Novice Dog Owners Wanting to Get it Right.

I was greeted enthusiastically by the most adorable little dog. Six month old Bertie, a Dachshund Jack Russell mix, leapt up at me in joy.

All my usual rules went out of the window. I just had to fuss him.

Novice dog owners, they want to get things right.

Adorable dog with novice dog ownersThis was an unusual case for me in that there was no crisis and neither were they at their wits’ end. They are novice dog owners just wanting to get everything right.

Novice dog owners tend to turn to the internet. Anyone who has done this knows the vast range of conflicting advice available. For this reason they may dip into one thing and if it doesn’t ‘work’ quickly, they then try something else.

There is a huge divide between old-fashioned strict training and harsh discipline, and modern force-free training allowing the dog choices and using rewards.

Novice dog owners can’t be convinced, out of the array of advice available, whether they have hit on the best solution. They may lack the conviction needed to keep going and to see it through. The choice also can encourage disputes between the humans as to what is the best approach.

Bertie is somewhat excitable as one would expect and the things he does that worry them are mostly as a result of this. They may be novice dog owners, but they have done a lot of good things.

For a mix of Daschund and Jack Russell Bertie does very little barking. They have a puppy that is house trained. He is extremely gentle with no nipping anymore. They also have a pup that is happy to be left by himself.

Advice tailored to the dog.

The sort of advice I have given them so far includes nutrition. Not only does the right food help him to grow strong and healthy physically, it also affects his mental state. Good quality protein is vital. We know what colourings and e numbers can do to kids’ behaviour, don’t we.

Bertie likes to chase the cat – because of course the cat runs. We looked at a bit of ‘cat and dog’ training. We looked at things to keep Bertie’s jaw busy, to redirect stress and excitement at key times like when visitors arrive. Things like a Kong, filled then frozen.

We looked at games and activities that would satisfy his need for appropriate simulation without leaving him over-aroused. Sprinkling his food over the grass is a great activity.

Finally, I got out my clicker and in no time at all Bertie had learnt to target an outstretched hand on cue.

I had a wonderful two and a half hours with the delightful couple and adorable little dog, and can’t wait to see them again. We can then go further with the clicker training and address anything new that may have cropped up.

Just as with children, with a dog we can never say ‘job done!’

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog will very likely be different to the advice I have given for Bertie. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

No No! Uh-Uh! New Puppy and Total Confusion

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.

No No leaves puppy confusedThis sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

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.

From www.dogguy.net

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.

Cookie’s Bubble

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.

Puppy Parenting Goldendoodle Puppy

This is the start of my Puppy Parenting journey…

Puppy parenting

Being such a good boy. Loving the clicker

…with the delightful Richie, a Goldendoodle puppy now age 14 weeks.

I usually like to start as soon as the puppy arrives in his new home but often, as in the case of Richie, people put in fantastic work with the toilet training and other training themselves, but aren’t prepared for puppy’s teeth!

They contact me when their attempts to discipline their wayward puppy are making things worse and they are growing desperate.

This is from the message I received when they first contacted me:

‘We got him at 8 weeks. He is very excitable at home and when meeting new people and dogs. He is very aggressive with his mouth and we can’t seem to stop him using his mouth when we play with him. We have taken him to a puppy class but he just doesn’t concentrate. All he wants to do is jump all over the other puppies. He gets what we call the crazies and he zooms around the house, biting our pants, socks, shoes, shoe laces, clothes – anything he can get his mouth on. He loses interest in toys very quickly and doesn’t play happily by himself for very long.’

He’s a puppy – being a puppy.

The most immediate thing to address is Richie’s way of, when thoroughly stirred up, flying at the lady and ‘attacking’ her.

What we soon realised was that this only happens when Richie is so excited that he can’t control himself. They also soon saw that his high state of arousal was sometimes caused by themselves. It’s like he’s clockwork and they wind a key in his side until …… off he goes!

One trigger time is when the man arrives home from work. The lady will excite the puppy with ‘daddy’s home’ when she hears his car. The man walks in the gate to give the aroused puppy a huge welcome.

Richie will then fly, not at the man but at the lady, biting her arms and grabbing her clothes.

They have already taught their clever puppy to sit, to lie down and a few other things. This makes people feel, quite rightly, that they have really achieved something. At just fourteen weeks Richie is fully toilet trained.

