We get a new puppy with the belief that it must fit in with our family life. He must learn what is acceptable right from the start.
What most people do is to try to teach the puppy what is NOT acceptable instead.
Cocker Spaniel Cookie is nine weeks old, and they have had him for just two days.
They have three very young children too. There are toys everywhere. The children have furry animal slippers. They run about and they make lots of exciting noise.
Imagine what a huge adjustment this is for a puppy, away from the only world he’s known.
Cookie gets excited and bites a child’s foot. Screams from a very upset child.
Dad goes ‘No No!’.
Cookie chews the carpet. ‘No No!’ A loud sound from a human. Or ‘Uh-Uh!’ It temporarily stops him. It’s possible he doesn’t even know the barking noise is aimed at him, but it’s very loud.
The most important message I can give this family in my first visit is to be creative. To find all sorts of ways of showing Cookie what he can do instead.
I showed them how to teach the puppy to come when called – for food. ‘Cookie-COME’ in a kind and bright voice. This then puts him on some sort of remote control unless, of course, he’s too aroused. Instead of ‘No No!’, they can call him away from what he’s doing and reward him for coming.
Then they can give him something else to do instead. It’s hard work and constant while puppy is awake.
The second important message is, when Cookie uses his teeth on something inappropriate, to keep showing him what he can chew. This means they need many more small and chewable objects to hand.
A puppy needs to chew.
They also need pockets full of tiny tasty rewards – to reinforce everything he does right and to reward him.
Cookie has run of the downstairs and the quite big garden. He charges around, chasing the children as he would other puppies. With space comes uncontrolled wildness.
Parents are continually having to rescue their children from a puppy hanging onto their clothes.
So, the third most important thing in this very first visit was to lend them a puppy pen. Having had complete freedom for a couple of days Cookie may object for a while of course. They can make the pen into a kind of wonderland with, for instance, lots of stuff from their recycle bin for him to chew and wreck.
This will be Cookie’s safe place. Children don’t go in there.
Even outside the pen, they should let sleeping dogs lie. This is hard with youngest not yet two years of old. Cookie needs protecting too. I suggested the little girl imagines Cookie, when asleep, is in a bubble. If she bursts it a horrid smell comes out. She drew me a picture.
One forgets how exhausting a tiny puppy can be.
I shall be going again in a few days when Cookie has had time to settle in. There is a lot to cover to make sure a puppy gets off to the very best start. We will be pre-empting possible future issues like resource guarding or separation problems.
They should be ‘socialising’ him to life outside – other dogs, cars, bicycles, people of all ages, shops and so on. This even before he has finished his injections because the earlier they do this the better. He’s so tiny they can carry him.
‘No No!’ is confusing. Correction and crossness can at best result in a puppy that is unmotivated to do what we want, scared of us even. At worst it can lead to confrontation or aggression. Focussing on trying to stop puppy doing puppy behaviours means everyone will be frustrated.
‘Yes Yes!’ is motivating. The puppy will want to please. Focussing on and reinforcing what puppy does right means everyone will be happy.