Whether you mean to or not, your pup’s education begins the day you bring him home. At seven or eight weeks old, he is a learning machine. Nothing goes unnoticed.
If you reach to pet him, he mouths you, then you pet him—he has just been taught to mouth.
If you reach to pet him, he mouths you, you withdraw and ignore him for a few seconds, then try again—he learns that mouthing does not get him attention. Every interaction teaches him something. What do you want him to learn?
It may be necessary to have your pup under physical control while doing some problem solving, so let’s start by discussing how to introduce your pup to a lead and collar.
Dogs look to the leader to see how to handle a new situation. Your pup will look to you. The rule? Act as you want the dog to act. If you want the pup to accept that noisy bus, you accept it. Keep your breathing even and regular, walk at a relaxed pace, speak in a happy, cheerful tone. Your pup will understand that everything is okay. But if, when your pup leaps in fear, you hold your breath, speak in a worried tone, and stroke him quickly, he will read your concern and add it to his. So model the behavior you want and you will be more likely to get it.
Most pups will show fear at some point. In fact, pups go through fear (or sensitive) periods as they mature. The classic ages for these are around eight and then eleven weeks, but each pup is a bit different, for some, these periods can arrive any time between seven and twelve weeks. These “sensitive periods” can revisit your dog during maturation. Don’t be surprised to see them again at around five months and then between seven and nine months. What your pup needs most during these times are support, guidance, and structure.
A dog who can handle your handling is easier to groom, less stressed at the veterinarian, and more relaxed about home health maintenance like ear cleaning or wound treatment. How do you teach your dog to accept your handling calmly? Here are a few easy things to do on a daily basis:
When your pup is sleepy, run your hands over her body and down her legs; touch all her paws. Put your fingers between her paw pads, extend her nail, wiggle the toes, lift the ear flags, massage her gums, and generally put your fingers anywhere (within reason) that normal grooming and care will require you to touch.
If your puppy resists or is never that asleep, you can use treats. (This game is even easier with a helper.) Take the treat, let your puppy lick at it in your fingers, handle a foot gently, then immediately give her the treat. (If you have an assistant, have him give the treat for you.) So it’s show the treat, touch the foot, give the treat, and praise. Repeat on each foot. You can apply the same principle to looking at her ears.
A fun game I heard first at a Donna Duford lecture was this: To get your pup used to having her mouth opened, open her mouth, pop in a treat, and release. Open, treat, release. Do this three or four times a day for a week or so and your dog will be hoping you open her mouth. Fun and effective, and it builds the dog’s desire to want to do what you want her to do — perfect!
These two commonly used training tools can make your (and your pup’s) life easier or more difficult, depending on you. To make things easier, use a wide, flat buckle collar on your pup. You will be in teaching mode for several months at least and will not be using many (if any) corrections. First you teach, then you practice, then you proof or test or challenge your dog. Corrections come after the dog fully understands what is expected.
Many breeders use collars as a way to tell pups apart, and thanks to these, the pups become comfortable in a collar. If this hasn’t happened to your pup and it is a new experience, introduce the collar simply by putting it on. You should be able to slip two fingers between the collar and your pup’s neck without much trouble. Too loose and she may get a paw caught in it from scratching it. Too tight and it may irritate her. Expect scratching, maybe a little whining, falling over, or turning around. This is normal. Leave it on until she ignores it, then remove it. Repeat a few times a day, and in a day or two it can be on full-time without a problem.
Traditionally, introducing the lead meant clipping it on and allowing the pup to drag it wherever she went. Unfortunately, this teaches the pup that she can go wherever she wants when on lead. Try another approach, one that teaches something entirely different. Take one hungry pup and one pile of delicious treats, clip on the lead, hook it over something stationary (we hook it on the far-side doorknob and then close the door on the lead), and sit down nearby. Understandably, she will probably fuss since she doesn’t know why she can’t move about freely. Ignore any upset. Wait for the one moment when she stops fussing and the lead slackens a bit. At that moment, praise her and give her a treat. (If you’re using a clicker, click the instant there is slack in the lead.)
