Raising a puppy into a well-adjusted, reliable dog takes effort, patience and dedication. It is an ongoing process that requires years of work. There is no one right way to raise a dog, but trainers do agree on several key elements that help a dog grow into a functional and respectable member of your household. The most important thing to remember is that a dog’s behavior is entirely your responsibility -- dogs cannot train themselves.
Puppy mills are terrible environments in which dogs are churned out like factory products. Because conditions are so awful, many puppies from puppy mills have deep temperament and training problems that make them an immense challenge to train. If you are hoping to raise a well-adjusted dog, consider rescuing one from an established rescue organization or purchasing one from a trusted breeder. Pet store puppies often will come with issues that will demand the assistance of a professional trainer due to the conditions in which they were raised.
It is critical to complete a training class with your dog as soon as he is old enough to attend. All dogs, regardless of family role, should know the “big five” training basics: Sit, stay, down, leave it and proper leash walking. A dog with a grasp of basic commands is more reliable outside of your home and less of a danger to himself and others. Private classes are excellent for accelerated learning, but there is no substitute for the valuable socialization that occurs in a group class with other dogs.
The great majority of common dog behavior issues come down to either misspent energy reserves or not enough socialization. Providing your dog with a regular schedule to run, play and interact with humans and other dogs will go a long way toward helping him grow into a well-adjusted member of your community. No exercise is not an option for dogs; dogs without an outlet may resort to destructive habits such as chewing, barking and chasing. If your dog has socialization problems, work with a dog trainer to help get him out in the world.
A major misstep made by many dog owners is ignoring dogs unless bad behavior is occurring. Raising a well-behaved dog requires that the dog understands what is expected of him -- he cannot learn these lessons if he only receives negative attention when doing something wrong. “Catch your dog doing something right” is a popular mantra among trainers; reward your dog with praise, affection and treats for sitting politely, lying on his bed or otherwise acting like a well-adjusted companion. Dogs naturally will do the things that result in rewards and praise.
Consistency is by far the most challenging component of effective dog training. Dogs rely on habits and patterns; inconsistency breaks the training pattern and makes behaviors more difficult to learn. Establish a set of rules and expectations for your dog and ensure that everyone who interacts with the dog follows them. For example, it is never OK for a large dog to jump on humans, as this could result in injury to children or the elderly. If one of your friends encourages the dog to jump because he or she loves roughhousing, it is on you to explain that the expected behavior does not change with someone else’s preferences and ask your friend to follow the rules.
No dog is perfect. Some will come with temperament issues or behavioral problems, and some will challenge your rules. Different breeds have different needs; every dog is an individual with his own unique challenges and weak spots. If your dog begins to show behavioral problems that are outside of the range of basic training, it is vital to seek the aid of a professional, qualified trainer immediately. Behavioral issues are the main reason dogs are abandoned or dropped off at shelters. Many of these problems are solvable with the aid of a trainer and a bit of effort on the part of the owner. Problems left to fester can escalate and intensify, possibly creating an environment in which strangers or other dogs are not safe around your pup.
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