Your puppy is old enough to leave his mama OR the paperwork is settled and your dog can joyfully leave the shelter life in the rearview mirror. At long last it’s you, your new bosom buddy and… and… well, now what? Do I need Dog obedience training?
Whether you are a first-time pet owner or a seasoned veteran, each new partnership you enter is special and unique.
There are so many joyous moments during the initial adjustment, but when the “honeymoon phase” dissipates there are just as many questions. More often than not, owners end up calling a dog trainer for help after only a few weeks or months have gone by. At first, your dog may appear fairly calm and compliant, but as he becomes more acclimated to his environment his true personality will start to shine through. By “true personality” I am referring to all manner of normal dog behavior, but sometimes normal does not equate to desirable! Not all dogs are brought into homes from infancy, with a clean mental slate. You may have to navigate pre-existing trust or behavioral issues if your dog is obtained from a shelter or rescue mission (more on this later). No matter how you two were introduced, the emotional health for any pet-to-owner relationship starts with reasonable expectations. To help ensure a successful transition for both you and your dog, ground rules of obedience should be established.
Hearing the Phrase “Dog obedience training” can sometimes stir up negative connotations.
When we first brought our new puppy home we got a lot of unsolicited advice, albeit well-intentioned, regarding the best way to train our new family member. I was surprised to hear all the old school tactics suggested (which included everything from choke collars to rolled-up newspaper spankings and garage exile for potty accidents). Um, thanks but no thanks. Who are we? Cruella De Vil? The goal here is NOT to instill an intimidating fear but rather to establish mutual respect that only deepens the bond you will share with your animal. On a practical level, a great partnership demands consistency. Your dog will need help learning how to interact adequately with the stimulus that surrounds him. A well-trained dog equals a well-mannered dog; therefore even travel will be enjoyable and not stressful! You won’t have to worry about a well-trained dog incessantly barking on an airplane or chewing up the backseat upholstery of the rental car (both of which are costly concerns). Maybe social anxiety is something you struggle with. Bringing your dog with you on regular errands can help curb the bleak feelings you experience in public; however, this is only true if your dog behaves calmly and doesn’t elicit negative attention from other patrons. Sure, my Goldendoodle may LOOK adorable as we walk around Home Depot, but nobody finds “clean up on aisle 8” very cute or endearing. Am I right? It’s also beneficial to consider your housing situation. Apartment living can be noisy for downstairs tenants if your pup decides the furniture doubles as a doggy jungle gym. Single-family dwellings may alleviate that, but living on a busy street creates safety concerns for the “jailbreak” dog known to make a run for any open door! All of these reasons are why obedience training is a great idea.
So what exactly does obedience training look like?
Obedience training focuses on introducing commands, developing a quick response, and establishing boundaries. The basics include teaching a dog to come to you immediately, sit and stay when instructed, walk attentively beside you (despite distractions) and engage with other humans and/or animals in a friendly manner. These skills are valuable to the overall relationship you share with your dog. They provide safety, solidify trust, ease dominance struggles, and best of all allow peace of mind for you and your pup. To top it off, obedience training can be a lot of fun! Each week that my dog joined his training group there were new and exciting communication tasks for us to explore together. Did you know that dogs are capable of understanding up to 250 words and gestures? We both thoroughly enjoyed learning one another’s language; even though he can’t speak for himself, the insane amount of tail wagging definitely gave him away!
You may be wondering how to determine what is best for YOUR dog.
There are many choices when it comes to the type of training to select. Most geographical areas offer both group sessions as well as private classes (depending on your individualized needs). Young puppies and first-time pet owners tend to benefit more from group settings. There’s not a lot of one-on-one attention in groups, but they cost less and have the advantage of socialization. Both collective and private options provide the indispensable opportunity to talk to other dog owners and/or experts who can relate to you and offer helpful tips and encouragement.
Dog trainers have varying levels of knowledge and experience including formal and informal education. Some dog trainers are self-taught through book learning and experience while others attend certified classes. Different facilities/trainers focus on different training methods and techniques. For these reasons, you will want to consider verifying credentials and asking around for recommendations before making a final decision. My dog and I attended a training group hosted by a local farm owner! She was simply a well-versed animal lover with lots of land and time on her hands. Our veterinarian was a great resource in locating our trainer (and yours probably will be too).
It’s important to consider all of your dog’s needs before making a final choice.
In your search for the right fit, you may come across the term “behavior training”. While obedience training and behavior training can be similar (and often lumped together) it’s important to know the difference between the two. Behavior training is geared towards reversing unwanted patterns that years of bad habits have set within your dog. This alternative form of obedience training is most suitable for rehabilitating rescue dogs who have experienced less than ideal situations with previous owners. These dogs may also benefit from private sessions if they are already displaying signs of specific behavioral problems (ie separation anxiety, nervous barking, or aggression).
No matter which form of training you choose, be sure it aligns with your desires, budget, and calendar to get the most out of your experience! Your relationship with your dog is just as important as your dog’s relationship with the rest of the world around them. It has been said that each dog acquires his or her social intelligence through nothing more than the time spent around the humans committed to caring for them. The ultimate benefit of dog training is happiness. For whom? For both of you. You get a well-behaved dog that responds to commands and can be taken almost anywhere without concern. Your dog gets the care-free love and attention they deserve with no strings attached. Dedicating the time, energy, and resources for a bit of obedience training is a win-win that is sure to have lasting positive implications for as long as you both shall live.