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Are Puppy Socialisation Classes Creating Dangerous Dogs of the Future?

By Robert Alleyne
Canine Behavioural Trainer, Member of the UK Registry of Canine Behaviourists, Board Member of the Kennel Club Accreditation Scheme for Instructors

Puppies fighting

Socialise, socialise, socialise! Every book, every DVD, every TV show emphasises the importance of socialisation. The problem is none of them seem to tell you exactly how this is to be achieved. As a result, many owners know that they should socialise their puppy, but have no idea how they’re supposed to do it. They are told about the importance of socialising their dog with other dogs, with people, with traffic, and with a whole host of other stimuli. But I believe that without the owner being taught how to do this correctly and efficiently, the dog is much more likely to develop training and behavioural problems. And ironically, these problems may be directly attributable to the class that they took the dog to, and to the trainer who with the best of intentions may have created exactly the problem for the dog and owner that they were trying to prevent.

Why is it that when there has never been more emphasis placed on the importance of socialisation that dogs are becoming increasingly aggressive, seemingly to almost everything? I believe the cause of this is down to several factors, and one of these is puppy parties/puppy socialisation classes. In many of the classes that I visit, instructors who are new to instructing are given the puppies to train since it is seen puppies are easier to teach than adult dogs, and this may be true in some ways. However, if you make a mistake with a puppy, there’s a much greater likelihood that you are setting that puppy and owner up for major problems later on.

Let me give you an example. I was asked to have a look at the puppy party run by a vet. The day I went was the last week of a five-week course. Several puppies within the group have stuck in my mind. There were two Staffordshire Bull Terrier puppies who were playing so aggressively with each other that had they been adult dogs, this would have been called a serious dogfight. They had to be repeatedly separated. The vet would then take the one that she’d removed and pin it on its back, until it ‘submitted’. This usually took several minutes. The second the puppy was then placed back on the floor, it shot through the other puppies like a missile and recommenced its attack on the other Bull Terrier puppy. This went on for the entire class, which ran for over an hour. For the entire class, all the puppies did was play while the vet talked to the owners.

Another puppy that comes to mind was a Miniature Schnauzer. She was 12 weeks old. She was clearly very frightened of the other puppies and spent the majority of the class hiding underneath the owner’s chair. If another puppy came within 10 feet of that chair she would fly out barking and growling. The vet commented on how well she had progressed, since five weeks ago she wouldn’t come out from under the chair! I was stunned that the vet actually saw this as progress and you can only imagine what this puppy will be like by the time she’s a year old.

There was also a Shar Pei puppy in the group. This poor dog had had his face pulled and bitten so many times by the other puppies that he actually needed medical attention by the end of the class. Every time he got bitten, I saw the owner wince, and was clearly desperate to pick him up and protect him, but she was constantly told by the vet that this was good socialisation and she should not interfere. What can we suppose the puppy was really learning and how surprised would we be if, by the time he is adult he is aggressive towards other dogs? But how many of the owners of these puppies will ever trace their adult dogs aggression back to the lessons learnt as a puppy in the puppy training class?

There is always a big emphasis placed in such classes on the importance of play. Most of this emphasis however, is placed on the puppies playing with other puppies. Since puppies don’t have a very strong code of appropriate play, it usually involves lots of play fighting. We call it play fighting because we recognise this behaviour for what it is – practising fighting. Why do we suppose that if we allow our puppy to practice lots and lots of this that we are somehow LESS likely to end up with an aggressive dog. Now this is not to say that all dogs that play fight will be aggressive, but many of the dogs that I see who are fear aggressive or fearful of other dogs, will have owners who will explain that the dog was attacked or bullied as a puppy, usually under the age of six-eight months by another much bigger or much more boisterous dog and it was at that point that the puppy became aware that it is vulnerable. Many of those owners will then describe how they noticed a change in their puppies play behaviour after this incident. They will comment on how the way that the puppy ‘played’ changed. He became much rougher and more physical in the games that he played with his ‘friends’. He played much more pinning and fighting games than he had done previously. He tended to run at his friends much more, rather than with them, often knocking them to the ground and then pinning them there. But most owners will simply assume that the dog is ‘socialising’ and so see this as a good thing. Sometimes because of the incident, the owner will try and find lots of dogs that the puppy can play with in an attempt to prevent the attack from affecting him long-term, but by doing so, in my opinion, they may actually be ensuring that the puppy learns how to be a much better fighter.

In my opinion, a good puppy training class or puppy party – if there is such a thing, places the greatest emphasis on the puppy interacting with the owner, rather than with anything else, because it is the owner who should be responsible for the puppy’s education. Much greater emphasis should be placed on the puppy interacting with the owner when there are other dogs around rather than interacting with the other dogs. The way I look at IT is this – if I meet someone on the street that I know, I’ll stop and say hello. I’ll ask them how they are, how are the family, and generally exchange pleasantries. This, I would consider to be social. What I wouldn’t do, is leap on top of them, wrestle them to the ground and shake them manically. If I had greeted them this way, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have considered us to be ‘socialising’. And I apply the same theory to my dogs. From the very first time I take them out. I encourage them to be social. This means that if they meet another dog they should do what I consider to be social, which is to have a sniff, check each other’s bums, check each other’s baby-making bits, and then say their goodbyes and come back to me to have some fun. I always want my puppies and dogs to consider me to be the most important fun, interesting thing in their lives. I NEVER encourage any of my dogs to play fight with any other dog. And I believe it is as a result of this that neither of my two dogs has ever had a fight. Since the majority of the dogs that the puppy will meet when out on a walk won’t be puppies, but adult dogs, and since the class at best only teaches puppies how to behave around other puppies, I see no benefit in running a class just for puppies. Instead, all classes should have dogs of different ages, breeds, sizes and sexes, since that is what they will meet when out everyday. And as for those puppy parties – who needs ‘em?

RESPONSES

1. Fiona Joint
Apr 15, 2012 - Reply

I attended your two seminars at the PDTI Conference yesterday, and I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed them, how thought provoking and interesting they were and how amusing. I have always been ambivalent about puppy classes and am even more so now, they can do so much damage and it’s the inexperienced dog handler and puppy that has the most to lose, what do you feel about going to ring raft classes instead? At least the owner gets to handle her own dog and the puppy used to being groomed and handled. A big ‘Thank-you’ for giving up so much of your time. I was the one asking about electronic collars and Fenton!

