This article was compiled by Patty Mead from various dog magazines, and dog chat groups from America On-Line and Compuserve. If there are more tidbits you would like to see added to this article please drop us a line,
So, you've added a puppy to the family. You know that with some patience and love that funny fur-ball will soon be a larger and well-behaved dog. However, according to the American Animal Hospital Association, unwanted behavior is a leading reason for euthanasia of dogs in the United States. So what are the keys to having a dog that is obedient and properly socialized? First, train the owner, then the dog. Second, socialize the dog.
As stated above, owner education is crucial to preventing common puppy behavior problems. Basic training should begin immediately and new owners are advised to be diligent in supervising the new puppy and attending to its needs. For example, two normal puppy behaviors--housebreaking accidents and destructive chewing--can all be avoided by observing the puppy and being aware of situations in which the dog can misbehave. Don't give them the opportunity to act inappropriately is the golden rule.
Puppies, however, are not ready for hard obedience training. At the younger ages (and some contend throughout the dog's life), training through reward rather than punishment is the way to go. Young puppies are willing to please and quite often will comply with only praise as the reward. Rarely, if ever, do puppies need to be physically forced to execute the desired behavior. Instead, most behaviorists and trainers will recommend you correct unwanted behavior by encouraging and enticing the puppy to behave appropriately. Replace the tennis shoe with a chew toy if the puppy is exhibiting destructive chewing, or training the dog to get its chewy when you first walk in the door if it is doing the frantic "hello biting" when you return from a day's work. Praise, affection, and food are all effective rewards for the young pet in its new home.
Equally important to raising a well behaved and adjusted puppy is to provide proper socialization. Ways of doing this include: supervising the interaction time with all family members at first, having people over for short visits, and then taking the dog out for walks where other dogs are (after the puppies have their shots, of course). Finally, and most importantly, take the puppy to early puppy training/socialization classes. A common mistake new owners make is to shelter the young puppy and then express surprise when it won't behave under new and/or unusual circumstances. The golden rule here is that if the puppy is expected to live harmoniously with adults, children, gun shots, cats, dogs, cars, etc., then they should be gently introduced to all these stimuli early.
So, you've done all the socializing you can but still have some behavior problems. What can you do? First, do not lose hope. Visit your veterinarian to discuss the problem to make sure nothing medical could be causing or contributing to the behavior. From your veterinarian, a local dog club, or other Vizsla owners gather advice or referrals to books, training products, or services. (This is where the Vizsla listserv can come in handy. Sometimes fellow Vizsla owners are able to provide advice that clears up problems with just a little effort.)
Ten Tips for Preventing Pet Behavior Problems compiled from the pet forum on America OnLine and from recent dog magazines:
1-Set rules immediately and stick to them -- consistency is difficult but if you can't be consistent now while they are young, you will have difficult times when they are older. For example, "no jumping" is a good rule for the puppy because when the Vizsla grows up to be 45-65 pounds, jumping can lead to injuries.
2-Prevent opportunities for inappropriate behavior.
3-Observe the dog and provide what it needs. If the dog needs exercise and you don't provide it, you are inviting unwanted behavior. Understand what your puppy needs and provide it. Owning a dog is more than feeding it and taking it to the vet -- it also means exercise, grooming, play, attention, training, etc.
4-Supervise the puppy through undivided attention and initially restricting access to a limited area of your home. We've already suggested (April 1995) that new owners might want to consider staying home when the puppy first arrives. Helping the new pup adjust to the new environment goes a long way in bonding and learning to know what your dog needs.
5-Encourage good behavior with praise and food. Nothing is more painful than seeing a puppy with a choke chain as its regular collar. Praise and food surprises can go a long way in convincing a puppy to "do right."
6-Correct bad behavior by providing positive alternatives, not through painful corrections.
7-Never physically force compliance to commands, most especially with young puppies.
8-Don't play overly rough or encourage aggression or play biting.
9-Expose your puppy to as many people, animals, and environments as you can so that they can become familiar with new situations.
10-See your veterinarian if behavior problems exist or speak with members of your local club or fellow Vizsla owners.