How to Raise A Dog
…it’s just like raising a child.
You don’t take a 4-year-old child to “training classes.” You don’t work 15 minutes a day in the living room teaching your kid “commands.” You don’t put your child on a leash – well, most of us don’t, anyway!
Dogs have the reasoning and mental capacity of a 4- to 5-year-old child, so why can’t we interact with them and teach them in a similar way? I’m not talking about anthropomorphizing. Dogs ARE animals, of course. But just like children, they need to be raised with kindness, compassion, guidelines, and rules. They need to learn to be polite members of society. We must teach them not to: hit/bite, jump on things, steal from others, make too much noise, run where they can knock things over…. Wait. Am I talking about kids or dogs? See???
Dog raising means teaching things during real-life situations throughout the day- not just 10 minutes at a time. At dinnertime, work on eating manners so your dog learns to sit and politely wait to eat until he’s told it’s okay to go to his bowl. When you walk in the door, don’t allow him to jump all over you; ask him to politely sit and be petted. He wants to join you on the couch? Fine… if he asks permission first. Every time your dog wants something, it’s an opportunity to teach him how to politely ask for it. Pawing, whining, and jumping are ignored, while polite sitting and calmness are rewarded. Your dog continuously learns how best to behave and react in all kinds of situations.
This is exactly how it is with children. When we teach them how to tie their shoes, we celebrate their first successes – just like when we teach a dog to “sit” and he gets it. We teach a child that street crossing is dangerous, and therefore forbidden without adult supervision up to a certain age, just as we teach dogs that street crossing is always forbidden without supervision.
Notice that I haven’t mentioned treats. You don’t give a child a candy bar after every good deed. Your child goes to bed when you tell him to because he knows he’s supposed to listen to you, not because you’re paying him $5. Don’t pay your dog, either. The promise of treats and other high-value rewards are great to help teach something new or to better hold attention for difficult or tedious tasks, but they need to be phased out before they become expected and demanded.
Both dogs and children need to learn to respect their parents and trust that they are being asked to do things for their own good, and that you would never put them in harm’s way. This requires building a relationship based on trust and mutual respect. On-going communication, play, exercise and practice will all help build your relationship and trust with your dog. Always push for the next level. Don’t allow your dog to remain fearful of ordinary things. Work with him until he feels safe around a vacuum cleaner, speeding bicycle, or thunder. If you want him to grow up to be a confident, happy dog, you need to help him overcome all obstacles along the way… just like you would with a child.
So, when you set out to “train” your dog, thoroughly consider the process. Think about raising him to be a good citizen. Teach him to be kind and gentle to all living creatures, to respect boundaries, and to play safely with others. Teach him how to politely request that his needs be filled, and that sometimes the answer is “no” or “not now.”
If you approach dog training this way, you’ll be well on your way to a healthy, loving, and fulfilling relationship with your furry kid!
* This article appears in the November 2009 edition of Bay Woof .