Living with Your Dog
These suggestions are intended to provide you with ways to get reliable and predictable behavior from your dog in and around the home. Every dog may not need every part of this information but we attempted to cover every aspect of life with your dog that falls outside of what is commonly considered "formal training". Follow these guidelines to start and then adjust as your dog's behavior changes or as you see that certain things are of higher or lower importance.
Simply put, everyone in the household needs to be on the same page. Use the same commands, have the same expectations, follow the same rules for interactions. If this is difficult or impossible, then the dog “belongs” to the one person who will maintain those things. Others can interact with the dog, but only for the most basic things (feeding, bathroom breaks, etc.) while the “owner” has to be responsible for everything else. Please exercise common sense. A young child can never be responsible for the needs of a dog. When young children are interacting with dogs, one adult needs to supervise the dog’s behavior while another supervises the child.
Until our dog has proven that their behavior has changed, we utilize management to make it difficult or impossible for them to engage in undesirable behavior, unless we are specifically setting up scenarios to teach certain behaviors or punish others. In short, when you are at home your dog should be on a leash, tether, or in a crate unless you're ready to bet money that problems you've had in your home in the past won't happen again.
Scheduling Food, Water, and Bathroom Breaks
Not every dog gives tell tale signs that they need to go to the bathroom. By scheduling access to food and water, we can begin to figure out how long after they are consumed that our dog will need to be aired. Using this scheduling we can better prepare for times when we will not adhere to our normal routines such as traveling or having to stay late at work.
Get into the habit of selecting one designated spot close to your home where your dog is expected to use the bathroom. Do you travel for extended periods of time looking for just the right place to do your business? Of course not, because a place is designated. Take your dog to the designated spot and wait there. Over time they will learn that walks, training, and any other fun stuff does not happen until they have used the bathroom.
One of the worst things that ever happened to pet dogs was having the term “socialization” come to mean “playing with people and other dogs.” Socialization is the lifelong process of inheriting and disseminating norms, customs, values and ideologies, providing an individual with the skills and habits necessary for participating within their own society. Most of us would prefer that our dogs were a bit more calm, listened to us better, and exhibited more self control, yet most of our “socialization” efforts seem to contradict those goals. No part of your training needs to contradict any other. What socialization really amounts to is that your dog is exposed to as many things as possible. This means the see, feel, hear, smell, and taste (where appropriate) as many things as possible, and that each of those experiences end positively.
For the most part, we would like our dogs to simply ignore environmental distractions. The best way to do this is to place them in situations, appropriate to their level of training, where they are stimulated by these kinds of things, but are taught to ignore them in favor of doing something else like an obedience command, or interacting with us through play. For most dogs, desensitizing to environmental distractions simply entails keeping them in the situation long enough that they work through any excitement, anxiety, or fear. And going through that process repeatedly. Keep your dog safe by not letting random people, dogs, and stuff interact with them directly. This helps assure that even a moderately stressful situation has a positive (and controlled) outcome. And pay attention to your dog. If they are completely overwhelmed then you may need to move to a quieter or less active place to start.
Exposure to new things
Most dogs who did not have experience with a particular thing (or had a bad experience with it) when they were going through their puppy development phases will have a default response to new things that is less than ideal. They will generally be overly cautious, either offensively or defensively. Your job when these things come up is not to baby them, or feel sorry for them, but to be their fearless leader as you show them there is nothing to be concerned about.
Exposure to infrequent things
Adult dogs that do not experience certain things regularly, and did not experience them when they were puppies, will likely need routine maintenance with respect to those things. A dog that has poor social skills might make amazing progress if routinely put in social situations. But if we stop maintaining those skills, they will very likely get “rusty”. This is particularly true when what we want our dog to do is counter-intuitive to their instincts. The term “instinctual drift” is used to define the tendency of an animal to revert to their instinctual behaviors absent the influence of motivation that maintains trained responses.
We want our dogs to be friendly with people, but we often allow things to happen that would make anyone uncomfortable. You would not allow a random stranger to come up and grope your spouse or your child, yet we often allow such things to happen to our dogs. Interactions between your dog and people (including all adults and children in your household) should be structured so that they are learning experiences until everyone involved shows that they are capable of acting appropriately. And they should be agreeable to all involved, including your dog. Anyone unwilling to participate in the correct training of your dog when it comes to in person interactions, should not be allowed to interact with your dog. When in doubt, please ask people not to touch, stare at, or talk to your dog.
Dogs in your household
It is best if all dogs in the household are expected to follow the same rules. That said, there is no need to have as much structure in place for dogs that show they are capable of making good decisions on their own. Always exercise caution. Dogs, from the smallest to the largest, are still predatory animals. They solve problems with their teeth. Things like “sharing” items, allowing dogs to take things from one another, and allowing play that borders on violent are recipes for disaster. We can’t count how many times where “everything was fine…” until it wasn’t. Be proactive and avoid having significant problems.
If you are going to bring a new dog into the home, the dogs should spend a lot of time occupying the same space (like in the same room) but not able to directly interact with one another. Use crates and tethers. Do this until you are pretty sure that the dogs are bored with each other. Allowing them to play right away, interact right away, and “work it out” on their own is rarely a good idea. With dogs, boring introductions are best. You want your dogs to bond with you first, then with each other so that you maintain the role of leader, guide, and mentor.
In order to have our dogs remain calm and under control in the presence of other dogs, we must teach them that that is the expected behavior. We do this two ways: through obedience, and through calm off leash interaction. For dogs that know each other well, more invigorating play is acceptable. But we recommend that this is limited to two dogs, so that no single dog gets ganged up on. Please exercise good judgement and remember that dogs are dogs. There will be disagreements and it is important that you are ready and willing to step in and advocate for your dog, or correct them, as is required by the situation. It is better to be proactive, and prevent an issue before it happens, then to try to address something that has already taken place. Again, when in doubt, do not let your dog interact with unknown dogs. As a general rule, find a few dog friends for your dog, and stay away from dog parks.
Dogs have physical exercise requirements that can vary with breed, age, and for each specific dog. But we do not subscribe to the idea that “a tired dog is a good dog”. A trained dog is a good dog. But we do need to make sure we provide outlets for physical exercise. 30 minutes of walking or hiking daily, or games of fetch or tug, are usually enough for most dogs to fulfill their exercise requirements.
Some days the weather, long hours at work, or other circumstances prevent us from being able to give our dog the physical outlet they need. We can also tire them out mentally through training, or through games that require them to think. Things like scent work, puzzle feeders, or simply scattering kibble in the yard and letting your dog hunt for their food are all great ways to exercise the mind when you can’t exercise the body.