Ask The Dog Trainer: My first dog

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I am adopting a three-year-old Border Collie in a few weeks. I have never owned a dog and was curious what general advice you have as a professional trainer for a new owner?



Dear Melody,

The relationship between you and your first dog is such a special one, and often becomes the measuring stick to which all of your subsequent dogs are held. It is an exciting time filled with adventure and discovery!

Often, I see first-time dog owners become overwhelmed with the well-meaning and often contradictory advice of friends, family, strangers, the online community, veterinarians and coworkers. Remember, you alone will be responsible for the safety and wellbeing of your dog. What that relationship looks like is entirely up to you and not the community at large. Listen to everyone’s advice and then make up your own mind.

If you have a friend or family member whose dog’s behavior matches your ideal future pet, then ask them to share how they achieved their goals and what training style they used. Figure out exactly what it is you enjoy about their dogs. Are they friendly, confident, shy, calm, outgoing or attentive? Also observe friends and family members who have dogs whose behaviors you don’t enjoy, and decide what it is you dislike about those interactions. Are their dogs too energetic, inattentive, aloof, dog- or human-focused or pushy? Knowing your likes and dislikes will help you formulate the next piece of advice I have for you, which is to decide what “job description” you would like your new dog to have.

Your dog’s “job description” is a useful long-term goal for behavior traits and obedience skills you’d like to enhance in your new dog. Knowing these goals helps you have direction and purpose right from the beginning with your dog. For example, if you would like your dog to become your hiking buddy, then you will want to work on confidence and body awareness. Learn about canine first aid and hone your on and off leash skills. If you would like your dog to come to your office with you during the day, then focus on polite greeting of people, safe socialization around strangers and calm behaviors.

Therapy and service dogs will require consistent training from the beginning, often lasting up to two years, while family pets may only do training for six to eight months. For every list of goals there are a specific set of skills we suggest building, and a professional who has experience and expertise in the areas of knowledge you would like to focus on will prove invaluable.

When choosing a training style to follow, listen to your heart and do your research. If you decide to work with a dog trainer, call several before making your choice. Listen to how they discuss their relationships with their clients and their dogs, their training style and tools, their philosophy and program. Look at reviews and websites. If you begin working with a trainer and don’t feel comfortable with their methodology, feel belittled or ignored, or find your dog doesn’t thrive in classes, then switch trainers. Ask questions and be open minded to new ideas. Some trainers will offer additional classes on canine first aid, agility, tracking, therapy dog, service dog or herding skills. There are board-and-train trainers, at-home trainers, group-class trainers and private-class trainers. Follow your interests and your dog’s natural aptitudes, and you will find new passions and adventures.

As a general rule of thumb, we give adult dogs three months to acclimate to their new home. This is called decompressing. The first month your new dog will usually be hesitant, quiet and prone to anxiety. The second month they may become rowdy, vocal, pushy and forceful. With the incorporation of boundaries and training, by the third month the dog typically relaxes and becomes calmer, more confident and attentive and happy in their role in the household.

To prevent the second decompression stage being very disruptive, I strongly suggest implementing your boundaries and rules on day one of bringing your new dog. Stick to your household rules and be firm but kind. This will help your dog feel secure. If you don’t want your dog jumping, then correct the behavior from the start. You will find it much more difficult to shape a new, better behavior if you wait for days or even weeks.

When you bring your new dog home, remember that your world will have changed forever. You will both be anxious, excited and getting to know one another. Much like the start of a human relationship, you will need to learn each other’s preferences and form a bond through shared experiences. The relationship you have outlined above is one that will take time to develop fully. Enjoy the journey! There is never a dog quite like your first.

Kendall and Chandler Brown are owners of Custom K-9 Service Dogs, a dog training business serving Minden/Gardnerville, Carson and Reno. For information go to or email


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