Training your dog to be well mannered in any setting or environment sets them up for a great life, a great relationship with you, and can even help in emergency or rescue situations.
I was inspired to write this article by the recent rescue of a dog that was pulled out of the flooding waters in CA by a man hoisted from a helicopter. I was also intrigued by the global response…..whether it was positive or negative. Although most of my colleagues were not shocked by the dog’s instinct to bite the man trying to save him, many people were surprised and couldn’t believe what they saw. Now, preparing your dog to be pulled from raging flood waters only to fly through the air via a huge scary monster with sharp, loud, wings may not be feasible, but there are many things you can do to prepare your dog to be able cope with new and stressful situations, including being rescued.
First and foremost – introduce your dog to a collar and leash as soon as you get him. I know this seems like a ‘no brainer’ to some, but unfortunately, I have learned that many dog’s lives consist of living in the home or crate (if they are lucky), and then let out into the fenced yard, and that is it. Some dogs never even make it into the house. They never leave the yard, nor have use for a leash. They don’t have a clue why you put a leash on them, let alone why you are trying to lead them around with it. Teach your dog the “Dress” command, which means sitting calmly and allowing his collar/harness to be put on. Have him sit before putting his leash on and take him for a walk. Don’t encourage him when he starts bouncing off of the walls in excitement when you grab his leash. Remember, calm is better, in any situation. He needs to learn how to walk on a leash properly also. If he doesn’t master this, chances are he will never get out of the house, or trips will be few and far between. It is his primal instinct to walk and move forward…..not just side to side as he would in a fence. He also needs to experience different sights, smells, objects, surfaces and places – not just look at them from the other side of a fence – to help him learn how to live in our human world. A dog not allowed to actually interact with the outside world creates frustration, anxiety and in some cases, aggression. Teaching your dog leash manners doesn’t mean you can’t work with him off leash, or continue to train off leash, however, he should still practice accepting the collar and leash and learn that it is okay – it is necessary at times. If he is in an emergency situation, already stressed to his threshold, imagine someone trying to add insult to injury by attempting to put a leash on him that he will not accept.
Socialization is the act of positively introducing your dog to accept new situations, environments, sounds, smells, surfaces, other dogs, other animals, and all sorts of different people and things. It does not mean forcing your dog to accept these things – you want to encourage her to face her fears, but never force her. Always reward calm, positive reactions; ignore negative reactions and remove your dog from the stressful situation if she is overwhelmed or over stimulated. Go back and break it down into steps she can understand. If she learns early in life that new and different things are fun and not so “scary”, and she is also exposed to so many things that nothing really seems new or different to her, this can make a world of difference if she is, for example, stranded out on a rooftop while being surrounded by water waiting to be picked up by a boat.
Jocelyn Augustino / FEMA Photo 17680
“New Orleans, LA, September 5, 2005–FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Force members and local rescue workers and US Coast Guard, search for residents in neighborhoods impactd by Hurricane Katrina.”
The Outside World:
At a very young age, or as soon as you get your dog, let him get used to things around the house. Then move outside and around the neighborhood to see what’s out there. After that, and when the dog is older, about 3- 4 months of age, start venturing out to a few of the locations that will be discussed in Part 2 of this article. As your dog’s confidence grows, take him to more places and introduce more sounds and surfaces. Be careful not to expose your dog to too much too quickly. Baby steps – A little bit at a time is just fine! Brief and positive introductions are much more productive than long drawn out introductions, which can tend to turn negative or stressful. You start w/ a 3 second exposure then build on that 3 seconds at a time. Be careful to encourage your dog, but don’t inadvertently reinforce him if he is scared – if you tell him he is okay in a sweet oochie coo baby voice that you give when he has done something right, and/or pet him, he will associate this as reinforcement for his behavior and begin to think this is how you want him to act. Be confident and assertive – show the dog you are his protector, and his kind and patient leader. Teaching and guiding your dog to be confident in new environments can help him work out feelings of anxiety in stressful situations such as emergency situations also. (Side note: If you rescue, inherit, foster, or somehow obtain an adult dog, treat him like a puppy until you learn more about him and what he knows – he may have never been socialized, taught manners, what to chew on, not to jump, etc., and is actually a puppy trapped in an adult’s body – that’s a completely different article though!)
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article where I will discuss further exposure for your dog including people, places and sounds.
Kristie Allen is a graduate of Animal Behavior College where she earned a certification as an ABC Certified Dog Trainer. Animal Behavior College (ABC) is approved by the Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education and is an internationally recognized school. Her year long commitment to this program has provided her with a formal education in canine obedience training and understanding behavior and its motives. Kristie’s certification, education and experience provide her with the skills required to effectively and humanely train your dog while keeping alive the spark that makes your dog so special to you. To learn more about Kristie Allen and The Learning Canine click to her website HERE.