The Most Important Thing to Teach Your New Dog

Success with your dog
Love Your Dog

Bringing a new dog into your family is the beginning of a new relationship. There are so many opportunities to get things right, or wrong, and as with any new relationship: first impressions matter. Getting things started on the right foot can make a world of difference in the long-run, whether you just got a new puppy or adopted a senior. 

Many new dog owners that are excited to train their new dog get started with sit. That's a huge mistake, sit can wait. Sit is easy to train. Sit takes about ten minutes to get through the acquisition phase and a few weeks of proofing to be quite strong. That's actually why it's used as a demo behavior for untrained dogs by dog trainers at expos, and why it's the first thing covered in so many group classes. It is easy. And don't get me wrong, sit has its uses. But most of those can come automatically because it's such an easy behavior to teach that by the time you're working on politely greeting strangers or an advanced recall or stay - the dog has picked up sit no problem.

So where should you start? First, understand that training your dog is more than just teaching tricks. They have to learn about you. Who are you? What does being around you mean to them? With that in mind, the first lesson for your new dog is twofold: you are fun; you are safe.

Initiate games with your dog. Don't worry about whether they immediately get all the rules or not, worry that they're having fun. Tweaking the rules can come once they know you like to play, too. Be kind and generous to your dog. Let them learn that you have all the best things in the world and better still - you're willing to share them! Hands are never for hitting, only for petting or holding toys or giving food. 

I talked about how much your choice of training method can impact your relationship with your dog before. The outdated methods based on dominance and trying to prove you're in charge are just teaching your dog that you're scary and sometimes do hurtful things. Don't worry about whether your dog "respects" you as "alpha," worry about whether you're the kind of person your dog wants to be around and work with. I get asked frequently about why my client's dogs so often perform better for me than for them. It isn't a mystery or a secret. Whenever I show up, all the best things in the world happen. They get their favorite foods, they get to go outside, they get pet, they get attention, they get to play their favorite games. Sure, I make all of those things contingent on behaviors I want to see, but they don't care. From their perspective, I'm The Incredible Treat-Man, and they'll do anything for Treat-Man.

Your Dog Loves You

So my tip for any new dog guardian - become Treat-Man for your dog. Show them just how awesome it is to be around you. Establishing a relationship of trusting generosity will be one of the most impactful and beneficial things you can do right from day one. We'll get to some learned behavior next week when I teach you about getting and holding your dog's attention. Relationship building will make that (and everything else) so much easier. 

Benjamin is the owner of Good Doggy Saratoga. You can follow him on Facebook.
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