When raising a pup or adopting from a shelter there is one important factor in owning a happy well balanced companion and that is balance. In my kennel operation I see many dogs come in that have some form of dog on dog reactivity. If I have not trained the dog and unfamiliar with the dogs level of reactivity I do not let the dog out to socialize with our day care group. My goal is to never have a dog injured by another dog at my facility. So far we have been successful with that goal. Most day care facilities cannot make that claim.
I believe dogs are reactive because they did not have the adequate socialization with dogs at an early age. Socialization is how dogs learn how to communicate with each other. If dogs don’t learn acceptable rules within the canine community you will have dogs that do not know the language of dog. Dogs must know how to speak dog or they’re going to get into trouble. Some people think it’s a good idea to get litter mates or two puppies at once so they can have a play mate. That is a terrible idea. Two puppies being raised together will get too doggie and will be difficult to train. They will not need you because they have each other. Puppies being raised in the same household would need to be kept separate so they can learn to communicate with humans as well. If not they will be too wild.
Socialization with people is the next step to a well-balanced happy dog. Detroit ran into an issue when people lost their jobs, homes and left their dogs to fend for themselves. These dogs ended up living on the street and reproducing. The pups grew up wild only running with their pack and as wild dogs mature, they are difficult to find homes because they did not have the human socialization period when growing up. They grow up to be fearful and distrusting of humans. They knew dog language but not human language. For instance dogs play bite each other when they play but are not supposed to put their mouths on humans. The human leads and dog the follows. The dog must come when called, not jump, steal food or bark excessively. People like to make eye contact, this is disrespectful to dogs. Dogs learn that eye contact by humans is not challenging them. Without human socialization and learning humans give tasty treats, the human will not be trusted. So there needs to be a balance in socialization with dogs and humans.
Another form of socialization is environmental. I have seen dogs scared of slick floors, steps, ceiling fans and so on. They are fearful because they have never seen these things before. If is important for service dogs to be raised in a home environment so they experience the things is life that we take for granted. In addition, service dogs need experience on elevators, escalators, mannequins, crowds, city noises and so on. When raising a dog the more they can experience environmentally the better. If your dog shows fear of something do not pet, touch or comfort your dog because your dog thinks you are praising him/her. Let the dog investigate and see that it has nothing to be scared of. Help your dog work through the fear and hire a dog trainer if you are struggling. When I teach agility dogs are either fearful or do not believe they can scale a wall. I literally drag them over it once and the next time they give it a little more effort and the third they are scaling the wall. I don’t let the dog refuse an obstacle and make them work through it. Some dogs are genetically fearful and that is because their parents were fearful. I have heard it time and time again, “When we looked at the pup, it was shy and fearful in fact the parents were barking and we were not permitted to pet the parents”. If this happens it’s time to walk away because that puppy is going to grow up to be a fear biter. There are thousands of dogs that need homes, do not take the first one you go and look at if red flags pop up. People do it all the time. At least go home and think about it. You will be glad you did.
The final step in balance is the training. Balance in training is the proper reward and discipline. Discipline does not mean spanking but teaching and yes dog behavior needs to be interrupted. If your puppy is biting you and it’s hurting you need to find something that interrupts that behavior. You need to make it uncomfortable for the pup so biting is not rewarding for it. Screaming and kids yelling intensifies the dog and makes it want to bite more. That is called prey drive. There are a variety of ways to interrupt behavior; shaker can, loud voice, squirt bottle, air can and touch. Find what works with your dog. Once the dog stops and has that startled look on its face introduce something for the dog to put its mouth on like a dog toy. There are a wide variety of dog toys; chew toys, balls, squeaker toys, stuff animals and treat dispensers.
Teach your dog the basics; follow, come, sit, down, place using food. I have never owned a picky eater. In my opinion if you own a dog that is a picky eater, you caused the problem. Feed your dog twice a day a measured amount of food. In 10 minutes if he hasn’t finished it pick it up, and its gone. My 90lb dog eats 3 cups a day. Do not over feed your dog. The dog will learn to eat when you tell him/her to or they will go hungry. They learn to depend on you for survival and will eat what you tell them when you tell them. You establish leadership because you supply the food and water. My dog will come and get me when the water bowl is empty. My dogs know I’m the man. Free feeding is for sissies and spoiled dogs. Get your dog on a schedule and you are on your way to well-balanced dog.
Pick training times when your dog is hungry. Do not train your dog when they have a full stomach. Your dog will be more motivated to do your stupid pet tricks; sit, down, come and place if they are hungry. I use food luring to train all my young dogs. It’s easy and its fun. As your dog matures you will need to teach your dog to listen without food. Sit means sit, down means down, heel means heel. Use a leash and make your dog do these things without food as well. Once your dog is obedient without food and then put him/her on a variable interval reward system. Sometimes they get a treat and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they get lots of treats and sometimes they don’t, keep your dog guessing. It’s like scratch off lotto tickets. We keep buying them because sometimes they pay out. It’s the same with dogs. They always think this time I might be getting paid.
Balance involves a variety of things when it comes to raising and training dogs. They need to socialize with dogs, but not too much. They need human contact but not too much. The training regimen also needs to be balanced. Love your dog and love your dog’s behavior. It all comes down to the right balance.