PUPPY TRAINING: TAKING CHARGE
Dogs are a highly social species, which normally in the wild will live in
packs. Each pack has a leader that the other members follow and respond to.
When puppies enter our homes the family become its new pack. Puppies adapt well
to this artificial pack as long as the members of the family take on the role
of leader. A pushy puppy receiving insufficient guidance and discipline and
allowed to get its own way, may eventually take on some of the role of the controller
of the pack and cause problems in the home.
When is the best time to begin training my puppy?
Traditionally formal dog training is delayed until 6 months of age. Actually,
this juvenile stage is a poor time to begin training. The dog is beginning to
consolidate adult behavioral patterns, dominance behavior is emerging, and puppyhood
strategies, which have been successful thus far, can be difficult to correct.
Therefore, it is best to begin teaching puppies from the time they are obtained.
One important task to begin early is to establish yourself as the controller
or "leader of the pack". Control and the use of appropriate discipline and body
handling techniques helps to establish this.
Is physical force necessary in order to gain control?
Although there are many physical techniques that have been advocated for gaining
control, it is the owners' attitudes, actions, and responses to the new puppy
(along with the puppy's genetic tendencies) that are most important in determining
whether the puppy will become either a well-mannered and responsive individual,
or stubborn and disobedient .
Some dog training literature may encourage the use of scruff shakes and rollover
techniques to discipline puppies. While these may change behavior, they are
harsh that could lead to fear, anxiety and retaliation. It is much easier to
teach what you want, rather than discipline what you don't want. This makes
a positive, learning environment for the puppy to grow up in. There are advantages
to teaching your puppy to assume subordinate postures and this can be accomplished
with training the dog to obey commands for rewards. In addition to basic training,
there are a number of physical exercises that can help to establish owner leadership.
(See body handling below).
How can I gain control without physical force?
The best way to show the puppy that each family member is in control, is to
teach your puppy that each reward must be earned. Begin with some basic obedience
training, teaching the puppy to sit, stay and lie down for rewards. Practice
short sessions, several times each day. Whenever the puppy is to receive anything
of value (affection, attention, food, play and walks) the puppy should first
be taught to earn its reward by performing a simple obedience task such as "sit"
or "stay". Teach the puppy that rewards of any sort will never be given on demand
i.e. "nothing in life is free". The puppy must be taught that localization,
nipping, mouthing, overly rambunctious or demanding behaviours of any sort will
never earn rewards. In fact, these behaviours should be met by inattention or
by confining the puppy for a few minutes until it settles down. Another option
is to immediately control and calm the puppy with a head collar. Only when the
puppy is performing appropriate responses should rewards be given.
You can also restrain your puppy and give it rewards for relaxing and accepting
this degree of control. Do this when the puppy is calm, such as after a nap.
Avoid fear and struggling. Be gentle, and only make the puppy be still for a
few seconds in the beginning. Gradually you can increase the time you make your
puppy yield. These sessions also have the added benefit of teaching your puppy
to be still for later activities like grooming, teeth brushing and other maintenance
Set limits on the puppy so that it can learn that you are in control. Having
the puppy sleep in its own bed or own cage rather than on your bed or couch,
helps to keep it under control. When the puppy is taken for walks it should
be taught to follow. This should begin at the front door where the puppy should
be taught to sit, wait and follow and never allowed to lead or pull you through
What should I do if my puppy misbehaves?
Undesirable misbehavior must be prevented, or corrected in the act. Allowing
the puppy, even once to perform an undesirable behavior such as entering a restricted
room, jumping up, mounting or jumping onto the couch may serve to reward and
encourage the repetition of the behavior
There will be times when your new puppy misbehaves. How you reprimand your
puppy will often influence later interactions. Young puppies are very impressionable
and easily intimidated. Keep this in mind as you discipline your puppy. Harsh
physical reprimands are contraindicated. They only serve to frighten the puppy.
Animals can learn as a result of a single episode if something is aversive enough.
We want young puppies to look toward a human hand as something pleasant that
brings comfort, food and affection, not something to be scared of. Puppies are
easily disciplined with vocal intonation and loud noises. What is equally important
is to redirect the puppy to the correct behavior after you interrupt what you
do not like. For this reason we often use instructive reprimands. The tone signals
that the puppy has done wrong and the reprimand communicates what must be done
to correct the problem. For this reason "Off" is preferable to "No" as a command
when a dog jumps up. Remember that punishment must take place while the behavior
is occurring, not after.
If you catch your puppy misbehaving, try a loud noise such as clapping your
hands with an instructive reprimand if possible. Reprimands need to occur while
the behavior is happening, preferably just as it begins, and never after. Often
puppies will be startled when they hear these noises and temporarily stop the
behavior When the puppy responds appropriately you need to tell it that it is
a good dog.
Another way to interrupt your puppy is with various types of noise devices.
One such device is a "shaker can". This is an empty drink can that has a few
pennies inside and which is then taped shut. When given a vigorous shake it
makes a loud noise, which will interrupt the puppy's behavior Another device
that makes a loud noise is the so-called "rape alarm". When activated they make
a shrill, loud, piercing noise, which will startle the puppy. Ultrasonic and
sonic dog training devices are also available. Any of these devices must be
used with care.
