It’s a pup’s life – Training Advice for Puppy Owners
Puppies despite their sweet appearance can be hard work for the uninitiated! Ownership of a cute little bundle of canine joy, therefore, can be a steep learning curve and this is where veterinarians can help to smooth out the corners by providing some gentle training advice.
Start as you mean to go on
All puppies are adorable. The same cannot be said of babies, but similarities do exist – the main one being that neither comes with an instruction manual! One of the biggest reasons pets sadly end up being re-homed is behavioural issues that literally drive their human family up the wall, but things don't ever have to get this far.
Age-appropriate behaviour and training
Age-appropriate training throughout the early months can go a long way in starting owners down the road of enjoying a well-adjusted, biddable adult dog at the end of it. Veterinarians are in the ideal position of being able to provide new owners with what to expect by way of normal puppy behaviour and offer appropriate training advice that will see them enjoying a mutually beneficial relationship for many years to come.
Land sharks! Puppies that bite
Many owners are reassured that this is not a sign of aggression but completely normal behaviour! Puppies; like babies and toddlers, have to learn about their mouth and teeth and a loud ow! will let them know they are applying too much pressure!
Puppies teeth are just like babies and at around 16 weeks their mouths can feel sore, so it is normal to go through an especially bitey period at this stage. Although it can be painful and annoying; puppies should never be “punished”. Any training techniques should focus on distraction and positive reinforcement, and it is wise; if you have children, to keep over-tired puppies "time out" and supply an appropriate toy or even a carrot for the puppy to chew on instead of a human body part!
The importance of creating a bond
Teenage times for puppies are between 9-18 months and once out of the other side of this often testing time; a dog truly will become man’s best friend. Owners should not stint on showing affection to their puppies. Love, hugs and telling him he is a good boy (or girl!) will lead your puppy wanting to please you to receive more of the same.
In order to encourage good behaviour, it may be that owners need to be advised to make it easy for puppies to succeed. When toilet training, teaching recall or working on your puppy learning to sit calmly in public places the focus needs to be on ignoring the bad and rewarding the good no matter how much of a baby step the puppy makes in reaching that goal.
When you can't ignore bad behaviour
Rather than an owner risk losing their temper; providing a distraction or some form of time out can work wonders in switching a puppies brain to something different such as concentrating on a chew or toy instead of eating the sofa for instance!
It’s all in the body language
Owners can quickly learn to read their dog's body language just as we unconsciously observe it in our fellow humans for clues about how they are feeling. Turning their head away, lip-licking or barking can be a sign of nervousness and once owners can understand these signals they can scan the environment to work out what appropriate action to take. For young dogs, the outside world can be an exciting yet scary place where they have to learn the rules of socialising with other, bigger dogs and get used to traffic and other loud noises. Owners should be advised to encourage their dogs but to allow them to take new experiences at their own pace, so they don't become overwhelmed.
Take socialisation gently
We can all remember the nerves of a first new day at school or making friends when shy etc. and so it is with puppies. A degree of fear is normal, and your puppy may seem confident in certain situations but not others. Remember that puppies look to their owners for help with something that feels overwhelming to them so having patience, providing reassurance and turning a scary situation into a game are the best 3 pieces of advice to help puppies find their feet and feel more confident as well as continue to have trust in you.
The importance of recall
The last thing you want is to let your puppy roam free on a walk only for it to run off into the distance. Puppies like young children have no road sense and can put themselves in danger without their pack leader to protect them, so the aim is to let them explore gradually while still keeping them close enough to keep a close eye on and step in if necessary. Even an adult dog can get into serious trouble when recall is a problem and the best way to encourage good recall is to start young and start at home.
Owners can be encouraged to call their puppy from one room to another and reward with a treat, so the puppy associates running to the owner as something pleasurable. Calling them in from the garden or calling them to come from their tea can also be a way to develop recall. If the puppy doesn't come then shutting the door could provoke his/her interest and get them wanting to get back to you that way! It is important for owners not to shout at their puppy as this will instil fear and a lack of trust which is the last thing you want. Puppies should always be praised for returning to their owners and never shouted at, grabbed at or chased.
High value treats such as cheese, chicken or beef will encourage your puppy to perform the behaviours you want so they can get their tasty reward! Owners should not see this as "cheating" – It's simply positive/reward-based training and we humans operate in a similar manner!
Think how your dog thinks
Owners can be encouraged to put themselves in their dog's shoes (or paws) especially regarding recall for it is good recall that will help to keep your puppy safe in the big wide world. Calling a dog back and rewarding them with a treat while gently putting a hand on their collar/harness helps them to feel safe and rewarded. Saying playtime! Go play! or a similar command will help encourage them to go explore and after a short while you can call them back again. This call-back, reward and release can be performed continually throughout walks and when the puppy is put back on the lead – he/she realises the game is over until it is time for walkies again.
Being aware of surroundings
Owners should be encouraged to be aware of the environment at all times and to keep their puppy on a lead if there is any sign of danger.
Praising puppies for doing nothing
It is essential to pat and tell your puppy he is a good boy even if he isn't doing anything but laying in his bed as this will promote relaxation and further encourage good behaviour.
Training never stops
Training may be more intensive during puppyhood and adolescence, but it never ends throughout the lifetime of a dog. The saying you can't teach old dogs new tricks is simply not true! Never-ending training may sound exhausting and overwhelming, but it is something owners begin to do naturally all the time. Common expressions such as saying "let's go" when picking up a lead will reinforce the fact that it's time to for a walk and no dogs can be used before popping them in their crate and leaving the house to grab something from the shop. All these small daily interactions and habits will amount to a great deal of what becomes natural training and re-enforcement between you and your dog.
Revisiting the subject of "bad" behaviour
Puppies do not make the conscious decision to be “bad” although it may feel like that way sometimes! They do things that have owners tearing their hair out because either there has been some kind of failure in training or the dog is unsure what is being asked of them. Owners need to gradually train puppies using positive methods that encourage and reward them to do what they want them to do and ignore what they don’t want them to do.
Owners however also need to remember that natural breed traits will win out overtraining such as a field spaniel chasing pheasants. In this case, it is far more productive to spend time and energy working on the behaviour that can be achieved such as working on recall using a whistle before a chase has a chance to take place.
When training doesn’t work
And if training fails regarding a specific behavioural issue, then owners should be encouraged to contact an approved APBT or IMD dog trainer for help.