Train Your Dog month - start now!

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column - 1/6/13
By: Gail T. Fisher

January is National Train Your Dog Month! This is the fourth year that the Association of Pet Dog Trainers ( has named January as NTDM. The idea behind TYDM is that January (or any month!) is a great time to start training your dog, if you haven’t started already. You may think training is more difficult in the winter. After all, it’s cold, your yard is snow-covered, or your street may be icy, but there are a lot of behaviors you can teach indoors in your home. It doesn’t take space to train good behaviors to your dog.

Sadly for us dog trainers, most owners don’t attend a training class or work privately with a trainer for their dogs. Further, few owners use books, DVDs or other sources to learn about training. The majority of dog owners rely on what they tried with previous dogs, their “gut feelings” about how to teach good behavior to their dog, or they simply don’t do any training at all.

But lack of training isn’t without consequences: It results in behaviors that owners won’t put up with, leading to failed adoptions. Poorly behaved, untrained dogs are brought to shelters or given away to a new home because of behavior problems, problems which can nearly always be eliminated with training.

Shockingly, according to the National Council on Pet Population Study & Policy, dogs that are turned in for behavior problems are likely to have been only owned for less than three months! This latter statistic is both startling and troubling. Think about a recently adopted dog. He bonds with his new family, and as he’s getting to know them, he’s feeling his way in the new environment—called the “honeymoon period” when a dog’s behavior is often suppressed. Then he starts to relax, and come out of himself. This may mean that he starts to exhibit behaviors that the family doesn’t love—not because he’s “bad,” but because he isn’t trained. Rather than seek help from a trainer, the new owner simply gives the dog up—once again homeless and unwanted.

How sad, when there is a simple antidote to dogs being given up for adoption—training! With just a little training and socialization, dogs are more likely to find “forever homes” right off the bat! As soon as you get your dog or puppy, start right away training the new family member using positive reinforcement, dog-friendly methods (such as marker training). Training teaches the dog the rules of the house, gives the dog clear-cut boundaries, and helps create and build a strong, bonded relationship.

Especially important for a puppy, virtually all leading authorities and institutions recognize the importance of socialization during their important early developmental periods—especially between eight and sixteen weeks of age. I have long advocated for early training, despite some owners’ fears that their puppy might contract an illness if they attend classes before their inoculations were completed. The late Dr. R.K. Anderson, DVM (Diplomat, American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine and Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists) wrote, "The risk of a dog dying because of infection with Distemper or Parvo disease is far less than the much higher risk of a dog dying (euthanasia) because of a behavior problem."

So if training can help prevent and eliminate behavior problems, if training and puppy socialization helps create healthy, well-rounded adult dogs, if training gives owners a well-mannered dog that can fully participate in their activities and lives—heck, that means that any month should be Train Your Dog Month. But it’s January, so how about getting started right now!

Copyright © Gail T. Fisher, 2013. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this article or suggestions for future topics, please contact us.