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’.

Compulsive Behaviour. ‘Stress Bucket’ Overflows.

Rottweiler Amber has a lovely temperament, friendly and confident. They have obviously come a long way with her compulsive shadow-chasing etc. in the two years since they adopted her at six months old. She was already doing it then. Her problems probably are due to a mix of genetics and what her life was before she came to live with them.

Unless all is still and quiet, Amber doesn’t settle.

The smallest thing prompts a compulsive sequence of chasing shadows, digging the floor or licking the carpet. She won’t leave their other dog alone.

Outside on walks she chases shadows – particularly those caused by people; she runs back and forth from the sun then digs and pants.

It’s distressing to see her become so frenzied with so little provocation.

Rottie with compulsive behaviourApart from this compulsive behaviour, Amber is a dream dog. A friendly, gentle Rottie that is good with other dogs and people. No trouble. She lives with people who give her plenty of time, training and enrichment.

From her constant patrolling and panting, it’s obvious that her internal stress levels are so high that frequently she simply can’t cope. Her ‘stress bucket‘ is ready to  overflow.

Stress accumulates and can last in the system for days, and dogs like Amber live in a constant ‘ready for action’ state.

It then erupts into certain patterns of compulsive behaviour that must give her relief in some way.

When she frantically digs, licks the floor or chases shadows etc, she completely focusses on something that is shutting out real life.

In a weird way it may give her some control.

The smallest thing starts her off. Over time these rituals become a habit – learned behaviour.

They have been using distraction, commands, gentle massage, food and so on. This attempts to deal with the situations as they happen, without getting to the root cause of the compulsive behaviour.

Shutting her in her crate is the only way to give both Amber and her humans a break at times. Interestingly, after a quiet night in her crate with hours to de-stress, she starts the day calm.

We will start by concentrating on one thing only – bringing down her arousal levels. Taking away as much pressure as possible. ‘Operation Calm’. They should make stress-reduction a priority.

Let’s then see what happens and reassess.

When I was there we found that a ball made a great pacifier. With a ball in her mouth she is a lot better, although she then persistently uses it to ‘tease’ by nudging with it without letting the person have it.

We also captured calm moments with clicker and food (until she stole my clicker!).

Over the next few days I have asked them to spot areas they might be able do something about, with a calmer Amber being their end aim.

They will look out for any things that stir her up (looking for lip-licking, panting, drooling etc.) and see if there is any way they can change them (there may not be).

Every little helps – every small piece of the jigsaw.

I’ve listed some of the things in Amber’s life I thought of that possibly cause elements of stress/arousal, even if at the same time she likes some of them. Can they think of any more?

  • People coming into the house.
  • Being shut in her crate when there is action outside it – she licks the crate and drools.
  • Hydrotherapy (she would probably prefer to swim free)
  • Being left in the van with the other dog while the man is at work. (Would left crated at home be less stressful?)
  • Riding in the car
  • Traffic
  • Walks. Would more comfortable walking equipment help?
  • The sight of cattle or horses
  • Something coming through the door (put up an outside letterbox?).
  • Very high value items like bones
  • Dog sports

If four weeks of effort doesn’t bring significant results, I believe it’s time to get medical help. Any human in this state wouldn’t be expected to cope without meds.

Increase in compulsive behaviours.

It’s distressing how many dogs I go to nowadays with repetitive, obsessive compulsive behaviours, dogs with owners who do all they can for them. Are dogs being bred for temperament suited to modern life? Is this getting worse or is it just me?

I quote Pat Miller: ‘One would expect that the rise of force-free training methods and the increased awareness of and respect for dogs as sentient creatures would make life easier for them. We should expect to see a corresponding rise in the number of calm, stable, well-adjusted dogs who are happily integrated into lifelong loving homes. But many training and behavior professionals note with alarm the large number of dogs in today’s world who seem to have significant issues with stress and anxiety, with high levels of arousal and low impulse control.

It’s quite possible this is a function of societal change. There was a time not so very long ago when life was pretty casual for our family dogs. They ran loose in the neighborhood day and night; ate, slept, played, and eliminated when they chose; and many had jobs that fulfilled their genetic impulses to herd some sheep or cows, or retrieve game felled by a hunter’s gun.

