Developing good habits with and for your dog is as important for your mental health as for theirs. You’ll be less stressed by knowing your dog is well-behaved and knows where the line is. And it’ll be more content with established boundaries since dogs pack animals, and boundaries have been proven to encourage healthy social development and lowering chances for problematic behavior.
Here are five good habits to begin with, whether you’ve just brought home a new dog or your current dog needs a reset on behavioral patterns. Just remember that in any training, you’ll need patience and firmness, especially if the dog has already been with you a while and needs to unlearn current habits.
- Don’t feed your dog at the table. Pretty much any dog will naturally want to beg when they see you eating and smell the delectable forbidden fruit of the human table. However, no matter how adorable it may look, with its big sad eyes or its lifted paws, don’t give in to its begging. Your dog has to learn to wait its turn and eat what’s rightfully theirs. If you do give in, you’re conditioning it to think it can have what it wants when it wants it. Of course, this will only encourage your dog to beg more insistently from now on, even whining or barking, which then disrupts dinner time. It can also give your dog the courage to attempt stealing from the table or counter when you’re not looking. And finally, the reality is that many human foods are not healthy for dogs to eat, and some may even be upsetting or toxic to their stomachs.
- Don’t let your dog pull ahead of you on walks. Pulling is going to be the instinct of most medium and large dogs, and sometimes even some small dogs. Going on walks is exciting, and dogs are surrounded by exciting sights and smells that get them riled up. However, the constant pulling will be hard on your dog’s throat and possibly on your arms, depending on the dog’s size. More than that, however, it will also train your dog to believe it calls the shots on walks- that it gets to choose when to stop, how long to stop, and when to chase after other animals. Instead, teach your dog to walk by your side by shortening their leash. Don’t let it pull. Over time, it’ll get used to it, and you can give it a longer leash for it to have a bit more freedom. By then, your dog should be able to use that freedom to walk calmly without dashing ahead, enjoying its freedom but no longer pulling against its collar.
- Play with your dog. Getting a dog is a big commitment. Unlike cats, a dog needs direct attention and play. By playing with it, you’re fulfilling a need for it and for yourself. You reaffirm your affection and connection with it and give it the playtime they need, both for physical exercise and emotional health, and you get to help your dog run out its energy so that when it comes time to be indoors or go to bed, it can wind down more quickly.
- Socialize your dog with people, other dogs, and children. The important thing to remember is to keep your dog on a leash and under direct supervision at the beginning. This way you have control if your dog decides it feels threatened or becomes angered at anyone. Once you’re confident that your dog can be trusted in social situations, you can try letting it off the leash but still under supervision. Eventually, most dogs will become quite comfortable meeting new people, dogs, and even children. Just make sure you learn to recognize its body language so that you can get it out of any situations that might make them uneasy.
- Set a schedule. A schedule can help a dog’s peace of mind just as it can help you. If your dog receives breakfast and dinner at a certain time, it’ll learn to be less antsy between meals. If it knows their walk is usually right after breakfast, it’ll learn to find other sources of entertainment at other times. It’ll develop a sort of internal clock that will allow it to relax and let you relax and do what you need to do. However, if you do this, make sure you stay somewhat within the schedule! You don’t want to train your dog to expect dinner at 6 and then leave it waiting until midnight.
Dogs need to develop good habits as much as people do- and as much for their human’s sake as for their own. Help your dog develop these five habits, and you’ll find that your dog will be much more content and well-behaved.