Common (Dog) Sense

5 pointers for a calm well-balanced puppy

5 pointers for a calm well-balanced puppy

This is by no means is an exhaustive list on how to raise your puppy. The pointers below are ones that I feel are very important, to ensure your pup does mature into a calm well behaved and well balanced dog. The most important period of your pups life is the first 16 to 18 weeks. This is when we set the foundation for your dogs future life with you and your family. Consistency in training is so important for your pup. Nothing confuses a pup more than your inconsistency towards its behaviour.

Don't reinforce overly excited behaviour

Anxiety in dogs is usually conditioned from a young age by reinforcing overly excited behaviour in young pups. In a social animals natural environment, if a young animal becomes overly pushy, demanding for its mothers attention she will usually punish the young animal to help set boundaries. This ensures that as the animal matures balance is maintained within the social group. Also it helps to ensure that anxiety doesn't develop in the young animal. Puppy owners tend to go against this very important teaching, and tend to reward and reinforce overly excited, pushy and demanding attention seeking, and other anxiety conditioning behaviours.

It is especially important when you have been separated from your pup for a period of time, that you don't then reward or reinforce an anxious state in your pup when you return. When you do come home, and your pup is whining or carrying on for your attention, the best  we can do for your pup is to totally ignore it, until the pup settles down. That means no physical interaction with your pup, avoiding eye contact with your pup, and no talking to your pup, until the pup is totally calm.

Respect personal space

This usually goes in the not to reinforce or reward overly excited behaviour, however it goes beyond that. A pup doesn't need to be overly excited to be pushy and demanding. Rewarding or encouraging overly assertive behaviour is only asking for trouble as your pup matures. Teach your puppy to respect personal space, by conditioning your pup to understand that there are rules for entering your and other peoples personal space. And that rule is, you always control your personal space and not your pup. I know its cute when a puppy comes rushing up and demanding your attention, however reinforcing this behaviour in your pup is not teaching your pup to respect you.

Always be aware of your pups intention when initiating interaction or contact. In nature, and this goes for any animal that instinctively lives within a social group, only one animal in a social group can control a space in any moment.  An animal with a lower social hierarchy to another will show respect by virtually giving up its space to the other animal. This is usually achieved by displaying a more appeasement like body language, and not projecting assertive energy. This change in projected energy and body language can be extremely subtle. When a puppy comes in to our space displaying overly assertive and demanding behaviour, and we acknowledge the pup with affection, we are in affect displaying appeasement type behaviour towards the pup, and therefore your pup has taken on the role as the appeaser. Instinct tells the pup that it then has taken on a controlling influence in that moment.

Biting and nipping

This is a highly controversial subject, in regards to how we deal with or manage biting and nipping. There tends to be 2 schools of thought.

  1. Redirect or interrupt the behaviour. The proponents of purely positive and force free training methods prefer this methodology. When a puppy is nipping or biting, the pups attention is redirected on to what is hopefully a more enjoyable behaviour, such as on to a favourite toy, with no consequences for the actual biting.
  2. Punish the biting and nipping to condition total bite inhibition. And then redirect the pups attention on to a more appropriate behaviour.

I am a firm proponent of total bite inhibition, in that a pup is conditioned that it never bites a human.

We need to be honest with ourselves here. We cannot inhibit a behaviour by ignoring it. Sure with some behaviours such as jumping for attention, by consistently ignoring the pup for jumping may over time condition the pup to understand that jumping has no positive outcome. However it still doesn't actually condition inhibition, as only a predictable unpleasant consequence can inhibit a behaviour. In regards to biting, this behaviour is in itself self-rewarding for the pup. So ignoring the biting, and redirecting attention is not going to inhibit biting. My preferred method is that there must be a consequence that the pup identifies with that discourages biting and nipping.  This can only be accomplished by there being a predictable consequence that the pup finds unpleasant, paired with the actual biting. This does not mean that we punish the pup by expressing anger, we remain calm but project an assertive energy.  We apply discomfort at the pups threshold of discomfort that only encourages avoidance of the biting, not fear or avoidance of the person. I find one of the best ways is a firm quick scruff of the loose skin at the back of the pups neck, as the pup goes to bite. This is best carried out during periods when the pups energy levels are not to high, and therefore the scruff doesn't need to be overly firm. The pups threshold of discomfort increases the more worked up the pup is, therefore carrying out this procedure is best when the pup is fairly calm.. The pup in most cases should give a little vocalisation such as a whimper when administering the scruff, or at the very least instantly drop in to an appeasement like state. We then offer the pup calm praise, and then redirect on to a more appropriate behaviour such as playing with a toy. By being consistent, we do condition total bite inhibition that will stay with the pup for the rest of its life.

Calm supervised socialising with other pups/dogs

Puppy Preschools

One of the reasons I am not a fan of Vet run puppy preschools, is that not all, but most I have observed are usually run by a vet nurse that has little knowledge on puppy behaviour. To many of these preschools tend to be a free-for-all, and therefore reinforcing and therefore conditioning overly excited, anxious and bullying behaviours. Whenever we socialise our pup with another pup or dog, we need to ensure firstly that both animals are totally calm. This is best achieved by keeping both dogs on lead and separated until they have both calmed down, no matter how long this takes. Once the dogs have calmed, then we can allow calm socialisation. Only ever socialise your pup with other dogs that are extremely social with other dogs.

If you do decide to take your puppy to a preschool, then please question the person who will be running the class on their background, expertise and qualifications. Being a nurse, and having run classes over a long period of time is not necessarily an indication the person knows what they are doing. My personal recommendation is stay away from preschools that advocate positive-only training, as this means a pup will not be conditioned to avoid inappropriate behaviours, such as biting or bullying other pups. Time-out is not a punishment for inappropriate behaviour, and will not inhibit biting or bullying behaviours.

Off-lead dog parks

Never, ever use off lead dog parks to condition your young pup to socialise. Sure in many cases you may come across very social dogs that will help develop confidence in your pup, and these dogs may even correct inappropriate behaviours expressed by your pup, and therefore teaching your pup boundaries. However, it only takes one antisocial dog that is a bully or has very little self-control to traumatise your pup and leave devastating psychological damage that may have a negative influence on your pup for the rest of its life. It's not worth the risk.

Set boundaries

There are many boundaries we can start teaching the pup, to help it mature into a calm and well balanced dog.

  1. Not rushing feed bowl. Teach your pup to sit back calm down and wait for permission to go forward and eat from its bowl
  2. Not rush visitors for attention. Make your pup stay back from visitors until it calms down. This is best done by keeping your pup on a leash when visitors come over, and waiting for your pup to calm before allowing it to interact with your visitors. Also inform your visitors to ignore your pup until it does calm down. When it is time for your visitors to interact with your pup, it should be carried out in a very calm manner.
  3. Not rush up to other dogs to socialise, whether that be out walking your puppy on lead, or visiting family and friends with a dog. Condition your pup to wait, be calm before allowing to socialise.
  4. Not rush through doors and gates. To many pup owners condition their pup that an opening door means we just rush through it and therefore not helping with your pups impulse control. When taking your pup outside, or coming inside from outside, or going through gates make your pup stay back from the door (or gate), by making the pup sit, with you between the pup and the door. Once the pup calms, then give a free command, in a calm manner, to instruct the pup that it is now allowed to go through.

These 5 pointers are just a few guidelines to help you with your puppy, going a long way to ensuring your puppy matures into a well behaved, respectful and well balanced dog.

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