Surviving Puppyhood: Some Trainer Tips
Note: Socialization is a balancing act, and with sensitive, more aloof breeds it is paramount that they not be treated the same as a boisterous, extroverted golden retriever, but instead that their genetic predisposition to consider novelty carefully is respected and that a socialization plan take that into consideration. The world won’t change for them but they can learn that it is uneventful (to them) and therefore irrelevant in most cases in public or in situations where guests/strangers/other dogs are in question.
Puppy Tips (If you have a male dog, replace appropriate pronouns)
Biting If your puppy is biting, it usually is because:
1. Her teething is really uncomfortable - they get 42 adult teeth coming in within a very short time frame. Keep this in mind! 2. Overstimulated/Understimulated 3. Overly tired 4. Not getting enough opportunities to appropriately bite/mouth/chew on other items ------ 5. Abnormal behavior - if attempting to dissuade chewing in response to the above doesn’t help, seek a professional.
Some Solutions: Chews, Nap Time (puppies are supposed to get on average 15-17 hours of sleep per day, if not more), Management - no access to shoes, socks, or other valuable human items, Exercise a few times a day in small units with a decompression activity (foraging or something similar) after.
If you are feeling frustrated, contact a professional trainer with a strong history in positive reinforcement to help minimize the stress.
Mental Stimulation Opportunities Use your puppy's food to incorporate fun mental enrichment opportunities. Encourage her to think and actively interact with her food in ways that will enrich her mind and encourage her to problem solve. This can include:
- Scattering her kibble in the grass or other surfaces to encourage her to forage - Stuffed kongs and frozen kongs - Other chews or dog toys that are stuffable - You can also cut the core out of an apple, stuff it, and then freeze it for a fun, making a completely edible treat - Ditch the bowl - get creative, a bowl is limiting your pups mental enrichment opportunities. Ditch the bowl and use it as an opportunity to do more with the food you would have already fed your dog. This can include training, puzzle toys that require her to think to figure out how to access the food, etc.
I highly recommend having pre-made enrichment toys prepared in advance. Pick a day of the week and prepare a couple for your puppy for each day. I love the West Paw Toppl, as well as the Kong, for this and will use a wet food (same brand as the dog food my puppy is currently eating) or commercial raw dog food, mixed in with a broth (Honest Kitchen has excellent selections), plain yogurt, some pumpkin to help with stomach upset, and then will mix them all together and spoon them into the Toppls. I then place the Toppls in a container into the freezer so that when my puppy needs them, they are easily accessible and available for anyone in the household.
For dogs that find the Kong too difficult, the Toppl is a great alternative.
Corrections It is important to be realistic about expectations for her learning and ability to understand information being thrown at her. Humans tend to repeat "No" frequently, as well as their dog's name. This makes it white noise that has no definition to our puppy. Saying "No" because we understand what it means, and when our puppy doesn't, is ineffective. Other times a dog will stop doing what they are being corrected for, but will then have a different behavior develop as a result of that first behavior being suppressed. It is better to focus on the following sentences:
When my puppy __(behavior)__, I feel _(emotion)_.
For the behaviors where the feeling is negative, replace the sentence with:
Instead of __(undesired behavior)__, I would prefer my puppy do __(desired behavior)__ instead.
For example, When my puppy jumps, I feel frustrated.
Instead of jumping, I would prefer my puppy stand on all fours and lean against my leg.
I would then facilitate training opportunities to work specifically on the desired behavior that set my puppy up successfully with progressively harder scenarios. Any increase of distraction would be generously prepared for before implementing in reality.
When my puppy bites, I feel sad or frustrated.
Instead of biting, I would prefer my puppy chew on appropriate items.
I would then facilitate more appropriate items being available, even strategically in places where I may have a hard time accessing them if my puppy starts to get overexcited. I will hide a nylabone in the yard, and then would offer my puppy that appropriate item BEFORE she starts to bite when I notice that her behavior is starting to head in that direction (fast movements, chase, focusing on my movements but without inhibition, etc). A tug is really useful for this strategy, especially one that is lengthy so her teeth are further away from you. A dragging leash is handy to manage these situations. You can step on the leash and then with an appropriate tug toy commence strategic tugging. Also, giving her a plush toy can also be a simple redirect so you can get her to nap time without any milk teeth sinking into your skin. 😉
Puppy Zoomies aka Witching Hour aka Psycho Puppy aka Where did my sweet puppy go?
Puppies tend to have a crazy puppy period in the mornings and in the evenings. This typically means they are overstimulated and require a change in their routine or schedule to optimize their behavioral wellness. Puppies need a lot of sleep.
Optimize her day with more rest periods in a confined area or crate with something to chew or lick to focus on providing her opportunities to rehearse calm behavior. If she starts amping up, put her away in her crate for a rest period with something fun to chew. Always reward her for going into the crate, regardless of what her behavior was prior to going into the crate.
Practice and reinforce calm when she is not a wild child. 🙂
Keep in mind that lack of appropriate exercise can also be a reason for this behavior.
Whip Toy and Age-Appropriate Exercise Sessions involving fun and exercise should be deliberately minimized to 5-10 minute sessions. Use a whip toy/flirt pole! Once she starts truly enjoying the toy, start implementing some structure, including a sit before dropping the toy to chase. This is down the line, you want her to really enjoy it first before adding structure.
