Getting a puppy at Christmas time is both exciting and quite possibly crazy! With lots of excitement, food and present opening, both you and your puppy will have been tested to the limit!
As life settles down and routine kicks in you will be starting to think about training your puppy and the bucket list of things you want your puppy to be able to do! ‘Sit, Stay, Come, Heal’ is historically the fundamental skills people want their puppy’s to learn. For me the fundamentals of ‘tuning a puppy in to follow me mentally and physically’, is top of my list by establishing Recall. In my experience working with owners and their dogs with behaviour issues, recall is always on the ‘Goals list’. The most common mistake people make early on in their relationship with their puppy is to let them off lead before they have a foundation of Trust and Respect. Some people will report to me that their dog ‘comes back to them when there is nothing else more interesting like a dog, then they won’t listen to a word I say!’ Other people also comment that their puppy got chased or even attacked by another dog when they were off lead and so is now petrified of other dogs! Not a great start to owning a balanced dog and usually the first stage to a dog growing up with issues around other dogs!
You have to understand that some dogs that are off lead are not always sociable, particularly when they have a bouncing, ignorant puppy in their personal space who just wants to play, so keeping them on lead is essential in protecting them. What many people don’t realise is that a puppy is still learning ‘dog language’ and won’t have yet developed their understanding of Trust and Respect around other dogs, by sensing and observing another dogs ‘language! ‘ Unfortunately what often happens is the other dog will tolerate the puppy for so long until the point where the puppy’s owner hasn’t observed that the dog is starting to feel challenged. By not retrieving their puppy and giving them the direction they need in that situation, often results in the dog becoming the ‘teacher’ and correcting the puppy with either a low level correction (growl/air snap) or by pinning the puppy down and/or attacking them. Who usually gets the blame? -The dog owner not the puppy owner! I see this happen a great deal when I’m out working dogs in public parks, where owners have not recognised the body language exhibited in front of them between dogs and before you know it a fight kicks off! Sometimes I step in and actually explain what happened in ‘dog terms’ to the owners and that it actually wasn’t the dog’s fault that is getting the blame!
Dogs operate in Survival Instinct, so as soon as they feel challenged they will go in to Defence Flight (avoiding/running away) or Defence Fight (growling, barking, lunging, attacking) drive. ‘Challenge’ can be anything from a dog ‘Eye balling’ another dog, being chased or by encroaching into their personal space and in a puppy’s case quite often being too over-excited! Naturally a dog’s limit in tolerating this behaviour depends on their personality and how long they are in that situation for. If they are not ‘protected’ by the owner actively taking charge and reading the warning signs then the dog is often put in a situation where they have to take charge and correct the dog themselves as nature intended.
By building a foundation of trust and respect first and being your puppy’s ‘Leader’, they are more likely to follow your direction and trust your judgement. Using something to motivate your dog to be physically and mentally ‘tuned in to you’ is the key in the early stages of learning. Testing your dog’s ability to tune in to you when you have food, toys, another dog as a mentor or you, will give you the insight as to what motivates your puppy as not all dogs are food driven! When they are starting to follow your direction more willingly you can reduce the reward, so they are recalling out of trust and respect instead of the extrinsic reward! I will often use a long line (about 3m) that I will keep on the puppy on walks, to practice ‘leader-follower’ activities when I am out in dog walking areas. Sometimes dropping it and letting it trail, calling the puppy back to me, giving reward and other times when meeting other dogs holding onto the end of it. This way I can give the puppy direction when needed, controlling how they approach other dogs and also protection by having the ability to bring the puppy back to me when I sense danger and they don’t!
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