Just as important as training tricks where his humans are directing him, is the puppy working certain things out for himself.

He does this by experimenting with what works and what doesn’t work.

If jumping up and nipping gives fun and feedback – it works. If barking while the lady prepares his food ends in his getting the meal – it works. If jumping up gets the fuss – it works. If calmly waiting, sitting down or standing gets the feedback – that will work too.

That is the beauty of clicker training. It shows the puppy just what does work. He then starts to find ways of ‘being good’. If the clicker isn’t to hand, the word ‘yes’ will do because all the clicker means, really, is ‘yes’. 

Good recall is like having puppy on remote control.

Making a game of it, using food and constant repetition, Richie can soon be taught to come running when called.

He’s chewing the table leg? Instead of a loud NO, they can call him. He will come. They can then reward him and give him something better to chew.

Too much ‘No’ merely causes confusion, frustration – and wildness. ‘No’ is hard to avoid when we are pulling our hair out!

Puppies notoriously have a wild half-hour in the evening, zooming from room to room and flying all over the furniture. Dealing with the wild behaviour involves avoiding deliberately getting him stirred up, shutting doors as space encourages wildness, and redirecting this pent-up energy onto something acceptable that he can wreck or attack!

A Puppy can soon learn that ‘being good’ isn’t rewarding. Fun or gentle attention can sometimes be initiated when he’s awake but calm.

There are brain games, hunting games and there is clicker training – which to puppy should be a game. Here are some great ideas.

Our main catch phrase for now is ‘Change No to Yes’.

We have only just started. Puppy parenting is largely about pre-empting, diverting problems before they start and laying the foundations for happy walks and self-control.

Puppies can hard work!

From an email about seven weeks later: ‘We are doing great and Richie is becoming a totally different dog to the puppy we struggled with. Your help teaching us to be calm with him has been invaluable….. I don’t have much to add to the plan to be honest, as we have moved on a lot.   The only thing I can think of is Richie is alarm barking, especially from our own garden when he hears noises etc. but we will work on this. I am very pleased with how we and Richie are progressing.  All our friends and family are being calm with him and he is such a good boy around them.  He is growing up fast!

 

 

Food Glorious Food.

An emergency visit to another biting puppy!

Food works wondersThe young couple have had eight-week-old Springer Spaniel puppy for just four days. His flying at them and grabbing legs and clothes as they walk about has reached such a level that they are wearing their wellies in the house now!

Actually this is sensible. So many people with puppies walk about in bare feet, socks or even fluffy sllppers with pom-poms and suffer.  Puppies instinctively chase and play with moving things.

Their trump card is – food!

Until a few days ago Piper was with her litter mates, all eight of them. She would chase, grab and bite. They would let her know, as would her mother, if she was too rough and she would understand.

Unfortunately, we humans are speaking an entirely different language. We think, with NO, whisking the hand away and perhaps grabbing her that we are telling her to stop. To her the play-kill game is simply intensifying.

Piper has now had four days honing her ‘grabbing clothes, chasing feet and biting hands’ skills!

In my first visit we dealt with the biting in exactly the same way as I did with Henry a few days ago.

We used food. We used food, not to reward biting but to reward behaviours that involved not biting.

They will also get a pen so she has a small area in which good things happen and in which she has plenty to chew and destroy when she gets over-excited! A sancturary, too, where she can fall asleep with nobody, children in particular, disturbing her.

I am always amazed how quickly such a young puppy catches on to what a clicker is all about.

I use it simply to say ‘Yes!’. If there is no clicker to hand the word can be used. It’s always followed by food. In a few minutes the puppy is looking for ways in effect to please us – looking for ways to make us say ‘Yes’ with that click. Every small wanted behaviour gets a ‘Yes!’ – like walking beside me without flying at my trousers. Very quickly she realised that she earned attention (and food) for sitting or being still.

Adorable.

The food she needs to eat anyway can be used for something useful. It can be used not only to teach her that the best things happen when she keeps her teeth for her toys and chews, but also to help introduce her to the outside world.

There are countless things outside their house and garden that Piper has yet to meet

The earlier the better.

Cars, lorries, wheelie bins, people with hats, other dogs big and small, bangs, smells – the list is endless. What better than to take her tea out in a pouch and with every new thing she encounters give her a bit of her food. She is small and light. She can be carried.

