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Using rewards and positive reinforcement to train your dog

Training dogs using positive reinforcement and reward training has long been recognized as both highly effective for the owner and a positive experience for the dog.  Positive reinforcement training is so important that it is the only method used to train dangerous animals like lions and tigers for work in tourist educational establishments and in the movie and television industry.  Proponents of positive reinforcement swear by the effectiveness of their techniques and it is true that the vast majority of dogs respond well to these training methods.

One reason that positive reinforcement training is so effective is that is uses rewards to teach the dog what is expected of it.  When the dog performs the desired behaviour, he is provided with a reward, most often in the form of a food treat, but it could be a scratch behind the ears, a rub under the chin or a pat on the head as well.  The important thing is that the dog is rewarded consistently for doing the right thing.

Reward training has become increasingly popular in recent years, but chances are some sort of reward training between humans and dogs has been going on for hundreds if not thousands of years.

When understanding what makes reward training so effective, some knowledge of the history of humans and dogs is very helpful.  The earliest dogs were probably wolf pups that were tamed and used by early humans for protection from predators, as alarm systems and later for guarding and herding livestock.  It is possible that the wolf pups that made the best companions were the most easily trained, or it is possible that these early dogs were orphaned or abandoned wolf pups.  Whatever their origin, there is little doubt today that the vast variety of dogs we see today have their origin in the humble wolf.

Wolf packs, like packs of wild dogs, operate on a strict pack hierarchy. Since wolf and dog packs hunt as a group, this type of hierarchy, and the cooperation it brings, is essential to the survival of the species.  Every dog in the pack knows his or her place in the pack and except in the event of death or injury, the hierarchy, once established, rarely changes.

Every dog, therefore, is hard wired by nature to look to the pack leader for guidance.  The basis of all good dog training, including reward based training, is for the handler to set him or herself up as the pack leader.  The pack leader is more than just the dominant dog, or the one who tells all the subordinates what to do.  More importantly, the pack leader provides leadership and protection and his or her leadership is vital to the success and survival of the pack.

It is important for the dog to see itself as part of a pack, to recognize the human as the leader of that pack and to respect his or her authority.  Some dogs are much easier to dominate than others.  If you watch a group of puppies playing for a little while, you will quickly recognize the dominant and submissive personalities. 

A dog with a more submissive personality will generally be easier to train using positive reinforcement, since he or she will not want to challenge the handler for leadership.  Even dominant dogs, however, respond very well to positive reinforcement.  There are, in fact, few dogs that do not respond well to positive reinforcement, also known as reward training.

Positive reinforcement is also the best way to retrain a dog that has behaviour problems, especially one that has been abused in the past. Getting the respect and trust of an abused dog can be very difficult and positive reinforcement is better than any other training method at creating this important bond.

No matter what type of dog you are working with, chances are it can be helped with positive reinforcement training methods.  Based training methods on respect and trust, rather than on intimidation and fear, is the best way to get the most from any dog.

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Training your dog not to chase people, bicycles, joggers, etc

Dogs by nature are predatory animals, and all predatory animals share the motivation to chase fleeing objects.  While this may be a natural instinct, it is not appropriate when those fleeing objects are joggers, bicyclists or the Postman.

Training the dog not to chase people and bicycles is an important thing to do and it is best to start that training as early as possible.  Starting when the dog is still small and non-threatening is important, particularly with breeds that grow very large, or with breeds that have a reputation for being very aggressive.  Many people respond to being chased by a dog, especially a large dog, with understandable fear and it is best for yourself and your dog that he be trained not to chase before he reaches a threatening size.

Some dogs are easier to train away from chasing than others.  Breeds that have been used for hunting or herding often retain much more of their chasing instincts than other types of dogs, for instance.

No matter what breed of dog you are working with, however, it is important to not allow him off the lead until his chasing behavior has been curbed.  Allowing an untrained dog off the lead is dangerous, irresponsible and illegal.

Before you expose your dog to a situation where he will want to chase someone or something, be sure to train him in a safe, controlled area like a fenced in garden.  It is important for the dog to be able to focus and concentrate on you and for him to understand what behaviour you want.  The dog must be given the opportunity to repeatedly perform the behaviour you want while in this controlled setting.

