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Dog Training Tips – How to Handle a Timid Older Dog
The adoption of a new four-legged companion is always a life-changing event. You’ve thought long and hard and decided to adopt an older dog. You find the perfect one at your local animal shelter, you sign the adoption papers, and a few days later your new life as a proud dog owner begins.
Lacey is just over a year old, and the only thing you know is that she was found roaming the city streets. After a few days of letting your new friend get acclimated to her home, you try a few basic training commands – Lacey doesn’t respond to sit or lie down. When you call her to come, she slithers forward on her belly with her ears back, obeying but very hesitant and scared as though she is waiting for a blow. That’s when you realize that she has come from a prior bad situation, and now facing you is a training challenge you might not have anticipated.
Many dog owners find themselves in this situation when they adopt older dogs, and it can be an unpleasant shock if you don’t prepare yourself in advance. Unlike when you adopt a young puppy, bringing home an older dog means you also adopt her prior history. Most dogs who have had prior bad experiences are completely capable of becoming loving, loyal, and devoted companions. They just require a bit more work and understanding during the training process in order to grow and preserve the loving relationship you want.
Build Trust, Then Train
With timid dogs, the first thing you want to do before disciplined training can begin is establish a bond of trust. Lacey’s prior experience with humans has conditioned her to feel that when even when she is being good or responding well to a command that she will still be punished. Therefore, it is crucial in the initial stages of your relationship that no matter how frustrated you may get – we all have our bad moments! – that you not exhibit similar negative behavior. This is not to say, of course, that you cannot establish yourself as the alpha dog. Stay on the easy side for a week or two, and then start becoming progressively firmer in your training sessions and expectations of obedience.
Another important training component for the timid dog is building Lacey’s self-confidence. This is done partially through your training efforts, but socialization and changes of scenery are equally important. Take Lacey to the dog park, doggy day camp, or play dates with other pets on as regular a basis as is best for both of you. Utilize good judgment with socialization. Make sure you can control Lacey, that the introduction situation is safe, and that you have an exit strategy planned in advance if things don’t go according to plan. If possible, enlist a dog loving friend or family member to periodically watch Lacey for the day or keep her for the weekend. The advantage to this is that she will learn to be at ease outside of your presence, which is an important component to having a well-rounded animal and helps keep her calm and relaxed when you board her to go on vacation or business travel.
What You Can Continue to Expect
As you progress with your training, you’ll likely encounter this common scenario: Lacey has an excellent understanding of the basic commands, but only in certain locations and situations. Does she sit on first command in the house, but ignore you outside on a walk when she’s occupied by something else? Remember that you must establish yourself as the alpha, which means she must obey you on first command no matter the situation. Begin giving commands in various situations where you usually don’t, and don’t relent until Lacey obeys. Do not use undue force such as physically forcing Lacey to sit – rather, make it clear that the walk will not continue until you are obeyed. This tactic will preserve the trust and love that you have established with the timid dog, and teach her the true meaning of sit, which is that she sits, stays, or comes, when you say so regardless of the situation.
With a bit of effort, commitment, and a heaping dose of love and understanding, you’ll soon find yourself with a loving canine companion. Older dogs who come from bad situations often make the most loyal and protective pets you could hope for once they have established that bond with you through disciplined training and love.
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