Casey Puppy Training Week 1

If you read my previous post about my new puppy Casey, you’ll know that he is starting from ground zero in terms of knowing anything.  So, where do you start?  From my perspective, he can’t learn anything at all until he learns to relax instead of instantly reacting to something new, and begins to focus on me when asked.  Dogs needs to be calm before they can learn anything. That’s where we’re starting with him.  And adding in tiny introductions to a bit of this and a bit of that as we go along.

jumping dogSo how do you begin to teach an excited 10-month old high energy dog to calm down, relax, and focus on you when their entire world is brand new and exciting?  How do you even begin to get their attention?  Casey does exactly what the dog in this picture does when he sees a person, a bird, a squirrel, or anything that moves.  It’s an instantaneous leap straight into the air with squeals of delight.

It’s easier to demonstrate than explain, but here’s how I’m doing it with Casey.

  • stroking beagleHe’s on an adjustable 4-6 foot leash with a martingale collar. We start with the 4 foot length so he’s within easy reach.
  • He can’t get out of the car until he’s calm. We just stand there with him in the car until he relaxes. Doing this sets him up to be less instantly reactive when he sees that next new thing
  • We start walking slowly.
  • The instant he starts to pull, I get his attention and bring him close, and then slowly and calmly stroke his chest, ears, chin, or back with slow strokes until he relaxes. I repeat the word “settle” to him so that he begins to learn that settle means relax. Eventually, I’ll be able to just say “settle” to him and he’ll calm down.
  • Then we move again and repeat as needed (which is very, very often at first)

It can take a long time to go for a walk doing it this way for the first few days, but it’s important to take the time right out of the gate.  Already, in two days, there is far less leash pulling and we can go a little bit farther every walk before something triggers for him.

Black-dog-on-loose-green-leashTo illustrate how well this works, consider this:  He knew nothing about being on a leash, has never been in an urban environment, and is puppy excited about everything new.  On the first day, he was lunging, leaping, running in circles, and had the attention span of a flea.  By today, a mere 3 days later, he is much calmer, less reactive, and is spending less time frustrated because he can’t go explore that shiny new thing. He is slowly learning to calmly observe something without the need to race towards it.

We’re a long way from where he needs to be, but he has already come a long way.

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The Dark Side of Extreme Positive Dog Training

Before talking about the dark side of extreme positive dog training methods, I want to stress that I am primarily a positive dog trainer.  What this means is that I firmly believe that changing behavior is always more effective when using a positive reward-based approach than using punitive measures.  However, if a dog is knowingly misbehaving, I believe there must be consequences – and withholding a treat doesn’t cut it on those occasions.

Let me define what I mean by “extreme” positive dog training.  There are folks who sincerely believe that one should never ever correct a dog. Ever. While I admire their good intentions and desire to do no harm, I believe they sometimes take it to a degree that is not only unhelpful but can actually be harmful.

dog-diggingFor example, an extreme positive dog trainer believes that withholding treats from a misbehaving dog is an example of a consequence that comes from not doing what you want.  However, if your puppy is digging a hole, he doesn’t care in the least that he’s not getting a treat.  He’s doing exactly what he wants! He might be sad that he doesn’t get the treat, but he had such a good time digging that it really isn’t all that important to him.  In other words, he has learned absolutely nothing.

fearful-border-colliesExtreme positive dog trainers believe that you should never ever disapprove of your dog’s actions.  My issue with this is that it doesn’t reflect the realities of life or the fact that dogs and people learn from complex (and sometimes stressful) situations where decisions need to be made.  Frankly, it breaks my heart to see extremely bright and intelligent dogs like Border Collies who have had a trainer like this.  Too often they become velcro dogs – they cling to you. And it’s not out of love, but out of insecurity.  They are bright, intelligent and curious dogs who are completely unprepared for anything unexpected and curl up in fear when faced with something they don’t know how to deal with.  Bright dogs love being challenged. They need it to feel good about themselves and safe in the world they inhabit.

I have spoken to people who won’t even make a noise like “aah!” at a misbehaving dog. How in the world is the dog supposed to know that what they’re doing is not ok if you don’t tell them??  No wonder they get insecure – or aggressive! They can’t figure out the rules – and like us, dogs need clearly understood rules to feel safe.

dog-testDogs, like us, need to be challenged.  They need to know, without question, when something they do is not ok.  That’s how they learn. If they don’t get that from you, they can easily become insecure and I doubt that’s what you want for your dog.  Dogs like having rules they can clearly understand.  It makes them feel safe and much more willing to try new things because they trust you and know you’ll tell them if it’s not ok.

You can make a disapproving noise, pop their leash, walk over and shoo them away, or take any of a number of different actions that are not harmful in any way but are clear messages about what is and is not ok. This helps your dog know the rules and goes a long way to creating an amazing bond between you. Setting clearly communicated boundaries is the single biggest thing you can do to create that bond of trust between you. Isn’t that really what you want? A happy, active, curious 4-legged friend who trusts and listens to you?

Potty training your puppy

Bringing a puppy into your life is exciting! But, if this is your first experience, it can be sobering to realize that your time is being spent cleaning up after that cute little fur ball. You may be asking, how do I handle this? How soon can my puppy be potty trained in a humane way, and how do I do it?  This post is designed to help you understand a bit about your puppy’s development cycle, what is realistically possible, and how to manage it all.

First, it’s important to understand that your puppy is the equivalent of an infant. Their brains and bodies are evolving rapidly, but there is only so much they are capable of depending on their age.  Here are a few things to know:

  1. In general, puppies can only hold their bladders for about 1 hour per month of age.  So, for example, if you have a 3 month old puppy, they can only hold their  waste for about 3 hours on average.
  2. A young puppy’s digestive system is very, very fast. If they play a lot, just ate, or just drank water, they need to go and they need to do it within 5-10 minutes. As they get older and their systems develop, their ability to hold their waste increases.  But ideally, even for an adult dog, it’s a good idea to get them outside to do their business within 30 minutes or so of eating for health reasons.  I’ll explore this topic in a later post.

So how do you manage this?  Here is a video that summarizes what to do to potty train your puppy in a humane and loving manner. It contains some good tips on successfully training your puppy.  While the video says that it may take a few weeks to get your puppy trained, I’ve personally seen this work in as little as a week if you are watchful and consistent.  Hopefully, this will help you get off to a good start with your new buddy.

If you have stories you’d like to share about your puppy training experience, please leave a comment.  And enjoy the new puppy ownership experience!