In contrast, life today is strictly regimented for many of our canine companions…..Owner expectations and demands are high. Dogs are told what to do from the moment they are allowed to get up in the morning until they are put to bed at night…..They have virtually no control over what happens in their world….’

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Amber because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).

 

Jumps Up, Bites, Barks and Digs

EBT Staff mix‘Jumps up, bites, barks and digs’ – this is how the lady described their 8-month-old English Bull Terrier/Staffordshire Bull Terrier mix in their first message to me.

If he doesn’t get the attention he wants he may either bark, or go on the rampage, tearing about from room to room and all over the forbidden furniture. If he is thwarted or disciplined, he may leap up and nip quite roughly in a way one could almost call biting.

His digging in the garden is driving them mad also.

It’s hard not to treat life with an adolescent dog such as Sam like some sort of battle. He is non-stop throwing things at them that they have to ‘stop’ him doing. Our own emotions get in the way as we become increasingly exasperated. We believe that we should be ‘disciplining and controlling’ the dog. This makes him defiant. Confrontational or dominant behaviour from the humans is a slippery slope that too often ends badly.

After about ten minutes of countering his jumping up until he had stopped (as with most dogs that jump up, if the usual pushing them and telling them to get down actually worked they wouldn’t be jumping up anymore), I tried to sit down, but he was on the go all the time and we couldn’t get on. I had a deer antler chew in my bag and gave it to him. He chewed frantically on this for the next two and a half hours with barely a break. EBT mix Chewing Stagbar

If any dog needs a way to unwind, it’s Sam.

I suspect that some of his highly strung nature is genetic, but they are unwittingly responding in such a way that makes him worse.

When he is quiet they are understandably so thankful that they leave him be, so he only gets attention when he is ‘naughty’ so the undesirable behaviour is constantly reinforced.

LIke most responsible dog owners, they feel they must ‘control’ him, but what Sam totally lacks is self control. In order to control him they have become angry. They do this not because they don’t love him – they do, but because they are at their wits’ end with his behaviour.

The first thing they need to do is to completely change things about so that they are watching out for Sam being good, not bad. When you look for good you find there is a lot more of it than you had realised! Each even short moment of calm or self-control should be rewarded – he can earn some of his daily food this way.

Not much can be done until he’s less hyper and frustrated, so he needs proper stimulation of a healthy kind. The days and evenings should be punctuated with the sort of activities that don’t hype him up or make him frustrated, like short sniff walks, hunting games, foraging for food, gentle training games, brief ball play or tuggy and so on. They should only be initiated when Sam is calm and quiet – never as a result of his demanding behaviours.

The gentleman walks him daily on a short lead – and this is ‘power walking’ to keep himself fit. When he comes home Sam is still in an aroused state, not as satisfied as a dog should be after a nice walk and still needing to unwind. On a couple of occasions during the walk he has suddenly leapt at the man and bitten him quite hard. A little clue that this kind of walk not being quite what Sam needs is that he is less keen on the outward journey and he only pulls on the way back home which is unusual.

For the walk to be beneficial to Sam, I suggest the man stops for several five-minute breaks when he can lengthen the lead so that Sam can sniff and do his own thing for a while.

It’s hard, but with some imagination they need to treat every thing Sam does ‘wrong’ as having in it the seed of an idea for something good.

For instance, if he jumps on the sofa (which is out of bounds), the man currently pushes him off and is cross, so there is a stand-off where Sam then may stand and bark at him or may even fly at him. Then it is battle stations. But this can be done differently. The man can stand up, go to Sam’s bed and call him off the sofa and to his own bed, and when he gets there ask him to lie down and reward him. He can them give him a bit of quality time teaching him to stay. When the man goes and sits down again Sam will undoubtedly go back and jump on the sofa again, so patience is needed. The third time Sam can be put in the kitchen for a few minutes – but with something to chew or do – it’s not punishment. It’s to allow him to calm down.

Another example of an unwanted behaviour having in it the seed of a better idea is the digging in the garden (no pun intended). They can get a child’s covered sandpit and bury toys in it. If he starts to dig the earth, they can direct him to the sandpit, perhaps burying something new in there for him to find. If he keeps going back and they repeatedly have to say ‘don’t dig there – dig here instead’, instead of getting cross they can either bring him in or have a tie-out cable to fix him to for a short while so he simply can’t do it.

