Pet ownership advice from a certified dog trainer

By Michelle Barson, KeraVet Bio staff

In honor of “National Adopt-A-Dog,” month I sat down with Mikkel Becker, a dog behavior consultant and certified lead animal trainer for FearFreeHappyHomes.com

What’s the one thing you wish people knew before they adopt a dog?

  • How much time and care goes into having a dog. People think of having a dog as a benefit for us and not as much needs to go into the pet. Especially the healthcare component, the cost, and time. It’s not just the money for basic food, but for boarding, training, veterinary care, regular medical concerns. It is a big commitment.

What do you wish you could tell every first-time dog owner?

  • Remember your dog is a sponge and is always learning. They are paying attention to you – specifically to your body language and your moods, so be the type of leader they can respect and love.

  • Give your dog opportunities to meet your expectations by training them. They want to please you and giving them that opportunity will make them happy and begin to build your bond.

  • Let your dog be a dog and don’t be put out by them doing what dogs tend to do. Also, give them the opportunity to be a dog by taking them on walks, to dog parks, and playing with them.

  • Guide them to the right thing you want to do and then reward them for it. Rewarding your dog for good behavior lets them know what behaviors work for both of you and strengthens your bond.

What’s your advice for a family wanting to introduce a new dog at the same time as a new baby?

  • Personally, I prefer infancy for a host of reasons, but perhaps the most important is how emotionally productive it is for a child to have a relationship with a dog. I love this stage of life for introducing a new member of the family. In most cases, it’s about preparing the dog appropriately and making sure they have a safe space away from the child – especially once that child becomes mobile. There are rare cases where the dog doesn’t work well with a baby and then re-homing the dog might be necessary.

Talk to me about the human-animal bond.

  • The human-animal bond encapsulates our physical and emotional health. Pets are family. We are now “multi-species families” because we view our pets as another member of our family. It’s gone beyond the utilitarian and working purpose, to this emotional purpose. It’s here to stay and will only grow from here.

  • One of the best ways to enhance your bond is to know what your dog loves. Maybe it’s just being with you or perhaps it’s more specific, such as being petted, experiencing soft eye contact, or exercising together. Finding what your dog loves and then actively participating in it will give you both a release of endorphins and oxytocin.

  • Dogs are also great at helping us build bonds with other people. Find activities that allow you both to socialize and that you enjoy doing together. Our pets can often create a social bridge between us and others around us.

  • The bond is so important, and it can be damaged. For instance, some people have unfair expectations of their dog. They get frustrated at their dog and think their dog “knows better” when they often might not know any better. They might know that you get upset but that doesn’t mean they get why. Instead of punishment, be sure to find ways to proactively guide the pet to appropriate behavior prior to the unwanted behavior occurring, or gently redirect them to an acceptable behavior once the unwanted behavior begins. Think of it as positive parenting. Instead of punishing and scolding – in what ways can we teach them what we want and then reward that good behavior.

About Mikkel Becker, CBCC-KA, KPA CTP, CDBC, CPDT-KA, CTC

Mikkel Becker is a certified trainer and certified behavior consultant and is the owner of Mikkel Becker Animal Training LLC. She is the coauthor of 6 books and lead animal trainer for FearFreeHappyHomes.com. Mikkel is committed to helping pets and their people live better lives together through kind training and bond-building methods that partner closely with the pet’s veterinary team. Follow, Like, and Subscribe to Mikkel by clicking on the links below.

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