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 Why training is important

 Living with a person who does not obey general rules of civility and does not respect your property would be very difficult.  Similarly, living with a companion animal who does not behave in a civil manner and who destroys your property, will be difficult.

 Teaching a child how to behave and what is expected of him is part of good parenting.  It will help him be a better member of society and help him get along with other people.  Similarly, teaching your companion animal how to behave and what is expected of him is part of good pet owner responsibility.  It will help him be a better member of the family and will strengthen the bond that he has with the humans in his life. 

A dog that hasn’t received any instruction or training can’t possibly know what you expect of him.  If you do not teach your pet your rules, he will invent his own – and the ones he invents may not be ones that you would choose!

Therefore, teaching or training a pet is a gift to that pet.  It will make him a better companion.  It will also reduce his stress, make him happier and make his life easier because he will feel confidant that he knows what to do.  It will also engender good feelings and treatment from everyone he meets.

But, just as with children, there are right ways and wrong ways to teach your pet.  Do it the right way and you will have a happy, confident and easy-to-get-along-with pet.  Do it the wrong way and you will have a rebellious, anxious trouble-maker.

And, yes, even cats can be trained.

There are many pluses that result from training your pet.

1.  It will strengthen the bond that you have with your pet.  If your pet has been taught how to behave appropriately you will want to spend more time with him.  Likewise, if he knows how to behave it will be easier for him to spend time with you because he will feel confidant in himself.

2.  It will keep your pet safer.  A pet who will stop running when you tell him and sit when you tell him will not run into traffic, get near hot stoves or heaters, get near anxious cats or get into other dangerous situations when you tell him to stop.  A pet that knows “drop it” and “leave it alone” will have fewer opportunities to swallow dangerous objects.  A dog that is suddenly still is suddenly safe.  And a dog that will “stay” in that position is even safer.

3.  You will be safer.  A dog who suddenly pulls at the person walking him on a leash can cause that person to fall.  This could result in cuts, broken bones, head trauma or other injuries to that person.

4.  Your home and possessions will be safer.  An animal that is well-behaved will not claw on your furniture, urinate on your carpet, eat your shoes, destroy your curtains or show other destructive behavior.

5.  You and your pet will be more welcomed.  If your pet is behaved, you will both be more welcome at friends’ homes, the park, doggie daycare, the groomer, the veterinarian and other places.  It will be easier to find someone to watch after your little buddy when you are away.

6.  You and your pet will be more welcoming.  If your pet is behaved, people (and other animals) will enjoy coming to your home.

7.  It will increase the chance that you and your little buddy will stay together as you promised him when you adopted him.  Puppies who have graduated from socialization classes are less than half as likely to be returned to a shelter as puppies who have not had socialization classes.

8.  You will be able to keep him healthier.  An educated dog will allow you to check him for signs of injury or illness and to give him medication.


General Guidelines

1.  The key to training is positive reinforcement!  This is so important that it bears repeating.  The key to training is positive reinforcement.  This means that you reward good behavior. Even with humans, positive reinforcement is the single most effective way to modify behavior.  Everyone, even animals, wants to do that which gets them something which they want. 

Positive reinforcement can include treats, praise, petting or a favorite toy or game.  If you use food treats, they should be enticing and small enough to gulp down with one bite.  You can carry food treats in your pocket or in a fanny pack.  Each time you use a food reward, you should couple it with a verbal reward (praise).  Say something like “good boy” in a positive, happy tone of voice.

When your pet is learning a new behavior, he should be rewarded every time he does the behavior (continuous positive reinforcement).  Intermittent reinforcement can be used once your pet has reliably learned the behavior.

By using verbal praise with the treats and using first continuous reinforcement and then intermittent reinforcement, your pet will soon be working for your verbal praise and because he knows that, occasionally, he will get a treat, too.

Hitting or physically punishing an animal will only create confusion and additional bad behavior.  He will learn to avoid you.  He will continue doing what you do not want him to do – he will just do it when you are not around.  Physical punishment will also create additional bad behaviors such as aggression and fear.  For example, a pet that is punished for getting too close to a small child may become fearful of or aggressive toward that child.

For more information on positive reinforcement see the Denver Dumb Friends League at: http://www.ddfl.org

2.  The reinforcement needs to be immediate.  Appropriate behavior must be rewarded immediately.  This will serve to solidify in the animal’s mind that what he is doing at that time is something that is OK or that is good to do.  If you give your little buddy a treat or an extra hug at night for having not chewed your shoe or for having used the litter box earlier that day he will not relate that treat or hug to what he did right earlier that day.

3.  Verbal reprimands (saying “No”) work only while the animal is doing what you do not want him to do.   Animals will not understand reprimands given after they have done something that you do not want them to do.  Even reprimands given immediately after they do some misappropriate behavior will not be effective.  If you see that your pet has just finished doing something that you do not want him to do, it does no good to reprimand him.  Once he has finished the bad behavior it is too late.  Just ignore it and proceed to reward him the next time he does it right.  The old myth of rubbing a dog’s nose in some mess that he made is even worse than useless.  The dog has no idea why he is being punished.  It will destroy your bond with him and can create additional bad behaviors.

