I am frequently approached by people who feel guilty or upset or like they are bad dog parents because their dog doesn’t behave like “they should” or like “other dogs do.” They see other dogs walking or watch tv shows about dogs or with dogs in them. They begin to compare their dogs and realize their dog isn’t perfect.
Well, I am just going to put this out there now, there is no such thing as a perfect dog and there are no set rules as to how YOUR dog should act. Every dog is different and every person is different. This means that every person is going to act different and every dog is going to act different. You cannot, and should not, compare your dog with other dogs.
First, I do think every dog needs to know a couple of things for safety reasons. I believe every dog should have a reliable recall, meaning, every time you call your dog to come to you, she should come to you, no matter what distractions are present. Why is this important? Sure, it is just plain nice to have your dog listen to you, but the really important reason for a reliable recall is in case your dog runs in the street and a car is coming; you want to make sure she will come to you and out of the street. Or if there is a dangerous animal in the area and you need to get your dog away from it. There are numerous situations in which a reliable recall is important to protect your dog.
Another command I think every dog should know is “leave it.” To me, the reason this command is so important is to protect your dog from eating something dangerous, say, bones that are on the street. Bones could choke your dog or cause damage to her digestive tract. There are other great reasons for “leave it,” you probably don’t want your dog eating your food you left unattended on the table or the slug that is crawling on your back steps. “Leave it” will help you keep your dog safe from dangerous on a walk as well as dangerous in the house.
“Stay” is another important command, again for safety reasons. This command will help prevent your dog from running out the door, or running down the street. “Stay” can also be useful if your dog jumps on people when they enter the house. You can put your dog in a “stay” while your visitors enter the house.
Another command that could be used to keep your dogs from jumping on or bothering guests is “place” or “mat” or “bed” or some other command that lets your dog know they need to go to their designated place and stay there until they are released.
There are also many “nice to know” command such as “sit.” This command usually is taught before “stay.” Many people find it easier to have their dog “stay” if the dog is sitting; which is probably true! “Down” is also a good command to teach your dog in conjunction with stay.
With many of these commands, such as “stay,” “sit,” “down,” and “place,” you should also come up with a release word. This word gives your dog permission to break the command. If you tell your dog to “stay,” how is she supposed to know when she can stop “staying?” You do not want her to make her own decision, you want to let her know. I use the word “free,” but it doesn’t matter what you use, just make sure you let her know!
Let’s talk a little about walking your dog. Having your dog heel right by your side while you walk is excellent. This can make for a wonderful walk. However, when I walk I allow my dog to be in front of me (as long as she is not pulling). She likes to be in front and she LOVES to smell everything. Dogs have excellent noses and get to know their environment by smelling, so I let my dog do this. When I walk my dog it is for her benefit, not mine, so I want her to enjoy it as much as possible. But, she knows that she is not allowed to pull and she knows the second I call her back to me she needs to come to my side. This is important for the safety of your dog, especially if you are walking on a trail with other dogs and other people.
One command I taught my dog was “look.” When I give this command to my dog she has to look at me. For me and my dog this is an important command. My dog sometimes has fear aggression towards other dogs. If, when we are walking, we see another dog, I have her “look” until we pass the dog. This allows us to pass calmly.
In my opinion, other than a recall, stay, and leave it, all other commands depend on your dog and yourself. Do not feel guilty or upset if your dog doesn’t walk perfectly on a leash or if you can’t put your dog in a down-stay and walk around her without her getting up! Decide what you would like to do with your dog and what commands are important to you and focus on that!
I rescued a German Shepherd back in 2009. He was an adult, around 9, and a former show dog. He was a great dog and made the perfect brother for my 9-year-old Golden Retriever. One of the things I love to do is go hiking with my dogs. So one day I took my Shepherd on a hike…that is when I found out he HATED walking on dirt! He would refuse to budge, and if I did get him moving he would seize every opportunity to try and turn back and get off the dirt.
I thought this was a bit odd, but when I thought a little more about it, I could see why he would hate the dirt. He was a former show dog after all and he probably did not spend much time playing in the yard, rolling in the mud, or walking in the dirt. This led me to think about puppies and socialization.
I have written about socializing puppies to people and other dogs, but it is also important to socialize your puppy to different surfaces under their paws! If your puppy only walks on a carpet or hardwood floor, and is carried whenever he is outside and only put down on the grass do to his business, he will not know what dirt is! I can understand not wanting your puppy to tromp through the dirt and mud, but you should let him at least feel it so he won’t be scared of dirt!
It is also important to allow your puppy to walk on a wooden bridge, or over a metal grate. Even over wood chips and pine straw. The more diverse surfaces under his paws the better. Although you may not think you would ever have to have your puppy to walk over a metal surface, think about the metal table at the vet’s office.
It is hard to imagine a puppy not liking to walk on grass, but what if the grass was wet or had frost on it? If you don’t expose your puppy to water when they are young, they may refuse to potty on wet grass. Let them walk through puddles and sprinklers, buy them a kiddie pool and fill it up with a little water!
So what is the best way to make your puppy’s experience positive while learning to walk on different surfaces? Yup…TREATS and lots of them! You want to associate the different surfaces with something positive. Find out what your puppy’s favorite treat is, maybe some cheese or chicken. Lure your puppy on to the new surface if they are feeling nervous with the treat, but do not force them on the surface, this will likely cause them to be more afraid. You might not get them on the surface the first time, just try to be positive and try to lure them close each time. Again, it will be counterproductive if you force your puppy on to the surface.
Try and think of as many different surfaces as you can because you never know what you will encounter on a walk. Socialization should be a positive experience for you and your puppy. It may take lots of treats and lots of patience on your part, but don’t fore you puppy and don’t give up!
While you are out walking your puppy on the different surfaces you will also be socializing your puppy to different sounds. Many puppies, and dogs, are afraid of loud noises like thunder and fireworks. Although humans may jump when we hear a loud noise, we can identify where the noise came from and know there is nothing to worry about. Puppies, however, cannot identify where these noises come from, they just hear a loud noise and see nothing to associate the noise with. Because of this, loud noises can be very scary.
Socializing your puppy to these noises at a young age can help alleviate the fear when they grow up. Start by getting a recording of a thunderstorm or fireworks. Play the recording at a low level while playing with your puppy or treating your puppy. Once your puppy has become accustomed to the noise, turn it up a little louder. Continue to do this until the recording is pretty loud. However, make sure watch your puppy for any signs of distress, as with all other socialization, this should be a positive experience. You can do this technique with any noise you can think of including trucks, motorcycles, horns, traffic, etc. Start at a low-level and build up to a louder level while treating, playing, and praising!
A little patience with your puppy will make for a better relationship between you and your dog!
Next week I will be discussing what your dog needs to know, what is nice to know, and what you want them to know!