Many people don’t even think of getting professional training for their dog until behavioral issues have become unmanageable. They balk at getting their new dog into training early probably because they don’t think it’s worth the time and money. I encourage people, however, not to think of dog training as an expense, but as an investment in the quality of life for the whole family.
The earlier in life you start training your dog with force-free methods, the stronger you are making your dog from the inside out. Puppyhood is a formative period, and the lessons learned during that time shape who the dog will become as an adult, and it will affect who the dog is once a senior.
If you’ve adopted a dog, again, it’s best to start the positive-training process early. Since you don’t know the history of the dog and are unaware of any issues that may arise, the transition period is a critical time that sets the pace for the rest of the family’s life together. Ideally, you will have training set up so start during that first week together.
Here are some key rewards you can reap by working with a science-based dog trainer as soon as your new canine family member enters the home.
1. Head Off Issues Before They Become Significant
Entering a new home can be scary for a dog. Your new family member may even seem a bit shut down for a couple of weeks or more. Remember, she will need time to adjust and start to feel comfortable in the new environment. Eventually, she will start to emerge from her shell, though. And, when she does (be warned) she might start to exhibit old habits that are undesirable for your household. As soon as these old habits appear, you will want to work through them. Just as in the medical field, preventative medicine is a lot cheaper and easier to implement than reactive medicine.
Your goal will be to help your dog replace unacceptable behaviors with acceptable ones as soon as possible. For example, some dogs can be rude and jump up to get attention. Or they might let out their nervous energy through chewing on furniture. Others may demand attention by continuous barking. In each of the case these instances it’s important to remember that the dogs are behaving in very healthy ways for dogs: they are happy to see people, they are releasing energy in a calm way, and they are expressing themselves. So, this is actually good. It’s the mode of expression that is the problem. So, we need to help them to engage the same activity in a way that is acceptable to the humans around them. For example, in the case of jumpy greetings, we might replace them with sitting ones.
Remember, habits become habits through practice. The more they are practiced, the stronger they become, and the harder they are to break. So, the earlier you work with a dog trainer to help your dog to choose more productive alternatives, the easier it is for her to transform into a well-adjusted family dog.
2. Stronger Relationship
The reason companies do “team building” exercises is because doing things together helps people to bond. It’s the same with dogs. When human and canine companions train together, the bond between them grows. Indeed, just consider the significance of simple “watch me” training.
When you begin training, you may think it’s about helping the dog to listen to and respond to you. But the bulk of the responsibility in training really relies on the one with the bigger brain (that’s you). It’s just as important (if not more so) that you learn to listen to your dog (including body language) to understand where she or he is emotionally. Just as with any relationship, It’s important to learn to listen before speaking. Training facilitates this process.
Too often, dogs are subject to scenarios where their voice is ignored, which can actually cause significant problems. We see this when dogs are placed in uncomfortable in situations and asked to perform behaviors regardless. If Aunt Sallie with the scary big hair insists that Fido come say “hi”, Fido may tell you that he is uncomfortable with his body language. If he’s afraid of Aunt Sally, then forcing him to go see her is a dismissal of his voice in the relationship. The result could be that Fido learns to despise Aunt Sally, and he may even trust you less for forcing him into that situation. But if you learn to read the signs, or “listen”, then you can simply say to Aunt Sally, “Sorry, but Fido is a little uncomfortable right now and needs a bit of space.”
Remember, you are not only Fido’s companion; you are his guardian. You need to earn his trust. Training helps with this. A good relationship is not only the foundation of solid training, it is also the result.
3. Less Household Stress
Feeling helpless is horrible. When a dog has issues in the household (whether minor or major), stress levels rise for everyone. The best way to lower stress in those situations is to address the issues that are contributing to stress. Just as there are appropriate and inappropriate ways for dogs to behave in a house, there are also appropriate and inappropriate (or “productive and counterproductive”) ways of dealing with a dog who has issues. Did you know that yelling at a dog for soiling the carpet can actually lead to more soiling of the carpet? Did you know that punishing a dog for getting into the garbage can encourage more getting into the garbage? What many people think are productive ways to handle situations sometimes turn out to be great ways of making the problem behaviors even worse.
Good trainers will not only give you techniques with which to address issues, they will also help you understand the dynamics behind them. They will explain how dogs learn, why dogs might engage in certain behaviors, and why the techniques work. The more you understand about dog behavior and psychology, the more competent you will feel in stressful situations, which in itself reduces stress. As the old GI Joe cartoon used so say “knowing is half the battle”. Empowered with new knowledge, you will then be able to make a difficult situation better.
4. Emotionally Healthier Dog
Dog training has changed a lot over the last half century. I believe that the most defining shift has to do with its focus. The old-school approach revolved around the question, “how do we get the dog to obey commands?” Hence, “obedience classes”. Trainers took an “outside-in” approach. They used “commands”, “corrections”, postures of “dominance”, and tools that leveraged the power of pain and intimidation to enforce their will. They used these techniques because they gave them answers to their guiding question.
For modern training, the question seems to have changed. Now, we are concerned with “how do we work with dogs to draw out healthy, acceptable social behavior?” On the surface, it sounds like the same thing, but it’s not. Thanks to developments in dog psychology, we know a lot more about how dogs learn and how unhealthy (and even damaging) more “traditional” or “balanced” techniques are. The old-school approach worked on a dog from the outside-in. The modern approach works with a dog from the inside-out. Not only is this newer approach more humane, scientific studies are showing that this approach is simply more efficient and more effective.
As a result of its psychological approach, science-based training is kind of like cognitive-behavioral therapy for dogs (which is exceptionally important for rescue dogs, since they need to heal). Because the focus is on empowering the dog to make better decisions, confidence grows. A confident dog is a less-fearful dog. Most dog bites are the result of being afraid. By strengthening the capacity of a dog to feel more confident and comfortable in situations, they are able to make better choices when they feel discomfort. Nurturing a dog’s emotional health through science-based training is as important as caring for physical health and has far-reaching consequences for everyone around.
5. Someone to Talk With
Regular training with your dog has many fantastic outcomes for your relationship together. But what happens when something goes wrong? What happens if issues develop despite your best efforts? Setting up early training isn’t just about the training itself; it’s also about having a relationship with someone who can help you in times of need. If you find yourself in a situation where you need more help, your trainer already knows your dog and will have a bit more insight than if you waited until issues arose to start training. You might be able to send a quick question over e-mail for minor things, or you might have to set up a session or two. Regardless, it’s important to know that you have someone in your corner when things go beyond what you can manage with your canine companion. I think that sense of security is well-worth the investment.