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Puppy training: Behaviour, food and toilet times
Puppy training might seem like a minefield for the new dog owner, but according to Swell Pets advisor Karren Williams, the secret is following a few simple guidelines
As a cat owner - or rather member of staff to a cat - the idea of owning a dog is unknown territory to me, so in my introduction to puppy training, Karren started at square one.
After all, puppy training can't begin without a puppy, so where do you get them from?
“Always get a new dog from an accredited breeder or rescue centre. This way they will have already gained valuable social skills before you get them and begin your own puppy training," says Karren.
The biggest no-no says Karren is so called puppy farms, these cruel institutions hold the “battery hens” of the puppy world. Mothers are expected to fire out puppies on a permanent basis, and once the litter is born they are separated, penned in and sold. The puppies have no interaction with their mother and the rest of the litter. These places may call themselves 'breeders' but unlike respectable breeders, these puppy farms should be avoided at all costs.
Karren said: “The ideal age to buy a puppy is 6-8 weeks. That way they will have already learnt some social skills. Remember at first they can't even open their eyes, so by being around their brothers and sisters they learn by smell and touch. The other pups teach them how to play and bond.”
If a pup is separated from the litter they miss out on this early interaction in their formative weeks.
Karren said: “A pup that grows up alone will be more more timid because it won't have that early play. In a litter the pups will play and scrap and if it goes too far the mother will step in and discipline them. My advice is to always see at least one of the pup's parents.”
Karren herself has three dogs, Brodie, a blue merle collie; Skye, a tri-colour collie and Will, a Shetland sheepdog. Brodie's parents were working dogs on a farm and Will was a pedigree puppy from an accredited breeder. Skye however came from an unhappy home and was abused before Karren rescued her.
Karren said: “I got Skye when she was one year old. I could tell straight away she had been badly treated. She hadn't been trained properly and when she did anything 'wrong' she had been beaten. She crawled about on her belly because she was so nervous and was particularly shy around men, since it was the male owner that used to hit her.
“He must have flicked her with a tea towel because whenever I grabbed a tea towel to flick a fly in the kitchen, she ran for cover. She didn't know how to walk on a lead and so I had to train her and gradually introduce her to Brodie.
“It took eight months to get her to go in the car. I had to just gradually get her in the car then give her treats. And wherever we went was a good place – I never took her to the vets in the car, always to the park to play so that way she associated going in the car with happy things.”
Now Karren reports, after lots of love and the proper puppy training, Skye is a perfectly happy and well behaved dog who travels in the car with her all over the country and while still a little shy, seems to have got over her unhappy times and is a loving dog.
Above: Skye is now healthy and happy.
After hearing horror stories about certain breeds of dogs mauling toddlers, I was interested to know if any breeds were considered a “safe bet”.
Karren said: “It's not the breed, it's the owner. It doesn't matter whether you have a pitbull or a sheepdog, if you don't do proper puppy training it will have behavioural problems.”
For those who have young children, puppy training can be more about “children training” since the child is more likely to upset the dog than the other way round, so when introducing a dog to your child, first outline the groundrules (they are fairly similar to the rules of a wrestling match – no biting, no scratching, no hairpulling, no foreign objects).
Puppy training: Toilet time
Next of course is the delicate subject of toilet training. It goes without saying (for most people) that this needs to be done sensitively and positively. “Rub its nose in it” is an absolute no-no, with no exceptions.
Karren said: “First get some puppy training pads. These are pads made to be absorbent like nappies. You can also put newspaper with them and put them around the house. A young puppy will need a wee every couple of hours, so the best thing to do is sit them on the pad, then when they do a wee, reward them. So they will realise that weeing on the pad is a good thing.”
Karren advises utilising a word such as “toilet” and then sticking to it, so when your puppy uses the pad, say “good toilet” and give them a treat. Eventually you can move towards putting the pads outside and then gradually phasing them out all together. A treat need not be in the form of dog chews or biscuits - it can be a toy or even a pat on the head. “Whatever floats that dog's boat,” suggests Karren.
Puppy training: Commands
Recall puppy training is the next important step to take. Karren said: “Every time your puppy looks at you and engages you, use this is an opportunity to use recall words - the dog's name, or 'come' or 'here'.”
When the dog has had its injections you can then take them to the park and test your recall training with a long lead. She recommends not using the 'Barbara Woodhouse' (SIT!) voice all the time.
