Last year I started helping out with puppy classes at the Community Dog Club. At the same time I began my dog training business and was really lucky to have some absolutely wonderful clients. My own young Collie has just turned 2 and we had a rocky start due to prolonged illness. What seems to be universally common is a frustration that training doesn’t happen quickly.
Young dogs are Hard Work! Yes really Hard Work! They pull on the lead, bark, are over excitable, have little self control, they jump, they mouth and nip, they are interested in everything and have very little concentration. They have A LOT to learn and the world is big, interesting and fun!
The fact is that training takes time. Quick fixes are appealing in our time poor world, but if the relationship with your dog and his long-term health and happiness are at the centre of your choices, you will take the time.
Okay so this all sounds fine and dandy, but what do you do when your dog runs away from you at the beach or jumps all over visitors or barks at the neighbours’ children?
While your dog is learning, use as many management tools as possible and teach a few key skills that will help you and your dog in situations where it is hard to manage. A dog trainers’ mantra is Set Your Dog Up For Success. What this actually means is to manage the environment so that your pup or dog is able to listen and to make choices that benefit you both.
Probably the best example of this is the recall. Is it really surprising that a young dog finds it hard to leave the fun of other dogs, smells, dead birds, scurrying bugs, rabbit holes, swooping swallows or dancing butterflies to return to the owner? An owner who will likely put her on the leash and end the fun? Then if that owner yells at the dog because it took so long to catch her… well why would she choose to come? And face it; a recall is ALWAYS a choice.
Teaching a good recall takes A LOT of SUCCESSFUL practice. It is built over time, strengthened by reinforcement (good stuff) and deepened by the ever-growing bond between you and your dog. While this is developing be realistic about your expectations and selective about where you allow your dog off leash freedom. Don’t let him off in the bush or at the beach or in a dog park and be mad or frustrated when he doesn’t come back to you quickly and immediately. Would you take a small child to Disneyland, say “off you go” and then expect him to listen to every word you say? He would probably be so focussed on chasing Mickey Mouse that he might not even hear you! To our dogs, the world is Disneyland.
To our dogs, the world is Disneyland.
Instead run her on a long line attached to a well fitting and non-restrictive harness for physical safety. Choose a safe area, away from cars and other dogs. Let her roam around on the lead and sniff while you look for opportunities to call her – when she is most likely to come. Be interesting and rewarding. Move away from her rather than follow her, have her favourite toys to play with, smile and engage with her whenever she connects with you. Use food and don’t be stingy! Release her back to sniff or play frequently.
If you do choose to let her off lead, make sure you do so only in a very safe place with few things around to pull at her attention. When you take the leash off, give her a good treat, play a fun game and then walk a few steps. Change direction often so that she needs to keep an eye on you. If you take the leash off and it means “RUN AWAY AND EXPLORE THE WORLD” that is what you will get: a dog who zooms off as soon as the leash is off. When you do call her, attach the lead, give her a treat and / or have a play with her. Unclip the lead and repeat the treat / play game. This way taking off the lead does not come to mean “the world is more fun I’m off to explore it!”. Repeat all and repeat often.
You can apply the same principles to other tricky life situations.
If you know that your dog will be over excited when walking past people or other dogs, manage the behaviour by giving him the distance he needs to be able to look, but still think. This may be 2, 5 metres or 20 metres – it depends on the dog. At this distance the dog can still concentrate, listen and learn. If for some reason your dog ends up too close and can no longer concentrate (… staring, whining, straining on the lead and if really too close … barking, lunging), then being able to move him by the collar or harness is essential. Despite best intentions, there are nearly always incidences when we need to just physically move our dogs from harms way. In situations of high emotion, if the collar hold is not really well taught and practiced, the dog may redirect its frustration and energy onto the hand holding it back.
Transport has a similar purpose and involves taking up the lead slack and marching the dog quickly past the thing that needs to be avoided. Once again frequent practice is important to prevent dragging the dog out of the way. When done properly, Transport sets up clear cues for the dog that she is about to be marched out of there and she will usually come easily and without fuss.
Parking is an essential life skill. It is a way of tethering the dog by standing on the lead. This enables you to use both hands if needed and to stop the pup jumping up on approaching strangers. It provides a simple signal that no attention is forthcoming right now, it is time to just wait. Once again clear cues begin and end the session so that the dog understands what is going on. After a bit of practice, even young pups soon learn to relax and wait whilst being Parked.
Parking and Transport are taught by Kay Laurence from Learning About Dogs (LADS)
Kongs and other food puzzle toys are simply wonderful ways of utilising a bit of excess energy. I use Kongs in the morning as my young Collie is particularly energetic and playful but I need my coffee to get started. The Kongs keep him busy while I allow my energy to catch up with his. One of my clients uses Kongs to entertain her extremely friendly adolescent Groodle when people come to visit.
Other management tools include baby gates and puppy pens; useful for controlling dogs with visitors, the kitchen, the front door and other dogs.
The saying that “good fences make good neighbours” is never quite so true as when you have dogs. We have chicken wire fences around our property, but erected a solid fence over looking the main road. It has really helped to decrease the barking!
Likewise reducing stimulation of outside noises by playing the radio or music can help the sound sensitive or more territorial dogs relax.
Finally walking the dog on the leash requires an entire article of its own but briefly, there are many different kinds of equipment to help manage a pulling dog. If you choose to use one, choose the one that will cause the dog the least harm and discomfort. Avoid equipment that utilises pain and punishment such as check chains. You will live with and walk with your dog for a long time. Invest in the time to train walking together properly. Hire a good reinforcement based trainer if you need it. Your relationship is worth it.
Even if you do all of this, there will be times when things don’t go according to plan. That is Life. “Shit happens”. Be patient with yourself and patient with your dog. Remember that training takes time, knowledge and skill. It doesn’t all come at once.
Look at the dog in front of you; she won’t be a puppy forever. Enjoy her. Enjoy the youthful enthusiasm and zest for life that young things have. Spend time with her, pat her, play with her and laugh often. Learn about her wonderful, unique personality. Train and play in a way that celebrates it.