4.  Provide alternatives and encourage the use of them.  If you do not want your dog to chew on your shoes, then provide him with plenty of chew toys that he can chew on.  If you do not want your cat to claw on your couch, then give her plenty of cat scratch posts to claw on.  You can even make the alternatives more enjoyable.  For instance, cover the cat scratch posts with catnip.

5.  Keep your pet out of situations that you know will encourage bad behavior.  If you know that your cat has taken a liking to clawing on the end of your sofa, then keep that away from her.  You can temporarily cover the end of the sofa with something that she does not like such as aluminum foil.  (Simultaneously, you must give her cat scratch posts somewhere else that she can claw.)  If your cat has suddenly taken a liking to urinating in the closet, then keep her out of the closet until she reinforces the “litter-box-only” nerve connections in her brain.  If you do not want your pet on the table, you can booby trap the table or chairs with cans that make a lot of noise, so that if he should get on the table or chairs the cans will fall off and make a loud noise.  If you are housetraining a new puppy do not give him free run of the house and all your carpets.  Keep him in a small room or enclosure where he will not urinate while, at the same time, taking him outdoors regularly and rewarding his using the bathroom outdoors.  (See the section on housetraining in the Pet Behavior section of this web site.)

6.  Exercise, exercise, exercise!  One of the best ways to prevent bad behavior is to be sure that your pet gets plenty of exercise.  If you find that your dog is getting into lots of mischief perhaps he is telling you that he needs more exercise and mental stimulation.  Take him for many more and longer walks during the day.  Play with him more.

7.  Consistency.  Set up the rules and stick to them.  Also, everyone in the family should reward the same good behavior and use the same commands.  If you do not want your dog to jump up on other people, do not let him jump up on you and other family members.

8.  Use tone of voice to convey messages.  Let your tone of voice be your dog’s guide to correct behavior.

a.  Use a low-pitched tone of voice to convey correction. 

b.  Use a normal tone of voice when giving a command.

c.  Use a high-pitched tone of voice to convey praise.


 When and Where to look for information and for socialization/training  classes

There are some factors that are crucial parts of any dog training classes.

1.  Be sure that the trainer uses positive reinforcement methods only.  As mentioned above, positive reinforcement is, by far, the most effective method.  Negative reinforcement is not only less effective, but it is detrimental because it destroys the bond with your animal and creates additional bad behaviors such as aggression and fear.

2.  Get a recommendation for a training class or trainer from a veterinarian or other professional.  Training your dog is very important and you want to be sure that it is done in a humane and effective way.


When should you enroll your dog in socialization classes?

All dogs between 8 and 16 weeks of age should be enrolled in puppy classes.  Regular classes are appropriate for dogs six months and older.  However, there is no age limit for classes.  Dogs of all ages can benefit from training.

What to look for in dog socialization classes       

Dog training can be done in group classes or in individual sessions with the dog’s human and the trainer.  The Humane Society of the United States cites several advantages of group classes:

a.  Dogs learn to interact with other dogs.

b.  Dogs learn to accept handling by other people

c.  Dogs learn to respond to their human despite distractions.

d.  The humans can learn by observing other people interacting with their dogs.

e.  In single-dog training sessions, the dog may respond well for the trainer, but may not transfer what he has learned to you or your family.

You should avoid having someone take your dog to train him. Effective training must include you and the environment in which you and your dog interact.

You should always observe a class before enrolling your dog in the class.  The Humane Society of the United States (http://www.hsus.org/ace/11773) and the Denver Dumb Friends League (http://www.ddfl.org/behavior/educated_dog.htm) offer the following features that you should look for in a group dog training class:

a.  Is the class based on reinforcing good behavior?  Excessive use of choke chains or pinch collars or using collars to lift dogs off of the ground (“stringing them up”) are neither appropriate nor humane training methods.

b.  Are there separate classes for puppies and adult dogs?

c.  Are there different class levels (for example, beginner, intermediate, and advanced)?

d.  Are training equipment and methods humane?

e.  Does the trainer use a variety of methods to meet dogs’ individual needs?

f.  If proof of vaccination required?

g.  Are the students, both human and canine, enjoying themselves?

h.  Are dogs and owners actively encouraged?

i.  Is praise given frequently?

j.  Are voice commands given in upbeat tones?

k.  Are lesson handouts available?

l.  Is information available on how dogs learn, basic grooming, problem solving and related topics?

m.  Is class size limited to allow for individual attention?

n.  Does the instructor communicate well with people and dogs?  Remember that they are instructing you about how to train your dog.

o.  How was the trainer trained?


 Where to look for dog socialization classes:

1.  Talk to your veterinarian.

2.  Check with your local PETsMART.  PETsMART offers accredited pet training classes for different ages of dogs and for different levels of learning.

3.  Check with your local animal shelter or humane society.

4.  Your local park or city recreation departments may offer classes.

5.  Check references.  Ask prospective trainers for several references from people who have completed their classes.  Do not assume that a trainer’s membership in a dog-trainer association qualifies him as a suitable instructor.  Not all associations’ membership criteria will meet your expectations.  Also, because no government agency regulates or licenses trainers, it is important to verify their qualifications yourself.




Copyright © [2003]  [Little Buddies Adoption and Humane Society].