This way she will develop a happy curiosity and confidence in encountering new things – before the fear period hits at about thirteen weeks. Like a baby at a certain age may suddenly start to cry when a stranger says hello, a puppy can suddenly experience wariness. Unfortunately three months of age coincides with when most puppies venture out for the first time after their injections and it can be too late.

I shall visit again next week to see how they are doing. There are lots of things Puppy Parenting entails, including making sure from the beginning that puppy can be left alone for short periods happily, toilet training and walking beside them around house and garden without a lead initally.

The young couple should soon be able to save their boots for the country walks they will be taking with their wonderful Springer in a few months’ time.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own puppy may be different to the approach I have worked out for piper, and group classes may not always provide all the answers for problems in the home. Finding instructions on the internet or TV can do more harm than good. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with your own puppy. (see my Help page)

 

 

Biting Puppy Just Being a Nipping Biting Puppy

I have just met Henry.

Henry is the most adorable ten-week-old Labrador imaginable – with some of the sharpest teeth!

Biting puppy just being a puppy

Butter wouldn’t melt!

When he’s excited, Henry morphs into a nipping, biting puppy.

Faced with him in this mood, his family feel helpless.

People instinctively quickly withdraw their hands away from the sharp biting puppy teeth. The teenage daughter has learnt that this isn’t a good thing. She has understandably been getting quite upset and nervous of him.

It’s natural when faced with nipping behaviour to try and teach the biting puppy ‘not to bite’. The family’s advice from internet and friends has included tapping Henry’s nose, shouting ‘no’ and generally scolding him. If trying to stop him biting worked, Henry wouldn’t be getting worse.

How about trying to start him being gentle instead?

Firstly, all people with young puppies need a degree of temporary environmental management for their own sanity if nothing else. There are a few basic things that an experienced puppy owner would have in place from the start, the most important being a smaller ‘puppy-proof’ area where puppy can be contained and can do no damage.

Like little children, the more tired and excited the puppy gets, the more out of control he becomes. It’s when he is stirred up that the nipping and biting is worst. He flies at ankles and hands, chews the carpet and does all the other puppy stuff that will then make his humans add to the excitement themselves as they try to control the painful little hurricane in their midst.

Instead of stopping unwanted behaviour, why not start desired behaviour instead?

It will be only a matter of days before Henry is big enough to leap up onto the sofas, so they will be trying to stop him doing this too. The teenage girls will then have no sanctuary.

Up until two weeks ago he had his siblings to play with and diffuse any wildness. They will have told him when ‘enough is enough’ in a way that he understood. Now he has a lot to learn.

Henry’s family have an open-plan house with quite a big garden. There are few physical boundaries unless he is in his crate by himself in another room. Playing ball games in the big garden can get him hyped up as can the girls coming home from school. It’s at times like this that he is least able to control himself.

Because the biting puppy gets worse the more excited and aroused he is, then the logical first step is to cut down excitement as much as possible.

I suggest a pen in the sitting room. He won’t then be isolated. The carpet can be protected and he can have a bed in there. When he gets over-tired or wild he can be popped into his pen with something to chew (or a carton to wreck!). He will be teething, so needs appropriate things to get those little sharp biting puppy teeth into.The family will be able to walk around freely without the puppy nipping their feet. They can go upstairs without wondering what mischief he might be up to downstairs – pale-carpeted throughout.

Removing temptation is key.

It’s not forever.

How can they get their biting puppy to be more gentle?

What did I do when I was with Henry and his family to show them how to make their biting puppy more gentle?

The girls want to touch him without getting nipped or bitten – it gets worse by the day which sort of proves that they aren’t reacting in the right way. One way or another they are giving him a lot of feedback for his biting puppy behaviour when the very opposite should be the case.

Within about ten minutes both one daughter and Henry had mastered the meaning of the clicker. He now was clicked and fed for all the good, controlled or calm things he was doing. He loved it and was transformed for a while into a calm and focused puppy.

When he was tired, they put a fulfilled and happy puppy into his crate with a Kong to chew. He went to sleep.

Instead of hearing the word ‘No’ or scolding, he was being shown what was wanted and was super-motivated to work at achieving it.