2. Emma Hawkes
Jun 05, 2012 - Reply

Brilliant article. I attended a supposed puppy gundog class last Sunday, and am still traumatised by what I saw. An adult Staff had been invited along, his owners has contacted the trainer about aggression issues. All dogs were off the lead to start with. Once my 15 week old Weimaraner had been flattened by full sized dogs, she sensibly stayed by me. The Staff was kept on the lead while dogs played near him in close proximity. He was visibly stressed by this. The trainer was bragging that he could train any dog. At the end of training the trainer insisted that ALL dogs should be let off to play. The Staff owners said they weren’t happy, but the trainer insisted. I kept my pup on the lead as I wasn’t happy, thank God. The Staff attacked a GSP and pinned it to the floor. The noise was horrific, I have honestly never witnessed anything so sick. Then the GSP went quiet, Staff still attacking. Eventually the Staff was removed, it took several minutes and two men to do this. I really thought the GSP was dead, there were several people by now. I feel very sorry for both owners concerned, as this trainer’s ego has now probably caused this Staff to be destroyed due to his mishandling of the situation.

3. Andrew Millen
Sep 30, 2012 – Reply

Both my Patterdale Terrier (sadly passed away earlier this year aged 15) and my latest dog - a Jack Russell – have done all their socialisation and training out in the real word -learning how to interact with other dogs both on and off the lead with dogs that we meet regularly (and some on so) out on walks. I never had any major issues with Jake, and am bringing Annie up the same way. I use what I have always used Tips from trainers of all methods, and the biggest thing of all common sense. eg – big snarly GSD – Annie gets recalled and goes back on the lead , ask owner if dog is ok before letting Annie up to sniff etc. OH and I also believe that RECALL rather than sit is the FIRST thing to teach a pup. Do it from day one, do it every day and keep doing it.

4. Rebecca
Sep 30, 2012 - Reply

We took our dogs to good citizen classes, the trainers there are still convinced that all dogs will tolerate other dogs if you yanked on the choke chain and told them no enough. I felt quite sorry for the adult dogs brought to the beginner class that was full of puppies (being puppyish) who had issues as he was dragged around on a tight leash to show the “control” the trainer had over the dog. The trainer had quite a shock when he decided to “help” me with my dog who was pulling, he tried yanking him by the collar but being an 18 month old dog (just out of a kennel) it made no difference and the trainer was dragged round the hall. Apparently it was all my fault for bringing the dog so late to classes, although I had only recently got the dog and wanted to make sure he would not eat/aggress at any of the dogs before taking him to the class.

5. Pam Shaw
Oct 02, 2012 - Reply

Dear Rob, I completely and utterly agree with you on this. Puppies need to be taught sociably acceptable behaviour in an environment in which it can learn without distractions. What better place than in the home first from the moment the pup comes into the home? I have a 15 month old Eurasier who has been taught boundaries in a kind and respectful way and she did not attend a puppy party or class and I have a very balanced happy dog who plays beautifully and respectfully with any dog that wants to play with her. She makes me very proud. Great article!

 

 

'Why Won't Dominance Die?'

“Why Won't Dominance Die?”

David Ryan 1

This article first appeared as an edited version in the Veterinary Times Vol 40 No 7, 22nd February 2010 and, with the kind permission of the author, is reproduced in the hope that it will  further help to change the way people are thinking about dogs and dog training.

David Ryan was a police dog handler and Home Office accredited instructor in the UK for 26 years until his retirement in 2007, during which time he handled and instructed others in the handling of police dogs used for general purpose, public disorder, firearms support, drugs, firearms, cash and explosives search; he competed in police dog trials and participated in public displays, developed systems of dog assessment, protocols for dogs working in conjunction with police firearms officers and in large scale public disorder; he developed safe systems of work for the risk assessment of police dog related duties, instigated a police dog breeding programme and participated in the monitoring of police dog bites.

In 2002 he was the first police dog instructor to be awarded Southampton University’s postgraduate diploma in companion animal behaviour counselling, with distinction, and was also the first police dog trainer to be accepted as a full member of the prestigious APBC (Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors).

After leaving the police force he was certificated in 2008 as a Clinical Animal Behaviourist by the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour, an independent professional society organisation recognised by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the British Psychological Society. From 2009 to 2012 he served as the chair of the APBC. He has lectured at the Wood Green Animal Shelter, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and to BSc animal behaviour students at Myerscough College and Bishop Burton College.

In 2011 he oversaw the production of training for Local Authority Authorised Officers on behalf of the Scottish Government in preparation for the introduction of the Control of Dogs Act. He is currently a visiting lecturer on Newcastle University’s MSc in Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare and serves on the Accreditation Committee of the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour, providing him with strong links to those conducting the most up-to-date research into canine behaviour.

Police2

Many leading animal behaviourists are concerned that the “dominance” model of pet dog behaviour continues to survive, despite the accumulating evidence that it is at best unhelpful and at worst highly detrimental.

It is easy to see why trainers and owners alike are fond of the concepts of “pack” and “dominance” in relation to pet dogs. A pack means we’re all part of the same gang. “Dominance” explains our respective positions in that pack. We live in a pack with our pet dogs and they either dominate us or we dominate them. To be at the top of the pack with total dominance would make you the “alpha”, with all the esteem that entails, therefore dogs will strive for dominance unless you beat them to it. It’s a neat explanation.

Except that none of it actually bears scientific scrutiny. Prof Richard Dawkins described self replicating ideas as “memes” (1) that live in our minds and pass from one to another through no reason other than their popularity, or catchiness. Some are harmless, like that annoying song you keep humming long after you’ve decided you hate it, but others can be positively harmful, like the idea that combined MMR jabs cause autism, which continues to prevent many children benefiting from the protection they provide.

The “pack” and “dominance” theory of domestic dogs is a harmful meme. It prevents many owners understanding their dogs, causes untold misery for both and is perpetuated by well-meaning but uninformed dog trainers around the world. It is proving extremely resistant to extinction.

Origin of dominance theory

This meme originated in the “dogs are wolves” theory in the late 1960s. It was spawned in the pond of genetics from the premise that if a dog is the same species as the wolf they must behave identically. The perceived wisdom at the time, emanating from L. David Mech’s book, ‘The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species’ (2), was that wolves pack and dominate each other, therefore dogs must also pack and dominate each other. The theories of wolf and dog “dominance” and the “alpha” firmly entered the imagination of not only the public, but also the scientific community. As a police dog handler in the 1980s I regularly tried to “dominate” my dogs using the best available scientific model.

Policedogtrials

However, as science advances our viewpoint changes and in Mech’s case, as he points out in his 2008 article ‘Whatever Happened to the Term Alpha Wolf?’ (3) more rigorous examination of wild living wolves revealed that their social behaviour was centred on the family unit, built around cohesion and co-operation, not conflict. A fight for pack dominance would mean striving to displace one parent in order to mate with the other.

