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January 12, 2013

Experts offer tips for new dog owners

By Nelson Bradshaw
The Daily Star

---- — Man and dog have been living together happily for ages and ages. 

But maybe that sentiment needs to be modified a bit. 

Man and dog have usually, though not always, lived happily together. 

There are sometimes unpleasant events that take a bite out of their household harmony, like when the dog relieves itself on the rubber tree plant, or leaps onto the dinner table and devours every unguarded morsel in its path, or when it lavishes its sloppy affections on defenseless visitors. 

Effective dog training is essential in these and other situations. For those wondering where they can find someone to do the training or teach them to do the training themselves, there are a number of good, professional trainers within the range of The Daily Star readership. Three of them revealed some professional insights and principals behind their successful practices. 

One was Dr. Joan Puritz,  a veterinarian who has worked with dogs for more than 20 years. She is the owner and director of the Crescent Pet Lodge and Animal Hospital in Oneonta. She was grooming neighborhood dogs at the age of 9. “I’ve just always loved animals,” Puritz said.  

Asked to identify the most important “do’s” and “don’ts” in dog training, she cited socialization at an early age as the most vital “do.” 

 “Animals must learn to have healthy interactions with other animals and with people,” Puritz said. “It’s like with raising children. You can’t just let them run amok. If you did that, they wouldn’t grow up to be very good people, socially.”   

top her “do not” list, Puritz named the practice of relying strictly on discipline to shape a dog’s behavior. 

“Discipline is important, but it isn’t everything,” she asserted. “When they are good, you need to reward them.” 

When you take your dog for a walk, she suggested, it is important that the dog learn to stay on leash and not jump up on people. But, it is also wise for you to show your pet that you appreciate its cooperation by giving it some little treat. 

While we’re on the subject of a dog’s needs, they also require more than a smattering of attention, play and affection. 

Puritz was asked for tips on housebreaking a dog. “Do not let it out of your sight,” she responded. “If the dog is soiling in the house, that’s because it’s out of your sight. So, if you watch it all the time it’s inside the house, your dog won’t have the opportunity to go behind the couch and piddle.”

She added frequent walking to the “do” list, specifying that dogs should be taken on jaunts when they wakeup in the morning, as well as after playing and after eating. 

One more item on the Puritz “do not” list is punishing an animal for an offense too long after the fact. A canine needs to be disciplined right after a mishap so that it knows what it did wrong.    

A different perspective on dog training was offered by Karen Miller, a certified professional dog trainer. Miller owns and operates Town & Country Canine, in Jefferson. Her approach to training is reward-based. 

 “You reward your dogs for doing the right things,” she explained. “You prevent or manage them from doing the wrong things.” 

Miller gave an example of the reward-based system being used to stop a dog from jumping up. “You need to keep your dog on a leash and teach it to sit,” she said. “It’s called teaching an incompatible behavior. You want to teach it what to do instead of what not to do.”

So, rather than punishing the dog when it jumps, a reward-based trainer will give it a treat when it does the desirable thing, sits in this case. The sitting position prevents the dog from jumping for a moment. 

“So, first you teach the dog a good sit. Then, if someone says, ‘Hi’ to the dog and the dog jumps, the person walks away until the dog sits again, at which point the person approaches once more. So, the reward for sitting, in this case, is that the dog gets to meet the person. Jumping makes the person go away.”

The dog training principals of Jennifer Wilhelm, a professional trainer affiliated with Grand Gorge Animal Hospital, seemed very similar

to those of Karen Miller and the reward-based system. She was asked what she does when a dog is not relieving itself where she wants it to do so.   

“I set the dog up to succeed,” she explained. “I take it to the place where I want it to eliminate and reward it as soon as it goes there. I use a special reward that I don’t give it at any other time, so it really makes an impact: ‘Cheese’ means that you get cheese if you eliminate in the right place. Then I set up the environment so that the dog doesn’t have the opportunity to eliminate in an inappropriate place.

“Actually, I have a puppy right now that I’m in middle of house training,” Wilhelm said. “Either he gets tethered to me when I can’t watch him, or I keep him in his crate if he hasn’t gone in the designated place after 20 minutes.”  

She takes him out of the crate and tries again after another 20 minutes. With puppies especially, you have to keep an eye on them for signs that they’re ready to go. “Make sure you’re letting them out to eliminate after eating, drinking and then multiple other times during the day.” 

To break a dog of the jumping habit, Wilhelm recommends teaching them to sit. “A dog can’t jump on you when it’s sitting,” she stated.  “I teach them to greet people sitting.”

Small differences aside, all three trainers seem to agree that a combination of affection, rewards and diligence in preventing unwanted behaviors is the recipe for a well-behaved dog.