While we were at it, we also taught Henry to take the food gently out of someone’s hand. Keeping quiet and not opening the hand until the puppy has momentarily backed off soon gives him the message. Puppy backs off and the hand with the food in it opens. Eureka.

Actions speak a lot louder than words.

Here is a good demo by Victoria Stilwell.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own puppy may be different to the approach I have worked out for Henry, and group classes may not always provide all the answers for problems in the home. Finding instructions on the internet or TV can do more harm than good. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with your own puppy. (see my Help page)

Puppy is off to a Good Start

They picked up their nine-week-old Border Terrier puppy yesterday.

New puppyAs part of our puppy parenting plan we had already discussed on the phone where Monty would sleep on his first night and what they would do if he was distressed by being alone. I don’t believe in a puppy ‘crying it out’. Each puppy of mine has had company during the night if he or she needed it and none developed over-attachment because of it. To the contrary.

Last night they put Monty in his little crate in the kitchen – the breeder already had him used to a crate. He cried briefly and then was quiet all night – and clean. What a great start!

My puppy parenting plan supports owners right through puppyhood to adolescence, starting by putting in place things that will pre-empt future problems and dealing with anything that does crop up as it happens.

Over the weeks we cover all basic training cues – sit, down, stay, and much more. We teach puppy to enjoy walking on a loose lead and to come when called. We build up his confidence where needed. We teach him impulse control.

We examine the puppy’s ‘dog’ needs and teach the humans how to fulfill them.

Already, within the first few hours, Monty’s family had learnt one lesson – not to do too much too soon. They had tried to put a collar on the little puppy and he was scared – possibly because of the rattling disc which they removed. Now they will slowly introduce him to it. If he looks away or shows signs of unease, they will pause and wait. They will do it a bit at a time and let him choose how far they can go. He will associate the collar with food.

They have a boy age 8 and a girl, 12, great kids who understand that puppy needs space. They are so excited but they are controlling themselves! They already know that they must not go to puppy when he’s in his crate so he has a peaceful bolthole. I have suggested that as a matter of habit, they should call Monty to them when they want to play with him or cuddle him and not pursue him, so that he has a choice.

I showed them about exchanging things and not simply taking something off him – again it’s about choice so he learns to willingly choose to give it up.

We discussed what to do about nipping and the importance of giving puppy plenty of things to chew.

Monty may be a little nervous of sudden movements or noises. The collar incident shows he may be sensitive. We will show him that big human hands coming from above bring him good things – food. In the garden with the little girl I pointed to the roof next door. That’s how tall you look to Monty, I said.

Food

It is so important that they use some of his food to reinforce and encourage him for doing the things they like instead of just leaving it down for him to graze on. For toileting outside. For coming when called. For letting go of something. For building positive connections with things he may be uneasy about.

People are often surprised when I say, particularly if they have a puppy, that they should carry food on them all the time. If the puppy needs to be told ‘good’, there’s not time to go across the room, open a tub and then feed him. The moment has passed. When puppy is called and happily runs to us, tail wagging, and all he gets is a stroke (does he even like that big hand stroking him?) is that not a bit disappointing for him? I don’t know. He would certain feel a small bit of chicken was worth coming for!

Puppies are inclined to come when called. Adolescents aren’t! It’s good to build up a near-automatic response early on.

i shall be going again in a week. Until then they are just going to let Monty settle in. The children will resist fussing him too much or getting too excited around him and they will keep an eye on any guests to the house. They will work on his toilet training.Leenderts2

Habituating and socialising to real life is so important in the first few weeks that there is no time to be lost. It’s no good waiting until he has had his injections. If all puppies were acclimatised to real life sufficiently early, people like me could be out of a job.

Before he’s finished his injections they can carry Monty around town and introduce him to people with hats, babies, umbrellas, shops, traffic, wheelie-bins, bikes, skateboards and so on whilst looking for any signs of fear. It’s vital he feels comfortable.

I suggested the little girl makes a list of all the new things Monty sees or encounters before he is twelve weeks old.

Next week we will be looking at getting puppy used to wearing a soft harness. He can learn to walk around the garden beside someone, off lead – the lead can be hooked onto the harness later. We will start clicker training.

Happy days!

