FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
When is the best time to start training my dog?As soon as you get him or her home! Every time you are interacting with your dog, you are training him to do something. It is always easier to build good habits from the start than to let bad habits become the norm for your dog.
No dog inherently “knows” how to fit into a human household; all dogs (regardless of age, size or breed) must be taught proper “house skills” and etiquette. It isn’t difficult, but it takes some patience. You do NOT need harsh physical methods to train your dog! We can show you the most humane way to train.
Any age or breed can be taught, and the earlier you begin, the better it will be for you and your pet. Think of yourself as the team captain, and your dog as the newest team member to a sport that he has never played. It is up to you to teach him the rules so that you can “win” together, as a team.
We also have written training information to help you with many aspects of bringing home a new dog or puppy, including extended booklets about crate training. Call 404.974.2899 to request one.
But even if you don’t come to our classes, take your pooch to a recommended class somewhere to get him properly socialized to other dogs, people, and new situations, or find a competent trainer to come to your home and help you. The importance of proper socialization cannot be overemphasized.
What about Puppy Kindergarten? Is it really necessary?Though the AHS does not, some places around town offer classes for puppies beginning at either 10 weeks or 12 weeks of age. Mostly, these sessions allow puppies to play with other puppies, and learn how to “be dogs.” Good classes also give owners ideas about how to deal with common puppy problem behaviors like mouthing and housetraining. The veterinary community is still divided over whether allowing puppies to play together before all booster shots have been given is more beneficial than the risks of them passing puppy illnesses to one another. If you or your vet have a problem with this, you can simply wait until all boosters are finished (usually around 16 weeks of age) to enroll in the AHS’ Basic Class. Until then, there are books and videos to help you get a handle on training what pups this age need to know. The AHS also has printed materials to offer you; call us at 404.974.2899.
Pick up a book and DVD of Good Owners, Great Dogs by Kilcommons and Wilson, or a copy of their My Smart Puppy. Try Dog Talk by John Ross and Barbara McKinney, or The Chosen Puppy by Carol Lea Benjamin to get you started. It’s fun, and it will help your pup to relax and fit in with your family.
Your staff said my dog should live inside mostly, but the dogs I had growing up lived outside, and that seems more natural to me. What is the problem with the dog being outdoors most of the time?Times have changed since we were growing up, and more and more people are taking better care of their pets–with benefits for the humans AND the pets. Many of the things our childhood pets were allowed to do are patently unsafe now, and we know more about dog behavior than we did 20, 30, or 50 years ago. Dogs are social animals and need to live close to the other pack members. Unless you live mostly outdoors, neither should your dog! Not only will he feel isolated, but how will you be able to teach him what you want without supervising him?
Simply put, the more time your dog spends closer to the family, the better behaved he will be.
My dog already knows how to sit and stay and some of the other things you teach in your classes. Do we still need to come?Yes. Our obedience classes are as much about socialization as they are formal training, and all dogs benefit from being exposed (positively) to all sorts of different situations when they are young. This ensures that they are less likely to have negative reactions to things as they age. Training is necessary, of course, but socialization cannot be overemphasized. We can help give rules to the unruly, and bring the shy dogs “out of their shells.”
Also, just because your dog will sit on command in your living room doesn’t mean he will do it with a houseful of people present carrying plates of food, or outside, with people, other animals and kids around. Classes help you teach your dog to obey you even with distractions.
I love my Fido, and I’m afraid that if I start setting rules for him, he won’t love me anymore. He had such a hard life before I rescued him. I feel like he should be able to do what he wants. Is this true?Actually, your dog will be more likely to give you his attention and respect if you set, and enforce, a code of conduct. Firm, gentle, humane training will help your dog relax and be able to “just be a dog,” because he will no longer have to worry about where in the family “pack” he belongs. Dogs with little or no training, no enforcement of training, or the wrong kind of training will be confused about their place in your family. This can lead to unacceptable behaviors, at best, or aggression, at worst–and both of these often lead to the owners having to get rid of the dog. Don’t allow this to happen to your beloved pet. He only knows what you teach him, so teach him well. Even little squirts need manners!
Some of the worst terrors of the dog world are small breeds who have not had any training because their owners don’t think small dogs need rules, and they are overly concerned about “winning” their dogs’ love (or having a dog as a fashion accessory). I have seen examples of small dogs who literally have the people walking on eggshells in their own homes! All dogs, like children, need consistent, firm leadership to be the best behaved. Just because your Chihuahua won’t be able to physically pull you down the street doesn’t mean he doesn’t need to be able to walk properly on a leash!
