Monday, July 09, 2007

How to be a good (pet) parent

One of the best compliments any parent can receive is directed at how well behaved their child is and this is true whether your children are human or canine. I am often complemented on how well behaved my two dogs, Luna and Solei, are and like any good parent am proud of them and acutely aware of how much work it takes to receive those compliments. While I will be the first to admit they have some interesting quirks, for the most part they are very good animals. Coming from a long line of animal lovers and owners, it has been a lifelong journey of reading and hands on learning to develop my methods for training animals. While I cannot claim to have the widespread success of Cesar Milan, better known as the Dog Whisperer, the following simple guidelines are what I use to raise happy, healthy and well-behaved dogs and many parents will recognize it is many of the same methods used for raising children.

Establish who is boss: Like children need to respect their parents and adults, dogs need to understand who to take their direction from. Dogs are pack animals, and they need you to establish the order of the pack or they will do it for you. The owner must show they are the leader of the pack, otherwise your animal will exert their dominance, display aggressive behavior and not take direction. Everyn human member of the family, including children, must show they are ahead of the animals in the pack. The only humans who are not ahead of their pack are those trying to break into your home. There are many ways to establish your position in the pack, but I find the most successful way for most animals is through control of the food; if you control when they eat, you are the leader. Free-feeding a dog, that is having a dish out at all times, is the worst thing to do in establishing yourself as the pack leader. The owner must manage the food, allowing their dog to eat only after they demonstrate a positive behavior and looking to you on when it is okay to take food. This same control can be applied in a variety of ways, and your dog should always take your lead; looking to your when it is okay to chase a squirrel, go through a door, say hello to a stranger, etc., etc. etc.

Supply a healthy diet: Loading children with nothing but junk food leads to a variety of issues, many which are behavioral. Poor diet is linked with hyperactivity, bad manners, reduced cognitive skills, slowed growth and overall meltdowns. This is also true for animals. When a dog’s nutritional needs are not met, they are more likely to display inappropriate behaviors and act out much like a child would. They need food that is high in protein, amino acids and fat with a balanced amount of carbs. Dogs with allergies and sensitive stomachs often need food that contains lamb and rice, rather then the preferred chicken protein, for digestive reasons. Food should not contain unhealthy fillers or by-products and if you can afford it, be made of human grade food to avoid any of the nasty recall issues experienced by the pet food industry and the poor owners who lost their pets to tainted food. We use Flint River Ranch DryWater, Nugget and Trout and Potato dog foods.

Exercise: We have a mantra in our house; “A tired puppy is a good puppy.” It is important for dogs to have plenty of exercise to spend their energy in a positive manner. When dogs have energy that is not worked off through exercise, they are likely to expend their energy doing naughty and destructive things like chewing on furniture or soiling the carpet. Additionally, weight issues are hard on the bodies and joints of our four-legged friends. Chances are if your dog is fat then you are not getting enough exercise either.

Perform Mind Games: Mental exercise is as important as physical exercise to strengthen a dog’s performance. Get toys which force them to think like puzzle toys and kongs.

Teach them tricks, words and actions that give them something to focus on that is positive and not naughty. Do not underestimate what your dog is capable of learning. Push their mental boundaries and see what amazing things they can learn.

Teach them good social skills: As soon as your vet gives the okay to bring your puppy out and about, do it. Make sure your dog is exposed to adults, children, dogs, cats and anything and anyone else you can get them around. Bring them to a puppy class. Ensuring your dog is well socialized will cut down on their nervousness, aggressiveness and outbursts as well as challenge their minds.

Understand the breed: Know what breed you have, even if it is mixed, and understand what makes that breed tick. Working dogs, like the German Sheppard, need a job to do. Poodles need a place to swim. Labs need something to hunt and catch. Do research to understand what your breed needs to thrive and figure out ways to make it happen.

Provide consistency: A bad behavior is always bad and a good one is always good. Dogs do not work with gray areas and owners need provide their animals with consistent training. Do not laugh or inadvertently reward a behavior you do not want your animal to repeat no matter how cute or funny it is. Praise when appropriate, but do not over praise. Feed them the same time everyday so they understand a schedule. It is actually much like having a job. If your duties and expectations are well outlined you are more likely to succeed at work and the same goes for your animals. They want to know their expectations so they can meet them and make you happy.

Reward Positive Behaviors: It is easy to focus on bad behaviors and punish those, however, that should not be the only focus of animal’s training. Good behaviors need to be rewarded more frequently then bad behavior is punished. This includes praising your animal for doing what many would be considered nothing. Sitting nicely, being quiet, sleeping calmly and going potty outside are just a few examples of positive training moments when a “good quiet” or “good potty” will reinforce the positive behavior. Ultimately, your dog wants nothing more then to make you happy, so show them what makes you happy and give them love and affection for doing it.

Test their learnings: Denis Waitley said “the greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.” It is important with pets to give them the opportunity to use what they learn to ensure the lesson is a lasting one. Give them an opportunity to mess up; leave a shoe you don’t care about out, leave them home alone a little too long or let them outside unfenced and watch how far they go. Give them the independence to see how responsible they have become. This is the only way to ensure your dogs are learning and behaving in a non-controlled environment and give you the opportunity to hear “your dog is so well behaved” from friends and strangers.


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Drew said...

I think you need some examples or clarification for the "mind games" thing. I'm picturing your pooches on sunday morning sitting around doing the crossword and sudoku puzzles in the newspaper, which i'm pretty sure isn't what you had in mind.

Explosive Bombchelle said...

Drew, you've obviously never met my dogs. They prefer scrabble to crosswords (see photos in article)...

drew said...

Very impressive, I had no idea...

NeeNee said...

Those words are so not impressive!

Drew said...

Taking a second look at it, she's got a point. Poor form. Instead of g-o-o-d-d-o-g, they could have just used the next O over on cookie and used g-o-o-d with the triple word and double letter score. They need lots more practice.

Explosive Bombchelle said...

We actually questioned whether to allow "gooddog" since technically, it was not in the Luna/Solei to Human scrabble dictionary, nor is good. The dictionary did contain "Goodgirl," "Goodsit,"Goodcatch," and "Goodpoop."