NB. The whole point of a 1-2-1 puppy plan is that it is specific to your own puppy’s needs and to your own. The precise protocols to best use for your own puppy may be different to the approach I have worked out for Monty. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own puppy can quickly lead you up the wrong tree. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to bringing up your own puppy (see my Help page)

 

Never Goes Out Beyond the Garden

Benji is just seven months old and never goes out beyond their garden.

The dog never goes out beyond the gardenThe German Shepherd, Standard Poodle mix lived in a barn on the farm where he was born until he was four months old when he went to the young couple.

He had never encountered the real world of cars, noises, lots of people or other dogs beside the farm dogs and so on. He’d not been walked on lead.

As might be expected from a pup that had not being in a house until four months of age, he still has toilet accidents indoors.

He is scolded for this. They have a cat which he may want to chase but generally he is good with, and again he is scolded for going near it. He may steal socks or other clothes and chew them, which makes the young man angry with him.

A lot is expected of him.

His lifestyle isn’t ideal for a large, clever and active young dog but he is surprisingly good-natured. He greeted me with friendly interest.

At seven months he should be seeing sights and sounds outside and, most of all, he needs the exercise. He would love to play with another dog I am sure.

I suggested to the young man that Benji was probably going out of his mind with boredom and it’s surprising that the worst he does is to occasionally chew up clothes. Can he imagine being shut in all day with no TV or mobile phone and with nobody to talk to who understands him?

Even while Benji never goes out they can do a bit more about fulfilling his needs with appropriate activities and things to chew and do. The house is small and the garden isn’t big either, but they can feed him in a treat ball and sprinkle it all over the grass so that even meals can be used to give him some release.

It’s probably the lack of stimulation for Benji and the resulting stress that leads to some slightly worrying behaviours.

Besides drinking a lot he gets very excited around his water bowl, which is odd. If after a couple of weeks when his general stress levels should be lower this doesn’t change, then they will need to somehow get him to the vet. This is hard while he never goes out.

He pants, he scratches and nibbles himself and he sometimes chases his tail. He has some Punter3patches of skin showing.

The only way the man has managed to get him out at all has been to drag him by collar and lead, but he doesn’t want to do that again. He did once take him out with no lead at all – very risky.

Like all people who call me, they do it for love of their dog and wanting to do their best, and it’s a question of pointing them in the right direction.

.

Benji simply refuses to go outside the front door or garden gate.

They will now use comfortable equipment – a harness and a longer lead. The first step is to acclimatise him to the equipment around the house, associating with good things and food.

We have a plan of tiny increments involving, over the days and maybe weeks, holding the lead inside the door and then dropping it, touching the door handle, opening the door and standing in the doorway, letting him listen and look – and eat. Then stepping out. Then at the garden gate and so on – always leaving the front door open so he can bolt back if necessary.

From now onwards he must be allowed to make his own choice about going out – no more force. This is the only way to change a dog who never goes out into a dog who loves his walks.

When he’s no longer a pup that never goes out but a dog that can happily walk down the road and run around the fields, his life and general health should be transformed, but it could well take time. How will he be with other dogs after all this time? How will he be with traffic?

Most importantly, they can now see the benefits of reinforcing Benji with food for doing what they want instead of scolding The young man saw for himself how he himself can cause the dog’s behaviour. He stared at Benji in a ‘warning’ sort of way and the dog immediately ran to find the cat!

I could sum it up my advice in a few words: kindness works best.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Benji and I’ve not gone into exact details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page)

Puppies’ Fear of Other Dogs

Shih Tzu puppy

PJ

I have had a lovely visit with five-month-old Shih Tzu female litter-mates Hattie and PJ and their delightful family, starting my ‘puppy parenting’ with them. This initial visit is to make sure the basics are in place, plan the way forward and pre-empt potential future problems.

Potential problems with littermates are well documented but not inevitable.

These two are inseparable – they move around like one adorable fluffy mop; it’s hard to see where one dog ends and the other starts, or to see which end is head and which end is tail!

Amongst the usual puppy things, two matters stood out as particularly needing addressing. One is their lack of sufficiently early socialisation resulting in fear of other dogs. They left the breeder at nine weeks but their vaccinations hadn’t yet begun, and though they had met plenty of human friends they were not taken out to meet other dogs until about 14 weeks old. So sadly, at just five months, Hattie and PJ are already wary of other dogs they see and they bark at them.

