Puppy Life Skills. Puppy Training. Cockerpoo Puppy

With new puppies, we can unwittingly make things difficult for ourselves for the best of reasons.

I went to Bongo yesterday. She is the most adorable Cockerpoo. She is just how you want a puppy to be, confident, inquisitive and playful.

Puppy life skills.

Bongo is a good example of how things could be a lot easier for all concerned with professional help at the start. To pre-empt problems instead of having to deal with them even two weeks later.Learning puppy life skills

A young puppy doesn’t need training as such. She needs puppy life skills. To learn how to best cope with life with us confusing and unpredictable humans as she grows older.

Too much freedom at the start can lead to a wild, nipping puppy. Too much choice of where to go can be confusing to a baby dog just as it would to a toddler.

It’s very hard, after having had the puppy for even just a couple of weeks, to then begin to introduce boundaries. This is how it is with Bongo.

Separation.

For a puppy who had eight siblings and had never been all alone, ‘aloneness’ is a huge challenge. Being able to cope alone for short periods is one of the most important of puppy life skills.

For two weeks she has followed the four family members around the house. She makes a fuss if the door or baby gate is shut on her but probably wouldn’t if it had happened briefly from the very start.

We have a few ideas to begin weaning her into being able to be alone. Keeping her mostly in the kitchen with the gate shut to start with. Everyone must shut the gate behind them so she learns to stay behind. There will be constant comings and goings at times.

Family can drop food as they leave but be very boring when they return. 

Chasing legs and feet.

The other largely preventable common puppy problem is that of chasing people and grabbing their clothes. There are two teenagers in the family and they all play chase games with Bongo in the garden. This is because they feel, with no brothers and sisters anymore, Bongo needs to chase. They have unintentionally taught her to grab them when they walk about.

Then, understandably, people get cross and that fires things up further.

I walked her around the garden – no lead. I took several steps and then dropped a bit of food by my foot. If she raced off, I called her back. The beauty of this is she concentrated on walking with me, not chasing me.

When Bongo gets something they don’t want her to have, she is then chased so they can retrieve it from her mouth. She took my plastic whistle and we had to get it off her as it may have splintered. There was no other quick way but to chase and grab her. For a dog to ‘give’ is one of the most important of puppy life skills.

From the start a puppy should be taught to exchange an item for something better (to her). She should be taught ‘come’ over and over, but not when she’s busy, so not setting her up to fail and learning that ‘come ‘ is optional.

Chasing games teach a puppy to run away. There should be no chasing a puppy.

Teeth

It’s the same with nipping hands. They use hands to play with her and to fuss her when she’s wired up, so she nips. They let it continue until it hurts and then loudly squeal and say NO! The puppy will have no idea what that is all about and will probably nip more.

This is another thing easiest dealt with from the outset. Being gentle is another of the main puppy life skills to learn. As soon as sharp teeth are felt on, say, our hand – the hand is removed. I find too much squealing from us only fires up the puppy. Puppy soon learns that if they want to play, teeth lose the playmate.

This isn’t enough though. At the same time, we should be showing the puppy what she can use her teeth on. I suggest everyone carries a chewable item in their pocket so as soon as the teeth come out it can be ‘don’t chew me, chew this instead’. Tug-of-war played like this can teach being careful with teeth very well.

We did puppy life skills in the garden with Bongo, using a clicker. The rules are try to avoid saying NO and let her know when what she’s doing is what we want. When the behaviour is unwanted, we give her an acceptable alternative. When she does the right thing she gets a click and food.

Bongo got the message very fast and elected to come and sit in front of me when she wanted my attention. No jumping up and no teeth.

Using clicker, just for fun we then taught her to lie down. What a clever little dog. 

Consistency

The challenge here will be consistency from everyone.

Biting hands can’t sometimes mean she can keep biting for a little while until the hand is withdrawn. It has to be immediate.

If she chases legs and grabs trousers when people are walking about, they must stop. Then wait until she lets go. They want her to chase? I suggest a ‘flirt pole’ so it’s an item being chased and caught, not a human.

Bongo is a lucky little puppy. Recognising her need for physical stuff and how much she loves digging, they don’t stop her. For a while after her hard work with me, having had enough of puppy life skills, she charged around the garden.

Then she went to dig a hole!

We are now on the road to putting the basics in place. Some, like toilet training, are there already. People with puppies need to be prepared for some very hard work for the first few weeks while they work on the main puppy life skills – including socialisation. If we leave some ‘for later’, it can be much more difficult.

The humans themselves need to hold back a bit, to be calm and consistent. It will pay off.

Bongo slept well.

Apparently Bongo slept well last night – tired! A lot of human-generated physical activity can actually fire a puppy up. Bongo-generated activity will be releasing pent-up energy and in effect calm her down. Brain activity tires her out.

One most important of puppy life skills is toilet training. She’s ten weeks old and had no accidents for two days!

I can’t wait to go again in a week or two to see how Bongo is doing.

At the end of our six-week period: ‘I just wanted to say thank you for all of your help with Bongo, she is doing great and you have given us helpful skills to take forward to help us and her’.

Management Comes First

Their aims: for both their Cockerpoos to be calmer.

