I have 5 Primary Intentions when raising a dog: to 1.) Properly stimulate a dog’s brain; 2.) Interest a dog in spending time and enjoying social activities with people and other dogs; 3.) Extend a dog’s interests beyond its basic physical wants; 4.) Teach valuable communication skills; and 5.) Teach a dog a higher level of application of all of this into valuable and useful behaviors and responses.
The brain is the dog. I think we need to see the brain as more than what is inside the skull of a dog. Instead, it is the entire nervous system. The brain operates every aspect of a dog’s body and life. Sensory systems are brain gateways which need stimulation to develop properly, process incoming information, and produce functional and social responses. Early and proper exposure to variety of social and physical sensory stimuli are necessary for a dog to grow up to be a companion. Unsocialized and under stimulated dogs tend to grow up to prefer a solitary life which is plagued by fears, anxieties, and inappropriate responses. It is well known that if such exposures aren’t sufficient and proper, especially during “critical” or “sensitive” periods before 16 weeks of age, abilities and interests can undergo abnormal development or be lost permanently. Furthermore, a dog’s brain needs ongoing proper stimulation throughout its lifetime to remain a companion. Insults to the brain, especially if they create injuries, learned helplessness, or PTSD, can permanently damage and doom a dog to an early demise.
A companion dog should learn to be attracted to social interactions with people and other dogs. If you want your dog to be a good companion you need to help them become a good companion. This doesn’t just happen on its own. I saw an online post this morning about a rescue dog in a foster home that is “petrified”, “won’t eat or even go to the bathroom… just sits in a corner being scared.” These are the classic signs of learned helplessness. My advice was that someone needs to befriend that dog, spend time alongside it, talking and petting. We must help dogs engage in social interactions. They aren’t born knowing how to be social, and they also can become overwhelmed and need our help to get out of social problems. That’s why I recommend puppy parties, inviting everyone to you can to your home, during that first week the puppy arrives. I also recommend taking puppies to meet lots of friendly dogs, and possibly other species the dog might one day encounter, to interest this dog in being social and knowing how to engage and disengage depending upon the social situation.
We also want a dog to do more than just eat food out of a bowl and lay around like a carpet. If all you provide is just enough to meet your dog’s physical needs, you will miss out on having a fun companion dog. This is partly why I want students to get beyond treat training. There’s no problem using treats in training, but treats aren’t enough to develop a well-mannered, smart, social, fun companion. I saw an online post the other day that falsely claimed one of the best ways to communicate with a dog was through a leash. That’s absurd. That’s old school idiocy. Try communicating with a family member through a leash and see how that works out for you. You need to play with dogs, talk to them (a lot), take them places, buy them toys, safely roughhouse, use enrichment methods, and train them to be companions. You need to discover, and your dog needs to discover, what life is all about and their capabilities. All that can be tapped into to make your dog a great companion. I see a lot of dull dogs and part of my job is to break them out of their boring existence.
Dogs also need to learn to communicate with people, especially with you. This is the primary role of obedience training. My students learn to work with their dogs, and affection and communication go both ways. I think of it this way. Rats are kind of smart. Chimpanzees are spooky smart. Most people treat their dogs as if they are only as smart as a rat, when instead, I teach people to treat their dogs as if they are almost as smart as chimpanzees. We greatly limit our dogs by being too silent, giving military-style one word commands in a firm voice, and not expecting much out of our dogs. Treating them like they are stupid. Instead, it is time to start giving your dog the benefit of the doubt that they know, and can do, much more than you ever imagined. For example, about 5 years ago, one of my students had let her 2 dogs out into the yard to potty one last time before bed. The older dog finished and came in by himself. But the younger dog, about 8 months old, was fooling around, kept running around looking for rabbits, and wouldn’t come back inside. The owner got frustrated, told the older dog, “Go get her!” That dog ran out into the back yard and herded that pup back inside! We had done a lot of training with the older dog, all the way through advanced obedience. But we never taught him to go get another dog or herd anything. We never even used the words the owner used that night. Stuff like that should open your mind to the fact that dogs are listening in, and watching, a lot more than we give them credit for. Thus, I encourage all my students to go well beyond the simple basics of Sit, Down, Come and Heel. Dogs are smarter than that.
Lastly, dogs can and should be trained to a level that they can do advanced obedience. That stuff isn’t just to get a ribbon at a competition. It is to fully maximize what a dog can be as a companion. To me, advanced obedience isn’t just the stuff that is required to get a ribbon, it is turning all of that into useful behaviors and attitudes which make for a great companion dog. Thus, can you tell your dog to go find a specific person in the home and then lay down when they find them? Can you tell your dog to go inside the home and get in their crate? Can you get your dog to stop fooling around outside, drop that toy and go in the sliding glass door? Can you get your dog to chill while you are talking to the neighbor in your front yard? Or do some useful tasks in the home or yard? Can you get your two dogs to obey independently around one another?
Have you taken all of what you’ve put into your dog and use it to go anywhere, do anything reasonable, with your dog? Most people never even try to get this far with their dogs. Remember, your dog isn’t a rat, your dog is up there with the smartest of the mammals. These 5 Primary Intentions can be implemented with any dog. The earlier you start, the better the long-term results. But, even if you have gotten a late start, every dog can benefit by attempting to infuse these intentions into their daily activities.