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’.

Big Change in the Dogs’ Lives. From Free to Restricted.

So much change. The four dogs of interesting mixed breeds were flown over here from South African only two weeks ago and everything is different.

They have generally settled in really well to their new home.

A huge change in their lives.

Big change in the dogs' lives

Bella at the back and Dobby in front

The older two dogs have had previous experience of training, walks and probably traffic. They came from a rescue.

The two younger dogs have lived with the family since they were very young puppies.

Six-year-old Dobby, a cute Pekenese mix, was given to them at six weeks old. Bella, the youngest at fourteen months, was found on the street corner at just three weeks old. Some of her current behaviour is probably due to lack of the beneficial contact with her mother along with what she should have learnt from her siblings.

My client describes Bella as a typical African dog. She’s probably a mix of all sorts of things but looks quite like my little working Labrador in size and shape.

Previously they lived in a big house with a huge enclosed garden. Nobody came knocking on the door but a bell was rung from a distant gate.

The dogs ran free.

Free also to bark at anyone coming too close to their property. There was a lot of action and background noise about the place.

Now they live in a very nice but much smaller house over here. Everything is very quiet. The garden is not big and they are surrounded by neighbours who won’t appreciate barking.

The change from plenty of background noise to quiet means that any sounds tend to be sudden – and something to bark at.

There are two main issues for the family. The first is the noisy and alarmed way the dogs react to anyone knocking on the door and coming into the house. The other is the difficulty in walking the dogs together.

At the front door.

Never before have they had someone knocking on their door. It’s easy to understand how dogs don’t like this sudden banging.

When I arrived we had set it up that I would text outside the door, the dogs would be put out of the way, and only let out to join us when I was sitting in the kitchen. This worked a treat and there was no barking at all. Little Dobby would usually growl and bark at a person for about half and hour. There was one quiet growl and he was taking food from my hand.

This, then, is how I suggest they manage the ‘caller’ situation to start with.

They can get a doorbell which is less alarming I feel than sudden loud knocks. Over time they can systematically work on getting the dogs not to react to the bell. It can be the trigger for the dogs to go into another room, out of the way. A wireless doorbell with two push-buttons is ideal for working with frequent bell-rings. Success will depend upon many repetitions.

Then there will be less chaos when deliveries come.

All dogs were fine with my walking about but went mental when, having gone upstairs, I began to come down again. They have never had stairs before – another change. The way we set up my arrival worked very well. We need to work out something similar for when a person goes upstairs.

They bark also when a male family member comes downstairs, so I suggest for now the man sits on the top stair, calls the dogs up to him and they then can walk down together.

So the ‘manage callers’ part of their aims will be a mix of physically managing the situation along with systematically getting them used to the sound of a doorbell and also feeling good when they hear it.

Walking the dogs.

The ‘walking dogs’ part of their aims boils down to working with the two younger dogs individually until they are less reactive to other dogs and people. When aroused on walks and together, Bella will redirect onto Dobby. These two aren’t used to leads and probably not accustomed to much tarmac and paving, or traffic. The older two are fine.

Bella and Dobby have separate walking plans.

Bella pulls like mad and is very reactive to any dog she sees, even at a distance but is okay with people.

Dobby is hysterical with excitement before even leaving the house. He also pulls and the outside world experience sounds like it’s just too much for him. Whilst he’s okay with other dogs he freaks out when a person walks towards them.

Bella and Dobby, in time, can then be gradually integrated one at a time with the older two, then walked together as a pair, before trying to walk them all together. How quickly they achieve this will depend upon how much time they have to work on it.

Because the dogs have only been over here with them for just a couple of weeks, their behaviour may well change further as they adapt to their new environment over the next month or two.

The dogs are doing really well despite the huge upheaval and change. I’m sure this is because the family of four all work so well together on their dogs’ behalf.

Freedom and Who Pays the Price

They love to see their dog running free, charging about and having fun.

Freedom may come at a price.

They adopted Boxer Bella sixteen months ago and she is having a wonderful life. Being with her for three hours it was hard to imagine her to be anything other than a sweet, soft and gentle dog.

For me she showed none of her usual over-excitement when people visit.

I tend to get back what I give. Calm confidence attracts calm confidence (just as excitement attracts excitement).

There is a price to be paid for all Bella’s freedom however

She has too much freedomAnd it’s not always Bella who pays it.

She lives with a family where, again, the men like to get her excited. When the man gets up in the morning she immediately bounces about. She rushes downstairs to get a toy. Man and dog, they chase around the house and then around the garden.

She loves it, but are the adrenalin highs that good a way to start the day?