Being positive doesn’t mean being permissive. Boundaries can be introduced and maintained kindly.

Based on how frantically he chewed that bone, Sam needs chewables at the ready for times when he’s particularly stressed – something for him to redirect all that boredom and frustration onto.

With imagination, patience and foresight, frantic sessions can mostly be preempted. Doors can be shut, routines can be changed, the dog can be given a rummage box full of rubbish to ‘attack’ and so on.

If everything is done calmly and kindly, if he is recognised and rewarded for all the good things he does, and if a sense of humour can be mustered, Sam will become a lot more cooperative.

It takes time, patience and imagination but the eventual rewards in terms of their relationship with their lovely dog will be immeasurable.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Sam. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. 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).

Young Dalmation is Out of Control

When I say ‘ouYoung Dalmationt of control’, I don’t mean Gizmo needs more ‘being under control’. The six-month-old Dalmatian needs more self-control. This is impossible when he is bored stiff and unfulfilled and when his antics are what gets him the craved-for attention.

I go to so many young dogs and puppies who are simply bouncing of the walls and their busy owners just don’t know what to do with them. When they carried the adorable tiny puppy home they had no concept of the time and effort a puppy needs in order for him to grow to be the family pet they dreamed of.

Gizmo’s owners are a young couple with a toddler and a baby now on the way too. In their small house the lady is finding it very hard to fulfill both her little daughter’s needs and her dog’s. If he is shut out of the room he does damage. He flies all over the chairs and all over people. He digs in the garden and he chews up the carpet. He steals and eats the child’s toys and he has now been through several beds.

It can understandably cause some conflict when the man comes home to a big welcome from the dog but has little concept of how it really is for his partner who is trying to cope all day with a demanding baby and even more demanding dog. She can’t exercise Gizmo because she can’t leave baby alone and because of his ‘wild’ behaviour and pulling she can’t take them together.

Things got so bad for the lady, who also worries how they will cope when the new baby in a few months’ time, that a week ago they advertised Gizmo and sold him. They came home in tears.

They then went and fetched him back again and called me out. They hadn’t realised, despite the problems, just how much they loved him until he wasn’t there.

A common problem is that people are resistant to making the necessary changes even though they are only temporary. Crates and gates clutter up the house. Chew toys and activity boxes can make a big mess. It is simpler to put a chain lead on a dog so it can be controlled through force than to change equipment and put time into training it to walk nicely. I am a firm believer in the saying: ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’.

We are starting on just three things before I go again next week – three things they should realistically be able to make sYoung Dalmation with Stagbarome headway with so the lady feels a little more encouraged to keep going.

Firstly, they should look for and reward all the good, calm moments including standing still, sitting and lying down – we practised this. Secondly, they must be consistent about Gizmo’s jumping up on people and on the chairs. If they don’t want the dog to do something – then it has to be every time. He also needs to know what it is they do want instead. Thirdly, the poor quality of his diet can only encourage manic behaviour so that needs changing, and with food left down they have nothing left to reward and motivate him with. So, he needs proper meals and proper food.

Next time we will take things further. We will look at ideas for occupying his brain and starting walking work so the lady can eventually take both dog and baby out for walks together safely.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Gizmo, 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).

Puppy Training: Chews Nips Toilets

Havanese King Charles mix puppyThe couple have had adorable thirteen-week-old Luna for a week now and they don’t know what’s hit them! She is a divine cross between a Havanese and a King Charles Spaniel.

Luna is a totally normal puppy, doing what puppies do – but they’ve not had a puppy before and are finding Luna hard work. When not asleep, she is either ‘on the go’, rushing from chewing skirting or chair legs, to digging the floor, to charging around after a ball, to nipping hands and biting clothes – and toileting.

They are finding the indoor accidents a bit exasperating. She obviously hadn’t had much training where she came from, so they are catching up.  She has messed in her crate each night they have had her.

People have the idea that a puppy must be shown toileting in the house is ‘wrong’. How is it wrong? Would a baby toileting be wrong? When a puppy wees or poos indoors the only possible reasons are insufficient vigilance and trips outside (our  fault), lack of positive reinforcement for going outside (our fault), anxiety (our responsibility), simply too young, unsuitable diet – or perhaps a medical problem.

