This ten-week-old puppy has a big name to live up to. Thor, the God of Thunder. Fortunately he doesn’t yet seem to be to suited to his name! As the day Thursday is named after Thor, perhaps it was appropriate that the day I met him yesterday it was a Thursday.
I soon found that, despite Thor being only ten weeks old, in their determination to get things right the first time puppy owners had taken him to a puppy class where they were instructed to use a ‘firm voice’ when they wanted him to do something. He came home with a scratch on his nose. This trainer was their only role-model so far.
Thinking on down this route, where could using the ‘firm voice’ technique ultimately lead? If the dog doesn’t obey then no doubt the voice becomes firmer still and the command repeated. Soon the dog is being shouted at. What then?
We all know if something happens too much we become accustomed to it or we learn to switch off and it will be no different for dogs. Quiet people have other people listening to them! Do we ultimately then have to move on to some sort of physical force or intimidation to get the dog to comply? What choices then does the dog then have? A confrontational approach with an adolescent dog could possibly result in defiance leading to aggression, or instead in intimidation and submission. Either way this is not a healthy relationship to have with our dog.
Fortunately these things won’t happen with Thor. The lady in just a few days had already, with great patience and kindness, taught little Thor to sit in an open doorway and not follow through it which demonstrates just how teachable he is. The gentleman was already teaching him to walk nicely beside him around the house.
For first-time dog owners they had started off brilliantly, so it was unfortunate they temporarily got themselves ‘tarnished’ by this dog trainer’s archaic methods. With the right approach and the family’s level of commitment I reckon they will be quickly back on track, so long as each family member ‘drinks out of the same water bowl’ so to speak.
My first and most important task was to win them around to the basic principles of good puppy parenting using the modern, reward-based approach. It didn’t take many minutes to demonstrate with the wonderfully biddable puppy how I could get him to come to me immediately by just saying ‘Thor – COME’, once, in a kind voice. I asked him to sit, speaking gently (they had taught him this already but with a firm ‘command’ and by pushing his bum down). I waited. Thor sat – reward. I then showed them how to teach him to lie down voluntarily with no repeated commands or firm voice – or pushing him, and then how to take food gently from my hand.
It is so good to be able to demonstrate the power of gentle words and motivation. Anyone who is still in the dark ages and ‘doesn’t believe in food rewards’ is suggesting they regard a dog as some sort of slave.
The teenage son will be alone with Thor during the day for the next couple of months until he goes off to uni and while the parents are at work. A big responsibility rests on his shoulders because how he behaves with the puppy could shape the Akita’s future. No more ‘firm’ commands. No more rough play involving Thor using his mouth because the puppy then understandably thinks it’s okay to be rough with the young daughter also and she gets scared.
They should bear in mind that Thor will grow up to be a large dog!
Using force-free methods doesn’t mean the puppy has no discipline or boundaries. In fact it’s the opposite. Thor’s environment needs more boundaries. He needs to learn that it’s fine to be left alone for short periods of time. There should be rules around food and rules around the front door.
I shall be reminding them all the time to think in terms of teaching their adorable puppy those things they do want him to do, replacing ‘correcting’ those puppy behaviours that they don’t want – and to make these alternatives so rewarding that he wants to keep doing them.
NB. For the sake of the story this isn’t a complete ‘report’, but I choose an angle. Also, the precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Thor. 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).