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How To Raise A Dog You Can Live With

Responsible dog ownership comprises three main categories: management (including nutrition and care), relationship (interaction between owner and dog) and training. These three aspects hold equal importance, and to neglect any one of them could result in health and/or behavioural problems in your pet.

There are many important facets of responsible dog ownership such as correct nutrition, regular veterinary checks, innoculations and de-worming, attention to your dog’s needs, and lots of love. In addition, teaching your dog correct and acceptable behaviour allows you and your dog to live in the same environment and enjoy each other’s company.

In order to integrate a dog into your home (which is by definition an unnatural environment for a dog), you need to modify his behaviour to comply with your life style. There are many misconceptions about what is natural dog behaviour, and what is unacceptable behaviour to humans. Make sure that you fully understand the idiosyncrasies of your chosen breed before you embark upon modifying the behaviour of your pet. Of course you cannot begin to modify behaviour until you have built a relationship with your dog, and training is the easiest way of going about cementing a good relationship.

The easiest way to modify any dog’s behaviour is with positive reinforcement. Here are some useful pointers to bear in mind when introducing a new dog into your home, and adapting it to your life style:

  • Learning takes place constantly, and not just in formal situations. So be careful to be consistent – if you do not want the dog on the sofa, then Fido should never be allowed on the sofa.
  • Always reward what you like. For instance, every time the dog sits and offers a paw instead of jumping up on your visitors, praise him.
  • Behaviour that is rewarded will be repeated (this is the basis of all training)
  • Remember to vary your reward to keep it interesting. For instance, sometimes reward with food, sometimes verbally, sometimes with a pat, etc. Make sure you use something that is rewarding for the dog – in other words, just because you like biltong doesn’t necessarily mean that your dog will!
  • Try not to use negatives – rewarding behaviour that you like has far more impact than punishing your dog. If you don’t want your dog to jump up, reward him for sitting; if you don’t want your dog barking at the front door every time the bell rings, reward him for running to his basket instead. Remember – behaviour that is rewarded will be repeated.
  • Set your dog (and therefore yourself) up for success. In other words, don’t expect Fido to be perfect immediately.
  • Train behaviours incrementally. Reward an attempt to sit before expecting a perfect sit-stay. Remember – behaviour that is rewarded will be repeated.
  • Be aware that what is cute behaviour in a puppy can turn out to be quite unacceptable in a grown dog.
  • Never reward undesirable behaviour such as whining, barking, digging, etc. Even paying attention to undesirable behaviour might reinforce that behaviour in certain dogs. Remember – behaviour that is rewarded will be repeated.
  • Keep training sessions short. Try and turn it into a game for both you and your dog. Use lots of positive reinforcement. By doing this you will have a dog that looks forward to training sessions, clear in the knowledge that he will receive praise and enjoy the interaction with his owner.
  • Don’t allow your dog free access to all rooms in the house until you know that he is truly house-trained
  • Be careful to keep articles that you don’t want chewed out of a puppy’s reach.
  • Don’t leave an untrained dog unsupervised – it just isn’t fair to scold a dog for what is to him a natural behaviour
  • Prevent undesirable behaviour by managing the situation e.g. your dog cannot jump on you at 4 a.m. if he doesn’t have access to your bedroom. Once you have taught him that the behaviour is inappropriate in your home, then allow him into the bedroom
  • Never call a dog to scold it or to expose it to a potentially unpleasant situation (e.g. nail clipping).
  • Reward your dog every time he chooses to interact with you – whether he just looks at you, brings you a stick or a leaf, or runs up to you for attention. Remember – behaviour that is rewarded will be repeated. The more your dog wants to be a part of your life, the more chance you have of moulding his behaviour to suit your lifestyle.

Above all, enjoy the time you spend with your dog. Give him all the love and attention you can, and he will reciprocate by becoming a willing, biddable companion. Never force, intimidate or physically control your pet – rather use your mind than your muscle to get him to bend to your will.

Please remember that the above are just guidelines to a better life with your dog.

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Maxine Quinton
Tel: +083 333 6172
Email: maxine@clickersa.co.za

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