Top 5 New Year's Resolutions for Dog Owners

#1 Socialization for Puppies
Christmas is a popular time for puppies!  We've all heard how important it is for puppies to be "socialized," but what exactly is that?  Socialization is purposefully and positively exposing your puppy to a wide variety of people, places, sounds, activities and objects so that they are able to enjoy life.  Without appropriate socialization, puppies become fearful and anxious to many things.  Since fear is the number one cause of aggression, we mustn't dismiss or glorify the fearful, shy dog.  Chronic and constant anxiety is not way to live.  Socialization now--especially within the first 8 weeks after bringing your puppy home--is an investment in your dog's future and his quality of life. For more on puppy socialization, check out trainer Lisa Mullinax's wonderful article, "Rethinking Puppy Socialization".

#2 Feed from Toys
All dogs need something to do--from the five pound Yorkie to the beefy Rottweiler.  If they aren't given a job or activity, they come up with their own forms of entertainment (usually labeled "misbehavior").  When your dog spends his time and mental energy working on a food puzzle, he's less inclined to dig through the trash, chew on the dining room furniture, or bark at everyone who walks past your house.  
The original Kong is my favorite interactive feeder for first timers because it's so versatile!  Check out these 50 Ways to Stuff a Kong!  Remember, not all toys are safe for all dogs, so please supervise closely.

#3 Teach Her to be Alone
Did you know dogs aren't pre-programmed to be alone?  Most dogs are highly social creatures, and many of America's favorite breeds where bred to crave human companionship.  Many families describe their dog as having "separation anxiety" because he wants to be with them, and dislikes being apart.  Much of this behavior is predictable if the dog has never been taught to be left alone.  Providing a yummy goody (like a food stuffed Kong) right before you leave the house is a great place to start changing your dog's emotional response to alone time.  Make sure they can safely be left with aKong before you try it for real!   
Some dogs are willing to hang out on their own while the house is empty.  However, if they need to be crated or put behind a gate or door while the family is home, they are very unhappy.  Plan for the unknown future, and teach your dog to be "alone" in many different ways!  Crate training can help you and your dog ease into isolation.

#4 Avoid the Dog Park
Gasp!  You heard it right.  A healthy New Year's resolution is to steer clear of the dog park.  I do not recommend dog parks for several reasons:

  1. The physical health of the other dogs is completely unknown.  Not too many years ago, a seemingly healthy dog was playing at local dog park in Austin.  He later tested positive for Rabies, and everyone he encountered at the park was exposed (regardless of their vaccination status).  It's an extreme example, but vividly illustrates the point.
  2. The behavioral health of the other dogs is completely unknown.  Dog body language is very subtle and often missed by the average owner.  It's far too easy for dogs to get bullied (or be the bully) and learn that behavior is okay.
  3. The dog park is often treated like drop-off child care.  Even if the average owner was more informed about dog communication, that doesn't guarantee they'dl apply that knowledge appropriately.  In reality, owners need to be more actively involved with their dog at the dog park, not less.

#5 Learn some Language
Most families are usually interested in teaching their dog some basic obedience.  They want him to understand that our English words (sit, down, off, stay, etc. ) mean something; they want him to learn a little ESL.  As a trainer, I'm all for that, but I also counsel families to learn a little DSL--Doggy as a Second Language.
Just because we don't understand their language doesn't mean our dogs stop using it. Knowing a little of what he's really saying--and respecting it--is a wonderful aspiration for any dog owner!  Check out the Let's Talk Dog! section of the Liam J. Perk Foundation website, as well as the wonderful drawings by Lili Chin.

Looking for more information or guidance with any of the above?  I can help!  Let's talk!