Where do I Start? What Should my Dog Know?

The important stuff with a new dog
By Kay Bradnum

Does your dog know that he’s in his forever home? Safe and loved? That you will always have his back and protect him from things he’s afraid of? Then you’ve already done the important stuff.

When they first bring home their new puppy or rescue, many people feel absolutely overwhelmed with how much there is to do, how much there is to teach, and where on earth they should start! Many sources suggest starting with things like sit, stand, down, come, and stay. We say there’s a much earlier starting point, and it has nothing to do with teaching tricks on cue.

Every dog should be with someone they can trust. Your dog needs to learn that you will provide food and shelter, you won’t push him into situations he can’t cope with until he’s ready, and if you get it wrong and he does end up in such a situation, you certainly won’t tell him off for not coping. He needs to learn the world is a safe and fun place to be, that he can always tell you when something worries him, and that you will help him. It will help him to learn that he’s safe and loved in the family and that you will always be there for him. It helps you, and his confidence, if he knows where the toilet is.

That’s it. Everything else is the icing on the cake.

After that, think about what’s really important to you. Think about the so called ‘basics’ above:

  • Sit. Does your dog really need to sit? What will happen if he doesn’t learn to do it on cue? Many deep-chested muscular dogs, such as the greyhound and the Doberman, find sitting very uncomfortable. All young puppies and many giant breeds, like the St Bernard, can find it an effort to use those muscles. If your dog sits happily, you can add in a cue when they sit naturally so they learn to do it when asked. However, as long as he will stay quietly by your side when needed, a sit isn’t really necessary
  • Stand. This can be useful, but it isn’t a big deal. You can easily give treats and put the behaviour on cue when your dog happens to stand anyway
  • Down. See: Stand
  • Stay. You will need to teach your dog how to cope when alone, but stay while you walk ten paces away and back again? OK, you’ll need this if you want to compete in dog sports such as agility or obedience. If you don’t, what is it good for? You’re never going to leave your dog like that. He’s always going to be on a lead if it’s not safe for him to move
  • Come (Recall). Yes, this one is important if your friend is to enjoy time off lead, but it doesn’t have to be taught in the first few weeks. A really reliable recall, which works in in almost every situation, will take up to two years to perfect. Don’t rush!

Remember that all dogs are learning 24/7, not just when you have a training session.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t teach all of these. Teaching and learning exercises can be a fantastic way to bond with your dog, especially if it’s all done through play and at your dog’s pace. We’re just saying that you don’t need to get hung up on the fact that the lady down the road has taught her 14-week-old collie to competitive obedience standard, and feel you have to do the same.

There are many different types of dog sports you can try. As well as obedience, there’s agility, flyball, treibball, mantrailing, canicross, herding, heelwork to music (HTM), Schutzhund (IGP), bikejoring, trick training, carting, mushing, and lure-coursing, to name just a few. If you and your dog want to give it a go, then do it and have fun! But if your thing is a long sniffari going nowhere, that’s a great thing to do, too. In fact, all dogs should have sniffaris as well as anything else they do. But sports and tricks generally? They aren’t essential.

When it comes down to it, if your dog knows that he’s in his forever home, safe and loved, and that you will always have his back, then you’ve already done the important stuff!