The training session should be started indoors in the dog’s home.  The dog should be put on a lead and the owner and the dog should stand at one end of a hallway or a room.  The owner then waves a tennis ball in front of the dog but does not allow him to touch it.  After that, the tennis ball is rolled to the other end of the hallway or the room, and the command “Off” is used to tell the dog not to chase the ball.  If the dog starts out after the ball, use the command “Off” once again and give a firm tug on the lead.

When doing this type of training, it is vital that the dog not be allowed to touch the ball.  If he actually reaches the ball, he may think that “Off” means to get the ball.  This exercise should be repeated several times, until the dog has learned the meaning of the “Off” command.  When the dog responds correctly by not chasing the ball, he should be rewarded with a special treat.

After the dog seems to understand his new game, move to another room and try the same thing.  Repeat the exercise in several rooms of the house, in the garage, etc.  After the dog has seemingly mastered the game and learned the meaning of the “Off” command, you can work with him without the lead, but still only in a safe area like your own home or a fenced in garden.  It may take some time for the dog to fully master control of his chasing instinct and it is important not to rush the process, or to leave the dog off leash until you are sure he is fully trained.

To test the training in the real world, enlist the assistance of a friend to pose as a jogger.  It is important that the dog does not see and recognize this person; he has to assume that it is a stranger in order for the test to be valid.  Stand with the dog on his lead and have your friend jog by a couple of times while you do the “Off” exercise.  If the dog does as he is asked, be sure to provide lots of praise and treats.  If he starts after the “jogger”, give a firm reminder by tugging on the leash.

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Dog training – keeping your dog motivated

Keeping the attention of a dog while training is not always easy.  Dogs can be easily distracted, and it is important to not allow the training sessions to be sabotaged by boredom. Making training fun for the dog and the human alike is vital to creating a happy, well adjusted and well trained dog.

Providing random positive stimuli during the day is a great way to keep the interest of the dog.  Doing things the dog enjoys, like walking in the park, riding in the car and playing with other dogs, is a great way to keep the dog’s attention and reward him for small successes. 

For instance, in order to reward the dog for coming to you, ask the dog to come to you, without giving any clues about a walk, a car ride, or other treats.  After the dog has come to you and obediently sat down, attach the lead and start the reward.  This can be either the aforementioned walk in the park, ride in the car, or anything else the dog likes to do. 

Providing some kind of reward, whether a treat, a special outing, or just a scratch behind the ears, every time the dog does something you want, is a great way to keep your dog motivated.  If the dog knows something great is going to happen every time he obeys your command, he will be motivated to please you every time.

Distraction training

When training any dog, it is important to not let distractions disrupt the training.  The dog must be taught to ignore distractions, such as other people, other dogs, other animals and loud noises, and focus on what is being taught.  These types of distractions can even be used as rewards when training the dog to come when called.

For instance, if your dog enjoys playing with other dogs whether in a local dog park or with the neighbour’s dogs, let him play freely with those other dogs.  Then go into the park or garden and call your dog.  When he comes to you, provide lots of praise, treats and other rewards, then immediately allow the dog to go back to playing with his friends.  Repeat this several times and praise the dog each time he comes to you.  The dog will quickly learn that coming to you means good things (treats and praise) and not bad ones (being taken away from the park).

If the dog does not master this particular type of training right away, try not to get discouraged.  So called distraction training is one of the most difficult things to teach.  Dogs are naturally social animals, and breaking away from the pack is one of the most difficult things you can ask your dog to do.  Most dogs will be understandably reluctant to leave their canine companions, but it is important to persist.

Training the dog to come to you may require some creativity on your part at first.  For instance, waving a favorite toy, or a lure, is a great way to get your dog’s attention and put the focus back on you.  If your dog has been clicker trained, a quick click can be a good motivator as well.

Once the dog begins to get the hang of coming when called, you can begin to reduce and eliminate the visual cues and focus on getting the dog to respond to your voice alone.  It is important that the dog respond to voice commands alone, since you will not always have the availability of a toy or other lure.

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Dog training – reward training basics

Training with treats and other food based rewards is a great way to motivate your dog and speed the training process along.  Most dogs are highly motivated by food rewards and treat training using this kind of positive reinforcement is used to train all sorts of animals, including tigers, lions, elephants and even house cats.