Luna came to them on Bakers Complete dog food – cheap and tasty – with too many additives and colourings and not enough high quality nutrition. The cheaper the food, the more ‘bulking’ ingredients there are that simply pass through the dog, hence more or larger poos. They have now changed her diet but she still does poo very frequently. She probably went about five in the three hours that I was there.

She consumes too many commercial treats and chews in the evening which the couple give her in order to manage her. This may result in the messing in her crate during the night. What looks like a small treat to us will be the size of a doughnut to little Luna. I personally feel commercial treats are simply money-spinners. What’s wrong with real, nutritious food kept back from her meals, or real chicken or turkey – or tiny bits of cheese so long as the dog isn’t lactose intolerant?

Feeding the last food if the day earlier, making her sleeping space in her crate no bigger than the size of her bed so that she is reluctant to soil her sleeping place and getting up once in the night for just a week or two should cure the night toileting problem.

We covered lots of puppy stuff making sure things are on the right track, preempting any future problems like separation issues, and we made a start with walking her around the house and garden beside them – off lead for now.  Unfortunately she still hasn’t had her second injection which means vital socialisation is limited while they carry her about. We also looked at ways to avoid ‘correcting’ her by teaching her what we do want instead.

People still can be resistant to using food rewards as positive reinforcement. It is scientifically proven beyond all doubt that learning is more efficient when reinforced positively than it ever can be if to avoid punishment or scolding, and food is usually the most potent reinforcer for a puppy in particular.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own puppy may be different to the approach I have worked out for Luna, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own puppies 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 puppy parenting strategies specific to your own puppy (see my Get Help page).

Obsessive Digging for Moles

Red Golden Retriever Louie is recovering from an operation

Louie

Beautiful and much-loved Louie (on the left) and Kiki have recently had a huge change in their lives. Five-year-old dark red Golden Retriever Kiki is a stable and confident dog and it seems not to have affected her, but Louie has only lived with the couple for about two years – he is now nine years of age – and life had not been good for him previously. The lady moved with the dogs to the UK about four months ago and the gentleman, who has a very close relationship with Louie, stayed behind and has only just joined them.

Louie, a Red Setter, had a ‘lampshade’ around his head. He was recovering from an operation on his foot to an injury brought about by his obsessive digging. Where most dogs might hear a little animal under the ground and dig for a short while (their ears are so much better than our own), Louie becomes obsessed. It is even possible now that he is now digging for the sake of digging. He cries and growls as he digs. If he has doggie boots then frantically he tries to bite the ground instead.

Before leaving the house Louie is so overwhelmed with excitement that he can hardly breathe. He is gasping.

Red Setter Kiki looking regal

Kiki

When they had him about two years ago he had lots of phobias and they have come a long way. It is not surprising that the upheavel in his life has brought on a new one. This is also a case of  owners over-compensating for the past and maybe also because they have to leave the dogs alone all day – by allowing them to make nearly all their own decisions – whether it’s where to sleep, when to be fed, when and where to go out or when they will get attention. This can be just as much a burden for a dog as it would a child. It can make a dog needy, resulting in separation issues.

These are wonderful, friendly dogs. There are a few behaviour things that need ironing out, from Kiki’s wanting everything under her own terms, refusing to come when called and going on strike if asked to move when she doesn’t want to, to Louie’s distress when left alone with just Kiki, his restless pacing and digging obsession.

It is now three months later, and I have just received this email: “I had a preliminary visit of a dog sitter this weekend. We went for a long walk together and they were good. They obeyed the entire time even when let off the leash. I also showed her your web site entry about the dogs to make her aware of possible complications. Then I mentioned that Louie has high stress levels, etc… The dog sitter looked at me and just said: “What stress levels? Look at Louie he is just lying there peacefully. He doesn’t have high stress levels.” I had comments from the vet…that Louie calmed down a lot. However, since I spend every day with him, the gradual change was not so striking to me. So this comment from a person that is in contact with many dogs, really made me aware of Louie’s progress. We really came a long way thanks to you and your suggestions.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.