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’.

British Bulldog Biting Feet

English Bulldogs

Bentley and Flo

Bentley was very excited when I arrived, and his jumping up seemed to be relentless. This was my responsibility because I had asked the owners to leave the dogs alone so I could see what they would do whilst demonstrateing my way of dealing with it.

English Bulldog Bentley is now fourteen months old so if their usual way of stopping him jumping up worked – which was to tell him to get down or to grab him – he wouldn’t be doing it any more. His super-arousal then caused Flo to ‘tell him off’. It is for this reason that I wear tough clothes – to protect my back and my legs from dogs’ nails and of course I would always ask for their help if I needed it.

Scolding the dog may get him down at that moment, but it doesn’t teach him not to jump at people the next time. In fact the attention probably makes it even more likely. The question to ask is, what’s the dog getting out of it (probably attention of some sort) and to remove this reinforcement. To make success quicker, this desired attention can be given to him for doing something more acceptable instead.

The days start calmly enough apart from Bentley’s barking at 3am demanding to be let out, but as the day progresses and people start to move about the dogs become increasingly excitable. This leads to Bentley jumping and grabbing people or chasing and biting feet. He targets the adult son in particular who feels he’s being mugged every time he walks through the door.

I did some ‘walking around’ work with the son, showing him to move more slowly and instead of throwing food across the floor so he can make a dash for it, dropping little bits of grated cheese just behind his feet as he walked. This has the added benefit of rewarding Bentley for following nicely without nipping or jumping. Instead of trying to escape, he can talk to Bentley, call him and invite him to follow him, giving him some of the craved-for attention for doing as he’s asked.

English Bulldog

Flo with a sort jowl

Key to the plan has to be a gate in the sitting room doorway. Currently the dogs have the run of the downstairs and there is no escaping them. The gate should not be opened until they have had time to calm down and feet are on the floor. That will make life far easier for everyone.

There can also be minor fights over bones and chews which means these useful resources for helping a dog to unwind aren’t available to them. A gate means the dogs can have calming things to do and chew whilst not being able to actually get to one another.

When I was there the two had been out in the garden for a while and we heard barking. When they came in Bentley had an extra small cut on his neck to add to existing scars and Flo’s face was red and sore around her jowl. The two dogs are allowed to play too roughly. I would step in a lot sooner because, just like the nipping of feet, the more the behaviour is rehearsed the more entrenched the behaviour becomes.

Removing opportunity for unwanted behaviours is the starting point so the two dogs shouldn’t be left alone together out of sight for more than a couple of minutes unless they are lying down and relaxed. With a bit of forward-planning quite a bit of temptation can be removed. For instance, as a favourite trick of Bentley’s is to attack feet when people go outside to the washing line, why don’t they leave him indoors?

In order to find out more about their dogs, new owners often start by reading breed-specific books and talking to the breeder or other owners of the breed which can give them a skewed view of dogs in general. They often attribute behaviours to inevitable breed traits, excusing things that aren’t really desirable from any dog, whatever the breed. The books may say Bulldogs are ‘stubborn’, but that simply means we need to be more motivating. Other owners may say their Bulldogs like to ‘play rough’, but that merely means we have to be even better ‘dog parents’. Rough play isn’t a good behaviour to rehearse for the sake of other dogs or people – particularly children.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Bentley and Flo, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet that are not tailored to your own dogs 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).

Reward Based Training For Puppies

Ralph2Like all puppies, Cockerpoo Ralph can change from a manic foot-chasing, hand-nipping whirlwind to a sleeping ball of fluff in an instant.

Sometimes they have their special ‘victim’ – often someone who lavishes the most love on them. Frequently this is the lady, but not always. I have known it to be a child but less often a man.

It can be upsetting when our new ‘baby’ seems to turn on us.

I was with them and Ralph for over three hours but as is often the case I never actually witnessed the behaviour. We preempted it once by giving him something to concentrate on, in this instance learning to touch a hand using a clicker.

Brain exercise can often do more good than physical exercise whRalphich can fire a puppy up even more. He needs pacing – attention, exercise and training projects little and often, using reward based training.

Ralph isn’t too keen on being stroked. He is so soft, silky and fluffy it’s almost impossible to keep ones hands off him. He has started to quietly growl if touched when asleep and when he’s had enough of being stroked.

Here are a few of the basic tips I have given them and which are applicable to a lot of cases.  It would be good if Ralph had to put in some effort for his attention. The lady in particular should refrain from going over to where he is lying and touching him. She should wait until he comes to her. She can call him, but if he says ‘no thanks’ it’s not a good idea to cajole and beg him.

If touching and stroking is given to him on a plate, pushed onto him even, he won’t value it.

They should avoid picking him up and moving him which also makes him cross. If they make use of his food as rewards he will willingly come of his own accord, and isn’t ‘willing’ just what  we want?

Another thing is that a puppy’s environment should start small and gradually open out. Time and again I find a puppy in a large garden chasing human feet and clothes. It’s like the lack of physical boundaries brings out something wild in him. Trying to ‘tire him out’ with chasing and games will only make him worse. Having an anchor point can help when puppy starts to get excited and silly (lead hooked to harness not collar for safety), and he then needs to be occupied with the sort of thing that can calm him down – hunting and foraging for bits of scattered food or something nice to chew.

The question people always want answered is, ‘what do I do when he’s actually biting me’?

Immediately withdraw all attention. Immediately – not after one or two bites. Look away. If it’s a hand you may do a soft squeal and fold your arms (anything louder might be too exciting!).  If it’s feet – freeze. For now it’s sensible to wear clothes that give a bit of protection.

This is only half the story though. He needs to learn what he should do. ‘Food is your Friend’! Reward based training.

As soon as he backs off or stops, silently give him a piece of food. Do it over and over – he will get the message. It may seem like rewarding the biting, but it’s not so. You are rewarding NOT biting.  Add to this distraction. Immediately put something acceptable into his mouth, a chew or a toy.

It all requires forward planning. You need big pockets or a bum bag so you can keep food and toys on your person all the time! It’s not forever. He will grow up all too soon.

Ralph is a clever little dog. He was soon learning using clicker. He also walked nicely in the garden – with none of his usual grabbing and tugging on the lead, demonstrating the power of positive reward based training.

This is yet another instance of the actual problem they wanted help for – nipping and chasing feet – being more than just that.  A holistic approach comes from all angles and enables us to work on the underlying causes. It shows the humans how their own behaviour can affect the puppy’s behaviour, as well as showing the puppy what we do want of him.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Ralph, 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. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies puppy parenting specific to your own puppy (see my Get Help page).