Over the holidays, we always visit my (Perry Jameson’s) sister at her farm in Virginia. It seems crazy, but the six of us stay with her family of four, plus two dogs, in their three-bedroom, one bathroom farmhouse. Somehow it works, we all get along great and her dogs are well-behaved.
She has done a great job of training her dogs, Lily and Frederick, to fit into her life. So many people I know instead have modified their lives to what their dogs dictate. This is OK for you when alone but miserable if you have guest over or take your dog to stay in someone else’s home.
Dogs should be taught certain life skills to allow them to live and interact well with us. These skills are also important to prevent them from hurting themselves.
There are 10 life skills I think every dog should know. Dogs are similar to children in that we need to teach them how to behave. They want to please, so that makes it easy. However, they will push the boundaries just like children, so consistency is important. So here are the 10 skills every dog parent should teach their dog.
Every dog should learn to sit on command. This skill is essential to learning most of the rest of the life skills. If learned well, it can save their lives. Several times I have stopped my dog, Flipper, from running into the street by yelling “sit. “ Flipper also gets excited when new people arrive. Making him sit gives him and our guests time to get acquainted as I have to remember not everyone wants a lick in the face.
Once they sit, you can teach them to stay. Put them into a sit then say “stay” and walk a few feet away. Gradually increase the distance you are from them and praise them for staying put. They should stay even when something irresistible, like food, another dog, or guest is present.
Once they know stay, you can teach them to come on command. They should learn to stop whatever they are doing and return to you immediately when called. Never scold them when coming to you even if you are calling them because they have done something wrong. This sends a mixed message and will not teach them to come on command.
4. Walk on a leash
Every dog should know how to walk on a leash without pulling. I have seen parents with a broken wrist or scraped knees from where their dog took off and pulled them to the ground. Teach them how to heel by your side so you can set the pace.
5. Leave it
Dogs need to immediately leave alone or give up whatever they have if you give this command. I have prevented Flipper from eating several things that would have hurt him.
6. Give up food
All dogs should allow any person to take food from them. The first time I was bitten by a dog was when I got close to my neighbor dog’s food bowl. Food-aggressive dogs are dangerous to be around.
7. No jumping
Even though they are just being friendly and greeting us, all dogs should to learn to not jump up and lick our faces. I have seen people with bloody noses where a friendly dog jumped to lick them and instead their hard skulls hit the person’s nose.
8. Dog space vs. human space
Even if you let your dog sleep on the bed, there need to be boundaries. Maybe your bed is OK, but not grandma’s antique sofa. Dogs are quick to learn. Just be consistent.
9. Socialize with other dogs
Dogs need to learn how to interact with other dogs. They need to learn how to play with other dogs and when to be submissive. Dogs who have only been exposed to people will often be extremely territorial when another dog is around. The earlier in the dog’s life this is done the better.
10. Socialize with people
Dogs that have not been socialized with people other than their parents can be dangerous. They should be socialized with humans of all ages. Some dogs are great with adults but then aggressive with children. Kids come at dogs from a different level than adults and for the dogs not used to this, they may feel threatened. You want a dog who is friendly to all guests, not the one who has to be locked in a bathroom when friends stop by.
Dogs should be taught these skills that will allow them to better fit into our lives. You must be firm and consistent. Dogs will push the boundaries as far as you allow them to. Fortunately, they are smart and want to please us.
The dogs that know these skills are happier and less stressed than those that do not. The well-behaved dog is also able to be a part of all aspects of our lives.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.