Originally posted on October 22, 2013
I have been thinking a lot lately about the things I do that allow my dogs to grow up to be successful as adults. I have been thinking about what my dogs do that the dogs in my behaviour program often don’t do. My dogs are fairly easy to live with, and it starts from the first day that they come home. I always plan on putting the finishing touches on this at about 18 months of age. By teaching my dog what I want from the start, I don’t have to go back and rehab later. Here are my top 9 things to teach a puppy to ensure he will be successful regardless of what might happen later on.
1. Your crate is a wonderful place to be. I feed all meals in crates, and my dogs travel in the car in crates and when they go to the vet they are in crates and when we stay at friend’s houses they are in crates. My rational is simple. When my dog is eating he should be able to do that in a safe place where he won’t be disturbed by other dogs, the phone ringing, me, other people and so on. My dogs will also eat outside of their crates, and from time to time I will feed a dog outside of his crate, but in general, I want to make sure that my dog’s dining experience is a relaxed and comfortable one. In the car, the safest place for a dog to be is in his crate. In the event of a sudden stop or an accident, a crate will give my dog the greatest chance of surviving AND he won’t fly around the inside of the car, potentially injuring someone. Finally, if my dog stays at the vet’s office or at a friend’s house, being able to crate my dog means that he has a safe and comfortable place to be and I know he won’t be getting into trouble when I cannot supervise. Just teaching my dogs that they can go into their crates and be calm and comfortable makes them easier to live with.
|D’fer at about ten weeks, relaxing in his crate with a legal chew item. When you cannot directly supervise a puppy in your house, then a crate allows them to rest in safety and to not make any training mistakes.
- You can trust me to touch any part of your body any time at all. Let’s face it, in an active busy life, your dog is going to get burrs in his fur, get cuts and scrapes and may even get a sprain, strain or a fracture. The ability to touch my dog all over, without stress has made vet visits easier, has made baths easier, has made everything easier. Start out gently and offer treats while you restrain your dog, but DO spend the time teaching him that you can touch anywhere. Then when your dog is comfortable being restrained by you, get other people to do the same thing. Get your vet or their tech to show you how they restrain your dog; turn being restrained into a game where your dog can earn treats by allowing you to look in their mouth, in their ears, between their toes and under their tail. Don’t forget to teach them to allow you to look at and touch their genitals; the vet will and it shouldn’t be a surprise for your dog. As part of this handling training, I also teach all my dogs to wear a muzzle. They don’t have to like it, but I don’t want them to be upset by it. I do this by getting out a coffee mug and putting peanut butter, soft cheese or liverwurst in the bottom. I teach my pups to lick out the bottom of a coffee cup and when they are comfortable with that, I switch to a grooming muzzle with the treats smeared on my hand; I want my dog to be happy to put his nose into the muzzle and I pay well when he does. This way, when I need to go to the vet, if the vet is concerned, we can muzzle him easily and without distress. Dogs in pain or who are frightened might bite and it is my responsibility to keep the vet safe. I am paying for his medical knowledge, not for his ability to dodge getting bitten.
|Get your dog accustomed to all sorts of weird handling; here we are holding this lab’s head in a fairly awkward and uncomfortable way, similar to how a vet might hold him if they wanted to feel his lymph nodes (no it isn’t exactly right, but if the dog will accept this, he will accept whatever the vet is doing!).
- Keep your paws to yourself. If you like your dog to jump up on you, put it on cue and ask them to do it when it is convenient, but don’t teach your dog, even your small dog to jump up on people for treats or attention; most people don’t want to be jumped on even if the dog is tiny. If your dog is already jumping up, consult a trainer about how to stop this behaviour. If you have a puppy, let them jump up, but pretend they are invisible until they have four feet on the ground; by providing contrast to a puppy between the attention that you get from jumping up and keeping four on the floor, she will learn to keep her paws to herself.
|Four on the floor greetings are always considered appropriate!