Before you begin a treat based training session, however, it is a good idea to test the dog to make sure that food will motivate him through the session.  Begin around the dog’s regular meal time by taking a piece of its food and waving it in front of the dog’s nose.  If the dog shows an enthusiasm for the food, now is a great time to start the training.  If the dog shows little interest, or none at all, it may be best to put off the training until another time.  Don’t be afraid to delay the start of meal time in order to pique the dog’s interest in training.  The advantages of proper training will far outweigh any delay in feeding.

It is generally best to get the dog used to regular feedings, instead of leaving food out all the time.  Not only does free feeding encourage the dog to overeat and increase the chances of obesity, but a free fed dog may never be fully motivated in reward based training.

The come when called command

Once your dog has shown interest in the food offered to it, it is time to begin the training.  Since you already got your dog’s undivided attention by showing it food, now is a great time to start.  Give the dog a few pieces of food right away, then back up a few steps.  While holding the food in your hand, so “come here”.  When the dog comes to you, praise him effusively and give him a few pieces of food. 

After the dog is coming to you easily, add a sit command and hold the collar before you give the food.  After the sit command is mastered, other commands and even some tricks can be added.  Food based positive reinforcement training is the best way to teach a variety of important behaviours.

One good exercise is the sit, stay, come when called exercise.  This exercise can begin with the owner walking the dog, then stopping and asking the dog to sit.  After the dog is sitting quietly, the owner backs away and asks the dog to stay.  Ideally the dog should continue to stay until called by the owner, even if the lead is dropped.  At the end of the exercise, the owner calls the dog.  When the dog comes to the owner, it receives food and praise from the owner.  This exercise should be repeated several times, until the dog is reliably coming when called.

It is important to keep the training sessions short, especially in the beginning, to keep the dog from becoming bored and from consuming its entire meal in the form of treats.  After the dog has been responding regularly, the treats and food rewards can be slowly reduced.  It is important to still provide these food rewards, but it may no longer be necessary to provide as many.  After awhile, as well, it will not be necessary to give the dog treats every single time he responds as requested.  In general, it should only be necessary for the dog to receive a food treat one out of every five times he comes on demand.  The other four successes can be rewarded with praise and scratches.

Once the dog understands the basics of the “come here” exercise, the basic exercise can be expanded and many games can be created.  These types of games can be great fun for owner and dog alike, as well as a great learning experience.  Some off lead work can be introduced as well, but it is always best to start with the dog in a safe environment, such as a fenced back garden.  For variety, you can try taking the dog to other safe environments, such as a friend’s house, a neighbours fenced garden or a local dog park.  Try turning the dog loose in these safe places and practice the come when called exercise.  Always praise the dog extensively, scratch him behind the ears and tell him what a good dog he is.  The goal should be to make coming to the owner a more pleasant experience than whatever the dog was doing before he was called.

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Dog training issues – refusing to come when called

Many dog owners fail to recognize the importance of having a dog that comes when called until there is a problem, such as the collar or lead breaking, or the dog tearing free to chase a person or another animal.  These situations can be dangerous for the dog, the owner and other members of the community.  In areas where there is a lot of vehicular traffic, the situation could even prove fatal to the dog.

Unfortunately, many well meaning owners sabotage this important part of their dog’s training by allowing it to run off lead and unattended.  Whether the dog is allowed to run in the park, on the beach, or just play with other dogs, this teaches the dog that there are many fun things that do not involve its owner.  In fact, from the dog’s perspective at least, these fun times are often ruined by the appearance of the owner.

Look at things from the dog’s perspective for a moment.  You – the dog – are having a ton of fun running on the beach with all your doggy friends and suddenly here comes this human to take you away from the fun.  When you see the dog’s point of view it is easy to see how the appearance of the owner and the lead can be seen as a negative.

This negative perception causes many dogs to delay this outcome by refusing to come when they are called.  From the dog’s point of view, this makes perfect sense, since every minute of delay means another minute of romping on the beach or in the park.  In other words, the dog has learned that the most rewarding thing to do is to ignore the calls of its owner.  While this may seem like a good idea to the dog, it is definitely not a good thing from the owner’s perspective.

For dogs who have not yet learned this type of avoidance behavior, it is best to prevent it from happening by supervising the dog at play and making the time you spend with your dog as much, or more, fun, as the time it spends alone or with other dogs.

For dogs that have already learned the value of ignoring their owner, some retraining is definitely in order.  It is vital that every dog respond to the “come here” command, for the safety of both humans and dogs alike.

