Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why Dog Training Is So Important

People often ask me why it matters if their dog is trained at all, since it's "just a family pet".  To answer this, first we have to look at exactly what we mean when we use the word "training".  

Training is a catch all phrase that people use to describe everything from teaching a dog to sit, teaching them tricks, teaching dogs to "behave" or even training a guide dog for the blind. When I refer to dog training, I am speaking of obedience training, and "behavior management" or, in other words--getting a dog to behave.  I am a behavioral specialist who works with household dogs (and other pets) to create a happy environment for the dog and its owners.  

So, now that we know what kind of training we are talking about, let's explore the "why" of dog trainng.  Some people think the best life for a dog is just letting them do whatever they want, whenever they want and spoiling them rotten (we've all heard the phrase "it's a dog's life" in reference to luxurious living).  But this really could not be further from the truth.  To help people understand this concept I always use the example of human children.  Human children who have no discipline, no rules, and no direction become very unhappy, unsuccessful people,  and sometimes even turn nasty.  And everyone has seen misbehaved children and most of us don't want to be around those kids for long because it's stressful and exhausting. What we don't always realize is that the children themselves are often stressed because they are trying to figure out how to act--with no guidance.  

Just like the adult-child relationship, a dog-human relationship should be based on leading and following.  In the case of dogs this is even more pronounced due to their leftover "wild" instincts and bred in pack behavior patterns over thousands of years. It is also more critical to achieve the proper relationship with a dog, because they can seriously hurt people.  Besides all of this, dogs, like most people, thrive on having a purpose in life and that purpose could be as simple as being a "good dog" and pleasing their owners.  

Dogs really want to follow their human's lead, and unlike children, the need for "pack dynamics"(ie/wolf pack) is so strong, that if you don't take the pack leader role, your dog will.  In households where the dog feels he has to take the lead, we see dogs who: charge the front door and threaten guests to your home, "police the kids if they kids start playing too roughly, are overprotective of their owner(s), bark at every noise, pull like a sled dog on a leash and generally live in a constant state of stress and anxiety with a feeling of burden on their shoulders.  Think of all the responsibility we have in our own lives, as parents, employees or bosses, homeowners, etc.  Why would we want to impose all that stress and anxiety on our beloved canine companions?  

Now that we've established why dog training is actually good for your dog's  mental health, let's explore his physical health.  How could training be good for a dog's health?  Well, we could say it another way--an untrained dog is at greater risk for injury and illness and at much greater risk of not being able to get proper medical care. Owners should be able to do anything to their dog, like trimming toenails without a fight, cleaning ears, brushing teeth, examining their belly, give them medications etc.  Further, owners should be able to verbally control their dog enough for a vet, groomer or other professional to perform procedures.  If the vet cannot perform simple medical treatments on a dog, the dog may have to be put under anesthesia more often, and this always poses a big risk.  

The other way that training is healthy for your pet involves their safety. If the owner can tell their dog to "stay" or "come" or "wait", this can prevent all manner of accidents, like getting hit by cars, or drinking toxic substances like antifreeze.   If owners can take undesirable objects and food right out of their dogs' mouths, they will avert poisonings and intestinal blockages.  Well behaved dogs do not chew on electrical cords, or chew on other things that could cause them serious problems.  

A well trained dog is a safe, content, happy companion who will be welcome anywhere dogs are allowed, will be able to travel with you and stay in hotels, will not have to be locked up every time company comes over and will be an excellent companion for everyone.  Most of all, a trained dog will have unending loyalty to their owners and will live a long, happy life. 

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