Besides food, bowls, toys, and treats, when adopting a new dog, many of us bring home the dog without much thought into what he actually needs to live a happy life with us. Dogs have canine instincts and tendencies that usually do not sit well with most people. That means that if we leave it all up to our new dog, we will likely experience some amount conflict and frustration as a result of behaviors we are not happy with. If we were to simply follow a few guidelines from the beginning of bringing home our new companion, we would set ourselves up for so much more success leading to the enjoyable life we originally imaged at the thought of adopting our new companion. The following tips should be considered in addition to your dog's daily exercise. Keep in mind, it is never too late to implement these guidelines into your lifestyle with your dog.
Create The Structure Your Dog Craves
Just like people, dogs do very well with structure. Dogs don't have the ability to create their own structure in their day to day life. It is up to you to provide it for them. A key point to remember: if your dog is out of sight, he may be making mistakes, whether it is soiling in the home, or chewing on furniture. Too much freedom and too little structure is typically a recipe for disaster. Even if we have lots of space in and around our home, dogs don't provide themselves with the right kind of exercise that will help him fit into your life. You need to provide the right structure and guidance. This means that you should determine the rules and boundaries you want your dog to respect. In the beginning, it helps tremendously to keep your dog on a leash. Structuring your dog's day-to-day life means that you won't give him the freedom to make the mistakes that dogs commonly make. This works wonders for preventing behaviors you may not agree with thus preventing habits from forming.
Build Solid Habits
Work with your dog for 5 to 10 minutes, two to three times per day. Not a huge time commitment, right? Especially not when considering the reward you and your dog will reap as a result. Basic fundamentals are important. Practice come, sit, stay, and loose leash walking. Reward your dog with something of high value when he gets it right! Rewards include food, toys, praise and attention, and mini events such as a quick few seconds of play with you.
Train As You Live
In addition to teaching basic fundamentals, it is important to practically apply them in your day-to-day routine to create consistent reinforcement of good behaviors. This will help keep your dog's attention while he learns to follow your guidance, not to mention the great habits you will be building in the process. Think about what it is you want your dog to be doing in any given situation. I'm sure your dog's initial reaction to someone at the front door is not what most people want. The first step is preventing your dog from being the first to the door but think more deeply than this. What if you could have your dog understand a simple boundary such as staying on his dog bed while you answer the door? This is something that you can practice even if there isn't anyone currently at your front door. What you practice should prepare your dog for the equivalent real-world scenario. Simple items like sitting before you walk through a doorway, staying on his dog bed while you are in the kitchen preparing food, and greeting guests in a polite manner when allowed.
Think About What You Are Reinforcing
It is common to give in to what our dog wants from us, and by doing so we reinforce the wrong behaviors and not know it. When you give your dog something that they want on their terms, you are reinforcing the behavior that he was practicing the moment before you rewarded him. If your dog approaches you and asks for attention, then you give it to him, you are reinforcing your dog asking you for sometihng he wanted. In the future, if you try to ignore your dog when he does this then he will likely take it a step further because he knows that it worked for him in the past. The situation escalates. Your dog may paw at you, whine, or even bark. Give in to your dog's requests/demands enough times, and you will likely have a nuisance issue to deal with, or worse, your dog will learn how to have you follow their guidance instead of the other way around. This is a very common issue. Dogs often train their owners more than the owners train their dog. We understand that dogs are cute. How can you resist those big, puppy eyes? These emotions put us at a disadvantage. Resist what you can, and always think about what your are reinforcing.
Help Your Dog Follow Your Lead
Provide the right guidance for your dog and build it into your daily routine. This is important because it could be the difference between having a "stubborn" dog who never listens and having a long and enjoyable life with your dog. Isn't that the reason you got a dog in the first place? Of course it is; you want to enjoy each others company! Frustration and conflict severely hinder all potential enjoyment! If your dog prompts you for something, you can either ignore them or redirect them to something you want them to do instead. Or even better, be proactive and show your dog what you want them to do, before they have the opportunity to ask you for something that they want.
This is a great starting point to enjoying your dog so much more. By creating structure, teaching your dog, and training as you live, you will build on a balanced, respectful relationship between you and your dog thus reducing much potential conflict. While this will get you started, at some point you will most likely want to take it a step further and help your dog's continued success by learning to respond to you around life's toughest distractions. You will most likely want to seek out a professional to help you with the next action steps in handling distraction. A professional trainer will be able to assess your situation and educate you on the process before you sign up for any training. Read our article on How To Hire the Right Dog Trainer.