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What Every Dog Must Learn, Part 2

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10 Things Every Dog Must Learn: The Second Five
(Besides Potty Training)

Last blog we covered the first five behaviors in our list if 10 behaviors every dog must learn. Today we discuss the second five.

6. Basic manners

This is necessary for having a well-adjusted companion. Basic manners include sit, down, come, heel/loose leash walking. They can also include behaviors like staying off people and furniture unless invited up, being quiet unless barking is appropriate (in other words, no nuisance barking), keeping their teeth to themselves, and greeting people appropriately. These can be taught with a combination of restriction (such as using the leash to prevent the puppy from jumping up), marking and rewarding the right behaviors, and a mild correction if necessary (such as a verbal “No” to mark the undesirable behavior of trying to jump up. Better yet, make this its own cue of “Off”.). A verbal marker such as “Yes” can be used to indicate the exact moment the dog performs the desired behavior, and should be followed by a reward.

7. How to share food and toys

This is incredibly important, particularly if children are part of the household. Start teaching a puppy to share as soon as they arrive home. This involves swaps and trades: trading one toy for another, or trading a toy for food. Bones and chews can be picked up while the puppy uses them, inspected, and returned to the puppy with extra treats. The approach of a human to the puppy’s food bowl should always mean the addition of more food or yummy tidbits. The puppy should learn to eagerly anticipate your approach while it is eating, because something good is always coming. If the puppy picks up an inappropriate item, encourage him to bring it to you, then trade him some yummy treats for it. This helps prevent the puppy from playing the “keep away” game. It will take repeat lessons at all stages of the dog’s life (from puppyhood through adolescence and into adulthood) to ensure that this new behavior of “sharing with humans” is ingrained in the dog’s mind.

8. How to come when called, EVERY TIME

This behavior should be imprinted on the puppy from the very first day it comes home. The end goal is to have a dog that sprints to you joyfully whenever you say “Come”, eager for its reward. This type of recall only comes through extensive practice, starting with short recalls (with the owner running backward and speaking excitedly to the puppy to excite him about coming) and always ending in a reward. ALWAYS give a reward on the recall! The dog must always think that a reward is coming.

Never, ever, EVER punish a dog for coming to you when called. Also, do not perform a recall when your intent is to end the fun or make him do something unpleasant (such as recalling him so that you can give him a bath). These are two ways to ruin a good recall. Another way to ruin a good recall is to prematurely perform recalls in situations where the dog is overstimulated, out of reach, or able to ignore you. During the imprinting and training stages, you never want the dog to get the idea that he has a choice to not come. Only one command should be given, and only one chance given for the dog to “Come”. If he doesn’t, go and get the dog. Later on in your training, add in distractions so your dog learns to come to you even when the environment is stimulating.

9. What “No” means

Contrary to popular trends in pet dog training, “No” can be a very valuable word in your dog’s vocabulary. Just as “Yes” marks a desired behavior, “No” marks an undesirable behavior. This does not mean, however, that a sharp “No” should be used for every infraction. Use this word for instances when the dog needs to stop a behavior immediately. Other commands like “Off” and “Leave it” can be used for situations where an alternate behavioral component is necessary (such as getting down off a person or furniture, and turning away from the cat or food on the counter). “No” should literally mean: “Stop whatever you are doing right now.” The key here, of course, is that your “No” has meaning. There should be a distinct change in the current behavior when this word is uttered; if you say “No” and nothing changes, then your “No” has no power. This is a relationship issue–a respect issue–that must be fixed.

10. Bite inhibition

This is one of the most important things a pet puppy can learn. Instead of simply teaching a dog not to bite at all, the puppy should be taught to soften its bite first before he learns to keep his teeth of human skin. Why is this important? Because a dog with good bite inhibition is much less likely to inflict a devastating bite should it ever wind up in a situation where the dog feels that it is necessary to bite (and these situations will vary for every dog!). Dr. Ian Dunbar has written extensively about teaching bite inhibition to puppies, and is a good resource for those who have a puppy piranha and no plans to pursue Schutzhund or IPO.

A dog that has successfully learned these 10 behaviors will be a happier, better adjusted, and more enjoyable companion.

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