Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, as do the behavioral problems and learning curves that come with them. This is especially true for first-time dog owners, who might not know exactly what to expect when it comes to their dog’s development.
Adopting a dog isn’t as simple as making a new best friend. There are many challenges that must be overcome, even among the most well-behaved of breeds. Some of the most common behavioral issues new owners must tackle include bathroom accidents, chewing, jumping, separation anxiety, and leash pulling. If you live in a small space, such as an apartment that doesn’t have a fenced-in backyard for your pup to explore, it’s especially important to get a handle on these issues as quickly as you can.
Here are some of the most common problems people have with new dogs and some tips to help you conquer them:
A different set of challenges will arise depending on whether you adopt a puppy or a fully-grown dog. While it’s not completely true when they say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, it’s also not completely false. While it is usually much easier to train a young dog, it’s not impossible to train an adult — it will simply require a bit more patience. The good news is that, for the most part, dogs both young and old respond quite well to positive reinforcement. If your dog does something good, shower them with praise. If your dog does something bad, a simple “no” will work wonders. It is never appropriate to hit, neglect, or harshly punish your dog in any way. In fact, being harsh or threatening with your pet will almost always make their behavior problems worse.
Crate training is always an option here, as dogs are usually quite clean animals who will do their best not to dirty the area they are confined to. With that being said, many experts agree that crate training — especially when a dog is left in their crate for an extended period of time — can be quite cruel and isolating for the dog. To quote PETA, “Dogs are highly social pack animals who abhor isolation and who crave and deserve companionship, praise, and exercise. Forcing dogs to spend extended periods of time confined and isolated simply to accommodate their guardians’ schedules is unacceptable, and it exacerbates behavior problems, leading to even more crating.”
When it comes to potty training, a far more effective and humane option is to train via association. It’s important to drive home the idea that being outside means “potty time” and that being inside means “rest time.” It may sound too good to be true, but a dog can be fully potty trained in a matter of days with little to no effort required on your part. Dogs are systematic and predictable animals, and they usually make it clear what they need through their body language. If you adopt a new dog (regardless of its age), set aside a few days and dedicate them entirely to your pet. This will make them feel welcome, safe, and (most importantly) help them understand the rules of your household.
Puppies usually need to “relieve themselves” about 15 to 30 minutes after they eat or drink. Make sure to take your puppy outside a few minutes after they ingest anything. The moment they either urinate or defecate, make sure to give them lots of praise. Take them inside immediately after they relieve themselves. This way, they will understand that being outside is associated with using the bathroom. When you’re back inside, follow your puppy around and let them explore the apartment, all the while watching them very closely. If they start to pee inside, firmly say “no.” Then pick them up immediately (even if they are still peeing) and set them outside until they are finished.
For adult dogs, body language is the easiest clue to follow. Watch your dog closely to see if they get up and start walking around without being prompted to do so. Walking away from their owner without a prompt is usually a sign that the dog is looking for a place to leave his/her mark. Adult dogs are much easier to train than puppies in this respect, because they can actually hold their urine for many more hours than puppies can. Nonetheless, you’ll want take them outside every 30 minutes or so during their first few days living with you. If they use the bathroom, praise them and then take them immediately back inside.
All dogs are driven to chew. This is not actually a behavioral problem, but an instinct built up over thousands of years to help keep dogs’ teeth clean and strong. For that reason, chewing should not be discouraged. It should, on the other hand, be made clear which items are okay to chew and which ones aren’t. It’s important to have a good supply of dental chews, bones, Kongs, and chew toys on hand. Allow your pet to chew these items to his/her heart’s content, but make it nearly impossible for them to chew on anything that’s valuable to you. It’s also important to “doggy-proof” your home in the same way a new parent must nest or baby-proof theirs. Make sure items like shoes are always safely stored away behind closed doors. Never leave small items on the floor or low enough for a dog to jump up and grab. Leave chew toys lying around in all the places the dog likes to rest, and you will find that their chewing becomes quite easy to control.
Basic commands like sit, stay, roll over, and shake are incredibly easy to teach. A dog can usually learn these tricks in a matter of minutes with the help of positive reinforcement and treats. Stand before your dog with a small piece of meat or cheese in hand and repeat the word “sit” until they do it. The moment they do it, give them the treat and praise them. Once they stand back up again, repeat the process. Do this until they have successfully completed the task five times. Then wait a few minutes and try it again. Do this every day with different commands to keep their memory sharp. In a very short timespan, the dog will start associating each command with a treat and do what you ask automatically.
If you have successfully taught your dog the basic commands of sit and lie down, then you should also be able to easily control their jumping with vocal commands. If a friend comes over and your dog tries to jump up on them, simply tell your dog to sit and insist that they stay in that position until the excitement of the new visitor has died down.
Much like people, every dog is different. But if they are given the love, support, and patience they deserve, they will do their absolute best to please their masters. With a little research, even the most difficult of behavioral problems can be overcome. However, if your pet does not respond to these basic management techniques, professional help may be necessary.