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Mike England

How to be a good dog-owner. 

Nobody wants to be that guy—the one with the unruly dog that jumps on people, snatches food from their hands, and barks incessantly. Problem is, correcting this and other annoying canine behavior requires a certain doggedness: a resolute commitment to proper training. But correct it you must—as Bozeman’s population grows, its future as a dog-friendly town hangs in the balance. As the old saying goes, there are no bad dogs, only bad owners. Here are a few ways to ensure that your pup is well-behaved—and that you, as its master, are well-regarded.

Know the Code
Firm, fair, and consistent. Make this your mantra. The manner of execution is up to you; everyone has his or her own style. But follow the principle, especially the “consistent” part. If you let your dog get away with something one day and not the next, you’re sending mixed signals. A confused dog is a misbehaved dog.

Get Social
Well-socialized dogs know how to behave around others. Isolating your pooch in the back yard or keeping her always on-leash prevents this essential education. Watch older, free-roaming dogs—they approach other dogs slowly, allowing time to size each other up, and they never lunge or attack without provocation. Let your dog learn these behavioral patterns by trial and error, and the rest of her life (and yours) will be much less tempestuous.

Be the Boss
All domestic dogs come from wolves: pack animals with a clearly defined hierarchy. A dog doesn’t care what position he holds in the pack, as long as that position is made clear. He must know you’re the alpha, the pack leader who decides what the pack does: where it goes, how it lives, what the rules are. Make it clear that you’re in charge and he’s not. Teach him to adapt to your lifestyle and your routine—not the other way around.

Manners Make the Mutt
All good parents teach their children manners. Please and thank you, excuse me, don’t interrupt—all these are a parent’s duty to society and make the kid better liked. A dog is no different. Look out for the following:

1. Jumping up. You’re the only one who finds this cute. In case you hadn’t noticed, a gentle escort down does not make the dog reconsider its actions. Push him down, hard, along with a verbal rebuke. If he persists, put a knee in his chest or step on his hind toes.
2. Barking. Nobody likes a yapper. Shut your dog up and people might actually pet her once in a while, or offer to dog-sit while you’re out of town.
3. Begging. You can let your dog beg from you, but it annoys everyone else. Teach her “No begging” and “Out of the kitchen” and watch how many more times she gets invited to parties.
4. Not paying attention. Most dogs want to please, but they can’t obey if they’re not tuned in. Remind your dog to listen, not run amok indulging every whim and ignoring your commands.
5. House Rules vs. Society Rules. You may love to cuddle on the couch with Bridger, but chances are, your friends don’t like dirt and dog hair on their new leather futon. Teach your dog to ask permission before mounting the furniture.

Toughen Up
Having a dog comes with certain responsibilities. One of those is to society. Poorly trained dogs are the reason we have leash laws—and the more misbehavior, the stricter the regulations. Don’t be afraid to give decisive orders and punish defiance. Negative reinforcement may be unpleasant to administer, but it has its place. You may think you’re being nice, but you’re doing a disservice to the dog and everyone else. And remember, if you neglect to properly train your dog, don’t be surprised or indignant when others step in—they’re simply assuming the position you’ve abdicated. Instead of getting defensive, shake their hands and thank them for being caring, responsible citizens of Dogtown, USA.

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