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Teaching Good Manners to Adopted Dogs

By Robin Tierney

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In this issue, trainer/author Sarah Wilson shares tips for teaching good behavior to adopted dogs (adapted from a recent issue of GOOD OWNERS, GREAT PETS -- see www.greatpets.com).

One of my mottos is: Dogs left to their own devices revert to their heritage. Meaning, an untrained Golden Retriever may try to eat your underwear. An untrained Terrier may try to eat the cat. And an untrained guard dog may try to eat anything that comes too near.

These tendencies are heightened by fear and stress such as being put in a shelter environment. Both Aussies and German Shepherds attach deeply to their people upon whom their sun rises and sets. Without the security of belonging, many of these dogs can temporarily spin out of control behaviorally.

A smart move is to hire a good trainer and stick with the training. Here are more tips from Sarah Wilson for training and educating your adopted dog:

Structure! Dogs like this need intense, consistent, daily structure. Meaning every interaction you have with her, you have her do something or you first. EVERY one -- she sits or downs or comes. This will anchor her on every level and has the benefit of giving your many repetitions of basic control behaviors daily.

Teach her how to be friendly: She needs to learn HOW to greet people before you attempt to have her greet them. When she gets overwhelmed, she can react aggressively. It is fear and confusion but that makes it no less dangerous. Barb Janelle, a Tellington Touch practitioner, talks about there being four possible reactions to stress/fear: Flight, Freeze, Faint and Fight.

First, make boldness a game. Start with an object she knows and does not fear. Put it on the floor and say excitedly "Touch" or "Check it out!" Walk over to the object and when the dog touches it -- praise and give a treat. Now move away from the object and repeat. Repeat until your dog this is the easiest, stupidest game she has ever played.

If your dog is frightened, reward when she gets as close as she can manage, then retreat with her and try again. Never drag her toward the object. Just cheer her on when she moves forward, reward the best effort with food then retreat. She'll soon get up her courage.

Next, start adding different objects -- things she has never seen. Have fun -- try a poncho on a chair, open umbrella, beach ball, balloon or wind-up toy. Soon it will be a game she loves to play. Once she knows that when you say the magic words, all will be fine and a treat or two are involved, you'll have a way of signaling her to be bold.

Now, start teaching her to "say hello" to people. Start with people she knows and likes. Put her on lead, tell her happily, "Say hello!" and walk cheerfully over to her friend. Have them hand her a treat without looking at her or speaking to her -- then walk away immediately. Praise her as she approaches. Tell her how smart she is!

Repeat, repeat, repeat -- until she drags you over to her friend for her goodies. Once this is happening, play this game with other people she knows well. Then with people she knows less well.

Never allow a person to reach for the dog. This will set you back. When the dog finally does come up to strangers, have the person hand her a treat then walk her away. Don't hang out to "see what she'll do." Your goal is always to remove any pressure or stress before she feels she has to act on it.

Remember Zen Dog Training Rule #1: Act as you want your dog to act. If you want her to be happy and friendly, act happy and friendly around people. If her behavior causes you to behave like her (i.e. fearful and anxious) she will not be able to look to you for help.

For more Dog Tips and other information about pet care, adoption and the work PAW does, visit our website at:

Partnership for Animal Welfare, Inc.
P.O. Box 1074, Greenbelt, MD 20768