People who get new puppies seem never more excited as in the first few months of the new puppy entering into their lives. Unfortunately, the excitement fades all too quickly and the commitment to be a responsible pet owner is soon forgotten. Mostly, it’s because the puppy turned into a menace and started acting like puppies ought to – the puppy plays rough, bites, chews on everything, cries when he wants something, pees and poops wherever, whenever he needs to go, and so on. A few months after I’ve completed the first series of puppy vaccinations for a certain puppy, I often hear that my client has now resorted to tethering or caging their pup – now a young dog – because of the behavior problems they are having with him.

In the Philippines, a dog with behavior problems rarely becomes a shelter dog, which – as you may know – is common in developed countries in Europe and in the US. In our case, it is more likely the owner will opt to keep the animal confined or tied up in some part of the house, which leads to neglect and then disease. This is probably the single most compelling reason for why animal behavior and training should be considered highly relevant to the practice of veterinary medicine.

But what does it mean to train a dog? The common image conjured up by the word “training” is that of a bomb sniffing dog or a protection dog like those we often see in malls and at the metro railway stations. And yes, these are highly trained working dogs. But even companion or family dogs need training to understand human rules and house manners: knowledge which dogs are not born with.

Training is to communicate with your dog. It not only enhances the relationship between dog and owner, and spares a lot of dogs from life in a cage or at the end of a tether, but it is also an important preventive measure against diseases resulting from neglect, abuse and even just a simple lack of awareness. Training addresses a dog’s need for physical and mental stimulation, which is important for maintaining overall good health.

Vets don’t often emphasize the relevance of training to a dog’s health because commonly veterinarians are confronted with already severely disease-afflicted animals. But pet care professionals should not overlook dog training and owner education for its potential to prevent disease. It should be an integral part of any vet’s prophylactic program to educate people as to the roles of a responsible dog owner, and to emphasize that responsible dog ownership does not end with puppy vaccinations and daily regular meals.

While we may call ourselves “owners” dogs are not simply possessions, they are lives that we are responsible for, not to be acquired on a whim nor discarded whenever their care becomes too difficult for us.

“He was sooo cute that I just had to get him!” are words that can eventually lead to a miserable, tortured life and a slow death for an adult dog. Think before acquiring a puppy or dog. It is after all a life long commitment that if one is willing to take on the responsibilities, can be fun and rewarding for both dog and owner.

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