Cockerpoo's environment needs better management

Eddie

I pushed in past the two barking dogs.

Both young Cockerpoos were so worked up I felt one or both weren’t far short of biting me but instead, black Harry redirected his anger, fear or frustration onto young golden Eddie and a minor fight ensued.

The house was full of people. Family members were moving about. Kids were on their mobiles. I sat at the dining table and we made a start.

It soon became obvious from my first questions that over-arousal and lack of boundaries was at the root of all sorts of problems.

Where do we start?

.

Management.

Management in this case means gating off the front door and stairs so the dogs are contained in the sitting room and kitchen area. They will then have a physical boundary.

Management of this area will make it impossible for them to near-attack people at the front door and prevent Harry from chasing delivery men to the gate where a bite is only a matter of time.

Management means keeping them away from the stairs so that Harry will now no longer regularly pee on the upstairs landing.

Harry

Harry

Management of the environment means that first thing in the morning when they are let out of the utility room, they can’t start off the day in a manic manner, charging upstairs like battering rams at the bedroom doors, waking people.

Another gate can be put in the space between kitchen and dining/sitting room.

Management then means the dogs can’t jump at people when they are eating their food. They can’t jump at the surfaces when cooking is going on. Management means they can be put the other side of the barrier with something to do.

Management means moving the box that gives them lookout duty from the front windows, the lower part of which can also be frosted. They won’t then spend much of the day winding themselves up by barking.

There is so much going on it’s hard to know where to start with the behaviour work, but the priority has to be all things that will lower their arousal levels.

Then we can see what we have got left.

When they are no longer little volcanoes ready to erupt, it will be easier to deal with things like Harry’s nervousness. Instead of constantly being at each other in play which can deteriorate, something stress seems to trigger, they can be given more constructive activities.

We might then work on impulse control, training them to settle, loose lead walking, coming back when called before they can go off barking at and intimidating another dog – and much more.

However, management and boundaries must be in place first. The dogs’ levels of stress must be lowered.

Then we should get somewhere!

Eventually they will get more of this!

Eventually they will get more of this!

Starting Puppy Off Right

GoldendoodleIdeally I would say a puppy needs some physical boundaries – not too much freedom, and calm humans who don’t give him mixed messages.

However, one size simply can’t fit all. Starting puppy off right can save a whole lot of trouble later on.

Yesterday’s family have a wonderful 11-week-old Goldendoodle puppy called Dexter. They also have a very large open plan house, a big garden and two young children who are very keen to be involved!

I sat in the kitchen watching a lovely scene through the window. In a world of their own, the two children and the puppy were climbing some rocks in the garden beside a covered pond. This is perfect until the children or puppy get excited and start to run about.

When someone hasn’t had a dog before, let alone a puppy, it can be hard to see things from the dog’s perspective. This is the dream: ‘Won’t it be lovely for my seven-year-old boy and his little sister to have a dog to play with’, based on childhood stories and films of dogs bounding free and sharing adventures.

The reality is that this lady now has three young children! Thankfully, the newest member of the family will grow up a lot more quickly, but meanwhile he needs the same sort of attention translated into doggy terms. He needs encouragement, teaching good manners, rewards and reinforcement. The children aren’t smacked and nor should he be. Toddlers are forgiven for toileting mistakes whilst being encouraged to go in the ‘right place’ and so should the puppy.

Little children aren’t given unsupervised freedom anywhere and nor should the puppy. This is particularly the case when he is outside with the children. Thinking it would be fun, they have actively encouraged chasing games which have resulted in Dexter now getting over-excited, hence grabbing and nipping. Running along with children is part of the dream – but chasing them is not.

It may never have occurred to a new dog owner that the dog may not want to be cuddled, crowded and carried around by a child.  It is so important that the children are trained to respect the puppy’s personal space because already Dexter (really the most amenable and gentle puppy) is beginning to growl at the little girl.  It’s also essential that the children keep their distance when he is eating or chewing anything.

Just as Dexter needs reinforcing for everything he does that they like, so do the children. We rewarded the little girl with small sweets for touching him gently on the chest and for hanging back when she wanted to cuddle him. To her he is just a large animated teddy bear and she already has a small cut on her face – but is undeterred. When an excited Dexter ‘goes for’ the little boy, he gets scared and angry and smacks him. This is a recipe for disaster.

The children can have great fun with Dexter by playing games that teach him desirable things.  Instead of chase games, the family can call him from room to room and in from the garden, rewarding him for coming – a brilliant recall game. They can play the sort of tug games that teach him to release and to be careful what he does with his teeth. They can teach him to walk nicely beside them off lead.

Mum is going to have her work cut out for a few months! In addition to starting puppy off right, the children need training as well!

Rather than let things get out of hand and allow Dexter to become unruly and rough, she needs to pre-empt trouble. The moment he begins to get over-excited he should be called to her, rewarded liberally, and shut behind a gate with something to do. Then the children need to be taught that they simply must stay the other side of that gate until he has calmed down.

Although children speak the same language as we do, they are probably harder to train!

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Dexter, which is why I don’t share all the exact details of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own puppy can do more harm than good, particularly where children are involved too. 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).