What Does Your Dog's Future Look Like?
by Robin MacFarlane
The biggest mistake that people make is they fail to recognize how quickly their pup will mature into a dog.
I started training dogs professionally in 1994. Before that I was just dabbling with my own dog's training while making my living as a Veterinary Technician. So this fall, I'm celebrating the 20-year anniversary of teaching the first class I offered in my curriculum, Puppy Preschool.
Starting a puppy preschool program was something near and dear to my heart back in '94 and it remains one of my favorite classes to instruct. Of course working with all those cute pups is a huge part of the enjoyment, but the reason I offered the class in the first place is to help people get off to a good start.
I'd seen the outcome of what happens all too often when puppies get brought home and the novelty wears thin after a few months. Soon that little bundle of fur is a much bigger nuisance than anyone bargained for. The dog gets the short end of the stick because the humans weren't properly prepared for what it takes to raise a puppy into a well-mannered adult dog.
After all these years and a few thousand puppies through that course, I've learned a few things about what people should be doing to ensure their success.
There are a number of things that go into the responsibility of raising a puppy. Priorities include getting the pooch housebroken, socializing with all sorts of people and other nice dogs, plus teaching some basic manners like not jumping up on people or play biting our skin. There is also the need to get started with obedience training and making sure we raise dogs that listen to us when we need them to.
Over all these years I've seen a lot but I've come to the conclusion the biggest mistake that people make is they fail to recognize how quickly their pup will mature into a dog. Often they don't realize how soon they need to start setting the wheels in motion to teach the dog the ropes of what is expected in their household.
That is why I now require my students to sit down with the entire family and fill out a Vision Statement for the Dog.
That might sound odd, but if you consider the value of a vision statement in helping us achieve our goals in other areas of life, I think you'll get the picture.
The idea is to put down on paper exactly what the expectations for the dog will be when he is a grown adult. I ask people to imagine their puppy 2 years from now, fully grown, and then answer a list of questions. The questions include things like:
Where will my dog sleep at night?
Is my dog allowed access to the couch and other furniture?
Will the dog still be allowed on the furniture if we replace it and get new stuff?
What do I want my dog to do when visitors arrive at the door?
When I walk my dog on a leash he will walk where?
No one goes through this process and provides answers like: "When I walk my dog on a leash he will walk in front of me dragging me down the street," or, "I want my dog to enthusiastically jump all over visitors who arrive at my front door."
Yet the reality is, two years after bringing that wiggly, wonderful puppy home, that is what many people end up with because they didn't plan ahead and start teaching the right skills, right from the start.
This process of creating a vision for what we want in terms of our dogs behavior helps set a guideline for getting there. If we don't think through it and decide what we actually want from our dogs, it is pretty hard to end up with the ideal companion.
So I encourage you to create a vision statement for your dog, even if he is not a pup anymore. Are there behaviors you want to change? Then layout the goals and a reasonable time line to get there and start training. So much can be achieved in a few short months, and your dog will be an even more appreciated member of your family.
Robin MacFarlane is a professional dog trainer and owner of Thatís My Dog in Dubuque, Iowa. Her best-selling dog training DVDs, JUST RIGHT and JUST RIGHT 2 have helped thousands of dog owners teach their dogs basic obedience and fix problem behaviors through a system of training that you can easily work into your daily routine.