Fri 18th May: T is for Training
I think my dogs have had enough of the rain now and their behaviour is showing signs of boredom, with a lot of petty arguments breaking out and general destruction. It reminds me of how it must be for the many dogs that spend their whole lives stuck inside with maybe a short evening walk at best. They must be desperate for something new and interesting to do and see, but so many owners simply don’t appreciate that their dogs are intelligent animals with a brain that needs stimulation. Just think what a dog can do when left alone all day. Nothing. It’s even worse when it’s a puppy with nobody to play with, but I know this is how the majority of dogs live.
So many behaviour problems are down to nothing more than a dog being bored or being given mixed messages about what’s expected of it. It’s not that the dog is naughty or aggressive, or anything else, it’s just confused and often under-exercised. Can you imagine having an active toddler and expecting it to sit still for eight hours a day with nothing for it to do?
Whenever I home a puppy the adopter is given information sheets about various things, including health issues and training. To make it very easy I recommend the Dogs Trust website (www.dogstrust.org.uk) as a fantastic resource for answering just about every question you can think of to do with dogs and puppies. There are short videos covering every aspect of training so it’s very easy to follow and do yourself. I’ve looked at many websites and this is still by far the best, probably because Dogs Trust is a rescue and re-homing organisation just like HKDR so they encounter the same problems and questions that we do. (Click on A-Z, then T for Training to see all the videos).
“We have launched a series of videos, Dog Training Made Easy, to teach your dog basic training and commands. Carolyn Menteith, host of the 25 videos, guides dog owners through important topics such as handling your dog, biting, sitting, barking, digging, eating poo, commands such as sit, stay, and retrieve, and so much more.
These videos are around 2-5 minutes each and can be watched in order or individually. As a whole, the series aims to help you ensure your dog is sociable, well trained, and a happier dog.”
Training a puppy is very easy if you follow some simple rules and accept that a puppy isn’t born with the knowledge that furniture is not for chewing and nor are children. When parents have a baby they understand that their child needs to be taught what is necessary for it to be a happy and useful member of society and the same applies to puppies. The difference is that a puppy grows very quickly and you have a short time frame to teach those basic life lessons, and puppies also have very sharp teeth that hurt when they make contact with human skin. Here are my tips for successful puppy training:
- Be consistent. Make sure everyone knows the rules and sticks to them.
- Be gentle. Handling a puppy roughly will result in mirrored behaviour. There is absolutely no need for any physical punishment or yelling. It will not result in a happy or well behaved puppy.
- Reward your puppy for good behaviour, whether it’s a treat or just a pat and a “good boy”. Let your puppy now when it’s done well so it repeats that behaviour.
- Be aware that your puppy has a brain and can learn very quickly but only if it’s taught well and in the correct way. Yelling “Sit!” for example, and expecting a puppy to understand what that word means, is pointless. Watch the Dogs Trust training video and see how it’s done. Actually it only takes a few minutes to teach a puppy to sit if you do it right.
- Include your puppy in all aspects of daily life while appreciating that it also needs its own space for sleeping and eating. If you have children they need to be taught that a dog isn’t a toy and if they provoke it they’ll get a natural response. As I wrote in an earlier blog, growling is not bad or aggressive behaviour in these situations, it’s a way of warning that the dog is running out of patience. Listen to your dog and learn to understand its language as much as you expect it to understand yours.
- Although you can’t exercise a puppy outside until it’s fully vaccinated, and taking a puppy for a long walk is in any case bad for its joints, playing in a constructive way combines training and exercise in one. You can teach a puppy to walk on a leash while still at home, to come, sit and many other things so that when you’re ready to start walking, it’s easy. Once a puppy is older, exercise is essential for a healthy body and a happy and relaxed mind. If you’re too busy to give a dog the exercise it needs, get an old one that requires less or don’t get a dog at all!
I’m praying for good weather on Sunday so I can show off my current puppies. While I usually keep the young ones separate, for some reason I have let this batch run freely with the big dogs and it’s been an interesting exercise seeing how they behave and cope. It’s definitely confirmed my belief that puppies will toilet train themselves without the need for crates or confining, because all of them are using the newspaper as they’re supposed to. There’s the odd mistake when a (donated hotel) bathmat is mistaken for a pee pad, but that’s OK. Being around older dogs is natural for puppies really, and in the wild this is how they would learn. What happens after adoption is really up to the new family and the puppy’s individual personality, but by following the easy lessons the transition to adulthood should be a trouble-free one.