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TRAINING TO PREVENT PUPPY & DOG PROBLEMS

Written by Caroline Spencer Author of “Why Does my Dog Do That?”

Training to prevent an issue may often result in that issue. We invariably train puppies to learn adult tasks as soon as possible but forget they need to be puppies first, then adolescence to adulthood. We don’t teach our children to pass their GCSE’s before they have done their ABC’s. The most important thing we ever teach our children is how to get along with others, to fit into society and to feel safe and understood.

Below are a couple of examples that will hopefully get you thinking.

Ask yourself, have you ever seen another dog train another dog? And if so how did they train it? They educate by example, all pups want to be with their mum, they heel naturally, are patient with guidance, look to mum for reassurance in the way she gives it. Their mother is calm and quiet and the one they can look to for support and understanding. If they are too forceful in their greeting, the mother will simply ignore that puppy or put it gently in its place. The pup learns it doesn’t get what it wants like that and on the next approach with being rather more thoughtful.

Remember self control is the best control when teaching not to Jump up

Thinking on the above and how a mother teaches a puppy respectful interaction, when you’re approached by a leaping bounding ball of fluff, don’t insist on a sit, as you’re saying you’re wrong!” I like to show him quietly “That’s not quite right” and guide for a more thoughtful approach, reason being is that by getting a puppy to sit becomes a battle in many cases. Why? Because it’s a really weird thing for a puppy to do, making it sit away from you, feeling vulnerable on a mat with no support just you controlling him. As a result he will invariably jump more and slink off out of confusion… he wants to be with you, so you need to show him the most respectful way to get you, so, just step towards, so the puppy naturally gets down or pop the pups feet down and then call for affection. Then he learns how it’s done. By getting a dog to sit if he jumps up, you have disregarded his conversation, being controlling and teaching no self control and put him on the naughty step IMO. Embrace his conversation and remember always it’s what you do NOT what you say that makes the difference.

We bring pups into our lives and away from all they have ever known, mother and siblings, all communicating as dogs. You can’t be a dog, but you can get close to communicating your wishes in a more natural way, for him to truly understand how to fit into your world, feeling safe and understood by you. Break down the barrier and listen to what he’s saying and don’t crush his self-esteem by trying to control him, instead give him the tools to self-control.

Remember, pulling on lead is not prevented by teaching a puppy on a lead

A puppy will naturally follow you if you give eye contact and walk away, give encouragement and praise when praise is due so they know they are doing well. Also being closer to their level makes it easier for them to comply. As above, a puppy will follow you and doesn’t need to be trained to, all he needs is to be educated to follow you in all areas you visit in your day, week, month and year.  Issues arise because we expect them to learn follow you, heel with you in places that really are not conducive to learning, for example… a training class, in a new place with many other puppies of various ages ranging from 12 weeks to adolescence of 6 or 9 months.

Firstly, all the puppy wants to do is play, so in my mind what a great way to learn how to get on with others, under the right supervision with someone who really understands Canine communication and doesn’t reprimand puppies for being less that respectful, but guides them to make better choices.

Secondly, In a class you’re putting a puppy on a lead and trying to get it to ignore everything around you and him, to walk or sit as requested by either force or treats, when all they want to do is play. It’s like trying to conduct a very serious lesson in Paltons Park! So you have put your puppy on a lead and it pulls away to another puppy, he has learnt to pull in one easy step! It becomes a tug of war and with certain personalities they take up the challenge whether you have a treat in your hand or not. Some comply because they are easy going characters or food treats have become an obsession (however, they are not doing it for you! They are doing it for food). So what to do? Educate at home off lead, gaining trust and then wean on to a lead day by day, there is absolutely no rush, it will come, just enjoy and have fun as perfection will come in time, so take the pressure off.

Thirdly, if the class has ages from 3 months to 9 months you’re trying to teach a huge age range, some pumped full of adrenaline and testosterone, this creates problems. Adrenaline is the fuel of flight and fight and bearing in mind dogs live by their noses this in its self is going to be a huge barrier to your puppy’s /dogs learning as it will be on high alert, wondering what the adrenaline fuelled dog, is going to do next. It’s a highly charged atmosphere and one that in my opinion should be avoided. So choose your puppy’s learning environment and friends wisely. In my mind, there is no place like home for a good starting point.

Rememeber Dog To Dog Aggression is not prevented by flooding with dog interaction   I’ve come across too many dogs traumatised by strict sit, stay and heel classes in close proximity to personalities of dogs that really frighten them. My choice is to always teach at home, in a low stimulus environment and move forward gradually as lessons are learnt. To then move into other environments with more going on around them, which enables the puppy / dog to learn at his learning speed and personality. Remember not be driven by your expectations.  Your puppy is not going to be aggressive because he hasn’t played with many other four legged friends, he will become aggressive if made to play with the wrong personalities. In general you are not going to solve aggressive issues around dogs by flooding them with their fear either.

