Puppy Parenting 10-Week Akita

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).

 

Moving in together with their dogs

Poor Springer Murphy isn't a happy dog just now

Murphy

Kai

Poor Murphy is not a very happy dog at the moment. The Springer Spaniel and his male owner have recently moved in with the man’s girlfriend, who has two-year-old Akitas, brother and sister.

Murphy was his man’s companion for a couple of years and could do what he liked. It was no problem that he climbed on top of him, on the back of his sofa behind him and slept up on his pillow at night. Murphy’s tendencies to guard resources, food in particular, were not a problem.

Now they have moved in with Chikara and Kai, two beautiful young Akitas. In their past life they too slept on the bed and climbed on the sofas, burying their lady owner in their huge hairiness.

It’s no wonder that there is tension between the three dogs now. The female Akita, Chakira, has always been the bossy one, and now it is a contest between her and Murphy.  She has Kai to back her up.

There is trouble around all the predictable things. All three dogs now start the night on the bed with the couple, and there are nightly fights. If the lady tries to move Murphy or go and get him he growls at her, and immediately her two dogs come to her defence – Chakira with her teeth.

Poor Murphy isn’t used to sharing his owner and sits possessively in front of him. All three dogs are unsettled and restless. As well as fights over the lady, there are fights around food, there are fights around the bed and there are fights around the sofa – when one or both people are about. Sleeping on the bed all three together is no problem when people are not about. Sleeping on the sofa all three together is not a problem either, when they are alone.

Poor Murphy is becoming increasingly defensive and unhappy, growling when he is approached and wanting lots of attention from the man. The lady is a little wary of him and he will know this. She has on the whole had admirable control over her two large Akitas; without which the situation would be far worse.

The main kick off points have to be removed. No more going in the bedroom or on the bed, and feeding done in such a way that conflict is impossible. The dogs need to sit on the floor. Murphy high on the chair arm looking down on the others is not a good thing, particularly when he resists being removed, growls, and then a fight will start.  Murphy needs some special quality time and controlled activity instead, instigated by both the humans and not by himself.

As the man said, in the past it had been ‘my’ dog and ‘your’ dogs. Now they need to work on them being ‘their’ dogs. They are going to work on relationship building – man and Akitas, lady and Springer – mix and match! The humans need to gain the upper hand in a calm, quiet and controlled way – through the sort of leadership that the dogs already understand.

27th March: I visited these dogs today, the atmosphere was relaxed and the fighting has stopped. The couple are not longer living on tenterhoooks and there is no longer ‘your dog’ or ‘my dogs’. They have been very diligent in following our plan and the dogs are getting along very well now.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.

Agitated Akita

The Akita is a restless dogKyra is a two year old Akita who a year ago was picked up as a very skinny stray.

Her conscientious owners started with a problem not created by themselves, and Kyra has come a long way. She is extremely restless and in all the time I was there she only lay down and relaxed properly for a couple of minutes . Because of her behaviour on lead and with other dogs, Kyra is now seldom walked. Because she chews her bed and wrecks her toys, she has no bed and little to occupy herself. She lives with a caring young couple and their three beautiful very small children that are a testament to their parenting skills.

Although she pulls badly on lead and is unpredicatable with other dogs, Kyra is very good with people, if over-excited and jumping up. She is fine with the children too. She seems most excited around the male owner and also a little scared of him. She goads him until he gets cross; she is obedient for him if he is sufficiently forceful. He indulges in hands on, exciting play believing that this is the kind of stimulation she needs to compensate for lack of walks, but to a dog like Kyra I liken this sort of thing to going on the Big Dipper – exciting and terrifying at the same time. When he walks towards her, if he gives her eye contact her she may wee.  If she wees she may be scolded. The lady is less forceful and so Kyra takes less notice of what she asks her to do. Kyra is very confused – and so are they, because they have been doing their very best as they see it.

Their ‘dog parenting’ would work a lot better if they used the same sort of approach as they do with their children! This is a good example of humans giving what they believe to be leadership and it being lost on the confused dog.

They need to do everything they possibly can to reduce Kyra’s stress levels, and in order for this to happen she needs to have more happening in her life. She certainly does need stimulation, but not the kind that gets her hyped up. She needs short controlled sessions of things that encourage her to use her brain and only when she is calm. Because she is no longer walked at all, this actually will help my plan, because I want them to take it back to basics and start again, just as they would a puppy. Where someone who walks their dog for two hours a day might be horrified if I suggesed a few days of just several five-minute jaunts and no ‘proper walk’, to Kyra even one five minute session would be a bonus.

The bottom line here is that the methods they are using to give Kyra leadership so she can relax, respect and trust them, to get her to walk nicely and to calm down in general, are not working – so we need to do something completely different!

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
 

Two Dogs Called Bracken

Japanese Akita now lives the good life

Bracken

This week I visited two dogs called Bracken. Both were gorgeous and they were completely different. The first was a beautiful Japanese Akita. He did not have a good start in life.  As a puppy his first family lost interest in him and he was shut outside in the garden by himself for hours on end until they got rid of him. He then went to live with a man who was unwell, and ended up shut in the bathroom day and night. He is now in his third home living with a lovely couple who are determined to give him a good life. Unsurprisingly he has separation anxiety (barking and howling when left alone in home) and due to lack of contact with other dogs, he is fearful and aggressive to dogs when on a walk . In addition to this, children worry him. Bracken will now be learning that his humans are there to look after him and not visa versa, that if they go away they will always come back, and that as leaders they make all the important decisions.

Bracken

The second Bracken I went to help is a ‘Red’ Labrador, and only seven months old – almost the same age to the day as my Cocker Spaniel puppy, Pickle.  Bracken is becoming a teenager and has started to bully his lady owner. He had always been a bit of a nipper and grabber. The fact he left his litter early did not help, because his siblings would have taught him that if he hurt them they would squeal and stop playing. It is difficult to imagine how upsetting it must be to be scared of your own young dog, the puppy you have fed, walked and loved.  Some dogs more than others need positive leadership and direction, and Bracken is one of them. With my own puppy Pickle I started off the right way by not spoiling him and by giving him fair rules and boundaries in terms that he understands right from the beginning.

Three days have gone by and I have just had a phone call from Bracken’s lady owner. He hasn’t jumped on her, barked at her or bullied her since I went! She says he is a thousand times better, and this is because they now know what to do. Bracken is calmer. It must be a relief for him too not to be in control.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.