Many humans (this family less so) tend to believe that socialising means exposing their dog to other dogs in such a way that they are forced to encounter as many as possible, on a tight lead, and this will eventually ‘get them over’ their barking. It’s actually the very opposite. I say to people it’s not walks we’re working on, or other dogs, it’s actually ‘fear therapy’. It’s easier to understand that with a ‘therapy’ there will be a psychological approach and one needs to go slowly.

Other dogs have to be transformed into something the puppies feel happy to see. Force won’t do that.

I call it the ‘Other Dog Battery’ (it could be a battery for any other thing a dog is scared of). Each time the puppy can be aware of another dog at a distance that doesn’t disturb her and particularly if she is then given tasty little bits to eat or forage for or something else good always happens, this starts to charge up the ‘Other Dog Battery’.

This particular battery is slow and laborious to charge.

Each and every time, however, the puppy or dog encounters a dog that is too close or is suddenly surprised by a dog around a corner, that battery discharges very fast and goes flat – and they will then have to start again. Logistically it can be difficult but there is no way around it and the puppies ideally need to be walked separately.

Shih Tzu Lying on her back

Hattie

The second common thing that arose from this consultation is to do with dogs that ‘won’t eat’. This then also means the dog also won’t be interested in food to help fill up that ‘Other Dog Battery’.

Sometimes the reason is a lot more obvious than you’d think.

They showed me the treats they give the puppies – amongst other things mini markies about the size of small cocktail sausage rolls. They admit to giving each puppy about six a day but with a family of four nobody is counting. The puppy can’t be much more than 3kg in weight and the man told me he weighed about 70kg. Relative to size, that makes one markie far larger than a doughnut… and six markies? It’s no wonder the puppies have little interest in food.

This case is yet another example of how issues are inter-related. No one thing stands alone. The food issue raises the matter of nutrition and food affects the ability to reward and counter-condition, which is necessary to change the way the puppies behave towards other dogs, which in turn necessitates the two being walked separately which is in itself part of a wider issue – that of the puppies being given quality time individually; the stress of walks can spill over into grumpiness afterwards and so on.

With work and patience, their fear of other dogs should lessen. These sweet and gentle puppies must feel safe and protected. It’s an owners’ job to save their dogs from unwanted or rough attention at all costs – whether from a human or another dog. Easier said than done sometimes.

Eating Rubbish

Red and White King Charles Spaniel who likes eating rubbishLittle Chutney, an adorable six-month-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, at twelve weeks of age became very ill. What was probably kennel cough quickly developed into pneumonia and he ended up in veterinary hospital and was on various drugs for a couple of months. He nearly died. Normal puppyhood was suspended.

He is now catching up.

Understandably his owners are inclined to mollycoddle him and panic, particularly when he picks something up like a twig or a piece of paper. They had initially wrongly believed his illness had been due to inhaling something, and their understandable reaction to his running off with a twig for example – chasing him, enticing him, bribing him then maybe forcing the item off him – is now actually making his ‘scavenging’ for things like twigs, leaves and bits of paper and eating rubbish a lot worse.

The chase that ensues will be stimulating and maybe even a little scary and he is responding with the beginnings of resource guarding behaviour.

I’ve not myself come across a dog that has suffered though swallowing a small piece of paper or tissue though there may be isolated cases, unless the dog has a serious pica disorder. Usually if a tiny twig is swallowed it’s chewed up first and passes through – though certainly could harm if swallowed whole. If chewing twigs, paper and non-poisonous leaves regularly killed puppies, there would be a lot of dead puppies.

Chutney’s owners will need to relax if he’s to change because the longer he rehearses the ‘scavenge/chase/retrieve the item’ cycle the more entrenched it becomes. Management is the first thing. Already they are taking him outside to toilet on lead. They could introduce him to a tiny basket muzzle for the garden – he can drink and pant but not pick things up. They probably have already checked their garden for any poisonous plants or leaves.

Indoors they should no longer give him free run. For now he should be in the same room as themselves or shut in his crate where he is perfectly happy, with something to do. Anything obviously worrying should be lifted (as it is already).Chutney2

The next and most difficult thing for this lovely couple is to make an assessment as to whether the object could really harm Chutney and if not to ignore it. If it’s a tissue, so be it. He may well intensify his efforts when he no longer gets the predicted result so they could try walking out on him and shutting the door briefly rather than reacting.