Karren said: “My dogs are trained by whispering and body language. If I constantly shout at them they won't know any different in a real emergency, but by whispering commands on a day to day basis, if ever I see them running towards a busy road or something and I really shout 'stop!' they will definitely know to stop because I rarely use those tones.”
Dogs read body language very well. Karren uses pointing upwards for 'stand', points down for 'sit' and when she wants her dog to come to her she opens her arms in a friendly 'hug' gesture. There is no need to use aggressive tones all the time.
Above all, she says, make the puppy training positive and treat-based for the dog. “Reward the good and ignore the bad,” she says.
Puppy training: Behaviour
But what if the dog is being really naughty? I come in to find the dog ransacking the house and savaging my favourite shirt. Surely I can't ignore this?
Karren said: “Things like that happen when the dog is bored. You should get some boredom toys. Don't leave a dog to play with something like a teddy that they could choke on, get a nice robust toy like a Kong dog toy, something that dispenses treats but they have to work for them.”
If your dog persists in chewing a particular thing – a corner of a certain cushion perhaps, you can also use chew spray which is foul tasting to the dog. A great help in puppy training is a dog crate. These are play pens for dogs which enables you to keep your dog in its own safe environment. You can put their bed in there, some toys and you don't have to worry about keeping a new puppy away from your other dogs.
Puppy training at mealtimes
Mealtimes are also an area where you need to adopt a certain approach. You don't want your dog pouncing on you every time you reach for the Arden Grange, neither do you want your dog feeling threatened and guarding its bowl all the time.
Karren said: “Generally puppies should be fed three to four times a day and older dogs just breakfast and tea. You don't want your dog to become an 'all day grazer' so just put the food down for 10 minutes then take it away. If your dog doesn't eat it, and misses out they will learn their lesson for next time.”
Puppy training at meal times is about control. Let your dog know that you are boss at meal times. This prevents a dog becoming too territorial over their food bowl.
Karren said: “You have to encourage good manners in your dog. Put the food in the bowl and make them wait a few minutes before eating, then try hand feeding them a little food to show you are in control of the portions.”
Although a wide range of excellent dog foods are available, Karren would always recommend a good premium dry food. She said: “I always go for dry food. The dry food kibbles help clean the dog's teeth whereas wet food has a very high water content.”
Above: Brodie exercising
Breed specific dog foods are excellent because the food is designed for their needs.
Karren said: “Boxers for example have a brachycephalic jaw so the kibbles are shaped to make it easier for the dog to eat them.”
If you get too reliant on breed-specific dog foods though you may be making a rod for your own back. What if you are on holiday and your local shop doesn't sell Royal Canin West Highland Terrier breed specific food?
For this reason Karren would tend to opt for a general premium dog food.
She said: “You can always spruce up the food by adding a little hot water to make a gravy. You can also add cooked pasta if they need to be built up in weight or vegetables. “Carrots are good and broccoli is excellent but you must avoid onions. They are a killer.”
She added: “My dogs do a lot of agility training and flyball so it's important I look after their joints so I give them glucosamine, garlic, ginger and cod liver oil.
Puppy training at bedtime
When it's time for bed, always make sure your puppy has its own bed. You can either crate sleep or loose sleep. If you intend to have your dog sleep downstairs, don't pander to them.
Above: Skye chilling in her bed
Karren said: “They will cry in the night at first. Just ignore this or they will do it all the time for attention.” And once you have trained your puppy into a happy, well mannered and well adjusted dog remember to make allowances when they get old.
Karren said: “With older dogs, moderate their exercise, look after their joints and substitute running with swimming. Hydropools are excellent because swimming is less impact on the joints. If they go incontinent, you may need to revert back to the puppy training pads. And if their sight and hearing starts to go, try to keep a familiar environment by not shifting furniture around.”
As a final piece of advice Karren said: “Always do happy puppy training. If you are not in the mood to train your dog, then do it when you are. Always be positive and ignore the bad.
Above: Skye relaxing
“When a puppy is young, keep them in happy situations. You should make your dog easy-going by introducing them early to other people and things like bicycles, but don't put them in scary situations like where there are aggressive dogs. If they are traumatised early in life this can stick with them.
“The puppy training you do early on affects what kind of dog they are going to be.”
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