As a professional trainer, I often hear the same questions from concerned puppy owners wanting to train their dog to avoid aggression and be the best dog that he or she can be. One thing to remember is that all puppies are completely different in terms of their personality, and the impact of nature versus nurture. Remember that 50% of a dog’s personality and behaviour traits are based on genetics, and the other 50% is determined by what we do right and wrong with them when they are a puppy.
Q: WHAT IS THE FIRST CUE I SHOULD TEACH MY PUPPY?
A: A positive interrupter is a noise that cues a dog to expect something it likes. Once you have conditioned the dog to reacts to the noise in anticipation for the good thing to follow, you can use it to call your puppy away from potentially dangerous situations or to stop them from chewing on items, such as furniture. Always reward the puppy for leaving these situations, and then focus their mind on something more safe and suitable.
Q: HOW DO I STOP “ACCIDENTS” IN THE HOUSE?
A: Management is the key to success here. Puppies are used to relieving themselves whenever they require, which could be when they wake up, or even in the middle of play. Get your puppy on a good schedule starting with going outside every 20 to 30 minutes for the first week of training (for most eight-week-old pups). If no accidents happen inside the home, increase the intervals between bathroom breaks to 45 minutes for a week. If the success is maintained, bump the indoor time to one hour between outside visits, and so on. If at any time your dog has an accident, go back a step for another week and increase the intervals again based on success.
What if you bring your pup outside and they do nothing? Come back inside with the pup on leash (no freedom) and then try again every 15 minutes until they relieve themselves, at which time they can come inside and experience freedom again!
Q: HOW DO I STOP PUPPY FROM BITING/MOUTHING?
A: When your puppy puts teeth to your skin, you can say “ouch” in a flat tone while raising your hands in the air (as if you’re surrendering). If the puppy stops the unwanted behaviour, offer your hand back to them and say “kisses” (offering your palms to the pup). If the pup licks your hand, praise them calmly and provide a suitable toy for the pup to play with. If the puppy does not stop and lunges for your hands (or any other body part), get up and leave them behind for two minutes, isolated. When you come back, do not acknowledge the pup in an excited way — just act normally and calmly. Repeat when necessary.
You also need to practice proactive training by smearing honey or peanut butter on your fingers and hands, allowing puppy to lick them on a regular basis. This this will teach them what to do with people’s hands — lick and be gentle. If this doesn’t work, it could be that your puppy is not getting sufficient sleep time throughout the day (pups should be up for a total of five hours each day), or that they do not have proper chew toys.
Q: HOW DO I STOP MY PUPPY FROM BITING AT THE LEASH?
A: A leash can be fun for puppies because it’s a long, skinny cloth that they can really sink their teeth into. The best way is to train your puppy with the leash on so they can habituate themselves to it while enjoying some treats, too. Ignore it when the puppy is mouthing the leash; if you move the leash, you make it more interactive and fun. Keep it boring and keep walking, engaging your puppy with its environment while practicing other training items.
Q: HOW DO I GET MY PUPPY TO SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT?
A: Creating a small area for your pup to sleep in can be one of the easiest ways to get them to settle in for the night. It has to be a big enough space that allows them to move around, but small enough so they can’t have a party by themselves in the middle of the night. Puppies always need access to fresh water and a soft bed, and you can give your puppy a safe bone to gnaw on if he wakes up and is bored; this should pacify him back to sleep.
Set the puppy up to succeed by tiring them out one hour before bed (physically and mentally) and then give them a drink. Allow a one-hour rest period for the water to go through their system and one last bathroom break before heading off to bed.
Kristin Crestejo, CDBC, is head trainer and behaviour consultant at Modern Canine Training in Kamloops, BC. www.moderncaninetraining.com