Damage Limitation: 6 ways to help you manage your puppy
This week I have been asked for advice from a few people having to deal with all the usual puppy issues. I thought it would be helpful to share some of my experiences and thoughts with you.
Puppies are so annoying and challenging! They just don’t do what we think they will. We imagine our life with a wonderful dog and it just doesn’t seem like that straight away. I have written about this a few times, including in the post about getting the perfect dog. One of the biggest problems is that we don’t ‘speak dog‘ and irritatingly, they don’t speak human! I saw a post about an app that claimed to help you speak dog (it was rubbish).
Seriously though, there are ways of understanding our dogs and coping with their behaviours. Sometimes, it’s about managing that behaviour, rather than trying (and failing) to change it. Here are my top 6 annoying behaviours that you might find it easier to manage than to train away.
Barking at the doorbell
The doorbell rings, the dog barks. Fact. I was thinking this morning about how you might train this association out of your dog. You might be able to do this by sitting calmly with your dog, completely ignoring the doorbell. Acting as though nothing has happened.
Of course you can’t do that, because if the doorbell rings, you MUST answer it! So what happens when the bell rings? You react. You get up, you go out, you answer the door, you speak. In the past, someone would then enter the house. These are all actions that are exciting for your dog. So if you have to answer the door, your dog very quickly learns that they MUST bark!
Our natural instinct in this situation is to shout at the dog to be quiet. SHUT UP! What the dog hears now is you joining in with the barking. That’s a brilliant game! He barks, you bark. How exciting!
ACTION: When the doorbell rings, calmly put the dog away in another room. Don’t speak to your dog, or touch it more than you have to. Shut the door and go and answer the front door. It’s not very exciting for the dog and nothing much happens. NB: You will NOT stop your dog barking. Don’t try. Just manage the situation.
Barking at squirrels, cats and birds from the window
This is almost exactly the same as the doorbell situation, with a pretty similar solution. Barking at squirrels, cats and birds is a dog’s job. It’s what they live for. So if you have a dog that can sit at a window and watch other animals in the garden, they will obviously bark at them. You should be saying “Good boy! Well done for barking and doing your dog job”. I’m guessing you don’t do that?
ACTION: Don’t let your dog sit at the window and bark, unless you like him doing it. Don’t shout at him (joining in). Just move him away from the window. Move your furniture around if you have to. Block off part of the window with frosting. Best of all, put your dog in a part of the house with no access to a view of the garden.
Then spend time with your dog, just chillin’. Watch TV together, or sit and work, with your dog lying calmly at your feet. Then take him for a nice walk, off lead, where he can chase those pesky squirrels and bark at all the birds!
Coming when called
Recall of your dog is the subject of whole training courses. I have written several posts about recall on this website (search ‘recall‘). But it’s a massive issue for everyone and the one thing that causes endless hassle. Because if your dog doesn’t come when you call it, you can’t let it off the lead. You can’t open the front door without worrying he will run off. You’re always on tenterhooks in case he runs onto a road.
ACTION: Let’s get straight to it. The easiest way to get your dog to come back to you is TO PRACTISE! I don’t mean when you are out on a walk and you get to the end of it and want to put him back on the lead. I mean every 5 minutes!
Ounce is nearly 4 years old and I STILL practise recalling her a few times every day on our walks. ‘Ounce come!’ and then give her a treat.
Start in the house. Call your dog “Dog come!” Use their name, with the word come. Be clear and exciting, positive and purposeful. Wait for them to come and then give a reward. This can be a tasty treat, or a toy and a game, or a fuss and a pat, or just a bit of lovely praise. “Well done! What a good boy.”
When you dog comes to you around the house, they are more likely to come when you are out. If you are interesting and rewarding, why wouldn’t they want to be with you?
Running up to other dogs
Following on from the challenge of recall, we have the problem of your dog running up to other dogs. This is often an unwanted behaviour, because the other dog may not be friendly. Again, I’m afraid the solution is PRACTISE RECALL! It really is that simple.
ACTION: You need to teach your dog to have good manners. Your dog needs to be able to say hello politely and to come away when needed. It takes time and patience, but it can be achieved.
I saw a lovely example of a young German Shepherd puppy, around four months old, doing exactly this. The owner engaged the pup with a toy before we were near. As we walked past, the owner had gone ahead, so the pup inevitably came jauntily up to my dogs. They weren’t impressed, but the pup was already learning that bouncing and jumping were not required. The owner then called the pup and off it went to its dad. Hurray! How lovely. Of course it will get worse before it’s perfect, as the dog hits adolescence, but hey, it’s a work in progress.
Barking at other dogs
Dogs bark at other dogs because they are either excited or scared. When dogs are off lead they rarely bark at other dogs, so that’s the easiest action to take. Again, a good recall is vital.
If your dog is on lead, you can start by deciding whether he is desperate to play with the other dogs, or worried that they might come near you. If they are worried, is that because you are worried?
ACTION: Ignore the other dog. It means nothing to you. It is of no interest. Your dog? Your dog is fantastic! You want to play with your dog! The more exciting, interesting and confident you are, the less your dog will take any notice of other dogs. Please DO NOT stand still, anxiously gripping your dog’s lead and worrying that the other dog might rush over to attack you and your dog? Honestly, most dogs have better things to do.
Dogs who live together mating (or trying to)
I’m including this last point because someone contacted me about this specific situation. I was really disappointed that a breeder had sold her brother and sister pups and not told her how to deal with this situation. I also felt the vet should have advised getting the male castrated at 6 months. Although we like to try and leave neutering a bit longer these days, some situations make it more important to get it done. We do NOT want accidental matings, particularly of brother and sister!
So can you train this behaviour out of your dogs? You could more easily hold back the sea. Of course you can keep them shut in different rooms, but you may well end up with howling, scratching dogs, off their food and generally being a complete wreck.
ACTION: Send one of your dogs (usually the boy) to stay with family or friends. This is another case of ‘damage limitation’ and honestly, it is much better to have peace of mind than try and manage it.
The first week of a bitch’s season is usually not too bad. Once they stop bleeding as much, they are fertile and that’s when the fun starts. So be prepared and take the easy action to manage your problem puppies?
I hope you find this helpful. Good luck with your puppy!
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