The same way that our Twin Maples Veterinary Hospital team knows your pet needs nutritious food and preventive care, we know that training and socialization are key components of your dog’s general wellbeing. And, we recognize that training is not only a puppyhood rite of passage or an owner’s obligation, but also an ongoing pet-owner relationship.
Go beyond “Sit” and “Stay,” and read about five benefits of socialization and training that can transform, enhance, and extend your dog’s life.
#1: Social networking: Build your dog’s confidence through positive exposure
Socialization shapes how your puppy or adolescent dog views the world, and what kind of adult dog they’ll become. Effective socialization involves creating positive encounters with new and unfamiliar stimuli, which helps your dog learn to cope with their ever-changing world.
While many owners focus on introducing their puppies to unfamiliar people and pets, socialization involves much more, including these sensory experiences:
- Sights — Exposure to visual stimuli (e.g., bicyclists, children playing, construction) can help your dog learn that these are neutral and non-threatening and can decrease reactivity and anxiety.
- Sounds — Introducing your puppy to various everyday, unusual noises can help them cope with environmental sounds (e.g., thunder, fireworks, home appliances).
- Substrates — Textured surfaces, such as sand and grass, and unstable footing, such as balance boards, can build your puppy’s confidence for real-life situations—standing on stainless steel veterinary tables or slick hospital floors, for example.
- Experiences — Gentle body handling, physical restraint, toothbrushing, and grooming help puppies learn that these are safe, not stressful, events, which will simplify their lifelong care.
#2: More than manners: Basic obedience training can save your dog’s life
Everyone loves to joke about their dog being an obedience school dropout, but uncontrollable, inattentive, and reactive dogs are no laughing matter. Untrained dogs are more likely to run away, become seriously injured, or die early from an accident (i.e., hit by a car) or behavioral euthanasia.
Basic obedience skills can literally save your dog’s life by preventing emergencies.
- Recall — “Come” can stop your dog from running into traffic, chasing a squirrel, or charging after an unfamiliar dog.
- Impulse control — Teaching your dog a “Leave it” command so they ignore dropped food or other dogs can prevent dangerous toxin ingestions and dog fights.
- Focus — When your dog gives you their complete attention, they’re less likely to be distracted or upset by environmental circumstances.
- Stay — Stationary behaviors and confinement (e.g., crate training, platform training) can keep your dog out of harm’s way and help them remain calm and focused.
However, should your dog need to go back to school, the Twin Maples Veterinary Hospital team can recommend local certified dog trainers.
#3: When things get tricky: Trick training can turn shy dogs into stars
Spin, high-five, shake, and similar behaviors are anything but “stupid pet tricks.” These seemingly silly or purposeless behaviors are powerful yet simple ways to build a shy or nervous dog’s confidence, motivation, body awareness, and enthusiasm.
Trick training helps your pet to learn, without the pressure or structure of formal obedience training. Plus, you can start the training whenever and wherever your shy pet feels comfortable, such as the living room or on the couch. Trick-training methods are traditionally positive, acknowledging success with food rewards and praise rather than correction or punishment, which can stifle a shy or anxious dog.
Finally, because tricks are fun and associated with treats and positive emotions, the behaviors themselves are inherently rewarding. If your dog feels shy or nervous at Twin Maples Veterinary Hospital or in any environment, ask them to perform their favorite trick, and watch their mood and energy lift!
#4: Let’s get physical: Dog sports engage your active dog’s body and mind
Is your dog a high-energy hound or a canine Einstein? Recreational or competitive dog sports channel your pet’s innate talents and promote mental and physical fitness. Find an activity that matches your pet’s strengths or try all of these popular favorites:
- Agility — Active dogs who love to jump, climb, and run may find their calling in dog agility.
- Disc dog — Flying disc is ideal for dogs who live for mid-air catches.
- Flyball — Tennis ball connoisseur? Check out this fast, furry relay race.
- Herding or treibball — Rural and urban herding breeds especially enjoy these instinctive sports.
- Lure coursing — Lure coursing engages the canine prey drive and is perfect for dogs who love to run and chase.
- Nosework — Thoughtful dogs who love using their nose can be trained to sniff out birch, anise, and clove oils.
- Dog-powered sports — If you enjoy being active with your high-energy dog, check out canicross, bike-joring, and ski-joring. These team sports use your dog’s pulling power while you run, bike, or ski behind them.
As with all physical activities, ensure you visit your Twin Maples Veterinary Hospital veterinarian for a pre-sport health assessment to ensure your pet is fit for sport-based training.
#5: No age limit: Training shapes your pet’s brain
Training helps your puppy or dog learn how to learn, form new brain pathways, develop critical thinking, understand expectations, and feel confident and secure. And, while training early in life is ideal, the benefits aren’t exclusive to puppies. Most adult and senior dogs are equally willing and capable to engage in training, and regular, positive, physical and mental engagement can reduce or slow cognitive dysfunction (i.e., dementia) in older dogs.
Now that you know how training can enrich your dog’s life and your special bond, what are you waiting for? Grab some treats and your four-legged friend and learn something new, together!