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!

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