Because he is still a puppy and at last feeling well enough to make up for lost time, they should give him plenty of things that he can chew and not just commercial items. He can have milk cartons, toilet roll tubes and plastic water bottles with kibble in, for instance. If they are not left down they will have some novelty value.

The last challenge is how to get things off him that may be dangerous. The more he knows they want the item, the more valuable it becomes to him and the more likely he is to swallow it to make sure that they don’t get it! Scattering food on the floor works well – it may need to be strong-smelling – so that he drops the item to get the food giving time to lift the item with no fuss.

Running off with things needs to be replaced with exchanging them. I do this from the start with my own dogs. When puppy has a toy in his mouth I say Give and feed him in return. I will admire the toy and then give it back to him. My dogs love giving me things! The secret, when taking something away, is to offer the dog something of higher value to him until ‘Give’ is firmly established.

If one of my dogs has something that I want in his or her mouth, they will always drop the item into my hand when I ask for it and I always, without fail, say thank you with a piece of kibble I have in my pocket (though I understand not everybody is like me, carrying dog food around all the time!).

They can set him up with a game that has several items in order of value to him, then offer the lowest and exchange for the next one up and so on, allowing him to keep the last, most valuable one – probably a food item. Tug of war is a great game for playing Take’ and ‘Give’. ‘Leave it’ is useful too when you happen to see the dog about to pick something up.

The other challenge with Chutney is that he may ignore them when they call him.

Eventually and with some hard work on his recall and ‘Give’, when Chutney has something inappropriate in his mouth they will be able to call him to them. He will come straight away and give it up willingly, being rewarded for doing so.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Chutney. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good.  One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Consequence Drives Behaviour

Leonberger puppyI have just been to the most stunning puppy. A four-month-old Leonberger called Amra.

What was troubling the couple was their large puppy’s painful biting and pawing, particularly directed at the lady when she comes home. The gentleman initially referred to this as ‘dominance challenge’.

It’s easy to explain behaviour where the dog seems to be controlling us as ‘dominance’. This is now an outdated, unhelpful notion that leads to a confrontational training approach which, with a spirited dog, can eventually make for defiance – even aggression.

This beautiful dog fortunately has a lovely gentle nature and merely gets too excited. He then can’t control himself. He’s just a puppy being a puppy, but being the size he is makes biting and pawing, something he’s quite persistent with, painful.

What is behind the behaviour isn’t dominance – the puppy wanting to become Alpha – but that certain behaviours bring him the most reinforcement. When he gets a bit rough he can bank on getting rewarded in terms of attention of some sort. A confident dog and kindly treated dog isn’t at all upset by being told NO. The word may stop him in his tracks, but does it teach him anything positive?

Amra’s ‘silly’ times can be anticipated. They can pre-empt the puppy wildness with various occupations that keep him busy including hunting and chewing.

With each thing they want to change (and there are very few), we can analyse just what happens immediately afterwards – realising that it’s the rewarding consequence that is driving a behaviour to repeatedly occur. Sometimes what that consequence actually is needs searching for.

Here is an example. When the lady comes home from work (the gentleman works from home), Amra gets very excited indeed. The manner of her arrival and their greeting helps to trigger a mad and rough half hour. The pup will grab her leg. What happens now is that the gentleman calls him away and then distracts him – maybe plays with him. The dog’s reward could be that he indirectly gets quality reaction from the man.

I suggest, if they’ve not successfully managed the situation by setting things up differently in advance, that  the gentleman experiments with simply walking out of the room and shutting the door as soon as the dog grabs the lady (and that she wears tough jeans for a week or two)! If that doesn’t work, what Amra is ‘getting out of it’ needs to be re-examined as will the things that lead up to it.

I always love going to a puppy that has been to some formal old-fashioned type of training based on ‘commands’ and ‘control’ and to introduce both people and dog to the notion of using Yes instead of No – constantly reinforcing desired behaviour and having the puppy wanting to please rather than simply being expected to comply.

This same principal applies to when walking Amra on lead. They already have him walking around the house and garden beside them off lead, but once the lead goes on he’s pulling down the road. It’s so easy to have a puppy walking nicely if one has appropriate, comfortable equipment and a different mind-set.

Because Amra will grow to be so large, from the start they have been doing everything they can to make sure he grows up to be a gentle and well-mannered adult dog.