Regardless of breed, if your dog had “a hard life” before he came to live with you, he needs rules and structure even more! There’s no excuse for not training a dog properly. How long are you going to be willing to put up with problem behaviors that will stem from him being able to “do what he wants?” Our guess is, not very long…and then what will you do with him? Training enables you to keep your commitment to your pet for his lifetime. A trained dog is one who gets to be with his family more, to go places, to ride in the car, to visit friends, and to be a member of the family. This is what your dog wants more than anything else, so train him and keep him happy.
My friends and veterinarian warned me that I have to show my dog who’s boss if he disobeys me. They said to pin him on his back, forcing him into submission. I tried it, and he almost bit me! Is this a good thing to do?
It’s a good way to ruin your relationship with your dog and possibly get bitten, actually. DON’T DO IT. This maneuver, called the “alpha roll,” though it works on some dogs, can actually cause your dog to feel like he must protect himself from you–and he will use his teeth to do so. Some “old-school” trainers and vets believe that this is how the alpha wolf would discipline other wolves in the wild, but this is simply not true. Wolves and wild dogs NEVER force other wolves or wild dogs to submit by rolling them over and holding them down. Dogs DO exhibit submission to others by exposing their bellies, but they do it on their own–NOT as a result of force! It is done in order to AVOID force.
(NOTE: many books and trainers recommend an exercise called “settle” that does instruct you to turn a puppy over on his back to teach calmness. This is acceptable and is not “alpha rolling.”)
Forcing your dog to roll over and submit to you is not only dangerous, but it is poor communication. There are other, better ways to get your point across that are much more effective (and safe) than violence. You want your dog to trust and respect you, so do not compromise your working relationship with Fido by terrorizing him. The alpha roll doesn’t communicate to Fido that you are in control; it communicates, actually, that you are OUT OF CONTROL, and that he must be on his guard at all times. This will cause him to fear you, not respect you. A dog that is fearful of people can be a ticking time bomb.
Give your dog reasons to trust and respect you by utilizing humane training methods. They work! Being a true leader involves finding the best, safest methods of training your dog. True leaders need patience, good communication skills, follow-through, and the ability to reward successes MORE than they criticize mistakes. True leaders rarely need physical force.
My terrier loves to chew my stuff. He has plenty of toys lying around, so I don’t know why my stuff is more appealing. What can I do to teach him not to chew any more?First, know that dogs will always chew, regardless of age. You cannot teach a dog NOT to chew, but you can teach him WHAT to chew. Your “stuff” will naturally appeal to the dog more than a sterile toy or bone out of a package, so you have to get your pooch to understand that chewing HIS stuff is preferable to chewing yours.
If your dog chews something he shouldn’t have, blame yourself, not him. As a dog owner, you are responsible for keeping him confined and safe when you cannot be watching him. He cannot help himself, especially if he has not yet been taught.
Prevention is the best policy for stopping unwanted behaviors. Keep your stuff put away (shoes, clothes, etc.) or keep the dog confined so that he cannot reach the items (if the object of his chewing desire is furniture that cannot be “put away”). Make sure your dog has an acceptable chewing device handy at all times, and learn how to make these devices appealing to your dog, and what types of devices are best.
Teach him to drop items when you command.
Teach him not to pick them up in the first place while you are watching.
Teach him early (and with lots of rewards) what you want him to know, and enjoy many happy years with him at your side.
Enough about dogs! What about training cats? Can cats be trained?The answer is yes! It depends on what you want the cat to know. Some people think that cats come with DNA that ensures that they will not scratch furniture, not claw and bite at people’s hands, and not jump on the kitchen counters. Horsehockey! Like dogs, cats only know what you teach them (though they do come somewhat “programmed” to use a litter pan, thankfully). Teach them proper behaviors from the start.
Punishment is counter-productive in cat training, so use methods that reward good behaviors instead, and use “booby-trapping” and prevention to deal with unwanted behaviors. Cats dislike sticky or otherwise uncomfortable surfaces, so scratching and counter-surfing can often be eliminated by attaching double-sided tape, aluminum foil, or carpet runner pieces with the nubbly side up. If the countertop, furniture, or other area becomes an uncomfortable place to hang out, kitty will learn to avoid it–even when you are not around.
For more info, check out Good Owners, Great Cats by Kilcommons and Wilson.