Clear and consistent training with puppies can help avoid serious problems
Julia Levitt | Contributor
Not long ago, my friend David and I were brainstorming blog topics, and he had an interesting suggestion. It's one that I am sure can't be quantified, but it's a question you could ask yourself about your puppy. Is training your new puppy good preventative "medicine"?
A few months ago, I was helping John and Sue with their 3-month-old puppy. Pup was learning not touch anything that was not a puppy toy.
Lesson not learned. I got a frantic call the next week: Puppy was in emergency surgery . She had eaten a sock, and it did not pass through her gut. Many thousands of dollars later, the pup was ok.
This situation could have been prevented. Let's face it: we don't have eyes in the back of our heads. We can't watch a puppy's every move. But we can prevent a costly surgery.
Back to David’s initial question — by doing a few simple preventative things, could we prevent surgeries like this and other scary situations? Absolutely.
Here are some questions to think about:
Do you leave the kids' toys on the floor and then run after and yell at the pup when she runs off with one?
You have just created the chase game. Puppy is bored, grabs a toy, you see it and go running after the puppy. What has puppy learned? She can pick up anything and run and will have a fun game of "chase me."
Prevention: Everything that you do not want eaten or chewed is picked up. It's a great way to teach kids to pick up what is theirs. This a good time to teach whatever word you choose — many people use "leave it" for an item that does not belong to puppy.
Does puppy have a crate where it can go to sleep? Dogs are den animals and like a cozy spot. If you don’t like the word "crate," call it whatever you want. Just make sure the crate is NOT used a s a punishment and that puppy willingly goes into it when you ask her to.
Does puppy get plenty of exercise? Walking is the strongest bonding exercise you can do with your new friend. This means more than going to the dog park once a week. Your pet needs daily walks and games that are stimulating to the puppy, like hide and seek, fetch and playing with other puppies it own size and age.
As we have discussed in past articles, let's challenge the breed. For the adult dog, Retrievers go after game. Puppy can be taught to go after a toy, and when the toy is returned to you, it should be rewarded with plenty of praise.
Maybe the pup is not rewarded by toys but treats. Many clients say they save a bit of dried kibble for a treat. I like to find just that special treat; it does not need to be a piece of leftover sirloin but a piece of fruit or a carrot. Reserve this treat just for the special command. It doesn't have to be a bucketful. A tiny piece will do.
Everyone wants his or her dog to come and is frustrated when it goes the other way when you call it. Remember the chase game? That’s not a game we want to encourage.
Begin to teach the come command — no not off leash outside, but in your house on a short leash where a puppy who has a very short attention span can concentrate on the word "come" and what you mean when you say "come."
What happens to my students is they have success on a short leash, and then they desice to skip steps and take the pup off the leash. The pup comes, but soon humans are frustrated when pup stops coming. The game of calling repeatedly begins.
You know the game, the one where you ask the dog to come 20 times and nothing happens with the pup but your blood pressure rises. The opposite of what you wanted has happened — you have just taught you dog NOT to come.
Many trainers will say, "Wwhen the dog does not come the first time the command is not learned." Soon you are scratching your head: Why did pup come before, but now she is running away?
“Come" is the one word in obedience that could save your dog's life. Like with any training, start small and work your way, slowly, to what you would eventually like to achieve. Remember you are not going to ask anything of your pup when he is:
• Sniffing the ground
• Chasing a leaf
• Romping with another pup
The key to success, as you can see, is having the pup's full attention on you. You must make it worthwhile for the pup to come. Remember no pup is going to come when no positive reward is in sight.
When you are frustrated that pup doesn’t come, the pup often is the recipient of that frustration. We don’t want to teach the pup that, "If I come, a reprimand will follow." Soon it is like the chase game — you call, and I am not coming!
Trainer Brenda Aloff answers best when asked whether training is good preventive medicine.
"Training issues disappear when you recognize that your dog is 'asking' for help as opposed to making a choice to disobey. Our prize is communication with your lifelong friend "
In our next blog post, we'll explore the challenges working with an adult dog and that new rescue dog brought into your home.
Julia Levitt is the founder of In Harmony Dog Training (www.inharmonydogtraining.com) in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 734-645-4707. Julia provides individual training for dogs and their owners, and also conducts dog training classes at Ann Arbor Animal Hospital.