5. Dog toys are for dogs; ask before you touch anything else. I keep a large collection of dog legal toys and I store them in plain sight amongst the shoes, boots, and other detritus near the main door of my house. If a dog touches something that isn’t a dog toy, I call out too bad, and put them in their crate for a short period of time. Touching things other than dog toys becomes a polite request from the dog to be put in his crate. Dogs learn outcomes very quickly. They learn that touching something they ought not touch results in an outcome they can predict and they stop touching things so that they don’t have that undesired outcome. I also teach my dogs an automatic sit for treats and doors and leashes and they all learn that when they want something other than a dog toy they can ask by sitting and looking at what they want. Sometimes I even give it to them.
|In puppy class, we provide oodles of puppy toys to play with, and we have a few items in there that they are not permitted to touch; the croc shoe for instance. If a puppy grabs the shoe, we catch the puppy and restrain him for a moment. This way he learns that picking up shoes results in an outcome he doesn’t like. He can easily avoid the outcome by not touching the shoe!
6. Say please. Expanding on “only touch your stuff and leave my stuff alone” is asking for things nicely. There is nothing worse than visiting someone’s home to have their dog harass you for whatever you are eating. I DO share my food with my dogs, but only if they say please and only if I feel like it. As mentioned above, I teach my dogs to observe what is happening in the environment and then to ask for what they want. If they see me pick up a leash, then I wait till they offer me a sit to put it on. This is SO easy with puppies, because they will often sit when they want something from an older dog; holding the leash and waiting for a little bit results in a sitting puppy. Walking up to the door and only opening the door if the puppy sits produces more sitting at the door. Holding a human sugar cookie in my hand in the presence of a puppy who has learned to sit for the leash and the door, his dinner and a toy to be thrown results in a puppy who figures out how to say please by sitting. Yes, I teach dogs to beg! And when they are really good at it, when they say please I will sometimes say sorry, “not this time”, or “if you go lie on your bed first.” Dogs extend the courtesy very easily if you stop asking and nagging for a behaviour, and just wait for sit; it becomes the default and then when a dog wants something, instead of harassing you to get it, you have given him a way to communicate that he wants something.
|This puppy has figured out that if you approach people and sit, you get treats, touch and toys. He is learning to say please!
- Keep calm and carry on. I work hard to teach my dogs that calm behaviour is desirable. I teach them down stays and the automatic leave it and I reward my dogs when they stay calm through exciting events. By teaching them to keep calm even when things get exciting, they are easier to live with in general. One of the most important things that I teach my dogs is to work in the face of excitement. This means that I intentionally take my dogs places where they will see exciting things (other dogs, livestock, people doing fun and active things) and I work on calm behaviours like looking at me, lying down and staying and simple tricks like shake a paw and touch my hand with your nose.
|When D’fer and I travelled, he had to cope with all sorts of difficult environments. Here we are in the subway station in Manhatten. All of our calm training over the years has prepared him for being able to cope with this environment and still keep his leash loose, never greet anyone he doesn’t know or hasn’t been introduced to, and to do his job of taking care of me while I travel. What this picture doesn’t show you is the noise and the echos that we had to move through; this was a very difficult environment, but because I have taught him to be calm everywhere, he can do his job!
- Only go to the toilet in the appropriate place. For heaven’s sake, toilet train your dog. If there is one behaviour that gets adult dogs into trouble it is a lack of toilet training. One study showed that the number one reason dogs were surrendered to shelters was due to a lack of house training. If you are having trouble housetraining your dog, ask a trainer for help. With puppies it is generally very easy; when they wake up, take them outside. If they toilet within five minutes, bring them in and feed them. If they don’t, put them back in their crates for a half an hour and then try again. Don’t walk around when you are teaching a dog to toilet in the most appropriate place; don’t need to walk to toilet. Give them a set amount of time and if they produce do the next interesting thing. If they don’t put them back in their crates. After a puppy has eaten, repeat the process, and if they go, give them twenty to thirty minutes to play. Then take them out and give them five minutes to toilet. The rule is very simple; if they go they get to play or eat. If they don’t, they get to have another quiet time in their crate. A toilet trained dog is welcome, and an untrained dog is not.