The model of the wolf’s supposed fight for dominance and alpha status was replaced with one where parents and older siblings guide and lead younger offspring in order to enhance overall genetic fitness. In 1999 Mech published ‘Alpha Status, Dominance, and Division of Labor in Wolf Packs’ (4), in which he corrected his earlier mistaken ideas. He happily reports that in the 2003 book ‘Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation’ (5) written by twenty three authors and edited by Mech and Boitani, the term “alpha” is only ever mentioned to explain why it has been superseded.

Studies of the Domestic Dog

At the same time, studies of the domestic dog have also moved on. It has been well established that the social behaviour of the domestic dog is unlike that of the wolf. The domestic dog is a neotonised version of the wolf-type ancestor, a specialised variant that evolved into a newly formed environmental niche to scavenge the domestic waste of human settlements. These adaptations removed the need to operate as a true wolf pack and consequently there is little collaboration in hunting or in care of offspring, but much more cooperation with strangers, dog or human. Although dogs congregate in groups around resources, they do not form packs in the cohesive family way that wolves still do.

The concept of “dominance” itself has never been a quality of an individual, but the product of a relationship. Ethologists label an animal dominant over another once there is a trend towards the second animal deferring in encounters between the two. I can no more be born dominant than I could be born chairman. Because I can never be dominated if I don’t allow myself to be, dominance can only be the result of deference by others.

Preferences will become established in repeated encounters, but pet dog relationships are far too complicated to be defined through a simple, “one individual dominates another”. A smooth relationship is one in which each knows the other’s preferences and defers accordingly. This is often described in terms of resource holding potential (6), but the important aspect of it is that it is emergent, not the result of pre-programmed “dominance”.

What we are witnessing in so-called “dominant” dogs is natural behaviour that has been modified through learning. Sometimes this behaviour is competitive in nature, but the majority of so called “dominance-related” problems are simply dogs behaving in a way that conflict with owners’ expectations.

These conflicting behaviours are the result of the dog trying to secure something they know is going to have a positive emotional benefit – to facilitate a reward or avoid something unpleasant. How we deal with the way those emotions are satisfied determines our relationship with our dogs.

Dogs that jump up are not exhibiting “dominance”. Jumping up is a natural greeting behaviour that can be changed through appropriate training rather than through “dominating”

Individual dogs can be placed anywhere along the bold/shy continuum that exists in all species. In shy individuals behaviour that does not meet owners’ expectations is likely to be tinged with fear and in bold individuals the behaviour is likely to be joyously unrestrained. Most dogs’ behaviour will be a complex mixture of these two extremes.

Pet-ification

That complexity is increased because our pets do not continue to live in their original state as peripheral scavengers. They have been refined through selective breeding for specific purposes such as hunting, herding and guarding. By enhancing traits present in the original stock, humans have created dogs whose emotional balance depends on being able to fulfil their desire to exhibit these inherited predispositions, at least to some degree. Although the working traits of these types are reduced during “pet-ification” – the breeding of more amenable individuals that are more suited to life as a pet (witness the current “pet-ification” of the Border Collie from a working animal) - the breeding stock continues to throw up specimens in which the original working temperament is strongly represented. This may be a predisposition to chase moving objects, to nip heels, to use aggression to solve conflict, to hold something in the mouth, or any other working breed disposition. The need to perform these behaviours, and their dissatisfaction when they are unable to do so, can steer pet dogs into conflict with their owners.

Family life can also be remarkably inconsistent for a pet, and dogs may focus their efforts on resources that are extremely important to them, but not necessarily to the owner. Lack of consistency proves to the dog that they are capable of deciding the outcome of many, albeit small, interactions. Add in the effects of either a bold or shy character, and other inherited predispositions that need to be satisfied, and you have a dog that can be extremely resistant to their owner’s efforts to control their behaviour.

If, as was the case when I was a young police dog handler, this behaviour is labelled as “dominant”, the perceived solution is to out-dominate the dog and bend them to your will. This often involved things like rolling them over and holding them down, or shaking them by the scruff. In dogs where the lack of compliance is motivated by frustration at being unable to fulfil inherited needs, or where the motivation is fear, such as when the dog has developed a fear of being left by the owner, applying misguided ideas of dominance will increase that frustration and fear, and with it the probable use of aggression. Less confrontationally, standing in the dog’s bed to show them who is in charge will do little to prevent them barking when the owner is on the telephone, but it similarly fails to address the underlying emotional issues.

Dominance – The Meme

Scientific enquiry shows us that the “dominance” model is unsubstantiated. A recent paper from Bristol University (7) is the latest to try to illuminate the construct if not for the general public, then at least for the professionals still left using it. So why then does it persist? In part it is the “catchiness” of the meme sticking in the mind. In part it is also because, whilst the majority of practitioners at the highest levels are aware that it is inaccurate and unhelpful, and sometimes positively harmful, some are still advocating its use. It could be that there are vested interests in continuing to promulgate “dominance” – books and DVDs to sell – and a reluctance to change one’s standpoint from the embarrassment of appearing to have been wrong. However, this shouldn’t stand in the way of informed change; as Keynes famously said, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

In part it is because there are still papers being published that profess to be able to examine the concept, such as a recent offering from Cordoba University (8). There was a more recent article in Veterinary Times (9) pleading for the practice of evidence based medicine. The reasoning applies no less to the behaviour modification of pet dogs, and the Cordoba paper is a good example of why. Critical evaluation shows that it starts from an assumption, “Dominance aggression is the most common form of aggression...” and then compounds the error by allowing pet owners to define it in their dogs through the choice of two photographs of “dominant” and “fearful” expressions. Out of a total of thirty references only eight are post 2000, and four of them are the own author’s. The paper’s data analysis is also basic and shows associations rather than causation, but nevertheless some professionals feel able to use it to prop up their views.

In part it persists because it is still “seen to be working”. It makes good television to go head to head and dominate a dog. Unfortunately, television is not real life and tends to show short interactions where the dog is forced to submit. It is not impossible for a handy owner to repeatedly force their dog into submission either, but these unpleasant and unnecessary measures are not how most pet owners want to live with their dogs. Lamentably the high profile of these programmes means the on-screen warning “do not try this at home” is often not heeded.

The final and probably most important reason for the persistence of “dominance” is because the debunking of the myth is relatively new. It is generally said to take twenty years for new science to permeate the public conscious, but now its time has come. More and better research is being conducted and more practitioners are, like Keynes, changing their mind as the facts change. More members of the public are actually seeing that there are better alternatives, and more and more people are realising that whilst the meme might be “catchy” it isn’t actually very satisfying.

“Why won’t dominance die?”

