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December 07, 2016
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community living

Training in real life

Sully, the author’s new puppy, followed the lead of his big brother Mackie, bravely exploring the bushes on one of many hikes.
Contributed photo

By Sue Frisch

There’s a new puppy at our house! Yep, going against all of the recommendations that the holidays are not a good time for a new pet, I did just that. On Thanksgiving morning, I made the trek to Syracuse, NY to pick up this newest member of our canine crew. Sully was just eight weeks old when I brought him home.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a baby puppy, and for sure wintertime isn’t the easiest time for socialization and house training, but we are making great strides. In the month since he’s been here Sully has met over 100 people, been to two K9 Nose Work® classes in Accord, NY, attended two Kinderpuppy classes before the holiday break, visited the dentist’s office when I took my mom for an appointment, has met his veterinarian and most of the office staff, and has had multiple visits to the barn where I keep my horse, where he has encountered all kinds of different things. We’ve been busy because there is a lot to fit in before he’s 16 weeks old and the critical socialization window is closed.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the years in living with all of the dogs I have is that our dogs are constantly learning. Every waking second of every day is a training opportunity, and to have a truly well-mannered dog, we need to reinforce the behaviors that we want during the course of daily life. Every interaction with a new puppy or dog is a training opportunity. If we are not training the dog, then the dog is training himself, and those results are typically not what we want. It makes more sense for the humans in the home to set the dog up for success, instilling from day one those behaviors that are important to us in a well-behaved adult dog. This is easily accomplished with some planning ahead.

For Sully, who is going to be a large dog, here is our current “top priority” list:

Four on the floor for greeting people. He can either sit or stand, but the feet need to stay on the floor. This goes for people we meet out and about and anyone who comes in the door. We work on this by instructing folks who meet him that the rule is “Sully needs to be behaving politely before you can pet him,” coupled with getting him to sit and rewarding the sit while folks approach. My entire family was here on Christmas Day for brunch; what a great training opportunity! It didn’t take long for everyone to learn the rule and for Sully to learn that sitting will get him lots of attention. Bingo.

A rock solid re-call. We love to hike off-leash with the dogs, so they need to come back immediately when we call. Every time we head outdoors, whether to the fenced yard for a potty break or for a walk about the farm, my pocket is loaded with yummy treats. Whenever any of the dogs check in with me (come away from what they are doing and say, “Hi, Mom”) they are rewarded with a treat along with great praise and permission to head back off again. They quickly learn that good things come through “Mom” and check in frequently and always stay in sight.

Impulse control. This equates to calm behavior for things like leashing up to go outside, waiting his turn for a treat or something else he may want, staying calm when someone comes to the door or walks past the house on the road, or when another dog or person is in sight while he’s on leash, waiting quietly in his crate to be let out, etc. Using our dogs’ behaviors to earn them what they want turns getting anything that our dogs desire into a learning opportunity. If the dog wants to go out, he has to sit for his leash to be put on, or lie down at the door, or do a trick instead. The same goes for when the dog wants his dinner, or to play, or be petted, or get attention. It doesn’t really matter what behavior you ask for, as long as you ask the dog to do something in exchange for a valuable reward.

If you also have a new puppy or dog in your life right now, consider attending a training class. It truly is much easier to start off right with some help to teach the dog to behave like a good canine citizen. Stay tuned for more Sully adventures and problem-solving in real life.