If you have a new puppy resting at your feet, you have a very special opportunity. You can work toward preventing common dog behavioral problems before they even start. Believe me, it is much easier to prevent dog problems than to try to fix them. Puppies are like little sponges and are learning with every life experience. The key to preventing dog behavior issues is to be proactive in your puppy training approach. Instead of waiting for a problem to arise, or saying, “He’s fine,” you can condition your puppy that X equals Y. For example, a loud clap of thunder equals a tasty treat. So, now you get the idea.
Let’s take the thunder scenario. Depending on which survey you are reading, at least 30 percent of dogs are afraid of thunder and lightning. Some of these thunder-phobic dogs are scared enough that they even injure themselves trying to escape.
“The key to preventing dog behavior issues is to be proactive in your puppy training approach.”
The good news is that you can greatly influence a dog’s reaction to loud noises with regular training sessions. Start with a high-value reward, such as freeze-dried or cooked meat. Next, find a thunderstorm on YouTube. Turn down your computer volume almost to mute. While you and your dog are just chilling at the computer, hit play on the YouTube video.
After each clap of thunder, toss your puppy a treat. What you are doing is conditioning your puppy that thunder equals treat equals feel good. Assuming your puppy is okay with the volume, gradually increase it. Still, each clap equals treat equals feel good. You will want to continue this process throughout your puppy’s first year. Change the video you play, the location, and the timing of your training sessions. During real storms, toss the treat after each clap. You can also give him a valuable chew, such as a duck foot, after a few repetitions.
Take this training philosophy through various scenarios. Dogs equal rewards equal feel good. People, fast cars, squirrels, children, etc. By simply rewarding your puppy around these situations, you are creating a dog that just doesn’t care about those things. That in turn will help him grow up to be calm and collected in various situations.
Don’t worry, the food will be faded as he matures, and those treats should be part of his daily caloric needs, not just extras. Year one of a puppy’s life is so important. By playing an active role in preventing problems, you are more likely to spend the remaining time training him in all the fun tricks, therapy dog skills, and obedience for a lifetime of enjoyment.