Because we want to teach the pup from the very start that pulling on the lead is not effective. It does not get you where you want to go. We want her to learn that not pulling gets the good stuff. If she learns this young and we play walking games with her in the apartment, we may get a pup who backs up when she feels tension rather than lunging forward when we get outside.
Once she is calm when tethered (always with you right next to her), start working on walking. Praise her warmly for walking with you. She will probably balk and jump around, but just stay calm and wait her out. When she stops, call her to you and reward her. By ignoring her upset and rewarding calm behavior, she will soon be walking after you like an old pro.
Here are a few games to play once your pup is used to the lead:
Stop, Then Go
This simple game can have a big impact. Around the apartment or halls, walk with your pup. When the lead gets tight—stop. Simply stop. Say nothing. Wait. When the lead goes a little slack—praise and reward the pup, then start walking again.
The rules are simple: Tight = Stop. Slack = Walk.
We don’t expect this to hold up under temptation, but this early habit will become a pup’s natural response to leash tension, which will be mighty helpful when he is eighty-five pounds of gangly enthusiasm.
This game works well with the “leave it” exercises. Hook your pup up on lead attached to something immobile. Show him a treat (keep a better one in your other hand) and put that not-so-good treat on the floor three or four feet away from your pup.
At first he may show some interest. When he allows slack in the lead, praise him and give the even better treat. Repeat. You can slowly move the not-so-good treat on the floor closer to him, which will increase the temptation. Often, in less than a week, you’ll have a pup who will not leap at food on the ground but will wait, with slack lead, for his reward. Now, wouldn’t that be nice?
Follow the Lure
With your pup on lead to your left side (nothing is magic about your left side, just training tradition), show your pup a treat in your left hand. With the pup focused on the treat, take a step or two forward, then, if the pup is still focused on the treat, give him the reward and praise. The game is: show lure, focus pup, take a step or two, feed, and praise.
This game can be played with equal success with a desired toy. If you keep a special latex squeaky toy set aside for this exercise, you will find most pups eager to play this game.
Either way, the goal is to teach your pup that attention equals reward.
Anything your dog doesn’t enjoy can be used as a correction. One of the most mild but effective forms of correction is the removal of a reward. Show your pup a treat, she jumps up, you put the treat behind your back, she sits, you give the treat. You’ve just corrected jumping and rewarded sitting. A typical list of corrections might include removal of treat or toy, stopping praise, stopping petting, ignoring the pup, tethering or removing the pup away from you, verbal disapproval, a sudden, startling sound, a spritz of water from a plant sprayer, a well-timed leash correction. Notice we do not include hitting, yelling, smacking, yanking. Anger does not belong in teaching.
A lure is used to guide the dog into the behavior you want. A reward is given to the dog after he has completed an action. A lure is used to initially teach a behavior, but move to a reward as soon as you possibly can. If you stay with a lure too long, the pup may start performing only when a lure is present. It is your job, as the teacher, to keep expecting more from your student. If your fourth-grade teacher was still giving you gold stars for saying “cat,” wouldn’t you have become bored long ago?
Preventing begging is pretty simple: Don’t feed your dog from the table or your plate.
We know: “He’s so cute,” “It’s just this once,” “After all, the morsel already fell on the floor,” “It’s gristle,” or whatever. Fine. If you want him to have it, put it in his bowl after the meal is over. Or go ahead and feed him when you are at the table, just don’t get upset later when he sticks a drooling muzzle on your knee, woofs at you for a piece of your dinner, or attempts to take the food off your plate.
Few canine behaviors cause more urban problems than barking. There are several things you can do with your pup to prevent barking from developing in the first place.
Play Stops When Barking Starts
If, while romping with your pup, she starts to yip in excitement, say nothing. Simply become very calm and very quiet, get up, remove any toy that was involved, and go sit down for a few minutes. During this time, ignore the dog.
After a few minutes, start the game again. Repeat as above. You may spend quite a bit of time starting and stopping at first, but your pup should soon make the connection and attempt to control herself when excited.