Their perceived problem is out on walks where Bella is becoming increasingly aggressive to other dogs. This is both when off lead as well as on lead.

The gentleman, who is the main walker, needs to be able to have her under better control, so their own relationship needs to be a bit more regulated in general.

He can slowly tone down the manic mornings a bit at a time so it’s that not too much of a shock to either of them. He can introduce brain games and things that require some self-control. Stirring her up from the beginning isn’t the best way to start a day, particularly if you want a dog to react to things calmly later on.

They live just a few minutes’ walk from where she’s let off lead. She pulls madly to get there.

Then, off lead, she’s away.

Freedom!

She may run around madly, carry huge logs or disappear, sometimes for several minutes at a time. It’s all high activity stuff where learning to sniff and ‘shoot the breeze’ on a long line may do her just as much good if not more.

She’s stone deaf to being called when on a mission.

Once a dog is used to freelancing, there is little one can do to get her back until she’s finished what she’s doing.

Bella herself paid a price for her freedom a while ago.

The man heard screaming and ran over to find some young girls with a couple of Staffordshire Bull Terriers both on top of Bella. Bella will have been the instigator, she ran over to them after all and they were on leads minding their own business. It was a bad experience for the girls, the Staffies and for Bella who had injuries.

Things have gone downhill since then but still her freedoms haven’t been curbed. They feel their fit and lean Boxer needs the exercise and understandably they love the joy freedom gives her

Anything could happen. The price paid so far is bad, but it could become a lot worse. According to the recent change in the dog law, someone may only need to feel threatened by a dog now for the owner to be prosecuted. This could end up with Bella permanently on lead and wearing a muzzle.

The catalyst for calling me was recently, again out of sight of the man, Bella went for a small dog. The owner was extremely upset and scared as was the little dog.

Dog-to-dog reactivity is like a disease that spreads.

Now it’s likely the little dog may cause trouble with other dogs, particularly larger dogs, due to its own fear.

With each thing that happens, it simply gets worse, but still Bella is being given her freedom. She freelances.

It’s sometimes hard to convince people who want the very best for their dog, as they certainly do, that the only answer is for her to lose her freedom.

For now I strongly advise Bella to be kept on a long line, dropped perhaps so she can play with familiar dogs. Recall needs to be blitzed for several months at least.

When encountering other dogs the gentleman will himself take responsibility for what happens next. When, on the long line, they see a dog, he will call her and reward her. Maybe this would be a good opportunity for one of his fun chasing games, keeping it short?  She may now associate the other dog with fun times.

Whether on walking lead or long line, he will maintain a comfortable distance between Bella and other dogs and work on her. He will no longer keep walking on towards the other dog, holding her tight as she tries to lunge, hackles up and barking,

Bella’s ideal default over time should be to check in with the man every time she sees another dog. She must learn to keep within a certain distance from him and never go out of sight.

Dog walks would be better for everyone if all owners restricted their dogs’ freedom, if all dogs automatically checked in when they saw another dog and if recall really did mean ‘come’. See this nice little video about recall from Steve Mann.

It is so much harder to reverse a situation like this than not to have let it happen in the first place. I would say a new dog or puppy has no freedom initially and is granted it gradually in a controlled fashion when ready.

Recall is as much about the kind of relationship the dog has with the owner as anything else. This needs working on in all areas of the Bella’s life.

We get what we give.

If we want calm and attentiveness, we act calm and give our full attention.  Encouraging calm and attentiveness, we have better control.

In curbing freedom the dog doesn’t have to feel trapped like a prisoner. We make ourselves relevant so that being near us is just where our dog wants to be. It can take a lot of effort.

 

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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Bella and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression of any kind is concerned. 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)

 

 

 

Over-Enthusiastic Puppy Greetings

CavapooIf our puppy is given rapturous welcomes by all who come to the house – being picked up and encouraged to jump at them rather than (along with those guests!) taught some restraint – isn’t it likely she may think this is the way to greet all people she meets?

Looking at 19 week old Cavapoo Molly, you can see that she is absolutely irresistible.

Another concern of the couple is that she may be getting a little fearful of larger dogs. She tries to greet them in the same exuberant way, by jumping all over them, and recently has encountered a dog that was not so friendly.

She really is the sweetest, friendliest little dog and very gentle for a puppy.CaverpooMolly

I do sometimes wonder whether extreme excitement upon meeting people and dogs doesn’t actually mask a touch of anxiety. If a human were to greet someone at the door in this rather frantic and over-enthusiastic manner, would it be pure happiness? May it not betray some unease?

