Sunday, 25 May 2014

Puppy Primer part 2... but he's too little to go to school...

Again, inspired and desperate not to bombard my friend via instant messaging/telephone, here's part 2 of the puppy primer!

In part one hopefully I got across the importance of house training and building confidence, confidence is the foundation for everything else!

Now the next thing you need to know is that puppy must 'go to school' - pups are like little furry sponges, slurping up information or 'input' (if you remember the film Short Circuit!)...

If you are not giving your puppy the right input, the chances are he is getting the WRONG input!

A pups best learning period is from the age of 3 weeks to around 14 weeks - for those of you with a GSD puppy, sorry folks, your pup's ideal learning period ended at around 10 weeks or possibly sooner, so I hope you got a breeder who did a LOT of socialisation and habituation. For those of you with a labrador puppy then life just got easier because his optimum window is more like 16 to 18 weeks old!

In this time you must socialise and habituate your pup to ALL the things you want him to be cool with as an adult.

That means people, children, men and women of all different shapes, sizes, colours, adorned with all manner of silly hats, helmets,  coats, frocks, carrying weird boxes, umbrellas, pushing prams or trolleys, using crutches or wheelchairs, riding bicycles, rollerskates, scooters, motorbikes...

You should get him used to going in the car, on the bus, on the train if possible, and busy places and quiet places and different animals and other dogs and ... it gets to be like  a Dr Seuss 'Cat In The Hat' book really!

The important thing about socialisation and habituation is that your dog finds ALL of these people, things, experiences, pleasant, he finds them rewarding, because you make sure they are NOT scary, AND you pair them with yummy treats (bits of cheese, bits of sausage,  no boring bonios or craptastic chews!).

Part of this is going to involve you saying NO to people, because people are silly and will want to crowd your puppy, which could scare him, they may want to encourage him to jump up at their legs which is not something he will be thanked for when he is older.

Your job is very much to ensure that he experiences the world in a safe way, so be ready to remove him from any situation that is overwhelming or likely to become overwhelming - he won't learn by being scared (except that things are scary!)

Final word on socialisation - socialisation particularly with other dogs and people does NOT and MUST NOT involve him being allowed or encouraged to barge up to other people and dogs, expecting food/games/fun - because the world is sadly a dog UNfriendly place and not everyone he meets in it will want to be kind to him.

Instead you will do him a huge favour if he is never allowed to do this but is always asked to sit whilst you ask the other person or dog if he can greet/play - if all the rewards in this socialisation stage come FROM you and are enabled by YOU, he's always going to want to check in wtih you first to ask if he can do something - and he is never going to be that dog who barges up like a lunatic, knocks Grandma flying into the mud and gets bitten by the crabby old terrier who doesn't wanna play!

Traaaaaaaaining - yep more school work for puppies!

Fill up that brain with good things to do - he is perfectly capable of learning sit, down, wait, leave it, walk nicely on a lead, all at 8 weeks old.

I like to use a clicker but its not obligatory - the reason I like it is its great to capture and mark behaviour you really like, very quickly and it leads to playing games that involve the dog figuring out problems for himself (great to keep their minds exercised, a tired mind is a tired puppy is a QUIET SLEEPY PUPPY!)

Just keep training sessions to a 5 minute limit, lots of rewards and praise and stop the second he gets it so he is really keen to do it again next time. Stick to one behaviour or trick per session so he doesn't get confused.

The first thing he needs to learn is that wearing a collar, leash and probably harness, are ok, and are safe. Let him drag a leash around indoors from a harness, let him wear a collar for a few minutes at a time if hes a bit worried by it, distract and reward with chews and treats and take it off before he cna have a full on tantrum.  With the harness (much safer than a collar for walkies an dalso car safety) reward him well for letting you put it on, and also practice pairing little gentle tugs on the harness iwth food rewards.