|In 8 years of travelling together, D’fer has never ever made a toiletting mistake at a hotel. I wouldn’t want him to toilet at the area where people are picked up and dropped off, but he will toilet when and where I tell him to. This makes him a pleasure to travel with and a dog I can trust when I am visiting friends and staying in their homes.
- Share your food and chew items. Perhaps the biggest problem that gets adult dogs in trouble after toilet training would be resource guarding. This is the dog who has a bone or food and gets snarly, growly or aggressive when you come close. This behaviour is so easy to address that it is laughable. Simply start out by training your dog to be calm before his food bowl is set down. Don’t do the sit, stay and then run as fast as you can to your bowl drill; this is a recipe to make a dog more not less likely to protect his food because he is always going to his bowl in a state of very high arousal. Instead, prepare half of your dog’s meal and if he is calm, set it down. If he starts to rush the bowl, pick it up. Repeat until he can go quietly and calmly to his bowl. When he has finished half his meal, either repeat with the second half of the meal or use the second half of the meal for training. Rawhide, raw bones and bully sticks are all common items that dogs may chew upon for pleasure and may guard. Instead of waiting till there is a problem, teach your dog that you are the source of these items and that you will give them treats while they are sharing your item. I start out with pups on my lap and offer them the item to chew. Not knowing what the item is, the pup will often need to be enticed to start to chew. As soon as the puppy is convinced that this is a “good thing” then I start offering really good stuff; liver bits, cheese and hotdog at the same time; I don’t try and take the item away but rather I stuff extra bits into the dog’s mouth as he is chewing. If he spits it out, I just offer him treats and then switch back to the chew item. I keep practicing like this until I can put the chew OR the treat into my pup’s mouth. Over time, the pup learns to spit out the chew item as my hand approaches with the good stuff. At that point, I teach my pups to chew on special chewies on their mats, and I come by often to add treats to the mix. I work on this all through my dog’s lives so that I and others can take things they ought not have away from them.
|Puzzle toys are great for environmental enrichment but they are also good for helping puppies and dogs to learn to let you handle their stuff and not guard items from you. They have to let you touch the items so that you can refill them, otherwise the toy is not very interesting to the dog.
9. Go to puppy class and learn manners in the presence of other dogs. Honestly, if there is one place that your pup can learn to mind his manners in the presence of other dogs, it is at a puppy class. A good puppy class will be run by an experienced trainer who has many years of helping dogs to get along with one another. Ideally there will be places for small dogs to avoid large dogs, and there will be lots of people coming through the class of various ages and types. You will see tall people and short people, young people and old people and if you are lucky, you will see people wearing hats and coats and capes and costumes and all sorts of things. Often puppy classes will have wheelchairs and walkers and canes and crutches and the puppies will learn to cope with everything. In a good puppy class your pup will learn that not only are other dogs usually nice and safe to play with, but that people are nice too. Your pup should be learning that being caught is a great and safe thing to have happen. Lots of different people will all be working on the same goal as you are; to raise the best adult dog they can.
|Where else will you meet people who have dogs a similar age to your pup? Puppy class is lots of fun and sometimes we even get special guests to come and visit!
These nine things are all things that will accomplish two goals. The first is, you will raise a pup who is a great companion for your family. The dog who has mastered all of the above is easy to live with and a joy to take places. The second thing you will achieve is that if something happens to you or your family and your dog needs to live with someone other than you, your dog will make that transition easily. If by chance your dog ends up in a rescue or a shelter, he will be easy to adopt because he will pass all the behaviour tests with flying colours.