Remember Toy possessive behaviour is not prevented or solved by winning tug-o-war??Keep adrenaline low, always start any interaction with a calm thinking puppy or dog. I’m not a fan of tug-o-war as this gets adrenaline up and accidents happen and with many makes them possessive of various items. Yes, a mother plays this with her pups, so they learn to win and lose, but if you watch her, she doesn’t invite over the top behaviour and drive the game to extreme. She stands quietly and holds the toy, maybe a gentle pull back a release, so the pup will either tug, hold and also learn to release. There is no challenge for the toy, it is simple lesson within a gentle game. Trainers advise us to play a rather more full on, adrenaline pumping game, that invariably gets out of hand, and is stopped with a command, this game is one played by adolescences when they are testing each other out.

Rolling about on the floor is another, mothers are gentle and disable themselves and are non-confrontational. If you ruff and tumble you’re behaving like an adolescent  and with the wrong personality you’ll find yourself in trouble. Be that kind, gentle mother and keep emotions calm. Play finding games together, work as a team and enjoy.

Dog to human aggression prevention Your puppy is not going to be human aggressive if he doesn’t get any negative input from humans, or made to endure endless affection from strangers. If you’re puppy was born in a place where he got very little calm cuddle time from humans, then he will be wriggling and nipping to get free, he’s started life with you, with little input from humans and so will take time to readjust. To force a cuddle isn’t going to work, it has to be done in his time frame and short and sweet and not thrown into every visitors arms to make it happen, because 9/10 it will not turn out well. If you give every visitor a treat to give to your puppy, then you’re on the road to your pup as he grows up, running to every human as a food factory. If your pup walks to a sitting visitor and doesn’t jump up, just sniffs, then without leaning over the puppy visitor can tickle pup under the chin and pup can move away as he wants. Low key, happy, relaxed experience.

Remember Learning to be alone takes time. We go over the top to “train” a puppy to learn that being alone is not to be feared. People are told to leave a crying puppy for 10 mins or so and let it cry it out. This is in my mind is cruel … studies have been done on crying babies and find that those who were left crying, have mental problems as adults. Puppies and babies don’t cry to be difficult. They feel abandoned when left alone, they are crying for company, tired, hungry or want a pee (dirty nappy) etc. Yes they do need to learn that being alone is not a problem but they need to be shown slowly and with thought and understanding. The better way of weaning a puppy to accept being alone is if you don’t want him to follow you, then don’t make eye contact as you move to another room and then shut the door for momentarily, say for 15-30 seconds. This relays the information to the puppy that you don’t need him with you and he doesn’t need to be with you all the time, then, by opening the door a short time afterwards, shows him he can join you if he likes. Don’t make “him suck it up” and “get used to it” attitude.

To be Calm and unflustered in the outside world, you have to take it slow. Getting puppies used to life with you in the outside world immediately your puppy has had his jabs, can back fire big time, too much stimulus and little understanding of our world can be pretty frightening, so look to how you do this in a manner to which your puppy can gather information and at the same time feel supported by you by always ensuring you do not prolong an experience. Two second sniff and go with dogs, people and so on and two second look and go with things further afield if your pup is not engaged with you. By doing this your puppy takes in the information and then back on to you, which means that if he was at all concerned, then logging back to you as his calm, unflustered support and guide is perfect. This lesson shows them how to avoid conflict and feel safe. We are advised to take puppies and rescues everywhere, to experience everything they’ll come across in their life time, from cars to bikes, to people to dogs and so on and so forth. Take your time, one experience at a time, in environments that are not over stimulating and move on week by week.

I witnessed one dog being walked towards a path sweeping vehicle, he looked very reticent, when he swung round on his lead into the road in front of me (I had stopped my car as saw what was coming) He was chastised by his owner for being bad L How easy would it have been to simply, cross over the road or walk away? That dog now will be terrified for life about those vehicles and how much trust will he have in his owner. Why didn’t I stop and say something? Probably because I like my face the way it is!

Remember removing food from a dog whilst eating 9/10 will result in food aggression

How would you feel, how would your child or friend feel and what would they or you do if one day you gave them a meal a treat a sweet and then took it away. We learn to share as we grow up but not in the early days. Be a giver and then as your dog matures there will actually be no issue at all and sharing will be fine But there are amny personalities out there and some just don’t share!!. Never remove food from a puppy or try sort food aggression by intimidation, you’re asking for a problem.

All dogs, like us have their own personalities and we need to tap into the way they learn. Not the way humans have decided they learn. Some find it easier to learn the tricks of the trade like sit, stay, give a paw etc, others don’t and quite frankly I don’t see the necessity to train those tricks, your puppy will do it naturally with the right guidance if he trusts in your decisions and you don’t force him to do it right now. Take the pressure off to perform in any given area for those too young and too soon, remember to they all have individual personalities and choose the environment wisely.

More food for thought … let your dog be himself, he will get along fine with people, other dogs, be happy where ever we go on and off lead, if we don’t force experiences or friendships and control their every movement. Gain your puppies and new rescues trust before you venture forth to our confusing and frightening world out there. No dogs are naughty or trying to annoy you or others, they are simply communicating the only way they know how. If you force a pup or dog to do anything but be a dog, they will present with bigger and more concerning behaviours.

More info in “Parenting Your new Puppy” by Caroline Spencer & Lesley Harris (follow this link)

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