Do Not Reward Vocalizing
A reward is anything your dog enjoys. So if you are watching TV and your pup wanders over and whines at you, and you absentmindedly scoop her up and stroke her belly so she doesn’t interrupt your favorite show—you have just rewarded her for making noise.
Similar interactions happen when owners are on the phone and the pup is in a crate or behind a gate. What about when she is exited by the door because she knows someone is coming to visit? Just ask yourself: In this situation, is making noise getting my pup what she wants? If the answer is yes, you must turn the tables so that silence gets the goodies, not noise.
All pups chew. Some pups chew a lot. Any dog can be a rampant chewer, but a few breeds — usually the really athletic ones like retrievers and Siberian Huskies — chew as a favorite hobby. Accepting that chewing is a normal part of being a dog, not a dog being “bad,” will help keep the focus on prevention rather than correction.
Stress and/or lack of exercise can increase chewing. So can punishing the dog for it after the fact. Since punishment often is both confusing and scary, your dog’s stress level will increase, and so will his . . . You guessed it! Chewing!
So prevention is the name of the game. Either remove the chewable things from your dog or remove your dog from the chewable things. This means putting away shoes, socks, underwear, panty hose, and any other item of clothing that your pup might find seductively stinky. To your pup, to smell you is to love you, so in your absence something with your smell on it (the more the better) is a comfort.
If clothing isn’t available, then the TV remove you held last night as you ate dinner, your eyeglasses, your wallet, the seat of your favorite chair—those things will do as well.
We recommend confining your pup away from these items any time you cannot keep your eyes on him.
Redirect him to appropriate chew toys. No, not the old sneaker you have in your closet that you don’t care about. The fact you don’t care about it will be lost on your pup. All he will learn is “My human likes it when I chew his shoes.”
This pup needs chew toys — good solid chew toys. Hard rubber Kongs, nylon bones, sterilized bones, and rope toys all fill that bill. If your dog is not a heavy chewer or you are willing to supervise his playtime, then latex squeaky toys and stuffed toys made for dogs are also big favorites.
If you see your pup eyeing the antique table leg, redirect him to a toy by asking excitedly, “Hey, pup, where’s your ball (or bone or squeaky)?” and then going with him to get it. Play with him a few seconds to get him focused on it, then let him be. Over time he should trot off to find his toys when he has the urge to chew.
One hundred percent supervision/confinement/redirection will get you through puppyhood damage free
A dog who greets you and others politely with four on the floor will make him more likable to others and less of a hassle for you.
Most of us reward some jumping in puppyhood, but be aware that every time you do so, you make jumping as an adult harder to control.
There are a few ways to deal with puppy jumping.
This is the simplest answer. Ignore it. When your pup jumps, do not look at him, speak to him, or touch him. Stand still, look away, and wait. The instant he stops jumping, praise him and give a treat if you so desire. This will no doubt get him jumping again. Good! Gives you another chance to educate him. Repeat as above. Soon he’ll get the idea.
Redirect with Food Lure
When ignoring isn’t reasonable, try redirecting your pup. Do not stroke her or speak kindly to her when she jumps (or unkindly to her, either; she is, after all, just paying you a compliment). Simply reach down and lure (guide) her off as you say, “Off,” then praise her. You can also use a treat/toy to lure her into a sit, then give it to her.
Step On the Lead
Another option is to allow your pup to drag a lead around in the apartment attached to a wide, flat buckle collar. When he comes over to greet you, step on the lead (knee bent, weight over foot on the lead). If he jumps, he will self-correct. As always, ignore the unwanted jumping and wait patiently. When he stops trying to jump—reward him with words, touch, and treats. Try to say, “Off,” just as he is taking his feet off of you. If he starts to jump again, ignore him and wait.
While you are teaching your pup these new skills, ask your guests to make things easy and ignore your pup. If you ask them for their help, you may get more cooperation than if you tell them what to do. Also, giving people a chance to participate, by doling out treats when the pup sits, can get people positively involved.
