Obedience and Training
After you bring your pet home, it is important to implement the rules of the house right away. Introducing your pet to obedience training can strengthen the bond between owner and pet and provides a level of expectation for your pet. One of the most important training regimens to begin is “potty-training”, so pets have an understanding of where they should relieve themselves. Both male and female animals urinate to mark their territory, so bathroom training is essential. Remember that when training, you have to be consistent with training regimens, and communicate in a way that your pet understands.
What pets can be trained?
Nearly any pet can be trained when given enough attention, patience, and time. Some trainable pets include:
Newspaper and litter box training
Litter box training a cat is one of the simplest things to teach a pet. Once you show your cat where the box is, gently scrape its paw in the litter, informing the cat that they are allowed to dig; this will peak their interest, as they prefer to bury their waste. Start by limiting your cat to the litter box area, closing off other rooms of the home. After your cat begins to use it faithfully, gradually give the cat more space away from the litter box. If your cat has an accident outside of the box, check to make sure the box is clean. Cats are very meticulous and prefer clean spaces; if the litter box is too dirty, your cat may start relieving themselves just outside of it.
Bunnies can also be litter box trained using a method similar to cat training. After you bring your bunny home, pay attention to where they use the restroom. Like cats, they prefer to have clean living spaces and will relieve themselves in a similar location each time. After their spot is defined, place a litter box over it filled with rabbit-specific litter. The rabbit should gradually begin using the box.
Newspaper training a puppy is best started when they are very young. Begin by keeping the dog in a confined area with a bed on one side and newspaper on the other. Because dogs have a natural inclination to eliminate away from their living area, the puppy should eliminate on the newspaper side of their confinement. Each time they use their designated newspaper, offer praise. Be sure to keep one small piece of soiled newspaper on top; it will allow the dog to smell their scent and understand where their bathroom area is. As they continue using the correct area, begin to cluster the newspaper in an increasingly smaller area; gradually move it closer to the door you wish your pet to eliminate outside of, eventually placing it outside the door entirely. Continue praising the puppy as you move the newspaper and they continue to use it. Once you remove the paper from the house entirely, be sure to take your puppy outside before bed, when they wake up, and periodically throughout the day and praise them as they continue to eliminate in the correct place.
If any pet has an accident inside, be sure to use an enzyme-based cleaner not a cleaner that contains ammonia. In time, the ammonia will mimic the smell of urine which will encourage your pet to continue eliminating in that same spot.
Crate training is the easiest way to train a dog to eliminate outside, because it doesn’t allow them room to go inside. A proper-sized crate is just big enough for your pet to stand, turn around, and lay down. With little extra room, the dog will be discouraged to eliminate within. Immediately after letting the pet out of their crate, take them outside to use the restroom, offering praise after they go. With persistent, continual training, the dog will eventually only go outside.
Professional obedience training
If your pet is stubborn or difficult to train, or you want them to learn impressive tricks, a professional obedience trainer may be a good idea. Puppies can start as young as 8 weeks old, whereas horses wait until they are at least 2 years old.
Most professional trainers use a system of operant conditioning with positive and negative reinforcers. Because animals respond well to this sort of consistent training, they are capable of understanding what is expected of them, what is deemed “good” behavior, and which behaviors are unacceptable. Reinforcers (positive or negative) are gestures following a behavior with the intention of encouraging the behavior.
Positive reinforcers: positive gestures, such as being given a treat, or loud verbal praise; it is a reward given when the correct behavior is performed with the intent of strengthening the good behavior.
Negative reinforcers: the removal of an unpleasant gesture after a display of good behavior. By removing an unpleasant act when the correct behavior is performed, pets learn that bad behavior gets an unlikeable stimulus which will be removed only when they behave well. Most sporting horses are trained with negative reinforcers such as spurs or a riding crop.
Some professional pet trainers believe in only using positive reinforcers, others use different methods entirely. Be sure to search for a trainer that meets your needs, standards, and anticipated level of expertise.