The use of the model to explain dog behaviour is dying. If memes can be said to have an independent existence, we are witnessing the death throes of this one as it struggles to hang on to what little life it has left, existing only in the minds of the most stubborn or self-interested. As the groundswell of informed opinion moves against it, there will eventually be no hiding places left.

References

  1. Dawkins, R. (1989) ‘The Selfish Gene’ (new edition). Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  2. Mech, L.D. (1970) ‘The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species’. Minnesota, University of Minnesota Press.
  3. Mech, L.D. (2008) ‘Whatever happened to the term Alpha wolf?’ http://www.4pawsu.com/alphawolf.pdf accessed 29th September 2009
  4. Mech, L.D. (1999) ‘Alpha Status, Dominance, and Division of Labor in Wolf Packs’. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 77(8): 1196–1203
  5. Mech, L.D. & Boitani, L. (2003) ‘Wolf social ecology’. 1–34 in: Mech, L.D. & Boitani, L. (eds) ‘Wolves: Behavior, Ecology and Conservation’. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
  6. Parker, G.A. (1974) Assessment strategy & the evolution of animal conflicts. Journal of Theoretical Biology. 47. 223–243.
  7. Bradshaw, J.W.S, Blackwell, E.J. & Casey R.A. (2009) ‘Dominance in domestic dogs—useful construct or bad habit?’ Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research. 4 (3) 135-144.
  8. Peres-Guisado, J. & Munoz-Serrano, A. (2009). ‘Factors linked to dominance aggression in dogs’. Journal of Animal & Veterinary Advances. 8 (2) 336-342.
  9. Elsheikha, H.M. & Rossano M.G. (21st September 2009) ‘Evidence-based approach is wise’. Veterinary Times.

Positive reinforcement dog training

Positive Reinforcement Dog Training

Great dog training is getting a dog to WANT to do whatever behaviour the owner wants him to do. To be really successful trainers need to utilise the fundamental laws of learning which – like the laws of gravity – never fail to work.

The first step to great animal training is to understand that any behaviour, whether good or bad, that is rewarded is likely to happen again, that behaviours that are ignored will extinguish and that learned behaviours that are reinforced on an unpredictable basis become highly reliable.  It was not always so but dolphins have been taught like this for years. These days leading zoo keepers and dog trainers around the world know too that their exotic animals and dogs trained the same way are capable of equally fantastic performances.

Dolphins

In the late 1930s Professor B. F. Skinner from Harvard discovered that rats and all animals can be taught to perform a series of complex operations voluntarily in order to obtain an essential need - such as a piece of food. Skinner's views that there was no need for punishment in training any kind of animal - humans included - were at first ridiculed. However, from the mid 1970s onwards those people around the world seeking ways to improve animal and human education have understood, accepted and adopted his ideas.

Some dog trainers felt that there must be better methods to teach their dogs and to modify behaviour other than through the traditional ways, such as ‘house breaking’ and punishing a puppy for pooping on the carpet. Their thinking coincided with the changes that were taking place in the treatment of people with physical disabilities and mental health problems who had often been subjected to aversive stimuli and electric shock therapy in order to prevent their problem behaviours.

Positive reinforcement for dog training dog was first used in Australia in 1976 at the Kintala Dog club in Melbourne founded by the late David Weston.

In 1966 he had acquired a Miniature Schnauzer puppy that he took aged 6 months to a nearby dog obedience club. He says, “during the next few years I worked hard at learning and applying the knowledge which the club had to offer, and as a consequence I became a Kennel Control Council certified instructor, a full panel obedience judge and President of the Club. During this period 'Fred' gained his Companion Dog (C.D.) and Companion Dog Excellent (C.D.X) titles.

However, I became increasingly disenchanted with the method of training used by dog clubs in general. Much of the knowledge that supported their method appeared to be based on archaic principles and involved a great deal of punishment and compulsion. Training essentially consisted of jerking the dog in the neck with a choker chain, physically pressuring it into position, and growling at the dog using commanding voice tones.

When the dog responded in a way that was favourable to the handler it was rewarded with a pat and verbal praise. Many of the responses generated were accompanied by a strong fear reaction in the dogs, as could be seen by the lowering of their ears and tails, and unwillingness to return voluntarily to the handlers''.(‘Dog Training, the Gentle Modern Method '- 1990, page 9)

At the Kintala Dog Club traditional training methods with check chains, physical force and manipulation were totally banned.  More than 30 years later David Weston’s gentle modern methods, which initially were considered heretical, are widely used around the world at progressive dog obedience clubs and organisations such as the RSPCA. These training establishments only use positive reinforcement methods where:

  • A new behaviour is broken down into several individual parts, each of which is learned before taking the next step. The dog is set up to succeed.
  • Any improvement is rewarded - at first usually with food. Food is essential to survival and therefore a more powerful motivator than a non-essential one such as a pat or praise.
  • A poor behaviour is simply ignored. The punishment is "not rewarding" and the habit soon extinguishes - as with humans where a poor joke is receives the negative punishment of no laughter.
  • Once a desired behaviour is learned, food should be phased out and replaced with other rewards such as praise, toys or everyday life rewards of having or doing whatever the dog most wants to do have or do next.
  • The dog realises that he has the ability to affect what happens. He will be paid, or reinforced, in return for working correctly. It is a win/win situation with both sides co-operating with each other rather than engaging in an adversarial war of wills.

Many dog trainers have seen the incredible results of positive reinforcement training with the family pet dog, as well as in dog sports and competitions. Reward based reinforcement training makes rapid progress and is fun for both teacher and student. These trainers have welcomed the accelerated learning curve, as well as the vitality and initiative to experiment, that comes when animals learn because they want to and not because they have to.

© C.L.E.A.R Dog Training 2001

Postscript:

In 2009 a highly accomplished Norwegian trainer, Morten Egtvedt, wrote about his book “Clicker Training: The Four Secrets of Becoming a Super Trainer”:

“I would never say that correction-based training does not work. Of course it works! Dogs are not stupid. They are survivors. If they have to walk on a loose leash or come when called to avoid pain, they will. Violent husbands sometimes have very "obedient" wives, too. But because something "works" does NOT mean it´s “good”.

..............

There are two kinds of positive dog training. There is lousy positive training and there is effective positive training. So what makes positive training lousy and what makes positive training effective?

I would say that it depends partly on the training methodology itself, and partly on how the training is executed by the trainer (trainer skills). I have seen a lot of bad "positive training" in my time (and even more bad punishment-based training, but let´s leave that for now).

There are many positive trainers who base their training on luring (bribing) the dog to get behavior. This kind of training may work OK sometimes, but I consider it old-fashioned and not very interesting - it’s definitely not supertraining!

