A big part of training a dog to become a well behaved family member is teaching them just how to live with you. Dogs don’t come with the same values we humans have. They have no idea how expensive your furniture was and how great it looks unchewed, for example. So it’s up to us to make sure we are there to teach them what’s allowed and what isn’t. Having your dog earn freedom when arriving into your home is the best way to keep them safe and your stuff from getting destroyed. Here’s how it works:
- Crate Training: You need to have a place for your dog to comfortably relax where they can’t get into trouble when you’re not there to supervise them. For most dogs, this will be a crate. Nobody adopts a dog with the intention of closing them into a kennel however by having a safe place to put your dog when you’re not there to watch them you can prevent them from creating bad habits and potentially hurting themselves as they learn the rules of your home. A crate is not a tool for punishment! In fact, with a positive introduction, a crate can be a calm place that your dog enjoys resting. There are LOTS of ways to make the crate fun but one of the easiest is to simply feed your dog their meals in the crate. And for the vast majority of dogs, the crate is a short term tool used to help them develop good behaviors in the house.
- Supervised Time in the House: When you’re ready to actively watch your dog, take them out of the crate and right outside to go potty. Once they have relieved themselves, they may have supervised time in the house. Just like with a toddler, this means that you are watching what they are doing to ensure they aren’t engaging in problematic behavior. If you see your new dog pick up a shoe, jump up on the kitchen counter, or rummage through the garbage can, your job is to simply interrupt them from completing the task and from getting their reward. A dog who has gotten the reward of chewing through a shoe, swiping some food from the countertop or a trash bin is a dog who is going to keep attempting to do those things over and over. However, if the first few times they try they aren’t successful, most will find something else to do. By having plenty of safe toys available, when you stop your dog from practicing the problem behavior you can simply redirect their focus to a toy. So set up baby gets, hold your dog’s leash in your hand or make it a point to follow your dog around room to room so you can carefully watch their actions to give them direct feedback about what behavior you like and what behavior won’t have any pay off.
- Give Freedom Gradually: Some dogs will show you right away that they are making good choices while other dogs will need more practice to have unsupervised time in the house. If from day one, your dog doesn’t get the opportunity to practice problem behaviors, it will make their transition to living with you so much more successful. When I’m finding I no longer am having to interrupt my dog from problem behaviors while I’m watching, I’ll start stepping in and out of the room to do quick things like getting the mail, grabbing something out of my car, or switching the laundry. If my dog engages in problem behaviors, we back up to direct supervision. If they don’t, I can increase the time I’m out of the room. So plan on spending (on average) 2 weeks gradually building up your dog’s ability to be loose in the house. And make good use of cheap wifi cameras that are now available. Nothing is more productive in training than getting to spy on your dog to see what they are up to (and it can be quite entertaining)!
Spending the time to show your dog the proper rules from day one is one of the most important investments you can make. If your newly adopted dog gets the opportunity to practice bad behavior even for just a couple weeks, you will have the more challenging task of un-training something they have learned to really enjoy. Yup, supervising your dog at first requires a little extra effort but it’s SO worth it to have a well behaved family pet who can live happily and healthfully in your home.