Did you get a puppy for Christmas, or adopt a shelter dog that needed a fur-ever home? Dogs are great just as they are. But many of us are looking for ways to keep our dog happy, healthy and well-behaved. Below are ten easy to train skills your dog should know.
This seems an obvious one, but it’s so important. Puppies, and dogs from shelters, regardless of age, can have issues in this area, so it’s best to begin housetraining them from the moment they step in the house – even before they do!
It seems a daunting task, but if you stay consistent, avoid negative reinforcement and physical punishments, and give your dog positive feedback (in the form of pets, treats and loving words), your dog will show progress in this area in no time. There are many tried and true housetraining techniques on the market, so the choice is yours.
Even the best-behaved indoor dog has that urge to run like the wind. It’s just their nature. It’s up to you, as the pet owner, to make sure they stay within the boundaries of your home. This is more than just “making them behave” – it’s an issue of their safety, as well as that of others!
There are a variety of ways you can keep your dog within their boundaries, as well as myriad training techniques to teach them where they belong. Many people use fencing, but that can be costly and inconvenient, especially if you don’t own your home. Some choose to go with other measures, such as obedience training or only allowing their dog out on a leash. More about fencing, though: if you can’t afford or don’t want to put the time into physical fencing, you can try “invisible fencing”. This type of fencing comes in a variety of different options for different sized dogs, or dogs with various personalities.
3) The Foodie Dog
All dogs are foodies – if it’s food (and sometimes if it isn’t), they like it! Just because your dog doesn’t have a discerning palate, though, doesn’t mean you should cut corners on the foods they eat. You don’t have to spend a fortune on organic, grain-free, sugar-free, locally sourced treats and kibble – just taking the time to select a good mid-grade, high-quality food at the store can make all the difference in your dog’s health and behavior. There are surprisingly affordable, great brands available at any supermarket. Of course, for more specific issues like allergies or food intolerance, talk to your vet.
Treats are great, but don’t over-do it! And of course, the hotly debated issue of whether or not to serve your dog table scraps. That’s up to you, but it’s always advisable to keep a list handy of what foods are truly toxic for dogs.
4) Playing Around
Dogs love to play, and most of them love human interaction, especially with kids. You have to be responsible, though, when it comes to your dog interacting with others – and this includes other dogs, cats, and the various critters in your neighborhood.
Be cautious in introducing your dog to new situations, and feel him or her out for how they react around children and other animals. Never force them into situations where they are clearly in discomfort. If your dog is friendly and sweet as can be, excellent! If he/she does have a behavioral issue such as growling, snarling or biting at other animals, simple obedience training can work wonders. It’s worth the (surprisingly affordable) cost.
5) Looking Good
A lot of folks think that grooming, especially for breeds with short coats, is an unnecessary expense. But grooming is beneficial to your dog in so many ways.
Not only can it truly improve the health and quality of life for certain dogs with double coats, such as Shih Tzu or Yorkshire Terriers, but it can save you costly bills for carpet cleaning, or allergy medications since many dogs shed. Grooming can be done anywhere from the vet to your local dog boarder, and even at some pet stores. It’s not as expensive as you think, and it really improves the overall health of your dog.
Plus: it’s a nice bit of pampering that man’s best friend deserves, isn’t it?
6) Medical Maintenance
This is one of the most important things a pet owner can do, and that keeps up with routine medical maintenance. Things such as rabies shots, heartworm medications, and other vaccines are so important for your dog and can mean life or death. Routine rabies shots and other vaccines usually occur once a year and can be done at the vet, or even at local animal shelters. Watch for “rabies shot” events that local governments hold every summer – your town just might have one! These are usually really affordable, sometimes ten bucks will get your pet vaccinated.
When you first adopt an animal, if they aren’t spayed or neutered, why not go ahead and take that step. It’s a responsible thing to do, not just for your pet but for the community as a whole. First-time pet owner treatments like parvo vaccines, flea medications, etc are also a necessity you shouldn’t skip.
A healthy dog is a happy dog!
Dogs need exercise and play; that’s just a fact. A dog who is cooped up all the time with no opportunity to expend energy will be a mopey, sad-faced mess, and nobody likes that!
Your dog isn’t picky – just a simple game of frisbee or fetch can have him bouncing with excitement. A leisurely walk around the block or through the park will make his day. If you’re someone with a busy schedule and not much time for play, consider hiring a dog walker, or investing in some great, heavy duty toys to occupy their mind and energy. There are some good ones on the market that are affordably priced.
8) Body Language
Have you ever looked at your dog and wondered, “what on earth did that mean?” Dogs do all sorts of weird things – strange yawns, bizarre noises, weird posture, goofy ear things, and more. With a little effort, you can learn to decipher your dog’s hidden body language to find out what he or she is thinking.
For instance, if your dog leans down on two legs with their posterior up in the air, that means they want to play. Often a yawn isn’t just because they’re tired – sometimes dogs yawn to say “I love you”. A dog howling along with your favorite metal ballad doesn’t necessarily mean they love it – it might be hurting their ears. And if your dog is smiling with his ears back as a new kid approaches, he isn’t grinning in greeting – he’s nervous and issuing a warning, so take the pup inside.
9) If You’re Happy, They’re Happy
In general, it’s best to defer to positive reinforcement with your dog, rather than the negative.
Of course, we all get mad when Ranger chews up our fifth pair of shoes, or when Lady decides to relieve herself in the closet. But studies show that physical punishments or loud yelling and negative reinforcement only cause the dog to act out more. Respond to positive behaviors with nice reinforcements like belly rubs, treats, and loving words. Don’t give too much attention to bad behavior, choosing rather issue a firm “NO” and then moving on. With dogs, if they see you are happy, they will want to repeat that behavior to make you happy again.
10) Consider a Shelter
We touched on this above, but it bears repeating: if you want the best dog in the world, go to a shelter.
On any given day, there are dozens of dogs in your local shelter, just waiting to be given a chance at a forever home. Beautiful, happy, energetic, smart, loyal dogs, just waiting for a home. Most local shelters offer affordable adoption rates and can tell you which dog is the best fit for you and why. Tell then what you’re looking for in a canine companion, and they’ll bring you your perfect match. Giving a dog another chance at life is the most fulfilling feeling ever, and they’ll be so grateful and loyal to you forever. It’s the chance to truly make a best friend.
Best Friends Furever
The saying is true: “we don’t deserve dogs”. But if you follow these 10 tips and tricks, you’ll have the most well-rounded, happy pup on the block, and some of that happiest might just trickle down to you!