Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on April 5, 1999. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Obedience Training Is Key To Good Pets
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Training a puppy can result in more than a well-mannered pet, it can mean the difference between life and death for the animal.
According to figures released by the American Veterinary Medical Association, as many as 1 million people each year require medical treatment for dog bites. About 12 people die each year from dog attacks, and dog bites are the No. 1 public health problem for children 12 and younger, half of which have been bitten by a dog.
Dr. Fred Lehman, Extension veterinarian at Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, said dogs must be taught good manners while they are young to prevent problems as they grow older. Training builds a bond between owner and dog that lasts for life.
"Teaching a dog to sit, stay, heel and come lets them know they are a member of the pack, but not at the top," Lehman said. "They learn they must listen and obey their master, and when that is firmly entrenched in a puppy's mind, they're a minimal threat to bite, unless they're hurt."
Formal obedience training, which should begin with socialization at age 7 weeks, is essential to the development of a quality pet. From this age to 12 weeks is a prime training time, and also the time when most owners spoil the pup. Bad habits learned now must be unlearned before retraining can occur.
"A puppy should have all the basics learned by the time they're 6 months old," Lehman said. "Puppies are much happier if they know they are doing right, and they start to feed off a positive reinforcement system."
Dr. John Harkness, lab animal veterinarian at MSU's veterinary college, said only about 25 percent of American dogs receive competent obedience training, and 6 million to 10 million are euthanized annually for behavioral problems.
The best training opportunities come between ages 8 weeks and 7 months, but training should begin when puppies are born. Handle puppies to familiarize them with your touch.
"It has been shown that when newborns get accustomed to a stimulus, they remain so for the rest of their lives," Harkness said.
Introduce the puppy to as many people and environments as possible, as this will reduce their fears of new situations and teach them to get along well with others. Avoid over-aggressive play with puppies, as this can result in aggressive behavior later in life. Some types of inappropriate play include tug of war, jumping up on people and holding them down to tickle their stomachs.
"You should always handle puppies with the same gentleness you expect them to exhibit in these situations," Harkness said.
Housebreaking should begin at 7 to 8 weeks of age by taking the pup outside at least once an hour, after feeding and when it wakes up. Females often take longer to housebreak than males, but the skill can be mastered in as little as a few days to several months, depending on the intensity and consistency of training.
Dogs should be housebroken by about age 3 months. If a dog has not mastered the behavior by this time, rule out physical problems with a veterinary exam. A professional trainer or behavioral specialist may be useful to determine other causes of the misbehavior, including fear, separation anxiety or a search for attention.
Harkness said train dogs with repetition, consistency and rewards, not punishment.
"Dogs seek to please their owners because affection and interaction are very important to them," Harkness said. "No dog should be corrected until you are sure it understands the command."
Specific training techniques are available to teach puppies all the commands they must master to behave in an acceptable manner. Individuals can train dogs on their own with the help of good advice and a lot of patience, but obedience classes are a good choice for those who don't know where to start or how to train properly.
Contact: Dr. John Harkness, (601) 325-1137