training-Patton-ChapelThe National Train Your Dog Month campaign was founded by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers to promote awareness of the importance of the benefits of socialization and manners training for the family dog. January was chosen because so many animals are given as presents during the holidays, and statistics indicate that at least 50% of the gifted animals end up at a shelter or foster home facility after the “honeymoon” period has passed – often for what is considered a socialization or behavior problem. Too often though, had they been provided proper socialization and basic obedience training, the issues could have been resolved.

What is the Honeymoon Period?

Just like with people, the “Honeymoon Period” depicts the blissful first few months of a relationship. Everyone exposes only the best sides of themselves and the future looks everlasting. But this period rarely continues – things change. The same kind of joyful “honeymoon” phase period is usually experienced by new pet owners, especially those who have not owned a dog previously. Everything about the new dog is wonderful and amusing. The kids can’t wait to play with their pup after school. Adults look forward to a little snuggling with the pooch to unwind from work or a hectic day. But dogs don’t really have the forethought to anticipate the potential for a long term relationship, so their role during the Honeymoon phase is more built on adjustment from their past environment to the new family and lifestyle. Often the dog may be subdued, quiet or calm while they observe their new setting and figure out where they fit in, behavior which may not reflect their true personality or breed characteristics.

What Happens When the Honeymoon is Over?

Often, if a pet has been purchased as a gift for the children with expectations that it will be “their” dog, the adults may soon find that the animal becomes their responsibility. The dog at first is a novelty, and the recipient spends much time with the animal, especially if it is a puppy. Then the excitement may start to wear off when the children realize they will be asked to assume some of the daily obligations of dog ownership. Dogs tend to be routine oriented and thrive on a daily regimen. So when the dog-care tasks are assigned, such as: who will walk the dog first thing in the morning; who will feed him at night? where will the dog sleep? who is supposed to play with the dog and when? what is off-limits? the younger family members may begin to feel the dog’s care is akin to a chore, much like cleaning up one’s room. While in some circumstances there may be an immediate glue-like bond between the recipient and the dog, which is the happy scenario, in many cases of pet gifting, unfortunately as time goes by the dog becomes a mere fixture in the home and nothing more than another chore. It is in these circumstances that the dog may be deposited at a shelter.

In most cases, the first month or two may go smoothly, as the dog’s true personality and activity level may be concealed during the adjustment period. Or, it is possible that a rescue dog or puppy will exhibit insecurity by following you everywhere, and getting underfoot. Whining, crying or barking may result if the dog is kept separate from their new people at night – sleeping in a new strange place may be stressful, just as it would be for a child. As a puppy grows through its’ chewing, potty training accidents, or nipping phases, and/or the adult dog becomes more comfortable as the adjustment period terminates, the dog’s behavior may seem to change as their real personality comes out. By this time the dog has figured out the house rules, the schedule of the days, and the characters of his new family. He may start testing out his position in the family pack, may “regress” to puppyhood or “bad” behaviors (like chewing, digging, having accidents, barking, possessiveness over toys or food). Some of these may actually be true to the dog’s personality and breed, and were just repressed during the transition, but the new owners may be caught off guard and assume they will go away as part of the adjustment period. When they don’t, it’s time for training.

How Does Training Fit In Before the Honeymoon is Over?

If the dog continues what is either a natural behavior to him once he feels more secure, or seems to sense that the original attention is waning, then problems can start. The owners may feel that the dog is becoming problematic. Without proper training, the dog probably doesn’t understand what is expected and why they are getting reprimanded for what may be natural to them, and in turn the new owners may start to realize they aren’t capable of managing the situation, and certainly have no idea how to teach their dog learn what is and is not acceptable.

At this point, the worst case is that the dog is deposited at a shelter or rescue home, or in the best case the services of a dog trainer are called upon. Pro-active action by registering for an obedience class early in your relationship with the new dog, but following the initial adjustment period, is the best advice. Obedience training is a powerful tool for moderating your rescue dog’s less attractive behavior traits. Fortunately many adoption circumstances do not result in the need for training, but in most adoption scenarios, having an expert opinion prior to or just after the new dog is introduced into the family can help prevent, or immediately control and manage any potential problems.

What is the Goal of Training?

The goal is to teach the dog what is expected behavior rather than inappropriate habits. The key is to be patient, firm in your expectations, give praise for appropriate behaviors, and not confuse the dog with constant praise for exhibiting the expected behavior. If they hear “god dog” all the time it can confuse them. Frightening a dog into complying with household obedience commands, or deliberate cruelty to instill your command, results in further problematic behavior, because the dog won’t understand. Although you do need to show your dog that you are the pack leader, it should be done based on trust. The trust is achieved by communicating with your dog in an understandable way – through body language and a daily routine. The ultimate goal is to reduce confusion, allow the dog to be relaxed and not have to fear being reprimanded, because after basic obedience training you have the knowledge to be calm and gentle yet authoritative while you show him how to be good.

Where to Start

The first step when you acquire a new dog is to visit Patton Chapel Animal Clinic for a pet wellness exam. With a convenient location on Highway 31 between Hoover and Vestavia Hills, Patton Chapel Animal Clinic serves the Birmingham Metro area including Jefferson County and Shelby County. We can refer several established trainers in your area where you can begin establishing the trust relationship with your new pet.