Instead I use clicker training! And I consider clicker training to be an extremely effective(positive) training technique WHEN IT IS USED CORRECTLY. In clicker training we don´t lure or bribe the dog. The treats are well hidden in our pockets until the dog offers the right behavior on his own. THEN we click and treat. This is a huge difference!

[A completely incorrect use of a clicker is to use it as a call signal! Equally mistaken is to use one as an attention getter!! Unfortunately some people who buy a clicker frequently do so, especially when training for the show ring, and click-click-click away randomly without having any idea of its purpose. They don’t understand the necessity of properly conditioning the clicker (a la Pavlov) by first spending some days pairing a meaningless stimulus (the sound of the clicker or the dolphin trainer’s whistle) to something that is greatly desired - the fish, the dried liver or piece of sausage, the pat, the verbal praise or the tug toy. Nor do they know that once the clicker has been adequately conditioned, the one and only function of a single click is as a conditioned secondary reinforcer used to give very specific information and, so importantly, to separate that precise information from the subsequent reward].

When you are clicker training (and again, I´m talking about supertraining - not just using the clicker as a marker) the dog learns to THINK. The dog learns to solve problems, to experiment, to be creative. The dog feels a sense of control of the training situation - and he loves it!

Very soon you will discover that your dog has become a LEAN, MEAN LEARNING MACHINE capable of learning new behaviours and tricks in record time! You won´t believe how much fun dog training can be until you have a dog like this”.

Click HERE for Essential Training Tip #5:'Forget the Alpha Theory - it is based on discredited 1947 research'

 

Loose leash walking

For many people, teaching their dog to walk on a lead without pulling is the hardest task they will ever face as pet owners.  Even after years of walking together some dogs’ owners are left wondering - why does my otherwise intelligent dog not get this?

The answer is both simple and complicated! The dog keeps pulling because in his opinion, he is rewarded for it.  Pulling provides the opportunity to smell more, explore more and best of all get to the off-lead park or bush track sooner than walking at your pace by your side. This huge perceived ‘reward’ outweighs any amount of choking, jerking, tugging or cajoling you can dish out. 

Add to this a state of high arousal caused when adrenalin floods your dog’s nervous system at the mere sight of your walking shoes or lead (and continues as you walk out into the excitement of the world beyond your door) and you begin to understand why walking nicely on a lead can be such a persistent problem. 

Some of the solutions people have tried are:

  • Don’t use a lead.  Problem: illegal and unsafe.
  • Don’t walk the dog – sadly an option many people settle for.  Problem: a bored, obese, poorly socialized dog who engages in nuisance behaviours such as barking and digging.
  • Physically forcing your dog into heel position by holding a short lead or jerking your dog into position.  Problem: Requires physical strength on your part, may take a long time to take effect and may cause damage to your and/or your dog’s neck, back or shoulders.

There must be a better way right?

Let’s consider again the two reasons WHY dogs pull and work back to how we might be able to convince the dog that what he wants – exploration- is best achieved by doing what we want – walking without pulling on a lead.

  1. The ‘Neva Eva’ Ever!  policy

This policy involves removing the reward for pulling by never, ever, EVER walking forward while there is tension on the lead and collar.  This policy works if implemented faithfully right from the start – ideally from the first time you attach a lead to your new puppy.

‘Neva Eva’ for a puppy

Start by attaching a lead to your puppy and stand still.  If your puppy struggles take no notice, if the lead remains slack with no tension on the collar, instantly reward with praise or treats.    You are really teaching your puppy to accept the fact that when he is attached on a lead he is restrained.   Next, start to move slowly around the back garden.  If the lead tightens stop immediately and act like a post – don’t move at all and don’t shorten the lead - just wait.  When the lead slackens, immediately reward with praise and move forward.  Your puppy should be learning that pressure on the collar means ‘stop’ while no pressure on the collar means ‘go’ – sadly this is the opposite of what most dogs learn. 

If all goes well, repeat in the front garden and then on the footpath just outside your home.   If your puppy is initially reluctant to walk on the lead just wait – don’t give in to the temptation to pull first.  This will worry a puppy who is already unsure of the lead , teach him that a tight collar means ‘go’ and will engage his natural ‘opposition reflex’ to pull the other way.  The aim is to learn to walk together as a six legged team not begin a lifelong game of ‘tug–of-war’.  

‘Neva Eva’ for the older dog

The exact same technique as outlined for a puppy can be used to re-train an older.  However as the older dog has had a lot of rewards for pulling, the process can be expected to take a lot longer. The biggest problem is that most owners find it difficult to never ever walk forward with tension on the lead. This means that the dog is intermittently rewarded for pulling keeping the behaviour strong.  A few exercises can help your dog to understand what you want faster:   

The Target Game

Start with your dog’s bowl and some really tasty treats and/or a person your dog loves standing at one end of the garden.  Show your dog the treats/person and get him really excited - this is your ‘target’.  Now move back with your dog on lead to a starting line some distance away.  Start moving toward your target – if the lead tightens immediately turn around and move back quickly to behind your start line.  Talk to your dog and praise him whenever the lead is loose even if at first this is only when you are moving back toward the starting line.  Repeat until you can walk all the way to your target without the lead tightening at all - then release your dog to the treats and praise.  Your dog is learning the valuable lesson that the fastest way to get to what he wants is by maintaining a pressure free lead connection. 

 He Who Was First Shall Now Be Last

The dog who pulls out in front of you assumes that he knows where you are going.  Turn this around by immediately changing direction.    At first your dog will probably charge past you and assume leader position again – say ‘steady’ and assertively change direction – until ‘he who was first has become last’ again.  Repeat until your dog realizes that you’re the only one with the map!  This is a great exercise for teaching your dog that you ARE relevant – not just a go-between from house to park.  Adding the word ‘steady’ before each turn will teach your dog there is no point in charging ahead as you are about to change direction and eventually can be used as a general cue to ‘slow down’ should he forget his manners and start to pull ahead in the future.

Teach a Sweet Spot

Create a ‘sweet spot’ at your left leg where good things happen. The name for this sweet spot is ‘close’ or ‘heel’.   Whenever your dog is near this ‘sweet spot’ say ‘Yes!’ and dispense a treat as though from your left knee.  If your dog moves too far ahead, stop, call him back and again reward from your left knee.  You want the dog to know there are good things at your end of the lead not just out in front where the good smells are. 

  1. Let’s Stay Calm

The second contributing factor to pulling on a lead is that most dogs are in a high state of arousal at ‘walkies’ time.  With all that adrenalin rushing around their bodies it is hard for them to walk as slowly and calmly as we would like them to.  To reduce pulling behaviour it is preferable to start with as calm a dog as possible.  How you prepare for your walk can contribute to, or reduce, the level of arousal even before you step out the door.

