Anyone who works with puppies knows that while fun to play with, they can be a pain. Potty training, nipping, chewing furniture and the endless busybody nature can make them as labor-intensive as caring for a child.
That’s why when my dad declared he wanted an Australian Cattle Dog and he wanted one now, I wasn’t that excited. But I searched and found a nice puppy and trained her for a week before I gave her to my dad. My goal in that week was to create the perfect puppy, and I did. Here’s how you can, too.
The first things Lucy needed to learn were the house rules and to develop impulse control. Through the Learn to Earn Program she got both. In this program, puppies (as well as adult dogs) learn the main house rule of “say please” by sitting politely and calmly for everything they want.
Lucy first learned to sit for treats (her regular daily allotment of kibble), and then to play a game where she raced after me while I ran across the yard and then sat when she caught up in order to earn food rewards or petting. She quickly learned if she stood up prematurely, or started to jump on me or nip, I’d remove the reward for the unwanted behavior within 0.5 seconds. For instance, if she started jumping I’d stand up straight or move my leg out of the way quickly enough so she couldn’t make contact. If she started nipping, I’d remove my hands so quickly that the message was black and white that nipping leads to removal of attention.
Next we applied the sitting to all other situations where she wanted something—to go out the door, to come back in, to have toys tossed. In all cases, she was learning that she could have what she wanted if she just sat politely and asked. At first, she’d get treats or petting at a high rate, but then I quickly increased the interval between rewards.
Besides learning to behave politely, Lucy had to also be socialized. At eight weeks old she was in a sensitive period for forming bonds with individuals and other animals and learning what to recognize as safe. I needed to ensure that she had many positive experiences with well-behaved dogs, other species, new people and different environments. During that week she played with five polite dogs, a couple of cats and many new people of varying sizes, genders, ethnicities and ages. She also went with me on errands to new locations. To ensure all experiences were positive, I gave her lots of treats.
Hands On Experience
The last key was to train her that being handled for physical examinations at the vet, toenail trims and other procedures was fun. And that being in a crate during rest times was ok, too. I paired treats with the procedures and placed toys and food-games in the crate while being sure to let her out only when she was quiet. The crate training was her indoor resting spot as well as her indoor potty-free zone.
So overall during that week Lucy got plenty of exercise, learned the house rules and learned to love other dogs, people, environments and being handled. In other words, she was pretty perfect. But with only a week under her belt, and a pet parent who may or may not stick to the plan, would the behaviors stick? Stay tuned for the next blog…