Last Wednesday I was at a Home Dog Training Session with a new client in Dahlonega. They had adopted a Dutch Shepherd “Christmas Puppy” named Otto from a breeder in Ohio. I first have to say that I love Shepherds so I really loved working with the family and Otto. Like all Shepherd puppies, he was cute, full of energy, and often demanding. These are fun characteristics when it comes to a ten pound, furry, cute love machine. Having been a parent of puppy shepherds, I cautioned my clients that they were going to have to change some of their habits if they wanted to love Otto as much when he gets older, bigger, and much stronger. Luckily they had large dogs in the past and understood what I was saying. The training went quite well and Otto came to understand that my clients were his “parents” and he should respect their wishes. My clients also understood what they had to do to make Otto a great dog for the entire family.
As I mentioned earlier, it is important to understand what you are communicating to your puppy the moment you bring him into your home. All the “come, sit, stay” and “good puppy” does very little good if you have not set up the right environment where he can learn what is acceptable while “living under your roof”. Your puppy is learning the moment he comes into your home. Everything he sees, smells, hears, or experiences is a new learning experience. The more he experiences a situation, the more he will presume (learn) that the situation is acceptable to the group (your family or his pack),
Over the last fifteen years, I have observed many things that new puppy owners have inadvertently done that caused problems later in their dog’s life. I shared several of these observations with my clients and their Dutch Shepherd.
PLAYING WITH YOUR PUPPY:
This is important, especially for parents of puppies that are going to be big dogs. Do not play rough or highly physical with your puppy. In a matter of a few months, your little ball of fur will grow into a very large and strong dog. He will have large teeth and sharp claws. He will be fast and chase you or anyone else down. He will be heavy and will easily be able to knock you down with a jump or strong pull on the leash. Even worse than this, he will have been 100% programmed to do these things. He will not have to be “mad or fearful” to use these activities within a “flight or fight” mode. In his mind, these (now) dangerous activities are as correct and natural as you or I saying “hello” to someone passing on the street or shaking someone’s hand when we walk into a room.
We think it is so cute to roll our puppy around on the floor or dangle our fingers right in front of his face (and teeth). It is funny when he jumps on us, we push him off and run away, and he chases after us to jump on us again. He may even give us little nips that, as a puppy, don’t really heart. We may even laugh when we get a nip and do things to get him even more excited. These are all fun things and, in proper environments, are a natural part of “puppy learning”.
The problem is that we are not puppies. In a “proper puppy learning” environment, the other puppy would let them know when something is inappropriate and quickly have them stop. They actually learn that it is not right to simply jump on other animals, crazy barking is not necessary, it is not their place to constantly demand attention, and they must follow rules established by the group. We are teaching them that being nuts is OK. Even more damaging, we teach them that they can do whatever they want. They can do this whenever they want and everyone else must join in. If they don’t, ramp it up with jumping, nipping, barking, etc. We have told them that this is fine.
At the beginning of this section, I mentioned that this is for big dogs. That is because they are the ones that can cause the most damage (and legal problems). Little dogs can be just annoying. They are normally not as painful.
So, when you want to play with your puppy, keep it calm. Calmly pet your puppy. Play catch with a tennis ball. Call him over to you and then praise him. Discourage jumping and encourage sitting. Play hide and seek with a favorite toy. Just keep it calm and on your terms. Whatever you do as a play activity, always think “Would I want him doing this with my eighty-five year-old grandmother?”. And, when in doubt, calm it down.
We just finished discussing play activities and keeping it calm. Exercise is an activity that goes against some of the topics and actions we just talked about. It is an activity where we want our puppy to be adrenalized and active. The reason that this is OK now and inappropriate before is because “Play” was focused on socialization, the creation of a hierarchy, and establishment of consistent rules. Exercise is physical activity to maintain health and well-being. It is important that we make these distinctions and not mingle the activities.
Puppies are little “adrenaline machines” and have been creating an overflow of adrenaline all day as they wait for you to return home. Once you come in that door, it is very hard to control that excitement and extra difficult not to “play crazy” with them. So, as soon as your get home, take your puppy outside.
Play ball with him or throw the Frisbee. Let him run after squirrels. If there are several family members outside, toss a ball between everyone and have your puppy run to each family member who has just caught the ball. As he approaches, that family member can throw the ball to someone else. This is a simple game of “keep-away” and most dogs love it. Create a “digging pit” (see earlier blog) where your puppy can actively dig as well as search for his favorite toys.
Do not “over-play” with your puppy. Their bones are still growing and their joints need time to mature to take on all the stress of active, physical activity. After about fifteen to twenty minutes of excited exercise, start to calm things down. Stop throwing the ball or take the goodies out of the digging pit. Call him over to you and calmly sit on the porch. After about ten minutes of “calm time”, he should be reset into his “calm mode” and you can bring him inside again.
We have discussed “gym” and “free time”; now we need to discuss “school”. It is important to start early in teaching your dog correct obedience and behavior. Remember the old saying “It is easier to start off on the right foot (or paw)”. One form of training deals with obedience. This is the situation where you ask him to do something and he must comply. Things like “Sit”, “Stay”, “Come”, and “Heel” fall into this category.
Spend about fifteen minutes every day working on Obedience Training. We find that it is best to start with the Come exercise with new puppies. It is something that is already somewhat natural and they inherently perform. All you are doing is adding a “do it now” portion of the activity. Work on the Sit exercise before you begin the Stay exercise. This is because your puppy will never Stay in a spot if they haven’t learned to Sit in that spot. Most important, do not rush your exercises. Keep things slow and stop if you see your puppy start to loose interest or energy.
There are also behavior exercises that you will need to teach your puppy. The difference between a Behavior exercise and Obedience exercise is that an Obedience exercise involves “I want you to” where a Behavior exercise involves “stop doing that”. Behavior exercises would include “No Jumping”, “Off the Furniture”, “No Nipping”, “Pay Attention”, “Go to Your Crate”, “No Stealing”, etc. These exercises are done when your dog initiates one of these “bad behaviors” and you teach him that his actions are inappropriate. When your puppy starts to do one of these “bad things”, you must correct him, gain his focus, and direct him to the appropriate action. The most important thing about behavior exercises is that you must initiate them the moment your puppy is doing something wrong.
I discussed other puppy tips with my client on Wednesday, but I may leave those things for another day and another blog. I told my client that if he only took one thought away from the tips we discussed, it should be “Whatever you do with your Otto now, what are the consequences in a year from now when he is over seventy pounds and can put his paws on your shoulders when he jumps…”.
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 or (770) 718-7716 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over fifteen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.