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’.

Eating Rubbish

Red and White King Charles Spaniel who likes eating rubbishLittle Chutney, an adorable six-month-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, at twelve weeks of age became very ill. What was probably kennel cough quickly developed into pneumonia and he ended up in veterinary hospital and was on various drugs for a couple of months. He nearly died. Normal puppyhood was suspended.

He is now catching up.

Understandably his owners are inclined to mollycoddle him and panic, particularly when he picks something up like a twig or a piece of paper. They had initially wrongly believed his illness had been due to inhaling something, and their understandable reaction to his running off with a twig for example – chasing him, enticing him, bribing him then maybe forcing the item off him – is now actually making his ‘scavenging’ for things like twigs, leaves and bits of paper and eating rubbish a lot worse.

The chase that ensues will be stimulating and maybe even a little scary and he is responding with the beginnings of resource guarding behaviour.

I’ve not myself come across a dog that has suffered though swallowing a small piece of paper or tissue though there may be isolated cases, unless the dog has a serious pica disorder. Usually if a tiny twig is swallowed it’s chewed up first and passes through – though certainly could harm if swallowed whole. If chewing twigs, paper and non-poisonous leaves regularly killed puppies, there would be a lot of dead puppies.

Chutney’s owners will need to relax if he’s to change because the longer he rehearses the ‘scavenge/chase/retrieve the item’ cycle the more entrenched it becomes. Management is the first thing. Already they are taking him outside to toilet on lead. They could introduce him to a tiny basket muzzle for the garden – he can drink and pant but not pick things up. They probably have already checked their garden for any poisonous plants or leaves.

Indoors they should no longer give him free run. For now he should be in the same room as themselves or shut in his crate where he is perfectly happy, with something to do. Anything obviously worrying should be lifted (as it is already).Chutney2

The next and most difficult thing for this lovely couple is to make an assessment as to whether the object could really harm Chutney and if not to ignore it. If it’s a tissue, so be it. He may well intensify his efforts when he no longer gets the predicted result so they could try walking out on him and shutting the door briefly rather than reacting.

Because he is still a puppy and at last feeling well enough to make up for lost time, they should give him plenty of things that he can chew and not just commercial items. He can have milk cartons, toilet roll tubes and plastic water bottles with kibble in, for instance. If they are not left down they will have some novelty value.

The last challenge is how to get things off him that may be dangerous. The more he knows they want the item, the more valuable it becomes to him and the more likely he is to swallow it to make sure that they don’t get it! Scattering food on the floor works well – it may need to be strong-smelling – so that he drops the item to get the food giving time to lift the item with no fuss.

Running off with things needs to be replaced with exchanging them. I do this from the start with my own dogs. When puppy has a toy in his mouth I say Give and feed him in return. I will admire the toy and then give it back to him. My dogs love giving me things! The secret, when taking something away, is to offer the dog something of higher value to him until ‘Give’ is firmly established.

If one of my dogs has something that I want in his or her mouth, they will always drop the item into my hand when I ask for it and I always, without fail, say thank you with a piece of kibble I have in my pocket (though I understand not everybody is like me, carrying dog food around all the time!).

They can set him up with a game that has several items in order of value to him, then offer the lowest and exchange for the next one up and so on, allowing him to keep the last, most valuable one – probably a food item. Tug of war is a great game for playing Take’ and ‘Give’. ‘Leave it’ is useful too when you happen to see the dog about to pick something up.

The other challenge with Chutney is that he may ignore them when they call him.

Eventually and with some hard work on his recall and ‘Give’, when Chutney has something inappropriate in his mouth they will be able to call him to them. He will come straight away and give it up willingly, being rewarded for doing so.

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 Chutney. 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).

Cockerpoo Stealing and Guarding

Confrontational techniques cause Cockerpoo to guard thingsThere is one word that best describes delightful one-year-old Cockerpoo Joe – unruly!

He is clever, affectionate and dearly loved. A lot of time and effort is spent on him as his owners do their very best for him in every way they know how.

Using confrontational tactics in trying to get a dog to stop wild behaviours including stealing and guarding things, always backfires in some way.  The kind of methods promoted by a certain well-known TV dog trainer, when copied, have actually caused the behaviour in many of the dogs I go to.

Joe steals things and what happens? Because they feel they should be dominant over him, a chase game follows and then he is cornered. Whatever he has, even if only a tissue, is forced out of his mouth. People can’t let the dog WIN! It’s due to this approach to stealing that he guards things.

Then what happens? Starting when a puppy, the dog learns to protect his ‘trophy’. The man has now been bitten several times which is totally unnecessary. The dog has merely been indirectly taught to protect a resource. It becomes a sort of scary chase game where he gets a lot of attention.

Joe seems more Cocker by nature than Poodle. He is a very energetic dog, flying all over the place and jumping up at people – perhaps grabbing clothes or humping them if he is frustrated at getting insufficient attention. The usual response of getting angry and exasperated simply fuels the behaviour.

This lovely dog has never actually been taught how to be calm or how to exercise some self-control. He also needs much more ‘regulated’ stuff happening in his life – activities initiated by his humans and not himself. He has recently started agility which he adores. At home he needs to learn that his antics get no result – and if he steals something they would do best by simply walking away.  Anything valuable or dangerous will now be the subject of exchange – for something of higher value to him. No more confrontation and he will eventually lose interest.

Exchange really does need working at, whether it is to get him to let them have a ball without a fight so they can throw it again or to let go of a tug toy at the end of a game. It can be fun. A range of different items starting with something of not much value to him being exchanged for something of slightly higher value, and that exchanged for something of higher value still and so on, can teach him the concept of giving things up willingly.

Joe will be earning some of his food now – for good behaviour. We sat at the table and he kept jumping up at it. It is quite hard for people to ignore this and not constantly scold and give commands. They soon saw, though, that if the only attention he got was when his feet were back on the floor whereupon a piece of his food was promptly given to him, it worked a whole lot better. He was soon sitting down, lying down, having another try at jumping up and learning for himself this wasn’t nearly as rewarding in terms of attention as having his feet on the floor.

We worked on a list of short, controlled activities to punctuate his evenings in particular – when he is at his most demanding. It’s best to pre-empt trouble if possible. He always goes for a short walk at about 7pm (putting the harness on is like fighting a whirling dervish) and when he gets home he’s at his most manic. To calm him down they can put his harness on earlier, just before they put the food bowl down when he knows he’s not going out straight away. Then they can make it part of his routine to go straight into his pen for fifteen minutes (where he’s happy to be) immediately he gets home – with something special to chew so he can calm himself down. He then should be less demanding and hyper when they let him out again.

I broke off halfway through writing my story of Joe because I had an appointment with an advisor at my bank. We soon deviated from financial matters to dogs (a whole lot more interesting!). The young man said he had a Cocker Spaniel that could do with my help. I said, let me guess? Does he steal things? Does he guard them? Does he act aggressively when cornered? Have you been bitten? The answer to all was, ‘Yes’.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Joe, 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, particularly where aggression of any kind is concerned. 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).