LabGSDSeventeen-week-old Poppy, a Labrador German Shepherd cross, is a very good puppy – just being a puppy! For instance, what puppy wouldn’t chase fluffy slippers (furry animals perhaps)?

I so love working with a challenging puppy and the magic of using positive methods – waiting for the moment she does what I want and immediately rewarding, whilst ignoring (giving zero feedback) the stuff I don’t want.[divider type=”white”]

Walking nicely

Poppy is currently walked on a heavy chain lead attached to her collar (pet shop’s advice), because she grabs and chews through leads. She may go on strike, rolling about on her back or jump up to grab the lead. She will shake it and she won’t let go. Her walking isn’t great, but this is because she really has not been taught what to do. Being held on a tight lead teaches her nothing.

Getting a puppy to walk nicely is so easy if positive reinforcement is used – along with patience.

I put a Perfect Fit harness on her and attached a 6′ lead to it – with a section of very very lightweight chain at the bottom to protect my lead. I attached the lead to a ring on the front of the harness.[divider type=”white”]

Positive reinforcement

To start with she jumped, grabbed and got excited. I ignored the whole thing and waited. Eventually the lead fell briefly from her mouth and I rewarded her immediately. Timing is crucial. I carried on ignoring jumping up and lead grabbing completely whilst immediately rewarding every release of the lead. Then we started to walk. I continually rewarded every instance of good walking whilst ignoring everything else. I waited. I encouraged her. Loose lead = reward. Tight lead = nothing.

In no more than ten minutes the so-called challenging puppy had lost interest in grabbing the lead and was walking beautifully around the house on a loose lead following me. I don’t require her to ‘heel’. We’re not doing competition work.

This principal works with everything though of course some behaviours can’t be ignored if dangerous or destructive. When this is the case bomb-proof recall is needed so instead a negative ‘no’ or ‘leave it’, we have a positive ‘come here and do this instead/give that to me’ followed by reward.[divider type=”white”]

Exasperating

Puppies can be exasperating and we feel in order to discipline them we need to scold or punish when the opposite is so much more effective and in line with the principals of learning theory. Just as with a toddler, we avoid a lot of trouble by keeping certain things out of puppy’s range – rubbish bins, furry slippers, socks, flowing dressing gowns etc. It’s not for very long.

In their quest to do the right things, Poppy’s people have tried to sort through a mix of conflicting, old-fashioned mis-information from people they meet ‘who know all about dogs’ and from the internet.

They have done well with Poppy so far. She is house trained, she is very bright and she is brave and friendly. She is chilled with being left alone. Now is the time however to scotch habits that won’t be good when she becomes a large dog. Jumping up at people is one. Using her mouth and teeth, and barking to get attention are others. Finally, bad leash manners would be a proper battle when she got bigger.