Tough Love Isn’t a Bad Word When it Comes to Puppy Training

I think that one of the more enjoyable parts of being a general practitioner is that I get the opportunity to take on the challenge of teaching families how to make their newest four-legged family member follow some of the same rules that the two-legged members are expected to. Owning a dog or a cat should be fun, but in many cases the newest family member is given the freedom to behave as they wish and that sets the precedent for a dog to be intolerant of any situation where they are not in control: grooming, kenneling, walking on a leash, confinement, etc. Molding/requiring good behavior at a very early age is likely the most important responsibility of an owner that has little bearing with their overall health.

Puppy Training is Essential For a Well-Behaved Dog

Raising a well behaved dog is not determined by which breed of dog you own or whether or not they have an “alpha/beta dog” mentality. Although there are multiple factors that go into how easy it may be to shape good behaviors into habits, my experience has taught me that it is the reputation of dogs as being naturally intelligent that actually hinders clients more than it helps them. I have to remind owners that term “puppy behaviors” is a dangerous label as very few of those activities (poor leash walking, intolerance of a kennel, jumping up on people, chewing on inanimate objects, etc.) will self resolve as a dog gets older. Dogs do not know how they are supposed to behave unless they are given some sort of feedback by way of verbal or non-verbal communication.

I often times joke that if I were to make a bumper sticker to give away to new dog owners it would say: “A Well Behaved Puppy is the Sign of a Committed Owner.” A misbehaving dog says as much, if not more, about the owner than it does about the canine. One of the problems with getting a puppy to be well behaved is that, much like a toddler, a day’s worth of time and energy spent focused on rules and appropriate behaviors seems to be deleted from their memory when they go to bed at night. Part of teaching families what it looks like to get a well behaved dog is having them recognize that the process takes time and it requires a consistent message and a repetitive pattern of behavior. The process itself can become frustrating because it takes time but I always try to encourage owners that if they can tap into the natural tendency of dogs to aim to please, or at least work for a reward, the hard work that they put in over the first year of a dog’s life will pay off.

Consistency is Key to Successful Puppy Training

What dog owners come to realize with canine intelligence is that it is less about them being logical and more about them being pattern recognition specialists. Consistency is key as dogs need to ability to expect what sort of reward or consequence will come as a result of certain behaviors. In the absence of a consistent message, dogs struggle to become proficient at those tasks that are learned behaviors. Owners often respond better to the characterization that dogs, much like kids, struggle when left to their own devices. If owners can buy into the fact that pets need parenting just like kids do, it makes it much easier to deal with the “tantrums” that dogs throw when they are frustrated and testing the limits of an owner’s will power.

Tough love gets a bad reputation as it is merely the willingness for owners not to give in when puppies whine or cry about discipline. While it is true that you can make any breed of dog become a good family pet, the timeframe for that process to be made easier on the owners is absolutely within the 12-18 months of life, before those behaviors become habits. Owners should never think of themselves as being too rigid or withholding if they commit to limiting freedoms or unsupervised activities in young dogs as our job as a veterinarian is made significantly easier when a patient is both tolerant and has self control. It’s okay to spoil these pets as they are members of the family, but remember that their behavior is more of a reflection rules of the household than it is of the personality traits of their breed.

Be Well,

Dr. Jablonski

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