So you've brought home a new dog. Now what? The first three days, three weeks and three months are important markers to set the tone for your relationship. It can be tough to know how to start off on the right paw, so to speak, but those who do benefit from not having retrace their steps and help the dog unlearn things you'd rather he never knew at all!
The purpose of this plan isn't to tell you exactly what you have to do. Instead, use these seven concepts as a guide as you decide what works best for you and your dog.
1. Set a consistent schedule/routine for your dog
Hopefully you brought home a dog who matches your energy and enjoys the things you do. From Day 1, establish a basic daily schedule for meals, walking, playtime, grooming and cuddling, and stick to it. Dogs like to know what to count on day in and day out; if you basically do the same things around the same times, your dog will settle in and relax faster.
2. Decide on a few clear, non-negotiable rules
Besides having a basic daily schedule to count on, your dog needs to know what you expect of him. Setting a few reasonable but firm rules can help establish good manners, set boundaries and clear expectations, provide structure, and facilitate a respectful relationship in your household. Here are a few examples of rules you might use.
3. Provide consistent consequences for all behavior
You can avoid problem behaviors if you decide early on what you do want from your dog. This roadmap will help you figure out what to focus on:
- Reward behavior you want consistently and lavishly.
- Ignore non-destructive, non-dangerous behavior (i.e. jumping, barking)
- Redirect unwanted behavior to a preferred, incompatible behavior
- Time out unwanted behavior the dog won't give up
- Assess why your dog might be doing something and what he's getting out of it. Use this information to make a plan of action.
But what if a problem does come up? First, think of what your ideal picture of the situation looks like. Focus on what you DO want your dog to do ("I want him to Sit" rather than "I don't want him to Jump."). Then break the behavior down into smaller, more teachable steps to achieve your goal.
4. Provide multiple opportunities for exercise and enrichment daily
Daily walks are a minimum standard of care and vital to a dog's physical and mental well-being. But that's not the only exercise your dogs needs. Mental stimulation and enrichment is just as important to keeping your dog happy and healthy.
Reinforce What You Do Want Your Dog to Do Every Change You Get
5. Catch your dog doing something good several times a day
Reward your dog for doing something you want her to do, even if you didn't ask her to do it. Pat Miller writes: "All living things repeat behaviors that are rewarding, and avoid behaviors that are not." So catch your dog doing something good! Is she chewing her toy instead of your shoe? Reward that! Did she sit instead of jump on you? Reward! Did she walk away from the barking dog instead of responding with teeth and flying fur? Give her treats and toys and steaks and a squirrel, STAT! Especially pay attention to unwanted behavior your dog avoids even when it's hard — that took a huge effort on her part.
6. Use what your dog wants to get what you want and reinforce your relationship
You don't always need treats to train your dog! Use what he already wants to do — eat, greet you, go potty, get in the car, sit with you, etc. — to make teaching your dog good manners a breeze. When you ask your dog to Sit and Wait at a door, the natural reward is he gets to go through that door. Using what your dog wants to do in that moment as a reward for what you want is a great way to reaffirm your relationship. You have access to great resources, and all your dog has to do to get them is be polite and maybe Say Please by Sitting."
Think about the Future
7. Set your dog up for success, and always be setting up for the next experience
Every experience you have with your dog either enhances or deteriorates your relationship. What you do together affects your dog's self-control, his trust in you and his self-confidence. Impact those in the right away and your relationship will be fulfilling and rewarding. But fail to develop your dog's self-control, or shake or fail to establish trust, or hurt his self-confidence, and your relationship will be full of frustration. Before you introduce your dog to a new situation, evaluate the possibilities, prepare for various outcomes, and end while you both are having fun. Most importantly, be willing to listen to your dog. Try a new activity for a short time, then take a break. Allow your dog to move. If he comes back, then he's having fun and maybe do a little more. But if he moves away, then listen to what he's telling you: "I don't like this and I'm politely saying I'd rather not continue." Let him have that freedom and understand that maybe that activity just wasn't for him.