Written by Jessica McCawley
Before adopting an animal, you need to consider everything that plays into the care of it and ask yourself if you’re prepared to take on the challenges of pet parenthood. In the excitement of adopting a dog, training can be one of the things that slip off of a new pet parent’s radar. Lack of training or unaddressed behavioral issues can sometimes lead to a dog ending up in a shelter or being returned to a shelter, so it is important to dedicate the necessary time to train your dog to respond to your commands and address any unwanted behaviors with patience.
This doesn’t mean you have to take your newly-adopted senior dog to a high-energy agility class. The AKC recommends teaching puppies 5 basic commands: Sit, stay, down, come, and how to walk on a leash. These basic skills are the groundwork for showing your new dog proper behaviors in a variety of situations, from learning to sit and wait for food to coming back to you when it’s time to leave the dog park.
Puppies can begin short training sessions, beginning with the “sit” command as soon as 8 weeks old. Some older dogs from a shelter may already have some basic commands down, but could often use a brush up. There are also instances where an adult dog may not have been trained before arriving to the shelter, and may need to start from the beginning. Once those basics are mastered, you can introduce more advanced commands such as “leave it,” and “fetch,” as well as tricks like “sit pretty,” “shake,” or to play dead. Mastering the basic commands will also help make it easier to correct unwanted behaviors. For example, if you have a dog who likes to jump up on people, having the basic commands down will make it easier to work on teaching them how to greet people calmly.
You should also consider desensitization training as something to work towards once your basic commands are down. Desensitization training is used to eliminate or reduce a reaction to a certain object. It is often used to help dogs overcome fears such as bicycles, children, loud noises, or other dogs. It can also be used to allow them to be more comfortable during normally stressful situations, such as being handled by vets and groomers. If you think your dog would benefit from this kind of training, talk to a vet or animal behavior specialist to create a training plan.
If you cannot dedicate the time or other resources to train a dog, consider holding off on adoption and find ways to volunteer for your local shelters. You could also foster a dog to help you determine if you’re ready for the challenge of caring and training one of your own.
If you don’t know where to start or want extra help with your training journey, ask other pet parents or your vet for recommendations for local trainers. In the Metro East area, Benny’s Bed & Biscuit, LaBest, Kennelwood, and Soul Dog Training all offer reduced fees on services to adopters. Going to an obedience class is also a great way to socialize your new dog and teach them how to properly interact with other dogs.
Dogs need help navigating a new surrounding, which requires you to have patience and dedication to be your dog’s guide. Training not only informs your pet of your house rules and the ground rules of good behavior, but also strengthens your bond with them and helps them become a happier member of your family.