1. Buy a treat pouch and use it. Treat pouches are readily available at pet stores and online retailers for under $15. One of the most affordable, easy to do, and effective things you can do to help your dog understand how you want them to behave is simply carry around treats and start rewarding things you like. Your dog has no idea what your expectations are and how they need to behave. It’s up to us humans to help communicate and motivate our dogs to make good choices. The more you start paying your dog for things you like, the more your dog will repeat them! (And bonus, you’ll develop the cooperative type of training relationship where your dog looks to you for guidance). So the next time you say your dog’s name and they look at you, they greet you without jumping up, they don’t bark when they hear a noise outside, or you catch them just laying nicely with good doggy manners, you’ll be prepared to reward that behavior.
2. Don’t gamble with your dog. Allowing your newly adopted dog to meet other dogs you don’t know are safe, forcing them to meet strangers (and children,) taking them off leash without knowing if they will come back…these are all risks that could end up in disasters. As a dog trainer, I see the results of these gambles and they are heartbreaking. I too often see dogs who have become aggressive because they were allowed to meet unfriendly dogs. Puppies who become afraid of kids who pet them too roughly. Dogs who have been attacked after running up to unknown dogs when taken off leash. Long story short, don’t put your dog in situations that could reasonably result in them being mentally or physically harmed. Read this article I wrote to get more perspective about this important topic: Gambling With Your Dog’s Well Being
3. Act the way you want your dog to act. Dogs (like us humans) really pick up on and respond to the energy that’s around them. If you’re stressed, rushed, or angry, your dog is going to know it and start to mirror your responses. This is why so often I find myself speaking to dogs in low, slow, and lullaby-like tones. When a dog is excited, impulsive, stressed, reactive, fearful, or aggressive, helping relax and settle them with soothing language can go a long way. No matter what situation you’re in, always remember to role model behavior that you want your dog to copy.
4. Create clear household rules. Dogs do best when there are clear rules that create structure and predictability. Decide what rules you will have in your home and how those rules will be enforced (what happens if the dog breaks the rule) and rewarded (what happens when the dog obeys the rule). Common rules include waiting for a food bowl to be set down, not jumping up on furniture unless invited and sitting to go through the front door. When rules are clear, it makes it easy for all family members to be consistent!
5. Reward your dog for calm. You know the saying the squeaky wheel gets the attention? Well, I like to say, the excited (and pushy) dog gets what they want. If you’re not careful, it’s really easy to train your dog to be loud, pushy, and overactive by rewarding them when they exhibit those behaviors. If your dog barks at you to demand they get fed, does a full circuit agility course across the living room when it’s time to go for a walk, shoves a toy in your face when they feeling like playing etc…than I would say you’re dog’s a pretty good human trainer and has learned that excitable, pushy behavior works! You can still give your dog access to go for walks, get fed, go outside, and play with you of course. Just make sure that you aren’t doing those things the moment after your dog has engaged in over stimulated or rude behavior.
6. Teach your dog how a leash is supposed to work. Dogs don’t understand leashes and why they are tied to us humans. It’s a big, exciting world out there and they want to check it all out (usually at a much faster pace than us 2-legged animals prefer). Spending some time teaching a dog how a leash works helps make walks enjoyable rather than frustrating. Start by teaching your dog to be calm and polite when putting the leash on and then practice in the house or backyard (where there are no distractions) feeding your dog their food or treats for moving with you.
7. Give your dog time to develop new habits and skills. Your dog is in a new place with new people and totally new expectations. They aren’t going to figure out overnight what you want from them so it’s your job to help them understand. By making it a point to consistently enforce rules, reward good choices, and just practice with them, you’re making an investment that will pay off in having a dog who is much easier to live with in the long run.
8. Hand feed your dog their dinner. One thing I do with just about every dog who comes into board and training with me is hand feed them their meals. Whether it’s an unruly puppy, an adolescent who is crazy on leash, a dog who is extremely anxious, or an intensely aggressive dog, they all get fed by hand. Spending 20 minutes a day having a dog rehearse cooperating with you as they earn their meal goes a LONG way to helping meet any training goals. A big part of dog training is just getting dogs to buy into working for and with us. Use their meal time as a daily way to build that team like relationship.
9. Let your dog sniff. Sniffing matters a lot to your dog. A dog’s sense of smell has been compared to our sense of vision. And it’s easy to forget that, for most of us, we spend WAY more time experiencing the world outside our homes than our dogs get to. I’m not advising that you let your dog drag you around on leash to check out every odor but what I am saying is to stop and let your dog sniff. A lot. Studies show that dogs who get increased access to sniffing are more optimistic than dogs who sniff less. And as a trainer who has specialized in helping dogs who suffer from serious problem behaviors like anxiety, I can tell you that I deeply encourage sniffing in the form of sniff walks (walks in open areas on a long leash where dogs are free to sniff to their heart’s content). The reason is simple, I see dogs transform from anxious and reactive to calm and relaxed when they are using their nose. So if your dog’s sniffing isn’t impeding your walk, let them continue and make sure to pull over frequently during walks to give your dog longer periods of time to check out the world with their nose.
10. Look at the world from your dog’s point of view. Imagine you landed on an alien planet where you didn’t speak the language and suddenly had to try and figure out what the rules were. Even worse, maybe you landed in this new place and didn’t feel safe. Taking the time to learn about who your dog is and how they experience the world is one of the greatest gifts you can give any dog (and especially a dog who has been through the stress of losing their past home and family). Your dog’s poor behavior may not just be an inconvenience to you, it could also be a reflection of their internal thoughts and feelings. Being kind and patient in your welcoming of this new companion into your home will make the experience wonderful for all family members (2 and 4 legged!).