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Tips to help you start training your dog — and keeping your goals realistic

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

With lockdowns, work-from-home changes, and the emotional roller coaster of pandemic years, millions of people turned to pets. Nearly 1 in 5 households in the United States adopted a pet during the pandemic. That's according to the ASPCA. Whether you participated in the pandemic dog boom, recently adopted a puppy, or have had the family dog for years, all dogs can benefit from training throughout their lives. From NPR's Life Kit, Samantha Balaban has some tips for where to begin.

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SAMANTHA BALABAN, BYLINE: I adopted Winnie from a shelter in 2019. She had no knowledge of basic commands, and she came pre-programmed with a lot of anxiety.

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BALABAN: She needed two kinds of training, obedience - sit, stay, lie down - for which we attended a group class taught by a dog trainer, and behavioral.

KAYLA FRATT: My area of expertise is primarily working with dogs with aggression, anxiety, phobias, those sorts of things.

BALABAN: Kayla Fratt is a certified dog behavior consultant and runs Journey Dog Training. She's kind of like the therapist of the dog training world. If you're not sure what problems to address first, Kayla Fratt recommends a dog behavior consultant.

FRATT: Anyone who has really taken the time to specialize in one of these beefier behavior problems is going to have the chops to help you through something more minor, more typical as well.

BALABAN: To find a dog trainer or dog behavior consultant near you, start with a list compiled by one of the professional associations. Fratt, for example, belongs to the IAABC, the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. No matter what method you choose - personal trainer, group class, a free YouTube video - you will have to be an integral part of your dog's training. Kayla Fratt says training doesn't have to take up a huge chunk of your day.

FRATT: When I was raising my puppy, Niffler, it was probably about five minutes a day of actual training where I'm actually like, all right, I'm going to get the treat pouch out. We're going to sit down, and we're going to work on something.

BALABAN: And when your dog just happens to be doing something good, like sitting quietly by your desk, reward them with a treat. One thing to keep in mind is to be realistic about your training goals.

Kim Brophey is the author of "Meet Your Dog: The Game-Changing Guide to Understanding Your Dog's Behavior." She's developed a framework called LEGS.

KIM BROPHEY: And that stands for learning, what their experience in education has been; the environment, the genetics that they bring to the table inside and out, and then the self, which is the internal conditions.

BALABAN: Winnie, for example, came from a hoarding situation. She'd spent several years learning that people weren't always nice. She can unlearn that, but it's hard. Your dog might nip at your heels or chase your kids because of G, genetics.

BROPHEY: It could be, you know, 10% border collie, 10% Australian shepherd, 10% German shepherd, 10% standard collie, and all of a sudden we know, well, we've got a herding dog.

BALABAN: You can't change your dog's genes, but once you've identified the root cause of the behavior, you can learn how to manage it. Sometimes, though, training isn't enough.

ANDREA TU: A lot of these behavior conditions are like psychiatric illnesses, and we can also prescribe medications to help with that condition.

BALABAN: Dr. Andrea Tu is a behavior veterinarian. She says if your dog is experiencing fear, anxiety, panic, aggression, you should treat it like the medical need it may be.

TU: It's kind of like having a patient with diabetes. You don't not give your dog insulin for its diabetes because that's what it needs to maintain the appropriate level of hormones in his body.

BALABAN: Since I adopted her, Winnie has taken obedience classes and gotten one-on-one training to manage her trust issues. For stressful situations like going to the vet, she's got anxiety medication. I should note, however, she did decline to comment for this story. No matter your approach, though, dog training will enrich your life and, more importantly, your dog's life.

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BALABAN: Samantha Balaban, NPR News.

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MARTIN: For more from Life Kit, including how to adopt a dog, go to npr.org/lifekit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.