  • Move slowly and speak quietly.  Sit somewhere away from the exit door and wait for your dog to come to you and sit before putting his lead on.  If he gets up before his lead is attached, stop, look away and wait again.  Like in the Target Game your dog will learn that the fastest way to get his lead put on and get out the door is to sit at your feet and wait.
  • Wait for a sit at the exit door
  • Step out through the door before your dog
  • Sit once more as soon as you reach the footpath.  Wait until the leash is loose and your dog is looking at you to see what is going to happen next – praise and start walking remembering to use one of the strategies outlined above if the lead should start to tighten.

Helpful Hints

·         Be proactive - whenever tension creeps into the lead do something about it immediately.   Apply short vibrations to the lead to ‘keep it alive’, change direction, or call the dog back to you but never allow the lead to become a ‘tug-of-war’ rope between you.

·         Walk as briskly as your comfort level allows. 

·         Some of the worst cases of pulling result from dogs who are walked to an off leash area everyday.  Their owners become merely vehicles they drag daily to ‘doggy paradise’.  Turn this around by alternating long street walks with no ‘pot of gold’ at the end with being driven to the off-lead park for a free run. 

·         Teach restraint in different situations. If you have taught your dog right from a puppy that there will be times when you must restrain him – for baths, grooming, vet examinations etc. – he will be more likely to accept restraint on lead as well.  Practice gentle, handling and restraint in as many and as varied situations as possible.

  1. Choosing the right equipment

Never before have there been so many options on the market designed to make walking easier for you and your pet.  No one choice is right for everyone so if in doubt seek the advice of an experienced trainer.  Some of the options include:

Collars

The most important feature of a collar is that it is comfortable and will not slip off or over your dog’s head.  Normal buckle collars or martingale collars with a limited slip feature are amongst the safest and best. 

Leads

For recreational walking, I recommend a lead of approximately 2 -3 meters in length.  This length of lead will allow your dog to reach the smelly bits of trees and lampposts without pulling you off the footpath yet can be easily managed and shortened to allow people to pass or for crossing roads. To achieve the same amount of freedom, a small dog will need a longer lead then a big dog as much of the length will be taken up simply reaching down to the collar. This extra length will often resolve minor pulling problems immediately. 

Head Halters

Head halters brought a fresh approach to the problem of pulling when introduced many years ago. By placing your dog’s head in a halter he is really only able to use his weaker neck muscles against you rather than the full strength of his shoulder and back muscles.  The handler is thus able to use a much lighter touch to direct and control the dog. There are many styles, designs and makes of head halters on the market today and the trick is to find the one that best fits your dog. Generally the head halter should fit snugly around your dog’s face and be easy for you to take on and off.   

Despite their effectiveness many people still resist using a head halter because they believe:

  • It may be confused with a muzzle and makes the dog ‘look mean’.
  • The use of a head halter is somehow cheating or must only be a temporary measure.  
  • Head halters are too difficult to fit and use
  • Dogs don’t like them.

While it is essential that you receive good advice on how best to introduce and fit a head halter, when properly used they remain the most effective choice if:

  • you haven’t got time to methodically implement a ‘neva eva’  programme
  • you own a very strong dog
  • you own a dog with a long history of pulling
  • your own strength is limited in some way e.g.  a bad back
  • you would like children to easily walk the dog
  • behavioural problems make greater control a safety issue.

Harnesses

Although harnesses were designed to allow a dog to pull more efficiently, there is some evidence that some dogs seem to pull less when wearing them – unfortunately it’s a case of try it and see.  A new harness on the market The No-Pull Harness by Kumalong is designed specifically to combat pulling by connecting the lead at the dog’s chest.  The dog is less able to lean into the harness and create resistance.  The advantage of harnesses in general are that they are  readily accepted by both dogs and  owners and are an excellent choice for small dogs or dogs with sensitive necks or spinal problems. 

Double Ended Leads

Double ended leads are often recommended to be used in conjunction with either a head halter and collar, a head halter and harness or a harness and normal collar.  They provide added safety and control and can spread the pressure of the lead across several points rather than just one. 

Realistic expectation or impossible dream?

Have you ever taken a bunch of five year olds to McDonalds for a birthday party?  If they had been on a lead do you think they would have been pulling?

Going for a walk would have to be at least as exciting for your dog as going to a birthday party is for kids – a high adrenalin, highly rewarding event that comes along just once every 24 hours. 

To expect your dog to walk calmly in perfect heel position is probably an unrealistic expectation however by setting the rules for the walking game – employing the ‘Neva Eva’ policy and making use of sensible equipment choices – walking can become a dream run for both you and your dog.

****

 This article first appeared in Dog's Life magazine in 2005 and is reproduced here by kind permission of the author Karin Larsen Bridge, part owner of Get S.M.A.R.T. Dog Training, Sydney

 

How To Raise The Perfect Puppy

This article first appeared in the 2003 Yearbook of Dog’s Life Magazine as “No train, no gain” and is reproduced with the kind permission of the author - Karin Larsen Bridge of Get S.M.A.R.T dogs, Sydney

 What Every Owner Should Promise their Puppy

“I welcome you into our family pack and promise to be a good leader. To provide you not only with food, water and shelter but with exercise, companionship and knowledge of how to live in a human world.”

Congratulations! Today you are proud parents of a beautiful new, squirming, big eyed bundle of tail wags and kisses. Promises of wonderful adventures lie ahead for you both. However many of these beautiful puppies will never see their second birthday, not because of any viral epidemic but because no one taught them the skills needed to live in a human world. Behavioural problems kill more young dogs than all other causes combined. Some of these problems are as simple as jumping up, chewing and digging. Most of them are normal dog behaviours displayed in ways that are inappropriate or annoying to humans. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be like this. With a little early effort on your part, the vast majority of these problems are easily preventable.

The First Step- is to change your mind set from:

“How do I STOP my puppy from …. (chewing, jumping, biting, etc.)”

to:

“How do I TEACH my puppy to . . . . (only chew his toys, sit when greeting, and accept physical handling)”.

This change puts you in charge because it means that instead of being a ‘victim’ of your puppy’s behaviour, you have assumed the responsibility for teaching him what will be required to live in your home and share your life.

Positive Training and Good Management.

