Browsing tag: training

Training dogs: can old dogs learn tricks? And what about residential “boot camps” for dogs?

Does your dog ‘sit and stay’?

The early autumn is a bit like a mini-New Year. The summer has ended, schools have gone back, and the term-time routines start again. It can be a great time to start new projects, and for many dog owners, that can include tackling the complicated issue of training their pet. Many dog owners have pets with bad habits that they want to change.

Dogs behave in response to the way that their owners treat them. A dog will only beg from the table at mealtime if her owner has taught her to do this by feeding titbits in the past. A dog will only jump up onto the settee if she has been allowed to do this by her owner. It then follows that it is possible to re-train dogs by changing the way we behave towards them. A dog can be re-trained at any age, by using modern dog training methods.

Anybody can set themselves up to be a dog trainer, and so there’s a wide variety of styles and standards in the dog training world. Some have had formal instruction in dog training. Some have even passed exams. Others are self-taught. It’s best to choose trainers who have been taught the latest techniques, and who continue to make an effort to keep themselves up to date.

As in other areas of life, dog training is an evolving science. Techniques used thirty years ago would now be thought to be completely inappropriate by the experts. The modern belief is that dogs should be trained by reward rather than by punishment. Choke chains should never be used. Dogs should never be hit or hurt during training.

It is very important to choose the right dog trainer, and owners should spend some time doing research rather than just choosing the first name they find in the phone book. It could be useful to go along to a training class as an observer. Do you like the style of the trainer? Talk to a few of the dog owners at the class. Have they found the classes useful and effective?

Once you have chosen a dog trainer, make sure that you attend classes regularly, and make sure that everyone in the household knows the rules. Dogs need consistent, continual monitoring. If one person in the house persists in feeding the dog from the table, she will never learn to stop begging.

It’s one thing to train a puppy or a young dog, but what about retraining an adult dog? How do you break old habits? This is much more challenging, but it’s still possible.

One controversial answer can sometimes be to send your pet off to a ‘training camp’. Dogs stay at the training centre for a two or three week period. They are taken out of their own environment, and they are taught a new routine. When you collect your dog, you are first shown a twenty-minute video of your dog behaving in a calm, obedient way. You are then given a two-hour lesson in the techniques that you need to use to ensure that your dog continues to behave calmly and obediently. Finally, the training centre remains in contact with you, so that you can telephone them if you have problems, or even book your dog in for another training session if needed.

This type of “boot camp” is controversial, with many trainers believing that it is a short cut that should not be taken, and that an owner needs to be involved from the start, all the way through the process. My own view is that, like many aspects of pet care, it is impossible to make a “one size fits all” pronouncement. Residential training works well for some dogs, but not all.

Regardless of what sort of dog training you choose, the formal instruction is only the first stage. The second stage is up to you. You need to spend fifteen minutes a day working with your pet. For long-term success, you need to stick to a simple but challenging statement – ‘I promise to continue to give my dog regular daily training sessions’!

Getting a good nights sleep – Helping your new puppy to settle in

Cat is the vet for an on-line social networking site for pet lovers.

Bichon FriseThis afternoon I had a consult with a women who had recently bought a Bichon Frise puppy and was at her wits end.  The pup was refusing to settle at night and she hadn’t slept properly for several days.  But, she wailed, as soon as she cracked and took the pup upstairs to bed with her, she settled down quickly and slept though the night with no problems. And there in lay the problem.

Leaving the litter and their mother is a very stressful time for a new puppy; not only have they been taken on by a completely new set of people and moved into a new home, it is also likely to be the first time they have ever been left on their own.  So, it is very common for them to not settle well for the first few nights.  However, there are several things you can do to help them; the most important of which is to NOT give in!  It may seem unkind, leaving the pup to cry but trust me, if you go to them just once, the whole process will be much harder and you may end up with a dog who never sleeps alone.  It might be cute to have a small puppy sharing your bed but just think what it will be like when they are fully grown and have been out in a muddy garden all day!

One of the most successful methods for getting pups to settle is to use a puppy crate.  These can be easily purchase from pet stores and come in various sizes.  They should be big enough for a bed, a water bowl, and a clear area for them to toilet if they need to.  Position the crate in a downstairs room, the kitchen is usually best, and leave the door open during the day.  The crate should be the pup’s own space, somewhere where they will go when they want to rest and somewhere where they feel safe and secure.  Encourage them to use it from day one by showing them the bed and giving treats and praise when they use it.  It is very important you never send a pup to the crate as a punishment, it must always be a positive space for them.  Crates help the pup to learn independence as they are on their own when they are in there and they can also be very helpful for toilet training as dogs will naturally try to not toilet where they sleep.  They are are very useful for you as an owner as you know when the pup is shut in the crate, they are safe when you leave them.

Another product which can be used very successfully to help puppies to sleep at night, or to settle whenever they are left are DAP diffusers.  DAP stands for Dog Appeasing Pheromone, it is a synthetic pheromone identical to the once which a nursing bitch releases from her mammary glands.  For a dog of any age, but particularly a pup, it is an extremely comforting and reassuring scent which makes them feel relaxed and secure.  DAP comes as either a plug-in diffuser (just like the ones containing household scents) or an impregnated collar.  The plug-ins should be positioned somewhere close to where the pup rests and last for about 6 weeks.  Humans cannot detect the smell so don’t worry!  The collars are also very effective for pups and research has shown that they can help them be more confident and out-going in all areas of their life, which can really aid their development into happy and well balanced adults.  Both the plug-ins and collars are available from your vet or larger pet stores.

All pups will give you some sleepless nights at the beginning, they are only babies after all and it is all part of the experience of being a new dog owner.  It is very important at these early stages to start as you mean to go on and this means, unfortunately, leaving them to cry if you want them to sleep alone.  Giving in, even once, will make things much harder as then the pup will know there are other options and, as dogs don’t have much concept of the passage of time, they will be able to keep crying for a very long while if they know that eventually you will come for them!  Also, learning to be independent and to cope on their own is an extremely important skill for a young pup and the dogs that never master this are often the ones which suffer from over-attachment and separation anxiety.  So, stay strong, right from the beginning, make sure everyone in the family knows the rules and it won’t be long before you are back to a full nights sleep.  However, it might be worth investing in some ear plugs, just for the start!

For more advice on how to look after your dog, please visit our Pet Care Advice pages. If you are worried about any aspect of your dog’s health, use our interactive Dog Symptom Guide to help decide what to do next.

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