This ensures that as he grows up, someone tugging on the harness is NOT associated with anything bad - I would do the same thing with a collar too, so he never thinks 'ooh my collar being grabbed is nasty'. (There is nothing worse than either a kid grabbing for a dogs collar and getting nipped because the dog found it painful or associated it with something horrid, OR an adult grabbing a dogs collar in an emergency, only to get nipped for the same reason!)

Walkies start with just hanging out on the street in front of or behind your house, getting rewards for seeing stuff (cars, people) and getting rewards for walking next to the person for a few metres in either direction. 10 minutes max each time!  Easy peasey!

Get him off lead as soon as possible, whillst he is still young enough to WANT to follow you - drive to a nice park, and let him off lead, be ready to get him and distract him away from anything dubious (other dogs or people who might be idiots!) - you can always ask someone once they get near enough, if he can meet their dog.

Meeting ADULT dogs is important, its actualy much more important for a pup than meeting other puppies. I wouldn't recommend you let an unvaccinated pup meet strangers dogs, but do try to have them meet adult dogs belonging to friends and family who you know are vaccinated and clean/healthy.

Finally a word on vaccinations - vets will tell you 'ooh dont let him out until he has had all his jabs' - the problem with this is that generally by the time the pup has had all his jabs, he has MISSED that vital socialisation window!

Sadly the fact is, more dogs end up dead because of behavioural problems stemming from a lack of socialisation, than end up dead because of ALL the diseases we vaccinate against, put together!

So, exercise common sense - don't take him to shitty places filled with stray dogs or dogs you suspect won't be healthy and vaccinated.

Do take him to peoples houses, out to nice clean places with healthy dogs!

DON'T let him on the floor in the vets - the vets is one of the BEST places possible for a pup to pick up an infection, bleurgh, no matter how clean they are!

Tune in next time for....... ARGH HE'S BITING ME!

Friday, 23 May 2014

Puppy Primer... Start as you mean to go on, right?

I am inspired to write this as a good friend of mine (waves!) is on the brink of getting a puppy (squee), so here is the first in a series of 'puppy primers', top tips and explanations for how to do things RIGHT, the first time!

Day 1... you arrive home with your puppy, yay!

The first thing to do is see if puppy needs to pee or poo outside - yes, outside! No puppy pads, no newspaper, outside.

Puppies can learn, in fact your puppy has already begun learning, a preference for which surface they want to toilet on.

They are MUCH more concerned about the surface, than they are about WHERE that surface is - and this is why puppy pads and newspapers are a crappy (haha!) idea.

Puppy pads very closely resemble carpet... newspapers, well, they resemble paper... neither of these is a surface you want your adult dog, or even your slightly older puppy to go on, so lets skip that stage entirely and NEVER allow them to go on any surface other than the outdoor surface you'll want them to use as an adult.

So that means outside, on grass ideally or sand/dirt whatever you have out there. Note, a lot of pups dislike going on a hard surface, the reason is... splash back! No one likes splash back!

If for some reason you absolutely HAVE to have an indoor toilet area for your pup, then get a nice big flat tray and some turf, and use that. You will need several so that you can rotate them, some outside, some inside so that the grass does not die, and yes you will need to water them for the same reason.

Most people do not need to allow a pup to toilet indoors, and so the big bad world outside is fine - take your pup out there initially every half an hour the first day, every hour the second day and each day until you learn your pups schedule, and your pups signs for 'I need to go'.

Yep, thats right, you will need to learn these things because puppies don't come with a manual! The signs are likely that your pup will sniff about, circle, try and find a quiet spot... orrrrrr your puppy may just 'drop trou' and go with next to no warning at all!

This is not because your puppy is a complete arsehole, this is because at 8 weeks old your puppy has almost NO bladder and bowel control at all, there is very little time between the sensation 'I gotta go' and those muscles relaxing and pup GOING, and there is NO ability to 'hold on'.

