Behavior & Training
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Boost Your Dog IQ
  • A well-trained dog responds to our directives 100 percent of the time. Nope, that’s not the case. When I tell people this, some are surprised and others are relieved. Dogs are living beings; sometimes they just aren’t going to do what we ask even if they know how to do it. A realistic response rate is roughly 80 percent, and this comes after a good bit of time has been invested in training.
  • All dogs like dog parks. Again, nope. Some people love large parties, and they find meeting and mingling with a group of total strangers exhilarating; for others, the experience is fraught with anxiety. Some of us (yours truly included) prefer small, intimate gatherings with a few close friends. Dogs are the same. Don’t force your dog to go to a dog park or daycare facility if she doesn’t like being there. If you do, you may inadvertently set the stage for future behavioral problems. Special Considerations for Puppies Puppies are like sponges, soaking up information about their world. So it’s important that their guardians learn to communicate with them in a humane and effective way right from the start. Through my business, About Dogs LLC, I offer a special “Puppy Head Start” lesson for clients who are waiting for a well-run group puppy class to start but in the meantime are going crazy because they don’t know how to handle their new pint-sized wrecking ball. Here are a few of the concerns that I often address through Puppy Head Start:
  • Just because your St. Bernard puppy is jumping on the children when they run, biting and mouthing hands, and eating shoes, it doesn’t mean she’s going to grow up to be Cujo. I get frantic calls, sometimes well after office hours, from people who are convinced that they have an aggressive puppy. In some cases they do, but more often than not, they and their families need to learn how to manage a puppy (and how to manage the children around the puppy), provide appropriate outlets for natural behaviors like chewing, and create an environment of predictability and structure in which desirable behaviors produce salient rewards for the new dog. As a result, “good behaviors” are reinforced and become more common.
  • Unfortunately, some dog books foster unrealistic expectations. For example, people might think, “Why isn’t my puppy housetrained in seven days like the book says?” In my experience, there is no set time line for housetraining puppies. Yes, we all want it to go as fast and as smoothly as possible, but it doesn’t always happen that way, even if we are being extra vigilant. It took my Labrador, Marty, whom we brought home at eight weeks, only a month to learn this, but my Doberman puppy, Acorn, was seven months old before she consistently signaled to go outside. And it was entirely my fault. Acorn would play with Marty for hours, having so much fun that she would take a quick potty break on her dog bed before resuming play. Shame on me! I was so caught up in the dogs’ fun that I sometimes forgot I needed to be working on housetraining too. I couldn’t blame Acorn for my own oversight.

    I now have a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy, Tango. He’s 11 months old, and it’s been six weeks since he’s had an accident in the house; plus, he’s scratching at the back door when he needs to go outside. I think (fingers crossed) that he’s finally housetrained. Smaller dogs often take longer than larger dogs to figure this out, and some breeds can be more challenging than others. But with patience and attention on your part, they can all learn.

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    Camille Ward, PhD received her doctorate from the University of Michigan, studying cognition and the development of social behavior in dogs. She has lectured widely on dog behavior at scientific and dog-training conferences, and she is the owner of About Dogs LLC, a specialty practice in Ann Arbor, Mich.


    Photograph Arman Zhenikeyev. Illustration Tim Carpenter.

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