I picked her up briefly myself and did sense she wasn’t really enjoying it. Immediately I put her down she started scratching herself which I suspect she uses as a displacement activity when things are getting just a little bit too much for her. I suggest that Molly isn’t picked up unless really necessary.

I also suggest she learns that hellos at home don’t happen until she has calmed down a bit – and this is so hard to explain to callers who instantly fall in love with the delightful puppy.

Out on walks her ‘parents’ now need to take charge of who she interacts with, just as they would a toddler, and restrain her gently, only allowing her to greet those people and dogs they know feel the same way about her. Later when she’s a little older and no longer quite so aroused, she can be taught to sit, give owners her attention or to walk on.

It would be a great shame if, at this sensitive time in her development, she were to meet an adult dog that showed aggression towards her. Her encounters should as far as is possible all be positive. If there is any doubt, more distance should be put between her and the possible ‘threat’.

Two important rules are: don’t give puppies too much freedom to soon. Start with restricting them in small areas at home (which also aids toilet training) and keep them nearby on a long lead when out. Gradually, as one would a child, expand the available space as they learn to handle it, without giving complete freedom for several months at least.

The second rule is to work constantly on recall using tiny bits of something tasty as a reward or play, both at home and out, thousands of times over the days, weeks and months, until when the dog is called it is a conditioned response to come.

Coming when called is the key to managing much unwanted behaviour. If the puppy is doing something like chewing a chair or chewing stones as Molly does, all one needs to do is to call her and she will come running over (dropping the stone). Then she can be rewarded for coming away and given an acceptable alternative.

A bomb-proof recall will keep her safe on walks. It should override the instinct to chase or desire to play if caught in time – before she’s in another zone altogether when she may become so focussed that nothing will get through.

About 6 weeks later: ‘We are still enjoying Molly I can’t believe she is now 6 months old, she is getting much better at entertaining herself and as I write is quietly sitting with me amusing herself. She seems very happy so we must be doing ok! 

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Molly, 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 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 dogs (see my Get Help page).

Two Boxers with Too Much Freedom

The two Boxers have too much freedomHoney and Millie are both six years old. They were brought home on the same day, but they are not sisters. Millie came from a good breeder and nice home environment, whereas Honey missed out on some vital early input from siblings and mother, and had to be hand reared. What happens during the first twelve weeks or so of a dog’s life makes a huge difference and I don’t believe can ever entirely be reversed. A dog without proper early interaction with siblings and mother will be harder work.

The two dogs used to get on brilliantly. They had puppies at the same time  – even putting all their puppies together in one whelping box and sharing the maternal duties.

Unfortunately things have gone downhill.  Honey, predictably, is a much more stressed dog. A short while ago, due to complications in a pregnancy, Millie had to be spayed, and the imbalance of hormones between them may be adding to the growing tension between the two dogs.

Honey will suddenly just go for Millie. Sometimes she gives ‘that look’ first, sometimes it seems to happen out of the blue. There are a couple of common denominators – the lady is always present and it seems to involve comings and goings, either of people or one dog returning into the presence of the other.  On most occasions the house has been busy and Honey will have had a build up of stress.

To my mind the biggest contributor of all to Honey’s stress levels in particular is the enormous amount of freedom the two dogs have. They have quite a large area on the estate where they freely roam – controlled only by an electric barrier. They are left out all day with an open kennel for shelter. They are there at the gate whenever anyone arrives and it is a busy place. Honey barks, growls and hackles – scared and warning. It’s quite surprising that all her stress is taken out on poor Millie and that she’s not actually gone for a person by now. There is a public dog walking path through the estate that they can see but not reach, which also causes barking and stress.

These two dogs are in charge of the territory, no question about it. Without realising it, the people are often allowing the dogs to be in charge of them also. If it were just the much more stable Millie it may not really matter as she can handle it. Honey can’t.

I am hoping that they can find a way of enclosing the dogs during the day when they themselves are not about and that they feel happy with, and of keeping them well away from the gate area when people come and go so they are let ‘off duty’.  My own dogs are peacefully contained in quite a small area in the house when I am out and I wouldn’t have it any other way for their own sakes – and for the most part when they are anywhere further afield than my garden, I accompany them.

Ruling the roost really isn’t easy on a dog. With some indoor leadership work as well as limiting physical boundaries, Honey’s stress levels should then reduce and I am sure she will not feel the need to take it out on poor Millie. Possibly spaying her in a couple of months’ time when the time is right could help, but I don’t believe this alone is the answer as the dogs already had had a few differences earlier. It needs to be done in conjunction with the behaviour work.

Rearing littermates usually comes with problems, and even though these two weren’t actually from the same litter, because they were adopted together at the same age there will be little difference.

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