One thing to avoid is following the “come here” command with unpleasant activities.  Calling the dog and then immediately giving him a bath, clipping his nails, taking him to the vet, etc. will quickly teach the dog that coming to the owner has negative consequences.  It is best to ask the dog to come and then play with him, feed him, walk him or engage in other fun activities.  If you do need to take your dog to the vet, bathe him, etc. make sure that you to allow some time to pass so the dog does not associate the “come here” command with the bad experience.

It is important to remember that dogs are constantly learning, whether a formal training session is in process or not.  Your dog is always learning something from you, whether good or bad.  It is therefore important to make every interaction with your dog a positive one.

When teaching the dog to come on command, it is vital that the dog be consistently rewarded every single time he does as the owner wants.  A reward can be as simple as a pat on the head, a “good boy” or a scratch behind the ears.  Of course, treat based rewards are appreciated as well, and many dogs are highly food motivated and respond quickly to this type of training.  The key is to be consistent.  The dog should get some kind of reward, whether it be praise, a toy, or a treat, every time he appears at the owners side when called.

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Training the dog to come when it is called

Training a dog to come when it is called is a vital and potentially lifesaving, part of any successful dog training program.  All properly trained dogs must learn to respond instantly to the owner’s voice and the sooner this lesson is learned the better.

The advantages of teaching a dog to come when called are obvious.  For starters, coming when called will help you regain control of the dog in case of collar break, snapped lead or other similar equipment failure.  This is particularly important when you are out with your dog, especially in an area with lots of traffic.  It is vital that the dog responds to your voice and returns to your side, even in the absence of collar and lead and even if there are lots of other things competing for its attention.

Coming when called is also a vital skill for every working dog.  Whether the dog’s job is herding sheep, guarding livestock, or sniffing out bombs and drugs at the airport, the working dog must be under total control at all times, whether on lead or off.

Even if your dog’s only job is being a loyal companion, it is still vital that he learn this important basic obedience exercise.  After the first obedience lessons, such as heeling, stopping on command, sitting on command, etc. have been learned, it is time to start incorporating the come when called lessons into the daily training sessions.

One note about dog training – it is all too easy for training sessions to become dull and routine for both handler and dog.  A bored dog will not be receptive to learning, just as a bored handler will not be a good teacher.  It is important, therefore, to always incorporate fun things and play into every training session.  Incorporating a few minutes of play time before the lesson begins can do wonders for the attitude of dog and human alike.  Likewise, ending each training session with a few minutes of free play time is a great way to end on a positive note and to help the dog associate obedience training with fun and not drudgery.

The command to stay and the command to come when called are often combined in obedience training lessons and they do go naturally together.  Start with the dog on a loose lead, ask the dog to sit and then slowly back away.  If the dog begins to get up and follow you, return to the dog and ask him to sit again.  Continue this process until you can reach the end of the lead without the dog getting up.

After you can successfully reach the end of the lead on a consistent basis, try dropping the lead altogether.  Of course you will want to do this in a controlled environment like a fenced in garden.  After the dog has mastered the stay command, it is time to add the come when called command.

Take up the lead again and with the dog on the end of the lead say “come” or “come here”. It is often helpful to use a lure when teaching this behavior.  The lure provides a visible item for the dog to focus on.  Teaching the dog to come to the lure is a good first step in training the dog to come when called.

Repeat this procedure many times until the dog will consistently stay and then come when called.  After the dog has mastered coming when called while attached to the lead, slowly start introducing the concept when the lead is removed.  As before, these training sessions should only take place in a controlled, safe environment, such as a fenced in front or back garden.

A well trained, obedient dog should respond to the call to return to its owner no matter where it is and no matter what distractions may occur.  It is therefore necessary to test the dog with distractions of your own.

If you have a neighbor, preferably one with a dog of his own, try having him come over with the dog.  Have him and the dog, stand just outside the fenced in area and repeat the come when called exercise with your dog off the lead.  If he becomes distracted by the other dog, put the lead back on and repeat the process.  The goal is to have your dog consistently pay attention to your commands, no matter what distractions may present themselves.

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Obedience training and your dog

Obedience training is one of the most important and most effective things any owner can do for his or her dog.  A properly obedience trained dog is a happy, productive and safe member of the family, while a untrained dog can be destructive and even dangerous.