The best way to train your puppy is by rewarding him for the things you like and ignoring him for things you don’t like. Rewards can be attention, praise, games and food. To make it easy for your puppy to succeed you need to provide him with an ‘errorless learning environment’ – to prevent mistakes and to provide lots of opportunities for reward. For example, it would be silly to allow a young puppy full freedom of the house before it has learned to toilet outside. By confining your puppy to a small area and taking it out every hour to the appropriate toileting spot, you are preventing mistakes and ensuring that you are present to reward the correct behaviour. Rewarding any behaviour makes it more likely to happen again and again. By confining your puppy now, you will be ensuring that he learns good house etiquette and will have earned the right to much greater freedom as an adult.

A suitable confinement area.

You will need a confinement area that contains:

  • A comfortable sleeping area
  • A clean bowl of water
  • Suitable chew toys such as ‘kongs’ and hollow bones stuffed with kibble and treats
  • A toileting area (ideally a piece of turf )

The purpose of this area is to:

  • Prevent mistakes
  • Develop a good chew toy habit (as it is all that is available)
  • Reduce the options of where your puppy may toilet
  • Teach your puppy to settle down quietly in it’s own area
  • Teach your puppy it’s ok to be alone for periods of time.
  • Gives you peace of mind and a little break!

Unless you are actively playing or supervising your puppy it should be confined in its special area. Some people also like to have a short-term confinement area such as a crate, where the puppy is very unlikely to want to toilet as it would soil its bed. Training your dog to accept crating can be very useful as a crate can be used for a variety of purposes as the dog matures. The crate can become your dog’s main sleeping area (with the door normally left open) and can also be useful when traveling and staying in new places. It is important to remember however that crates are not storage units for dogs and are suitable for short term confinement only.

Leaving your dog the run of the back garden is another alternative but in itself is not as effective for training your puppy as leaving it in its confinement area. Firstly, being in the back yard does nothing to teach your puppy to settle quietly in the house. Secondly, there will be many more temptations other than chew toys such as irrigation systems, clothes lines and pot plants. Thirdly, you will be less likely to interact with your puppy when it is outside and you are inside.

THE TOP TEN LESSONS FOR THE PERFECT PUPPY

Puppy hood - from eight to eighteen weeks is the most important developmental period in your dog’s life. It is the best time to develop good habits and prevent bad ones. It is the best time to introduce all the amazing things that will encompass your puppy’s world – people, other dogs and animals, kids, vacuum cleaners, garbage trucks, toddlers, bicycles, skateboards, slippery floors, teenagers, stairways, motor cars, veterinarians, football games, swimming pools and babies – to name just a few. Even though your puppy will not be fully vaccinated until nearly the end of this time there are still lots of lessons you can and should begin to teach your puppy TODAY!

  • Teach Your Puppy to Toilet Outside

This is probably the most urgent of issues and one that will have profound effects on the rest of your relationship. Dogs want to be where the rest of the ‘pack’ or family is – in the home. You’ll double your enjoyment of your puppy if he learns right from the beginning how to live and behave in a family home. Statistics have shown that dogs that are relegated to the backyard are more likely to engage in nuisance behaviours such as barking, hyperactivity and destructive chewing and are also more likely to end up in animal shelters. This can be prevented if you take the time now to teach your dog the appropriate place to toilet.

Step 1: - Assuming your chosen toileting area is your back yard lawn, include a square of turf in preference to paper as the toileting area in your dog’s confinement area. This cuts out ‘the middle man’ in your dog’s education – making it easier from the start for your puppy to understand that grass is the preferred surface.

Step 2: - Take your puppy out to the designated area of your garden after every play, sleep, meal or drink – on average every hour. Say your special word that will eventually tell your dog to eliminate such as ‘hurry up’ and wait. When your puppy squats praise and reward him with several food treats. Make a really big fuss – this is great stuff. Your puppy may wonder why you think a natural function is so amazing but pay him big time and he’ll be happy to oblige you quickly and consistently.

Step 3: -Repeat! Your puppy will need a long ‘reward history’ before he makes the connection that toileting outside is a consistently good thing to do.

Common mistakes:

  • You forgot to go out with your puppy to reward him thereby providing less confirmation to your puppy that ‘toileting outside is good!’
  • You roused on your puppy when he wee’d on the carpet in front of you – so now puppy is reluctant to ‘wee’ in front of you at all! Convinced you have a problem with bodily functions, in future he will take care to hide when he needs to go – behind the couch, under the bed. …etc.
  • You let your puppy out of its confinement area unsupervised. One mistake is all it takes before your puppy’s keen sense of smell tells him that the lounge room is the appropriate place to toilet. Avoid cleaning accidents with products containing ammonia - diluted white vinegar and wool mix or one of the washing powders containing bio-enzymes will neutralize the odor better.
  • Teach your puppy what to chew

Puppies need to chew not only because it is good for their teeth and gums but because without hands, it is their way to investigate their environment - “ah, this smells interesting, I wonder what sort of texture it has and whether it’s good to eat?”. Most owners do buy toys for their puppies and leave them lying around the home, but once your dog has checked out the plastic hamburger and ‘killed’ the squeaky inside it’s probably not very interesting - not nearly as interesting as that wonderfully aromatic shoe of yours!” Now is the time to develop an appropriate chew-toy habit. By keeping your puppy in his confined area, you have removed the opportunity to make mistakes. Instead provide your puppy with irresistible, long-acting chew toys such as ‘Kong’s’ , treat balls and hollow bones which can be stuffed with a variety of foods (including much of puppy’s regular meal) to keep them eternally interesting. Rotate the toys and add a few different tidbits each time. These toys can be stuffed loosely at first but as your puppy progresses they can be packed tighter and tighter to challenge any dog’s perseverance – keeping them entertained for ages.* Confinement teaches your puppy to focus his ‘destructive chewing’ on appropriate objects (as no others are available) and allows him to develop a habit which will continue as your puppy matures.

    • Teach your puppy ‘it’s ok to be alone’

Dogs probably spend more hours alone today then ever before. Many will develop bad habits when their owners are away because:

    • Daily needs for social interaction, exercise and/or play have not been met and the dog is bored.
    • There is no one to stop them from entertaining themselves with normal doggy pursuits such as reactive barking, digging and chewing. The worst behaviour is often seen in puppies whose training is based on punishment for wrong behaviour rather than setting puppy up to ‘get it right’ through good management.
    • They have never learned how to occupy themselves with appropriate chew and ‘home alone’ toys.
    • They have never learned to ‘settle’ quietly and wait.
    • They have not developed the confidence to be separated from their owners.

