Many of you have welcomed companion animals into your hearts and homes recently and those of you who already share your lives with companion animals, hopefully understand that dogs need boundaries and limitations just as two legged children do. Too many dogs are relinquished to animal shelters and rescue groups each year for behavior and training issues that could have been easily solved with positive, consistent methods of training.

In 2010 the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, believing that the public needed to be more aware of the importance of socialization and training of dogs, began their National Train Your Dog Month campaign. They selected January because so many dogs are adopted during the winter holidays, and felt it was important to start off the year right with the newest family member.

To have a truly well-mannered dog, it is necessary to reinforce behaviors that you want during the course of your daily life…it is more than just taking him to formal classes. The APDT offers basic ideas on how to involve “real life” into your training program, whether you have a new puppy, or a well-loved member of the family, stressing that patience, consistency, and a clearer understanding of dog behavior always leads to happier, healthier, and more harmonious households.

  • Practice sitting politely when friends come over. Practice sit-stay when the newspaper deliveryman drops off your paper, or when the garbage collection truck comes by. Encourage quiet times for your companion animal. While you are working at home on your computer, or while your children are doing their homework, encourage the dog to be quiet and relaxed by using the sit-stay command.
  • Teaching your dog to COME may well be the command that saves his life. If he gets loose outdoors, a dog that does not obey the recall command can be easily distracted by a squirrel or passing car, and the result can be tragic. Practice the recall command in your house in the course of your daily activities, such as when you want her to come eat her dinner, insisting that the command is always obeyed.
  • Use your dog’s behaviors to earn him “what he wants.” Make getting a treat or a toy, or something that he desires a learning opportunity. If she wants to go for a walk, she has to sit for the leash to be put on. It doesn’t matter what behavior you ask for as long as you ask the dog to “do something” in exchange for a valuable reward. No more “free lunches”, and certainly no rewards for inappropriate behavior.
  • Toys are a form of enrichment and improve the quality of life for your dog, and can be incorporated into a training plan. One simple way to prolong the enjoyment of toys for your dog is to rotate them every few days. If you have l0 toys, every few days exchange them….if they are washable, toss them in the washer, and your dog will think they are brand new toys. This will avoid the common problem of disinterest that frequently comes a few weeks after a toy is given to your dog. A very favorite toy is the Kong which can be stuffed with “good stuff” and will occupy a restless pup for hours. Every dog deserves a couple Kongs!

Whether you are a new pet caregiver or have had one for years, this is a great time to increase the amount of time you spend training your dog. Your dog needs physical exercise every day, but she also needs mental stimulation. A bored, neglected dog will often find his own entertainment which inevitably leads to trouble. Training builds a mutual bond, and enriches the relationship you share with your dog; ensuring that he is a fully participating member of your family—what a gift for everyone!