Dogs are designed by nature to follow leaders and to look for that leadership.   As pack animals, dogs naturally follow the directions of their pack leader. In the absence of a strong leader, the dog may assume this role itself.  Dogs that think of themselves as the leader of their human pack can become uncooperative, destructive and even dangerous.

Proper obedience training opens up important lines of communication between handler and dog.  The basis of any obedience training program is to gain the cooperation and respect of the animal.  This respect cannot be exerted through rough handling methods or mistreatment.  It must instead be earned through leadership and proper training techniques.

Basic obedience training consists of teaching the dog what to do and what not to do.  When it comes to desired behaviors, it is important for the dog to learn and respond to basic commands, such as heeling when walking, stopping on command, sitting when directed, coming when called and staying where the handler directs.

The list of what not to do is also important when it comes to obedience training.  Some of the don’ts of obedience training include – not jumping up on people, not forging ahead when walking and, not chewing the furniture or your property and not getting out of control when exposed to novel situations.

In essence, obedience training involves establishing the social hierarchy that is so important to dogs as pack animals.  When your dog follows your obedience commands, such as – come, stay, sit, heel, etc., he or she is showing compliance and submissiveness.  This is the same type of behavior a submissive member of a wild dog pack would show to the alpha dog in that pack.

As with any type of dog training, it is important that obedience training sessions be fun and rewarding for both dog and handler.  A happy, healthy dog will be best able to learn and keeping the dog happy during the training sessions will make life easier for both yourself and your dog.  Obedience training has many benefits for the dog as well as the handler.  For one thing, a well trained, obedient dog can be permitted a larger amount of freedom than an untrained dog.  For instance, a dog that has been properly trained to come when called can safely enjoy some off leash play time at the local park.

There is always a debate over whether it is easier to obedience train puppies or older dogs.  The fact is that both puppies and older dogs can be successfully trained to be willing, obedient companions.  It is generally easier to train puppies and young dogs than it is to retrain dogs that have developed behavior problems.  Even problem dogs, however, can be successfully retrained using basic obedience training and control concepts.

When obedience training puppies, however, it is important to remember that puppies generally have a shorter attention span than to do full grown dogs.  It is important, therefore to keep training sessions short in the beginning.  It is also important to incorporate lots of play with other puppies, dogs and other animals, as well as lots of different people.  Proper socialization is very important to creating a safe, healthy and happy companion dog.

There are many obedience training classes held in all parts of the country, and new puppy and dog owners are encouraged to enroll in one of these classes.  Not only do puppy kindergarten and dog obedience classes provide important structure for the dogs, but it provides important chances for properly socialization the puppy as well.

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Dog training basics – preventing unwanted urination

Problems with inappropriate urination are some of the most commonly encountered by dog owners.  As a matter of fact, inappropriate urination and defecation is the most frequently cited reason that owners surrender their animals to shelters.

Before you can address problems with inappropriate urination, it is important to understand the basis of the problem.   There are several reasons why dogs lose control of their bladders and it is important to know the root cause of the problem before it can be properly addressed.

Problem Number1 – Excitement Urination

Dogs often urinate when they become overly excited and dogs that are otherwise perfectly housebroken sometimes show their excitement by dribbling urine when greeting you excitedly.  It is normal for some dogs to urinate when they get excited and this can be a particular problem for many older dogs.

A lot of excitement induced urination occurs in young puppies and it is caused by a lack of bladder control.  The puppy may not even know he is urinating and punishment will simply confuse him.  Becoming angry with the puppy will quickly cause excitement urination to morph into submissive urination, thus compounding the problem.  As the puppy gets older and develops better bladder control, this type of excitement urination should disappear.

The best cure for excitement urination is prevention.  Preventing your dog from becoming over excited is the best way to control this problem behavior.  If your dog is excited by a particular stimulus or situation, it is important to repeatedly expose him to that situation until it no longer causes excessive excitement.

Problem Number 2 – Submissive Urination

Submissive urination is a natural part of pack behavior among animals like dogs and wolves.  The submissive member of the pack shows his or her submissiveness by lowering itself and urinating.  Since dogs are pack animals, they may show their submissiveness to their owner, who they regard as the pack leader, by exhibiting this submissive urination.

Dogs who exhibit submissive urination are usually showing their insecurity.  Unsociaized and previously abused dogs often exhibit submissive urination.  These dogs need to be shown that there are more appropriate ways to express their submissive status, such as shaking hands or licking the owner’s hand.

