The Do’s and Don’ts of Behaviour

Feb 13, 2013 by

THERE ARE OFTEN TRENDS AND FADS in dog-rearing that—mercifully—sink after their five minutes of fame, but one worthy newcomer is the idea of behavioural wellness – that dogs need to work to achieve mental as well as physical health. By focusing on our dogs’ behavioural wellness, we not only do better by them, we meet the objectives of a reduction in behaviour problems and a safer society – both of which are good for everybody. With this in mind, here is a list of rearing do’s and don’ts.

DO get toys that are suitable for fetch, hide-and-seek and tug

Introduce chew toys of both the consumable variety – bully sticks, pigs’ ears and rawhides – and of the durable, non-consumable but stuffable variety, such as Kong®s and other puzzle toys. Animal welfare advocates quite rightly come down on zoos that do not provide work-to-eat behavioural enrichment for their charges, and we can take a page from their book by giving our dogs more problems to solve. Chew and puzzle toys can do this with minimal time investment on our part.

DO explore the fun-o-sphere

Find games and activities you and your dog love. Nobody gets a dog to increase the drudgery in their lives. Dogs are fun experts. How readily a dog plays is also a key welfare barometer. The fun can be formal, organized sports such as agility or rally or nosework, or informal things such as fetch, tug, hide-and-seek, tricks or socializing at the dog park. The key thing is that it’s not a chore, which means it’ll likely get onto the agenda most days. And a word about tug: 30 years ago it was frowned upon, but now we know better. While it might be too physical for small kids to participate in, it doesn’t open a Pandora’s Box to doggie mayhem. So tug away.

DO get anti-pull gear if your dog is large

Dogs that pull badly on a leash don’t get walked and this can start a perilous cascade. While it’s possible to train loose-leash walking, you may want to allocate time resources elsewhere, such as to the fun-o-sphere. This way there’s no guilt, whatsoever, in taking advantage of the immediate power-steering afforded by an anti-pull harness or head-halter. A terrific comparison of these options is available at petexpertise.com.

DON’T flood a newly adopted older dog with continuous togetherness

If you’ve adopted an adult dog, your priority is alone-training. Newly adopted adult dogs have, by definition, had one bond with an owner broken. They would really like to bond with you now. But all dogs have to be left alone sometimes.

The key to success is avoiding big contrasts. If you shower him with 24/7 togetherness in the early days or weeks, he’s set up for a fall should you then return to a normal routine that differs from this. Better to work on alone-training right from the start. The first few days, do many, many brief absences of, say, five to 30 minutes. The first time you leave him for an hour or more, do so after a big exercise period so he’s likely to be tired. Leave him with a bunch of chew toys in a dog-proofed room, which means no rugs, furniture or drapes. Then increase by as much as an hour at a time every few days.

This same principle applies to puppies too, by the way, except that for young puppies the maximum length of your absence should top out at one or two hours.

DO prioritize with a new dog

Lives are busier than ever before and however well intended you are, a long list of tasks to accomplish with a new dog can result in avoidance of the whole thing. So toss out the unrealistic list and put up a smart-list of key items.

With puppies, you have three priorities: socialization, body-handling and attending puppy class. These are your priorities because they are time-sensitive. You can procrastinate on manners, you can procrastinate on housetraining (though nobody ever does), but if you procrastinate on socialization and body handling, you’ll play catch-up forever, if you can catch up at all.

  1. Socialization. Take your puppy places where he will meet a wide variety of people; see, hear and smell new things and have a great time (great time = cooked chicken). And – get ready for the big-ticket item – try to do it daily. It’s that important. Keep him off the ground if it’s somewhere frequented by dogs, and bring along hand sanitizer for anybody who wants to pat the puppy.
  2. Body handling. Handle and do faux veterinary exams, showing him a good cooked-chicken-aplenty time in the process. Typical trouble areas are feet, jaws (practice “pilling” him with chicken cubes), ears, restraint of all kinds, including headlocks (commence headlock, deliver chicken, release headlock) and grooming procedures such as brushing and combing. A well-run puppy class will walk you through this over and over. Which brings us to…
  3. Puppy kindergarten. A good puppy class delivers the above plus socialization to other dogs, some obedience, and pointers on your execution. A bad puppy class might not only mangle these key items, but could do active harm. How do you tell the difference? The canary in the coalmine here is motivator choice. Good puppy classes universally use food and fun to motivate. Bad ones include collar jerks and other forms of coercion. It may be dressed up in obfuscating language so be a smart shopper. Ask, “How will my puppy be motivated?” All reputable dog behaviour professionals are in excellent agreement that pain, fear, coercion and intimidation have no place in modern dog training.

By Jean Donaldson | Photo by Dean Palmer (Doberman Pinscher courtesy Dobereich Perm. Reg’d)

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