WHAT NOT TO DO
Do not inflict pain or confusion on your puppy for being happy. Skip all the methods that talk about paw squeezing, toe stomping, chest kneeing, and the like.
Will some of those work?
Sometimes, but they also teach your pup that you randomly inflict pain. That out of the blue a person may hurt him for being friendly. Is that a lesson you want him to learn?
Pups mount things—each other, stuffed animals, pillows, your leg. Some pups do this when they become excited/stimulated. Others do it because they’ve learned it gets them all sorts of attention. And a few really ambitious types mount early in life because they plan to rule their world as soon as they are able. Notice that none of these reasons involves the pup being “turned on” by your shin.
This may seem like a slightly amusing problem, but a client of ours is actually being sued by a disgruntled employee who claims that the client’s dog “disfigured” her knee. We cannot imagine what she means by this, but it’s a strange world these days. Be cautious.
Ways of handling this behavior include the following:
- As with jumping up, if you step on the lead where it touches the ground when the dog/pup is standing, he will correct himself when he attempts to “mount up.” Ignore his efforts to jump, then praise him calmly when he stops.
- Try a firm “Off” and physically guiding him off by the collar. Calmness reigns. This is not a big deal, so don’t make it one with your reaction.
- Neutering early is a good idea for persistent male pups.
- Increase your work sessions (keep them short, under five minutes, but do them frequently). Then direct your pup away from the mounting and to a more desirable behavior like “down” or “sit.”
- Don’t play games that get your pup intensely excited.
- Try a spritz of water from a plant mister. This isn’t likely to deter a water-loving dog like a Labrador, but it might surprise a toy breed enough that he’ll hop off, creating an opportunity for praise.
If your pup persists, don’t get into a battle with him. Just calmly put him in his crate for a few minutes. After that, let him out again. If he mounts you or a guest, remove him again. Repeat this as you have tolerance to do so, because eventually he’s going to connect mounting with time alone and start cutting back on the behavior.
When you reach toward your pup to pet her, she leaves a tiny (or not so tiny) pool of piddle. Is that a housebreaking problem? Should you correct her? Doesn’t she “know better?”
In short, no, no, and no.
Urinating when a human greets her or when a human is upset is a polite puppy signal. It simply says, “I am a small puppy. You are big and strong. I salute you the only way I know how.” This behavior is thought to be left over from the first few weeks or so of life. During this time, pups go only when the mother dog licks their rears consuming the urine. This allows the mother to keep the den area virtually spotless and helps prevent disease and predator-attracting smells.
Most pups will grow out of “submissive urination” if you ignore it. Never get upset or it will be set in stone. (After all, they are trying to appease you. If you get upset with them, they will try to appease you more). Some breeds, such as the American Cocker Spaniel and Golden Retrievers, seem to be more prone to this behavior.
What to do:
- Instead of greeting your pup when you come in, ignore her and toss her a biscuit. Anticipating the treat and eating it keeps her out of submissive mode and may help prevent the behavior.
- As this problem is worse when the pup is excited, have guests ignore your pup for the first five to ten minutes until things calm down.
- Have them greet her when sitting (or squatting). Have them reach under her chin to scratch her neck. Don’t reach over her head or bend over her. Both gestures have dominant meanings to a pup, who may respond by showing submission—for example, urinating.
- Greet the pup on an easy-to-clean surface. Even an old towel can become a greeting area, absorbing the urine before the pup dances in it gleefully.
- If your pup pees with excitement when you reach to open the crate door, try this. Do not look at or speak to her. Turn to the side when you reach to open the door and move away immediately, allowing the pup to come on out. Immediately toss down a treat or two to give her something else to do.
- If she urinates when you reach to put on the lead, again, give her a treat, then reach underneath her chin to clip on the lead. Do not look at or speak to your pup while you do this. Squat and turn sideways rather than bending over her.
- Last, don’t scold or hit your pup in general, as this will frighten her—making submissive displays more likely. This doesn’t mean let her do anything she wants, it means teaching her the right stuff and ignoring or calmly dealing with what you don’t want. Try to keep negative emotions out of the mix.