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  The importance of training your dog:

All dogs need at least some basic training. Not only will obedience training help your dog to become more responsive, but it enables you to have immediate control over your dog's behavior in emergency situations. Believe it or not, training can save your dog. Imagine that your dog accidentally gets loose and goes toward the street. A trained dog can be called back to the owner while an untrained dog may run into traffic.

A well-trained dog is more pleasant to be around. A well-behaved dog is also more pleasant to own because he can go virtually anywhere without being a risk or nuisance to others. What a pleasure it is to have a dog who exhibits appropriate behavior in a crowd, has good manners when guests are over, is reliable around children and does not threaten other dogs or passers-by. Dog obedience training truly benefits everyone.

Positive training enhances the bond between dog and owner and helps ensure that your dog will respond happily to your instructions. It builds communication, understanding, mutual respect, and subtly but effectively, demonstrates to your dog that you are the leader of the pack. If your dog does not respect you as his leader, then you may be in big trouble; especially if he is a bit rowdy or dominant by nature.

The key word here is "positive". Positive training will allow you to control your companion's behavior safely and humanely. The training experience offers a terrific opportunity to enhance the bond that you share with your dog.

What is the best age to begin training?

Basic training should begin at six to eight weeks of age. Be patient and consistent in the training of your dog. Begin with house training, leash walking, sit, stay and come. Dogs between six to sixteen weeks of age should be enrolled in puppy classes.

Although 'puppy-hood' is the best time to train and socialize dogs, older dogs can learn new tricks too. In fact, dogs of all ages can benefit from training. Regular classes are appropriate for dogs six months or older.

Shy dogs can especially benefit from training in group classes. It will help socialize them with other dogs and people. Training will help boost a shy dog's confidence.

Socializing your dog:

Socialize your dog by exposing him to different people and settings regularly. Take him to the park, to the pet store and on a walk through town. Praise him for accepting attention from friendly strangers and for behaving calmly around other dogs. The more your dog learns about the world around him, the more comfortable he will be in it.

A puppy that is not socialized with different people, animals and environments may grow up to act very skittish when older. Some highly unsocialized dogs may grow up to act like abused animals - hand shy, hiding in corners and constantly trembling in new situations. They may even show aggression in new situations.

How to choose a dog trainer:

It is essential that the dog trainer you select uses humane training techniques that encourage appropriate behavior through such positive reinforcement as food, attention, play, or praise. Training techniques should never involve yelling, choking, tugging on the leash, or other actions that frighten or inflict pain.

Ask a friend, neighbor, veterinarian, humane society, groomer or Underdog ResQ representative to recommend a dog trainer in your area.

Ask your potential trainer if you can sit in a class before joining. Here are some things to look for:

  • Inquire about his training background, years of experience and areas of expertise.
  • Make sure that the trainer uses humane methods and gentle, but effective, handling skills. Harsh training methods are not only unnecessary but counter-productive as well.
  • Look for good teaching and communication skills.
  • Is everything the trainer does geared toward making money? Make sure he is concerned with ethics before profit.
  • What if the trainer does not allow you to sit in a class? This may not be the right class for you to join.

What is the best class format?

Group classes are best for most dogs because they learn to interact with other dogs, learn to accept handling by other people and learn to focus on the owner despite distractions. A dog owner will benefit by observing other people interacting with their dogs.

When possible, all family members should participate in their dog's training. They will develop bonds that will form the basis of their entire relationships by learning to communicate humanely and effectively with their dog. This will also help everyone to become consistent in the training process.

What to look for in a group class:

  • The class size should be limited to allow for individual attention.
  • Puppy and adult classes should be separate.
  • There should be different class levels (for example, beginner, intermediate and advanced).
  • Training equipment and methods should be humane.
  • The trainer should use a variety of methods to meet the dogs' individual needs.
  • Proof of vaccination should be required for each dog.
  • Dogs should be praised frequently.
  • Dogs and owners should be actively encouraged.
  • Voice commands should be given in upbeat tones.
  • Lesson handouts should be made available on how dogs learn, basic grooming, problem solving and related topics.

Be the leader of pack:

Training not only serves to strengthen the bond between a dog and his owner, but it also builds communication, understanding, mutual respect, and demonstrates to your dog that you are the leader of the pack. This is commonly referred to as being the "alpha".

Dogs need social order. A dog's social system is a "pack" with a well-defined pecking order, or hierarchy. The top dog gets the best food, the best place to sleep and the best toy. The top dog gets to do everything first. Some dogs assume the proper place in the pecking order while others challenge authority in a quest to become the alpha.

Are you encouraging your dog to challenge authority? You might be if you treat your dog as an equal, not as a subordinate. You are treating him as an equal if you let him sleep on your bed or if you let him get away with disobeying commands. The alpha dog can be any size and may seem perfectly pleasant. When challenged, the alpha dog will quickly put the challenger in his place with a stare, growl or bite. This is instinctive behavior, but in a human family, it is unacceptable and dangerous.

Dogs need and want leaders. They want the security of knowing their place and what's expected of them. Most of them don't really want to be the alpha. If their humans don't provide enough leadership, the dog will take over as the alpha. If your dog respects one family member but dominates the others you will have a problem. The dog's place should be at the bottom of your human family's pack order. To reclaim your rightful place as a leader of the pack you must teach your dog how to be a subordinate, not your equal.

Tips on how to be leader of the pack:

  • Use a positive, yet firm, tone when using voice commands.
  • Do not allow your dog to disobey commands.
  • Do not allow your dog to sleep in your bed. He should have his own sleeping area or crate.
  • Limit the furniture your dog is allowed on.
  • Make him earn his treats and food. For example, make him sit before feeding.
  • Make him respond to commands before taking him out for walks.
  • Do not allow him to walk through doorways, ascend or descend stairs before you.
  • If your dog is lying in a doorway, do not step over him. Instead, shuffle your feet through him so that he will move. Stepping over the dog implies that he doesn't have to move out of your way.

For additional information visit:

American Dog Trainers Network:

Becoming the Leader of the Pack:

How to be the Leader of the Pack
By Patricia McConnell

Other resources on training and canine behavior can be found on the resources link.


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