Leaving your puppy in his special confinement area, as you work around the house, will teach him that there is no need to ‘shadow’ you everywhere. You come and you go, there is play time and there is quiet time. By all means take your puppy out and play with him as often as you wish, but when he can’t be supervised return him to his area. He will learn that he has everything he needs there and is safe until you come to play with him again. When you leave, prepare a yummy chew toy but don’t let him have it until just before you go. Pass it to him and walk out quietly with as little fuss as possible. When you arrive home say 'hello' to puppy and take him outside but don’t make a huge fuss. It is always best to keep ‘greeting rituals’ low key so as not to over excite your dog.

  • Teach your puppy to play and to ‘settle’

It is fun to play with your puppy, but it is easy for puppy play to get out of hand. Consistently standing still and taking away your attention when games start to escalate is the most effective way to teach your puppy self-control. Make sure you and your children spend lots of quiet time with your puppy as well as play time. Mix up active and passive activities such as chasing a ball with ‘sit’ or ‘drop’. This should develop a lifetime habit of using play as a reward for settled behaviour and gives you excellent control of your dog and the games you play together.

  • Teach your puppy to like being handled and hugged.

It is important that your puppy allows you to hold and restrain him for short periods of time. Right from the beginning, only put your puppy down when he is not struggling. If he is going to be a large dog, continue practicing restraint on the ground. Acceptance of handling will make all health care issues such as nail trimming, grooming, and veterinary check-ups so much easier and will help to develop your puppies self control. Pay particular attention to sensitive areas such as ears, mouth, paws, rear end and around the collar. In cases of emergency or even just to clip your dog on lead, you are likely to reach out and grab the collar. This is actually a very threatening gesture in dog language so you need to desensitize your puppy to this action now. Take the collar and treat your puppy. Gradually reach out and grab with a little more force. Repeat and treat hundreds of times with kids and adults. You are actually ‘classically conditioning’ your puppy to enjoy being grabbed and handled.

  • Teach your puppy to swap and share

Lots of puppies learn that if they play with their own toys no one takes an interest but if they play with something of yours, a great game of ‘catch me if you can’ can be initiated. This is a mild version of ‘resource guarding’ when a dog won’t allow you to have what he has. While ‘stealing’ is not usually a serious behaviour problem, some puppies will also learn to growl and bite to protect their food bowl or bones. Do lots of ‘swaps’ with your puppy right from the first day. Take away things he has including toys and food, look at them and either give them back or give him something even better. This is more effective than expecting your pup to give things up simply because you are the ‘boss’. Being dominant over your dog may persuade him to give you a bone (reluctantly) but it will do nothing to safeguard your children or visiting children who may approach your dog when eating or chewing. Far better to change your puppy’s opinion about the whole situation - ‘the approach of any human – big or small – is good news for me!’

  • Teach your puppy that ALL people are ‘ok’!

Puppy hood is the time nature intended for dogs to leave the den and explore the world. It is a time when they possess a lot of ‘bounce back’ – if something frightens them a little but they survive they tick it off as ‘ok’. It is the perfect time to introduce your puppy to everything and anything he may encounter in his future life. The most important thing for your puppy to accept is people – all people, men, women, big kids, little kids, boys and girls – all look, act and smell differently to your dog. NOW is the time to socialize your dog with as many people as possible – ideally three new people every day for the first month of your puppy’s life with you. Have a real ‘puppy party’ – invite all your friends and instruct them on how to meet, greet and treat your new puppy. If your dog is frightened of vacuum cleaners you can probably learn to live with it, but if your puppy has not learnt to like the company of people- all people- he could become a liability nightmare.

  • Teach your puppy how to ‘talk dog’

Well, perhaps you don’t have to actually teach your puppy to ‘talk dog’ but you do have to give him the opportunity to learn! This is where puppy preschools are invaluable. Puppy preschools provide your puppy with a safe, supervised environment to socialize with other dogs and people before the completion of their vaccination programme. They are the perfect place for puppies to learn about other dogs. Young puppies think that all dogs look like their mum and littermates, but dogs come in a greater variety of shapes and sizes than any other species in the world. Your puppy needs to learn that even though they may all look different the fundamentals of dog ‘body language’ are the same. A play bow or a submissive roll over means the same to a German Shepherd as it does to a Fox Terrier. Learning to read and communicate these messages to other dogs will help your dog to play and interact peacefully with other dogs. This play should also be interrupted with short sessions of ‘settle’ time – either by being held or by encouraging puppy to ‘come’ and ‘sit’ so that your puppy learns he can pay attention to you and still enjoy the reward of continuing play.

  • Teach your puppy to bite softly.

Bite inhibition involves teaching your puppy to first bite softly and then as he matures, not to bite at all. This is probably the single most important thing for your puppy to learn yet it is often a difficult concept to initially grasp. The point is that there may be a moment in any dog’s life when it feels the need to snap. If it has learned to inhibit the pressure from its jaws, the ensuing bite will be relatively minor. For your dog to learn bite inhibition, he must be allowed to experiment with his jaws, preferably on other puppies, while he still has needle sharp teeth set in weak jaws. If a puppy bites too hard in play, the other pup will yelp and end the game for a while. Again a good puppy preschool will provide your puppy with this opportunity at the right time of his life (under 18 weeks of age). People should try to teach bite inhibition in a similar way. Gentle mouthing from a small puppy should be allowed but if he bites too hard – yelp and withdraw all attention for a minute or so. By six months of age, the criteria should be raised to the point where any contact of canine teeth on human flesh results in loud ‘yelp’ and time out. This lesson if learnt well will mean that even if your dog’s tail gets slammed in the car door, or a strange child falls on top of him while chewing a bone, your dog’s instinctive reaction will be greatly restrained causing little or no damage.

  • Teach your puppy your signals for . . .

‘Sit’, ‘Down’ and ‘Come’. Your puppy already knows how to sit, down and come but what he doesn’t know is our words for these behaviours and/or why he should do them! Reward based training quickly teaches your dog the hand signals and words to signify these behaviours and provides him with the motivation for doing so – praise, a treat or a game. Over time your puppy will learn that all good things in life come through you and the best way to get what he wants in life is to do what you want. This method is fun for both owners and puppies and fosters a positive attitude to learning.

A happy future

Puppies need to be shown how to behave in our very human, urban world just as children do. The structure and exposure you provide for your puppy in your first two months together will have a huge impact on his ability to cope with modern life both in and outside your home. Although it is important to continue the good work you establish in puppy hood into your dog’s adolescence, you will never again have such a ‘clean slate’ on which to make an impression – so please don’t delay. Provide him with regular opportunities to meet and greet people and dogs of all sizes and shapes. Think ahead and apply simple management strategies to make it easy for your puppy to learn what you want and to prevent needless mistakes. Through this combination of socialization, good management and reward based training you will ensure that your beautiful new puppy will grow into a mature dog that you will be proud to own for a lifetime.

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