Train Your Dog Month - Every month!

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column - 1/22/12
By: Gail T. Fisher

This is the third year that the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (www.apdt.com) has named January as National Train Your Dog Month. I’m past-President of the APDT, and I was on the Board of Directors when the APDT created this designation in 2010. We chose January to encourage getting started training the puppy or dog that many people adopted around the holidays (despite my best advice). The idea behind TYDM is that January (or any month!) is a great time to start training your dog, if you haven’t started already. You may think that training is more difficult in the winter. After all, your yard is snow-covered, or your street may be icy, but there are a lot of behaviors you can teach your dog indoors in the comfort of your home. It doesn’t take space to train good behaviors to your dog.

According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, there are 74.8 million "owned" dogs in the U.S. No one has statistics on how many owners train their dogs, but it is estimated, sadly for those of us who train dogs, that the majority of dog owners don’t attend a training class or work privately with a trainer for their dogs. Further, few owners use books, DVDs or other sources to learn about training.

And here’s the issue with lack of training: Behavior problems—which can nearly always be addressed and eliminated by training—is the most common reason dogs are relinquished to shelters or given away to a new home. Just as importantly, according to the National Council on Pet Population Study & Policy, dogs that are turned in for behavior problems are likely to have been only owned for less than three months! This latter statistic is startling and troubling. Think about the poor dog who is adopted into a new home. He bonds with his new family, and as he’s getting to know them, he’s on his best behavior—called the “honeymoon period” when dogs are feeling their way in the new environment and their behavior is often suppressed. When the dog starts feeling comfortable, he may start to exhibit behaviors that the family doesn’t love. Rather than seek help from a trainer, the new owner simply gives the dog up—once again homeless and unwanted.

How sad, when there is a simple antidote to dogs being given up for adoption—training! With just a little training and socialization, dogs are more likely to find “forever homes” right off the bat! As soon as you get your dog or puppy, start right away training the new family member using positive reinforcement, dog-friendly methods (such as clicker training). Training teaches the dog the rules of the house, gives the dog clear-cut boundaries, and helps create and build a strong, bonded relationship.

Especially important for a puppy, virtually all leading authorities and institutions recognize the importance of socialization during their important early developmental periods—especially between eight and sixteen weeks of age. I have long advocated for early training, despite some owners’ fears that their puppy might contract an illness if they attend classes before their inoculations were completed. I was gratified to read that the well-respected Dr. R.K. Anderson, DVM (Diplomat, American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine and Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists) who wrote, "The risk of a dog dying because of infection with Distemper or Parvo disease is far less than the much higher risk of a dog dying (euthanasia) because of a behavior problem."

So if training can help prevent and eliminate behavior problems, if training and puppy socialization helps create healthy, well-rounded adult dogs, if training gives owners a well-mannered dog that can fully participate in their activities and lives – heck, I guess that means that any month should be Train Your Dog Month. But it’s January – so how about getting started right now!

Copyright © Gail T. Fisher, 2012. All rights reserved. http://www.alldogsgym.com For permission to reprint this article or suggestions for future topics, please contact us.