By Bernadette Pflug , Certified Pet Dog Trainer
As printed in the Louisville Times / Superior Observer 2007
From time to time, you see the perfect pair. Whether engrossed in a lively game of frisbee, or working nearly as one on the agility course, when a dog has found his perfect partner, it unlocks an amazing relationship. I’ve been blessed to share such a relationship with my 11 year old German Shepherd, “Ranger.” For years, he was my partner in Search and Rescue. After training and searching together for lost children, hikers, climbers and the like, Ranger and I can almost read each other’s minds. To say it’s a special relationship is an understatement. As a trainer, here are a few of my observations on how to create an amazing dog.
1) SOCIALIZE, SOCIALIZE, SOCIALIZE – I believe with every dog, half of what you get is genetic, and the other half is what you make of it. Picking the right puppy, whose parents are sound in both body and mind will save you a lot of headaches from the get go. What happens with the puppy from then, is up to you. One of the key factors to having a calm and well adjusted adult dog, is socializing it early and often. This means making sure your pup is introduced to lots of different people, places and other dogs before reaching four months old. This is when the key socialization window begins to close. Things he hasn’t been exposed to by then could cause fear, shyness, or aggression later in life.
2) LEADERSHIP – Dogs are pack animals. By adopting a dog, you have made him part of your pack or family. In order to lead your dog, you must attain his respect through leadership. Leadership is an attitude, a state of mind. It’s not about strength or harshness. Leaders are fair, kind & consistent teachers. Be sure you are clear with your dog on your expectations. Require him to use some self control. Be sure he’s not pushy, bossy, or demanding. A good leader makes sound decisions, allowing your dog to just be a dog.
3) EXERCISE – Most dogs in America, along with many of their people, are not getting adequate exercise. Our dog’s closest ancestor, the wolf, travels great distances each day hunting for their food, while many pet dogs spend their days as glorified lawn ornaments. Your dog needs exercise! A minimum of two 30-minute walks a day. Many dogs need and want even more. Take up speed walking, jogging, hiking, snow shoeing, skijoring, or Frisbee. Your dog will love you for it and as a side benefit, destructive behaviors like digging holes in the yard or chewing on the sofa will often disappear. A tired dog is a good dog.
4) MENTAL STIMULATION – Along with exercise, a busy mind is one of the best ways to prevent problem behaviors in dogs. Rather than feeding your dog his breakfast from a bowl, give it to him in a food puzzle like a Buster Cube or a Kong packed full of frozen canned dog food. He’ll spend the next couple of hours working for his breakfast, rather than getting into trouble.
5) TRAINING – Training is medicine for so many problems. It provides exercise, mental stimulation and improves your leadership with your dog all at once. Sign up for a training class so your dog has a solid understanding of how to walk nicely on a leash, sit, down, come, stay, and leave-it. These foundation behaviors will give you the control you need to build a satisfying relationship with your dog.
6) RULES AND BOUNDARIES – Now that Rover’s got an idea of what you’re talking about, it’s up to you to decide the house rules. Make your training commands part of your daily routine. Ask your dog to lie down and stay on his bed while the family eats dinner. Ask him to wait at the stairs before toppling your toddler. Ask him to walk at your side instead of forging ahead. The obedience commands you both learned during training are not just for the show ring, they’re to make life with your dog more manageable all the time.
7) CONSISTENCY – This means every member of your family is consistent with expectations. You can’t feed the dog from the table sometimes and expect it not to beg. Dogs don’t understand “sometimes” very well.
8) CARE AND FEEDING – Your dog’s behavior, happiness, health, longevity and overall well-being are closely related with what you feed him. Look for high quality foods that do not contain corn, wheat, soy, or meat by-products. High quality dry kibble, canned food, raw meat and bones are all excellent choices. In addition, take some time at least once a month, to give your dog a little tlc. Clean out his ears, trim his toenails and give him a bath. Long coated breeds should also be brushed daily. This type of maintenance will help you to discover health problems before they become serious issues.
9) LOVE AND AFFECTION – Your dog needs to know he is loved but many of us give attention at the wrong time. Do you pet your dog when he pushes his nose under your hand? You’ve just rewarded pushy behavior. Do you speak soothingly, saying “It’s ok,” when your dog refuses to get into the bathtub, fights having his nails clipped, or when the vet is trying to restrain him for an exam? Sweet talk at the wrong time reinforces bad behavior. Let your dog know you are in control and would never allow anything harmful to happen to him. A calm, confident manner will help your dog to feel safe during uncertain times.
10) GET OUT AND PLAY! – Now that you know the secrets to a super dog, get out and spend some time with your furry friend. Make him a part of your life! Run, play, fetch, swim, ski – whatever you do, he would love to do it with you!
Bernadette Pflug is the trainer and owner behind BlackPaw in Louisville, Colorado. BlackPaw is a full service training center, dog wash,, grooming salon and retail store carrying just about everything a dog could want! She can be reached at 303-554-9343.