Training Your Dog
- Even if you’re just looking for a pet to be a companion, training is still important to the relationship you hope to share with your dog.
- You may choose only “basic” training, like learning sit, stay, and come, or you may want more advanced training options.
- Ask your veterinarian for recommendations, and check out the out credentials of any school or class you're considering before enrolling.
I Just Want a Companion. Why Is Training Important?
Obviously, if a dog will be working as a search and rescue dog or service assistance dog, proper training is extremely important. But what if you’re just looking for a dog to share your life and be a couch potato with you? In truth, even companion dogs, large and small breeds alike, need training to learn proper behavior among people and other dogs.
One philosophy says that dogs in the wild live in packs with a strong social structure and that domesticated dogs naturally seek to be a part of a similar family group. According to this philosophy, it's important for your dog to regard you as the leader, or "alpha," of his or her "pack." Dogs feel comfortable when they know their place in the pack, so if you have not established the leader position, some dogs may try to assume it for themselves, which can lead to obnoxious, destructive, or even aggressive or dangerous behavior.
However, that philosophy is not embraced by all dog trainers and behaviorists. Dogs have been domesticated for centuries, and, just like humans are somewhat different from wild primates, dogs have evolved to be different from their wild ancestors. Therefore, the “pack” mentality may not have as much bearing on their relationships with us as once thought.
Regardless, your dog needs to know what is expected of him or her, what the regular routine will be, and what he or she can get away with. Training is an important way to establish these boundaries. It also establishes a bond of trust and understanding between you and your dog—your dog will be happier when he or she understands your expectations. Training sessions also help prevent boredom and help challenge your dog’s mind, which is important for overall well-being.
What Types of Training Are Recommended?
All dogs can benefit from basic obedience training. This generally includes sitting, staying, and lying down on command; coming when called; and walking on a leash without pulling. Other useful lessons are learning to stay off chairs and sofas unless invited and to not jump up on people. These lessons are valuable even for small breeds, which can become unruly and aggressive despite their size.
Even if you want your dog to exercise his or her own intellect and be a free spirit, you will still need him or her to come to you or stop at the curb on command. Sometimes, such training can mean the difference between a nice afternoon in the park and a night at the emergency room.
What if I Need Professional Help?
If you have a puppy, many veterinarians and pet stores offer puppy kindergarten classes. These classes offer basic training for pet owners and can be a good start for a puppy. Because the classes are group sessions, they also offer an opportunity to socialize your new dog. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up-to-date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper, and parvovirus) have been completed.
If you’re interested in more of a one-on-one experience or more advanced training, ask your veterinarian about obedience schools and trainers in your area. Schools vary in the type and philosophy of instruction, as well as in their trainers' qualifications, so do some background checking before enrolling: interview other dog owners, and check out the credentials of the school or class you're considering. Whether you choose group or individual training, look for a program that emphasizes positive reinforcement techniques, rather than punishment, for training dogs.