The best way to deal with submissive urination problems is often to ignore the urination.  Trying to reassure the dog can give the mistaken impression that you approve of the behavior, while scolding the dog can make the submissive urination worse.

Correcting problems with submissive urination should be directed at building the dog’s confidence and teaching him other ways to show his respect.  Teaching the dog to lift his paw, sit on command, or similar obedience commands, is a great way to direct the dog’s respect in a more appropriate direction.

Problems with urination are not always easy to deal with, but it is important to be consistent and to always reward acceptable behavior on the part of the dog.  When urination problems do occur, it is always a good idea to first rule out any medical conditions that could be causing those problems.  Medical issues like bladder infections can be the root cause of problems with unwanted urination.

After any medical problems have been ruled out, it is important to determine what is causing the problem, and treat it appropriately.  While it can be tempting to punish the dog for inappropriate elimination, doing so will only confuse and further intimidate him.

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Eliminating problem behaviours when training your puppy

  Problem Number 1 – Jumping up on people

 

Unfortunately, eliminating problem behaviours is one thing that most dog owners eventually face.  This article will focus on a few of the most commonly encountered behavior problems.

One of the most frequently cited problems with dogs is that of jumping up on people.  Unfortunately, this is one of those behaviours that is often inadvertently encouraged by well meaning owners.  After all, it is cute and adorable when that little 10 pound puppy jumps up on you, your family members and your friends.  Many people reward this behavior on the part of a small puppy with kisses and treats.

This is a huge mistake, however, since that cute little puppy may soon become a full grown dog who could weigh well in excess of 100 pounds.  Suddenly that cute jumping behaviour is no longer quite so cute.

In addition to being annoying, jumping up on people can be dangerous as well.  A large, heavy dog, jumping enthusiastically, can easily knock over a child or an older or handicapped adult.  In today’s litigious society, such an incident could easily make you, as the dog’s owner, the subject of an unwanted lawsuit.

The time to teach a dog that jumping up on people is unacceptable is when he is still young and easy to handle.  Retraining a dog that has been allowed to jump up on people can be difficult for the owner and confusing for the dog.

When the puppy tries to jump on you or another member of your family, gently but firmly place the puppy’s feet back on the floor.  After the puppy is standing firmly on the floor, be sure to reward and praise him.

It is important for every member of the family, as well as frequently visiting friends, to understand this rule and follow it religiously.  If one member of the family reprimands the dog for jumping and another praises him, the dog will be understandably confused.  As with other dog training issues, consistency is the key to teaching the dog that jumping is always inappropriate.

When praising and rewarding the dog for staying down, it is important for the trainer to get down on the dog’s level.  Giving affection and praise at eye level with the puppy is a great way to reinforce the lesson.

Problem Number 2 – Pulling and tugging at the lead

Pulling on the lead is another problem trait that many puppies pick up.  Unfortunately, this behaviour is also one that is sometimes encouraged by well meaning owners. Playing games like tug of war with the lead, or even with a rope (that can look like the lead to the dog) can unwittingly encourage a problem behaviour.

The use of a quality body harness can be a big help when training a puppy not to pull, or retraining a dog that has picked up the habit of pulling on the lead.  Try training the puppy to accept the body harness the same way it accepts the regular buckle collar.

When walking with your dog, try using a lure or toy to encourage the dog to remain at your side.  A training collar, when properly used, can also be a good training tool for a problem dog.  When using a training collar or choke chain, however, it is very important to fit it correctly and to use a size that is neither too big nor too small for your dog.

When walking with your puppy, it is important to keep the lead loose at all times.  If the puppy begins to pull ahead, the handler should quickly change directions so that the puppy fast finds itself falling behind.  It is important to reverse directions before the puppy has reached the end of the lead.  The lead should stay loose except for the split second it takes the handler to reverse direction.  It is important to use a quick tug, followed by an immediate slackening of the lead.

When training a puppy, it is important to never let the puppy pull you around.  Training the puppy to walk properly while he or she is still small enough to handle is absolutely vital, especially when dealing with  a large breed of dog.  If your 150 pound Great Dane hasn’t learned to walk properly while he or she is still a 20 pound puppy, chances are it never will.

