A pet's happiness as well as its physical welfare is often dependent on its having been taught some basic discipline. It does not break the spirit of a pet to teach it to recognize its master as master, whose commands are to be obeyed.
The mere fact that the animal is a pet means that it has been taken from its wild, natural state, and in this condition it is dependent on its owner for orders about how to live as well as for its food.
In most large cities there are pet training schools which are actually schools for training owners to train their own pets. On the whole they are very good.
Certain basic bits of training can be started almost as soon as the animal can walk, certainly by the time it is weaned. The owner should not expect too much of it at this time, any more than he would expect too much of a human baby, but the pet can begin to learn.
An animal learns not by understanding the words spoken to it, but by an association of ideas. The act that has a pleasing result will be repeated; the act that has an unhappy result will be avoided. The pet will not learn the first times these things happen, but it will learn if the same act always brings the same result. Animals vary in intelligence not only from type to type but from individual to individual of the same breed. Yet practically all animals can acquire the basic training required of a good pet. And it is surprising how much they can learn if the trainer has patience and perseverance.
Usually, the first problem that occurs with a new pet is housebreaking. Most pets are instinctively clean- cats so much so that if given a box of sand or torn paper, they rarely require any training. Housebreaking a puppy or a raccoon (even pigs can and have been housebroken) may start about the time the animal is weaned.
It is better to break the puppy to the outdoors rather than to paper, if the climate and circumstances are such that it can go in and out. The puppy should be furnished with a small box, large enough to allow it to lie down or turn around and be comfortable, but so small that there is no distant corner which it can turn into a toilet. Because it does not want to soil its home, the puppy will attempt to control itself while in the box. The owner must remember that a small animal needs frequent relief and it should be taken outdoors every two to three hours, always to the same spot. The puppy will soon associate the spot and the odors of it with the need to relieve itself. It should be taken outside immediately after food, exercise, or naps. When it behaves as it should, praise it to show that it has done properly.
The puppy or other animal to be housebroken should be kept in the box and not given the run of. the house except when it can be constantly watched. Then when it goes to squat, as it will, rush it outside immediately. When there are errors, scold it instantly, so that the pet will know why it is being scolded. The trainer should remember that the animal does not learn from the words said to it, but from the tone of voice and from associating the immediate result of an action with that action.
When it is necessary to break an animal to the indoors, confine it to a fairly small space, a small hallway or bathroom, and spread papers over the entire floor. S&on the pet will show a preference for some particular spot. Then, gradually, the trainer can start removing the other paper until the favored spot is all that is needed. Follow the same process of scolding and praising the pet's proper and improper behavior. When it is allowed in the other rooms of the house, watch it constantly and carry it back to the papers when necessary, until it learns to go there itself.
One of the most important things in the early training of any animal is to teach it to come when it is called. Without this any further training is almost impossible. A cat, raccoon, horse, practically any four-legged animal can be taught to come at a whistle or call.
The training for this can be started as soon as supplementary feedings begin. Let the pet learn to associate its name, or the call, with its food. Whistle for it, call it by name, then pick it up and place it before the food. If this is done every time it is fed, it will learn.
This may be all the training of this sort necessary, but more likely a few, slightly more drastic lessons will be needed. For the puppy these are best given when it is about three to four months old, not before then. It is best to work outdoors if possible.
A narrow collar, not a harness, should be used for early training. The puppy is inclined to strain against a. harness, and this makes the training more difficult. Also, since the puppy's bones are still soft, the strain may make its elbows turn out.
Fasten a light rope 20 to 50 feet long to the pet's collar; then, holding the other end of the line, move as far away as possible and call. If the pet does not come at once, jerk on the line, then release the pressure, and call again. Keep this up until he has come close enough to be patted and praised, to show that this was what was expected of him. Then go through the process again. When the pet comes, reward him with a bit of food or dog candy.
When the pet seems to have learned to come on call (this may take only a few minutes or it may take several daily sessions of a half hour or so), remove the line and call again. Without the line the pet may take off in the opposite direction. Follow it immediately, calling, until it is recaptured. Scold it for having run away, replace the line, and go through it all again.
Training the pet to walk on a leash (which can be done not only with dogs and cats but with practically all pets, including some chickens) is particularly important in the city. Let the pet get used to the leash gradually. Put it loose on the floor and let him play with it. Later fasten it to his collar and let him move freely about the room, pulling it after him. When the trainer first takes hold of it, he should let the pet go his own way for a while, learning that he and the trainer can walk in comfort with this thing.
Once the pet is accustomed to the leash, he should be taught to sit down and be quiet. Holding the leash, command him to sit. Then take the skin of the throat with one hand and push down on the hindquarters with the other, saying, "Sit! Sit!" When he does sit down, praise him to show that he has done what was wanted. The odds are that the pet will be so proud of himself that he will jump up for more praise. Then go through the routine again and again.
A dog can be stopped from barking simply by holding its mouth shut. The dog won't like this, but if the trainer is consistent, ordering "Quiet!" and holding the dog's mouth whenever the order is given, the dog will learn to quit barking to avoid having its mouth held.
The trainer should not expect too much too quickly. Bad habits are easier to avoid than to break once they are formed. Training requires effort and intelligence on the part of the trainer and, above all, consistency and persistence.