Advice for new dog owners is never in short supply. Everyone who's anyone who's ever owned a dog will be liberal with their tips, shortcuts and pearls of knowledge. Listen to it all but remember this: every dog is different. Advice for you, as a new dog owner, is only as good as the relevance it has to your very specific, unique dog.
As a professional dog trainer, I trained thousands of dogs. Mostly, but not exclusively, gundogs. My own dogs haven’t always been gundogs though. My three dogs now are Rottweilers - or to be specific two are Rottweilers and one’s a Rottweiler cross.
I’ve owned and trained puppies, young adults and older dogs. And when I think about the most important things I’ve learnt (and subsequently taught) along the way, there are four simple things that I do every time - regardless of a dog’s age or breed. To me, these are the fundamentals of dog training.
1. Be patient, let your dog’s personality develop
Whether you’ve bought a new puppy or rescued an older dog, it’s important to let your new dog’s personality develop in good time.
My golden rule of thumb with puppies is to let their personalities start to properly develop and shine through before I start training them (aside from the puppy basics, like housetraining which is clearly necessary at a young age).
I usually start training my puppies properly at around nine months old and this is important because you get to know the real dog and see their true character before you start tuning behaviour simply by teaching life lessons.
While for rescue dogs, and I’m talking about dogs young and old, your dog may need time to adapt and settle to grow in confidence and show their true selves. This may take a few days or it may take weeks or months. It’s important to give them that time to really settle and grow.
Our rescue dog, Danny came to us as a stray and his background was unknown. As we already had two other dogs, when he joined us he had role models to follow and grabbed onto their routines with all four paws, but it took some time for him to reveal his true (goofy) personality because at first, his confidence came through Mia and Chris, our other two dogs.
It was only after some months when he realised this was his home, we were his family and we - and his routines - were here to stay because we were his and he was ours, that he was confident enough to show us his true nature and settle in a different room to us if that was where he wanted to be, because he was confident enough to know he could.
2. Find out what makes your dog tick
Learn what your dog's hierarchy of favourite things is.
It might be food, toys or a favourite game. It might even be praise. You need to know what value your dog places on things to be able to motivate them appropriately and reward good behaviour.
I always say the best training tool - aside from number three on this list - is the tennis ball. It’s a humble toy, I give you that and it’s not expensive. But if your dog is toy orientated, there is no better training tool. It’s the perfect reward.
Of course, if your dog’s a foodie, you can’t go wrong with some small training treats.
I say small because you can fit more in your pocket and you don’t have to spend time breaking them up while your dog is waiting for their reward.
3. Get a whistle
I always tell everyone - get a whistle. But not just any whistle - I recommend a very specific (and not expensive) one. When I was a professional gundog trainer, I used mine to train thousands of dogs and I still use it now.
Learning the art of whistle training will help you to teach your dog to come back with a simple toot. Anyone can learn whistle training, dogs love it and you can use it in any open space because the sound carries (more than your voice will).
4. Have fun
The journey of owning a dog and sharing your life with someone who finds joy in everything really is a privilege, so don’t forget to have fun and enjoy every moment of spending your days with someone who really will become your confidente and the best friend you ever could have wished for.