The most important thing that you can do to avoid undesirable behavior is
to supervise your puppy. Unsupervised puppies will chew and destroy objects
as part of their natural curiosity and play. Rather than finding yourself with
the need to reprimand your puppy, keep your puppy on a lead to avoid bad behavior
and provide suitable play objects designed to entertain your puppy.
Most importantly, if you find something that your puppy has destroyed but
you did not catch it in the act, just clean up the mess and try to avoid the
same problem in future. Do not get your puppy and bring it over to the
mess, yell or physically discipline him. Remember that you need to punish the
behavior you wish to change at the time it occurs. If you did not see your puppy
chew up the object, all you are doing is disciplining your puppy for being present
at a mess on the floor. Since that makes no sense to your puppy, your reprimands
could create fear and anxiety leading to aggression, owner avoidance or other
What can be done for the particularly stubborn, disobedient, or headstrong
Puppies that are particularly headstrong and stubborn might need some fairly
stringent rules. Tug-of-war games should only be allowed if the owner initiates
the game, and can successfully call an end to the game, with an "out", or "give"
command when it is time to call it quits. Rough play must not escalate to uncontrollable
play biting that cannot be controlled by the owner.
One of the best management tools for gaining safe and effective control at
all times, is a head collar. The puppy can be supervised and controlled from
a distance by leaving a long line or lead attached to the head collar. The principle
of collar training is to gain control over the dog with as much natural communication
as possible and without the use of punishment. Positive reinforcement is used
to encourage the right behavior A pull on the lead is used to disrupt misbehavior
Since the collar is attached to the dog's muzzle, common behavior problems (nipping,
barking, jumping up, pulling, stealing food, etc.) can immediately be interrupted
without fear or pain by pulling on the lead. The collar places pressure around
the muzzle and behind the neck. This simulates the muzzle and neck restraint
that a leader or mother dog might apply to a subordinate and therefore is a
highly effective and natural form of control.
What types of handling should I begin with when I start to train my puppy?
A. Body Handling
You will do yourself and your new pet a favor by teaching your new puppy to
allow you to handle his body. Throughout the life of your dog there will be
times that you need to handle various parts of the dog's body. You may need
to wipe their feet, clean their ears, give medication or bandage a paw. Yet
if you have never handled your dog these simple tasks could become impossible.
Handling also serves to reinforce the control you are able to exert over your
puppy. You should gently handle your puppy daily. Pick a time when your puppy
is calm, like just after a nap. Do not try to start a body handling exercise
when your puppy is excited, rambunctious or in the mood for play.
Place the puppy in your lap and touch the feet, open the mouth, look in the
ears and under the tail. All the while, praise your puppy for being good, even
offer a few tasty food treats. Be sure to keep initial sessions very short,
since you want your puppy to succeed and not struggle. If the session is too
long you run the risk of the puppy struggling and getting free. This could send
a message to your puppy that struggling brings it the reward it wants. Always
set up the puppy to succeed, but on your terms. Gradually increase the amount
of time you control your puppy. Soon the puppy will allow and perhaps anticipate
these handling sessions, especially if you combine them with a command like
"Time out". Then when you need to, you can treat and handle your dog without
difficulty. All family members should participate in this exercise. An
adult should supervise young children. If you see any hesitance or reluctance
on the part of the puppy, you will want to repeat the exercise, until you can
accomplish the handling without resistance. Do the same exercise a little more
gently or in a slightly different location, and give some tasty treats for compliance;
gradually progress to more difficult situations. Never force the puppy to the
point that it exhibits fear. Gradually overcome any resistance through quiet
persistence. Over time your puppy should allow you to place pressure on the
back of its neck while it is in a down position, to roll it onto its side, to
grasp its muzzle and to be lifted (if it is small enough). These forms of handling
should not be used for punishment.
B. Food guarding, toy guarding
Another exercise that is so important is to acclimatize your puppy to having
his food and possessions touched by humans. Dogs will often guard their food
to prevent its loss but this is not necessary in the home. We are not going
to take away our pet's food and not give it back. Handle the food bowl while
your puppy eats, pet the puppy and perhaps lift the bowl, place in a special
treat, and return it. When walking past the puppy while it is eating you can
place a treat in its food bowl, or reach down, pat the puppy and give a treat.
This way the puppy learns to tolerate intrusions and disturbance while it eats
and will not be startled and react aggressively should something unexpected
happen when eating. If the treat you add is tasty enough, the puppy may even
look forward to your approaches during feeding. If any growling should emerge
you should seek professional guidance immediately.
You should also practice gently taking toys from the puppy. Quietly and calmly
place your hand on the toy and tell your puppy "give" as you remove it from
its mouth. Then say "thank-you " and return the object as you tell your puppy
to "take it". Repeat this training task multiple times daily in multiple locations.
At times take the object and offer a favorite treat instead, this will let your
puppy know that sometimes something better comes from relinquishing the object.
You should be able to handle any of your puppy's toys. This sends the message
to the puppy that it is okay for you to handle its possessions, and that you
will give them back. The puppy will trust you and then when you need to remove
something from the mouth, your dog should accept your interference without conflict.
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