|YOUR WALKING BUDDY
Need a Partner in Crime?
Starting Off Right with Your New Four-legged Friend
By Jenna Kirby
Adopting a new dog can be one of the most enjoyable, rewarding experiences, but it takes work. Often more goes into raising a puppy than most people realize, so before you adopt a dog, be sure you are ready to truly make the commitment. Research the breed, care required, and where you will be adopting the dog from in order to make a well-informed decision. You want to make sure you choose a dog that meshes well with your lifestyle. It’s an important choice, and the results will be well worth the time spent.
When you adopt a new puppy, one of your main priorities (besides potty training, that is!) is socialization — you want your puppy to be comfortable around anything and everything life throws his way. A dog that is well socialized as a puppy develops into a well-adjusted adult who not only loves new people but can be handled by everyone, loves the company of other dogs, is relaxed around all sorts of noises, and enjoys venturing to new places. So many common behavior problems that pop up later in life can be attributed to a lack of exposure and socialization at an early age. The best type of training for these behavioral problems is prevention. This is a crucial time in your pup’s life, so take advantage of it.
When providing these important experiences for your puppy, make sure they are fun experiences; negative experiences can have lasting impacts. Bring your pup’s favorite treat along, so you can reward him for investigating novel things. You can reward him for taking worrisome noises in stride and allow strangers to dispense treats for good behavior. This will help your pup to enjoy these outings with you, and others to enjoy the company of your well-socialized pup. Remember that all dogs are individuals. Some will live for these outings, and others may find them stressful. Pay attention to what your dog seems to be telling you during these experiences, and be careful not to overwhelm him. For some dogs, it is better to go slowly in the beginning, and gradually increase exposure to the outside world as he seems ready. Remember to always start with your dog on leash. Lots of training and a solid relationship with you are requirements for off-leash time.
Now is also the time to consider a training class. Whether you adopted a puppy, an adolescent, or a dog in his golden years, training classes are a great idea. Not only can your dog learn (or re-learn!) the basics, a trainer can help you with other issues you may be having at home, such as potty training, barking, chewing, and jumping. Also, taking your new dog through these classes gives you important bonding time, crucial to any relationship. Be sure to research the trainers in your area, and see if you can sit in on a class ahead of time to ensure that you are comfortable with the way things are being taught. A great online resource is www.APDT.com, where you can search for trainers in your area who believe in reward-based methods.
Another important component of training is the inclusion of clear structure and boundaries. It is much easier to train and manage a small puppy than a large adolescent dog, so start now. Decide what the rules are within your house, and check that the whole family is on board. During every interaction with your dog, you are training him, so consistency is key. Your pup will learn much faster if the rules are consistent all the time and with every member of the household. Everybody should be involved with the care of the dog — feeding him, walking him, and playing with him. Everyone should be important to your dog. Don’t forget to provide enough exercise for your dog. This varies depending on size, breed, and temperament. You can ask your trainer or vet for exercise advice.
Remember that when you adopt a dog, especially if you choose an adult, it may take months for him to settle in with you and your routine. The more often the dog has been bounced from home to home, the longer it can take. Be patient with your dog; he may need you to go slowly at first. If at any point you are worried about your dog’s behavior, make sure you contact a trainer, and come up with a plan of action. Many behavioral problems only become worse as time goes on.
Most of all, have fun with your new dog. Owning a dog is an enjoyable journey, during which you and your pet will learn many different things from each other. This relationship will be well worth the time and patience required.
Jenna Kirby is a trainer at the Oregon Humane Society, where she has been involved with classes for several years. She lives in Portland, OR, with her two dogs — one a German Shepherd mix (and Oregon Humane Society alumnus) and the other a rare breed called a Chinook.