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My Dog & I: Foundations are Fundamental… & Tedious!

Of course, I am going to talk about our dogs – after all, that’s what I do… and as so many people ask me about “dog whispering” I want to explain a little about the “magic”. A good dog trainer understands the necessity of small, simple steps and many repetitions before achieving any kind of solid performance. As we start this New Year with our resolutions and renewed enthusiasm it seems appropriate to talk a little about how we achieve these goals.

The “sit” that we all think of as the first milestone of training can be taught with food rewards and a verbal cue but must be repeated again and again.

People often tell me that their dog’s training is coming along well because “Buddy” can “sit” already. BUT we also do not take into consideration the amount of preparation work that has already taken place. You have taught Buddy to respond to his name, you have shown Buddy that you are the source of cuddles and dinner. You have associated Buddy with your house as his “home” and your family, as his “pack” and you have asked him for enough eye contact to have him follow your hand as it holds the treat. This is all fundamental work, and you are doing it.

Patina is your puppy headquarters in downtown Lewisburg, WV!

The next step then, must be achieved with the same amount of attention.

Learning to walk nicely at heel or not to counter surf must also be taught, patiently. Without the benefit of a speech center, our dogs must rely on our clear communication about what it is we require of them and then these requests must be repeated – many times! It is not enough to have your dog perform a command once or twice –at home-in the quiet-with a piece of bacon under his nose. We will have to ask for this action many times, with or without a treat, in a noisy room, over a period of time, when he is distracted and without becoming impatient. This is the hard work but be sure that without it, you will never have a consistently reliable response to your “question” and consequently will not have “trained” your dog to do the simplest task, reliably. All professional piano players have to practice scales every day.

In our culture at this time, we are getting our results so fast that it is hard to remember that the basis of any endeavor is still some slow, steady foundation building and if we skip these early steps with our dogs or in our lives, we are losing the ground beneath us. So first decide where you want to go, make a plan to get there and be prepared for some failures along with the bright spots. Every journey begins with one small step so whether it is to exercise more, start a new job, or change our attitude about something, all of these objectives must begin with that first step and then some practice.

In our culture at this time, we are getting our results so fast that it is hard to remember that the basis of any endeavor…

 Achieving a more successful relationship with your dog is based on the same principles.

So few people really put a lot of thought into the “job description” their pups will have to fill once they are past the new, cute and cuddly stage.

Of course, a new Xmas puppy is an absolute cliché…We have all kinds of film clips running through our heads about what life with our new dog will look like, forgetting that we have to put in sufficient guidance in their early months in order to achieve these scenarios.

Let us talk about some basic ground rules and social skills we can be putting into play before we start teaching our dog babies to execute obedience commands.

The first thing we will want our puppies to do is to recognize their Name so we will attach this name to all the fun things we do, eating, running, touching. The name should be said in a bright happy voice and should sound the same as often as possible. Changing the tone of a dog’s name in order to communicate displeasure or a command is an inefficient short cut and does not teach the dog what to do.

Touch is very important and of course, a desirable thing on both sides but try to make your touch calm and meaningful. Agitated petting is not pleasant for the dog and will at best, over stimulate her and steer her towards excitable behavior that will eventually get her into trouble. Be a little stingy with your affection and she will appreciate it more.

In the same vein, be careful about your puppy looking for your attention by jumping up on you. This will go badly very quickly once she has learned the habit and is no longer quite so cute and little!! Love happens when all four feet are on the ground. Simply stop looking at her, reaching down to touch her (even to say “off”) or allowing her contact with you by jumping up. You can always step backwards, quickly. Do NOT yell ”NO”.

Beginning leash pressure we are probably all going to put a baby collar on our puppies. This will not be a training collar but a soft, flat or martingale collar. Do not give the leash to your kids and have them haul the new puppy around. You can, however start to put a TINY bit of pressure on a long leash attached to the collar in order to give your pup the idea of responding to this pressure by moving in your direction. Be very aware not to cause undue distress at this early training stage. The aim is to get the puppy comfortable with a cue to move towards you.

Mouthing, nipping and play biting are also to be swiftly discouraged. With a little puppy, simply GENTLY hold the scruff of the neck and close your hand quietly around the pup’s snout, counting to three and releasing with a “good girl”. If the pup pursues this “fun game” simply repeat until he/she stops nipping at fingers, pants legs or crawling babies!

Housetraining is a big, early trial that confuses many humans and most dogs. Your dog is NOT going to understand that the huge space she inhabits is not the whole world. A carpet feels much like grass and is almost as absorbent. Confine her space to the kitchen where you can see her as she becomes agitated, use a crate when you are not going to be paying attention and clean areas of “mistakes” thoroughly with an enzymatic cleaner. Your seven week old puppy should be going outside about once an hour, after playing, after eating and when he wakes up. DO NOT SHOUT AT YOUR PUPPY WHEN HE MAKES A MISTAKE! It is probably your fault. A tiny baby has very little bladder control and yet will still try not to pee in her crate, so be careful about leaving your puppy confined for unreasonable lengths of time.

  • 7 weeks – 1 -2 hours in a crate
  • 12 weeks – 2- 3 hours in a crate
  • 16 weeks 4 hours in a crate
  • 6 months 5 hours in a crate.

These guidelines are for daytimes and do not include sleeping at night when the house is calm and it is dark outside. A sixteen-week-old pup should be able to go through the night 7 hours or so as long as he doesn’t “fill up” with water after seven o clock at night.

Pay attention to excessive peeing…could be a UTI, especially if there is peeing in small amounts successively.

Do NOT leave your puppy alone for all or even half the day in a crate or even loose in the house and expect

 her to learn anything except the misery of abandonment.

“Come” Your puppy will not want to leave your side at first and so this command is an easy one. Tap the side of the food bowl at feeding time and sweetly call “come”. Clap your hands happily and call “come” squeak a favourite toy and say “come”. Get the message? NEVER call a dog with an angry tone. He will want to go the other way. Chasing a puppy becomes a fun game too – for the puppy. So try to go away from a puppy if she is leaving you…she will quickly scurry along, not wanting to be abandoned to the hyenas!!

Don’t worry about a “sit” yet. Don’t worry about a “heel” or a “stay” yet. We don’t want to push our dogs ahead too fast or teach them something they cannot understand.

It has been my experience that the “A” type personalities who try to achieve greatness by six months, run out of steam pretty quickly once the “interesting” stuff is done and often leave good basic behavior un=taught.

Your patience is your greatest skill when training a young dog and is the key element of your Foundation training.

Remember that if you take a little extra time, early on to put these foundations in place, the fancy tricks and advanced commands will be a piece of cake!!

Do NOT expect your kids or your older dog to “train” your puppy.

Teach your dog to be a great member of your family and you will never have to tie him up outside the house on a nylon line because he is “not good in the house”…

I love a puppy

We all love a puppy

Let’s remember that our puppies all turn into dogs and if they are uneducated, how can they be blamed for their behavior???


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