It is important not to yank or pull on the puppy’s neck when correcting him.  A gentle, steady pressure will work much better than a hard yank.  The best strategy is to use the least amount of pressure possible to achieve the desired result.

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Teaching your puppy proper socialization skills

Teaching a puppy or a dog proper socialization skills is vital to the safety of both your dog and other dogs and people with whom he comes into contact.  A properly socialized dog is a happy dog and a joy to be around for both humans and animals.  A poorly socialized dog, or one with no socialization at all, is a danger to other animals, other people and even his own family.

Socialization is best done when the puppy is as young as possible  The socialization lessons a young puppy learns are difficult to undo and it is important to remember that the socialization skills the puppy learns will affect his behavior for the rest of his life.

A dog that is properly socialized will be neither frightened of nor aggressive towards either animals or humans.  A properly socialized dog will take each new experience and stimulus in stride, and not become fearful or aggressive.  Dogs that are not properly socialized often bite because of fear, and such a dog can become a hazard and a liability to the family who owns it.  Improperly socialized dogs are also unable to adapt to new situations.  A routine matter like a trip to the vets or to a friends house can quickly stress the dog out and lead to all sorts of problems. 

Socialization is best done when the puppy is very young, perhaps around 12 weeks of age.  Even after 12 weeks, however, it is important that the puppy continues its socialization in order to refine the all important social skills.  It is possible to socialize an older puppy, but it is very difficult to achieve after the all important 12 week period has passed.

There are so definite do’s and don’t when it comes to properly socializing any puppy.  Let’s start with what to do.  Later in this article we will explore what to avoid.

Socialization do’s

  • Make each of the socialization events as pleasant and non-threatening for the puppy as possible.  If a puppy’s first experience with any new experience is an unpleasant one, it will be very difficult to undo that in the puppy’s mind.  In some cases, an early trauma can morph into a phobia that can last for a lifetime.  It is better to take things slow and avoid having the puppy become frightened or injured.
  • Try inviting your friends over to meet the new puppy.  It is important to included as many different people as possible in the puppy’s circle of acquaintances, including men, women, children, adults, as well as people of all ages.
  • Also invite friendly and healthy dogs and puppies over to meet your puppy.  It is important for the puppy to meet a wide variety of other animals, including cats, hamsters, rabbits and other animals he is likely to meet.  It is of course important to make sure that all animals the puppy comes into contact with have received all necessary vaccinations.
  • Take the puppy to many different places, including shopping centers, pet stores, parks, school playgrounds and on walks around the neighborhood.  Try to expose the puppy to places where they will be crowds of people and lots of diverse activity going on.
  • Take the puppy for frequent short rides in the car.  During these rides, be sure to stop the car once in a while and let the puppy look out the window at the world outside.
  • Introduce your puppy to a variety of items that may be unfamiliar.  The puppy should be exposed to common items like bags, boxes, vacuum cleaners, umbrellas, hats, etc. that may be frightening to him.  Allow and encourage the puppy to explore these items and see that he has nothing to fear from them.
  • Get the puppy used to a variety of objects by rearranging familiar ones.  Simply placing a chair upside down, or placing a table on its side, creates an object that your puppy will perceive as totally new.
  • Get the puppy used to common procedures like being brushed, bathed, having the nails clipped, teeth cleaned, ears cleaned, etc.  Your groomer and your veterinarian with thank you for this.
  • Introduce the puppy to common things around the house, such as stairs.  Also introduce the puppy to the collar and leash, so he will be comfortable with these items.

There are of course some things to avoid when socializing a puppy. These socialization don’ts include:

  • Do not place the puppy on the ground when strange animals are present.  An attack, or even a surprise inspection, by an unknown animal could traumatize the puppy and hurt his socialization.
  • Do not inadvertently reward fear based behavior.  When the puppy shows fear, it is normal to try to sooth it, but this could reinforce the fear based behavior and make it worse.  Since biting is often a fear based behavior, reinforcing fear can create problems with biting.
  • Do not force or rush the socialization process.  It is important to allow the puppy to socialize at his own pace.
  • Do not try to do too much too soon.  Young puppies have short attention spans, and continuing lessons after that attention span has passed will be a waste of your time and your puppy’s.
  • Do not wait too long to begin.  There is a short window in which to begin the socialization process.  A young puppy is a blank slate, and it is important to fill that slate with positive socialization skills as early as possible.