If she starts jumping to grab the toy, the game is over. Do a food scatter and then put the toy away (try doing this before the game gets that exciting). Not sure what a whip toy is? We have them available at our Tails-U-Win! store, and they can also be made or found online. Another name for a whip toy is a flirt pole. You can contact Tails-U-Win! directly at email@example.com with any questions.
TWO TOY GAME - Using two balls or two plush toys of equal value, toss one toy a short distance. When she picks it up, cheer happily and show her the second toy, making the second toy fun (including waving it around and maybe even dragging it across the ground to interest her in a game of chase). As soon as she drops the first toy and commits to the second toy, toss the second toy and pick up the first. Repeat the process. Use a hall way or bathroom to set her up for success. A small room will eliminate the odds of her getting distracted. Only repeat this a few times and then end the game while she still is happy to do the behavior. They burn out quickly and you don't want her to practice taking the toy away and chewing on it.
Cooperative Tugging With a leash attached to eliminate her just walking away with the tug toy. Entice her to play, once she is grabbing the tug and holds on for a second or more, release. Wait for her to re-engage and push the toy at you or to drop the toy before tugging again. Only do this 3-5 times, end before she burns out if you can help it. This is a great way to start a more cooperative tug game. 🙂 There is much more involved with this and many troubleshooting steps. The goal is not to always win, but instead use tug to build your dogs relationship with you. Having a second tug and doing the two toy game as mentioned above helps to build this, as well.
Important Note: Puppies under a year should not practice constant, repetitive motion in their exercise. With any high intensity workout/exercise, keep it short and sweet to minimize orthopedic or joint damage long-term. After 12-15 months, growth plates close and developing issues aren't as common. For fetch/retrieve and similar repetitive exercises, I tend to recommend keeping sessions short 3-5 minutes for puppies under 4-5 months of age, and then 5-10 minutes for puppies 5-12 months of age, and at 3-4 times a day, but not much more than that. It truly does meet their exercise requirements without building up their stamina to an unrealistic level.
Walks for the Puppy, Not For You
Take your puppy for a walk on a long line in a field or in a fenced area, maybe a hiking trail. Let her explore and sniff and be a puppy. Long distances should be avoided until she is phsyically mature, and monitor her for fatigue. Make sure to have water available to keep her hydrated.
Do not expect excellent walking skills, but instead use the freedom of the long line to capture her offering you her attention without being prompted by you or your behavior. If she pulls, stop, wait for the line to loosen, for her to offer her attention, ad then continue.
Reward her heavily for check-ins where she seeks you out and engage with her with fun, interactive running away occasionally to keep you relevant and exciting. Not too often though! Knowing she can have freedom, but that you're along for the adventure, is a great way to build your relationship and enhance your training. Let her be a dog, so that when she needs to be more focused in more distracting situations, she isn't pent up or restless, but instead her behavioral wellness needs have been thoroughly met.
Socialization Make sure that she is involved in making decisions when it comes to interacting with people and/or dogs. On leash interactions should be minimal she understands being on leash she should focus on you. Have a prepared statement in case someone is pushy about interacting with her that you feel comfortable with and involves her being in training. Opportunities with people and other dogs at events should be considered fairly neutral to her. It isn't a social event for her necessarily to play or romp or be silly, but instead it is a privilege she gets to enjoy. Believe it or not, this will help immensely will leash skills down the road. If she doesn't feel compelled to greet every person or dog, she won't feel as compelled to try to drag you in their direction. People and other dogs should be treated as wonderful things in the environment that if she notices them and then pays attention to you, she gets rewarded for that. She does not need to physically interact with them to be a great dog.
Set up appropriate play dates with dogs you are comfortable with, and a mixture of ages. It is not always in the best interest of a puppy to play with other puppies. Adult dogs can be excellent role models. This is a very simplified version and should not dictate your socialization plan for your puppy entirely. If your puppy is fearful, please contact a professional to work with you directly to build her confidence in a healthy, respectful manner.
People Coming Over to your house
First, put your puppy away prior to a visitor arriving to avoid the intial excitement. This a great mental enrichment opportunity. Go grab one of those pre-made Toppls from the freezer!
After things have settled, and if you feel you can set her up for success, bring your puppy out.
Make sure she is on leash and that visitors are instructed to ignore her completely so that she settles. They should ignore her completely until she is calm and then you can let her drag the leash so that if she starts getting excited, you can step in and restart the process of her being ignored. Having gates up strategically can help avoid her jumping on them right away.
If they pet her, instruct them to pet her in long strokes down her side, as well as nice scratches on her chest and pats on her shoulders. She should initiate this contact calmly, without over exuberance or fearful behavior. Sniffing is not initiation, but encouraging physical contact by leaning into them is!
If your puppy is not wanting to approach your visitors, do not push it, but do take this as information, and at risk of sounding too repetitive, make sure to reach out to a professional trainer for guidance on how to carefully build her confidence in these situations.
Note: Every puppy and home situation is different, and this is not meant to cover any topic completely, but merely offer an idea if it applies.