So, get used to popping out a lot! And you must GO out with your puppy, no standing indoors watching through a window, no loitering in the doorway, OUT you go and be ready with a nice tasty treat to reward your pup the second they finish their toilet duties.

This praise and reward teaches your puppy that going outside is a GREAT thing to do, and also that toileting in front of you is a GREAT thing to do - you need this, because eventually you want him to wait and to ask you, something he is not going to do if he thinks toileting in front of you is a BAAAAAAD thing!

After the first week you should have a pretty good idea of when your pup will need to go, and this frees you up a little to do more stuff without watching him like a hawk - but do keep in mind it is going to be around another SIX MONTHS before your puppy is actually toilet trained.

What about if he goes indoors?

Ooopsy, say nothing and clean it up with a suitable cleaning product (not bleach!) like biological washing powder.

Punishing your pup for making a mistake here will NOT teach him that he should not go in the house, it will only teach him he should not go in front of you.... and thats not a lesson you want him to learn at all!

Be more vigilant in future - when he is done with his house training, he will have a hard-wired habit of ONLY toileting on the grass outside (or whatever surface you provided him with) and he will not WANT to go indoors. If you think this doesnt sound like 'enough' and you think perhaps he needs to learn that it is BAD to go indoors just stop and think for a second...

Conditioning like this is SO strong, just ask yourself, how hard would YOU find it to pee in your pants, on purpose?

I would bet that even if you were pretty desperate for a wee, you would physically struggle to pee in your pants - thats because you are conditioned over many years to  pee only in a toilet, for this reason a great many (women anyway!) are even unable to pee outdoors somewhere quiet, even when they really need to!

So conditioning is VERY strong and VERY effective - there is never a need to try and teach a dog that he is bad for peeing in the wrong place, its only going to harm your relationship with him!

Nighttime - Day 1.... where does my puppy sleep.

Forget all the rubbish you heard in the past about not having dogs sleep in your room - put puppy in a box or crate beside your bed.

The reasons for this are much the same as the reason why your baby sleeps in the same room as you - you need to hear in the night if they need you. In the puppies case, if he needs to pee in the night (and at first he probably will) then he needs to wake you OR, he must wet his bed,  yuck, thats not a habit we want him to learn!

He will likely feel anxious and lonely, having him in your room means you can reassure him, and build a good strong bond with him, increasing his confidence.

People often don't want the dog to sleep in their room with them as an adult - that is fine, but right now you have a puppy, not an adult. A puppy needs to feel safe and secure to build their confidence, and leaving them in a room alone at night is not going to achieve that - the chances are it is going to achieve a pup who cries him or herself to sleep at night, which means they are distressed and this affects their ability to learn (plus, its just plain not nice!)

It is VERY easy to teach a happy confident adult dog to sleep somewhere else - it is VERY difficult to teach an underconfident, stressed dog, to do practically anything.

A major problem caused by trying to insist the pup sleeps alone at night, is separation anxiety - they are naturally anxious at being left, so they cry - you could ignore that, but practically speaking most people can't (plus how do you differentiate 'I am lonely' from 'I have my leg stuck behind the radiator' from ' I need a wee' and 'I have my collar caught on some piping and I am strangling myself, I'll be dead by morning' (sadly true story).... the answer is, you can't!

IF you return to the crying puppy, and given he has to wake you and you have to come downstairs to him this takes time, you are teaching him 'if you cry I will come back' - and when it comes to leaving him alone to go to WORK or the shops... what does he try.. oh yes, crying, that makes people come back!

The answer is to introduce separation in TINY doses, build a happy confident pup who is NEVER anxious, and start out by leaving them for 10 seconds when they doze off in one room , building this up 30 seconds at a time if necessary, until being left alone is nothing to worry about!

This is quite easy in a confident pup, you will know when to start building up the time more when they start to be independent and choose to go into another room away from you (or choose NOT to follow you when you leave the room).

Of course if you want pup to sleep in your room forever more, thats also fine - it is a myth that this is a problem!

......... to be continued!