Have you ever wondered if professional dog trainers go through the same puppy training hassles when raising a puppy that the rest of us endure? The answer is both yes and no.
In the sense that there are certain unavoidable situations which will occur, regardless of how many years experience you’ve had at handling or training dogs, yes, the professional trainer does have to deal with puppy shenanigans. But on the other hand, more than fifty percent of the puppy “antics” most non-professional dog owners experience are caused by a lack of understanding of some basic tricks that can spare you many sleepless nights, chewed up sofas, and urine-stained carpets.
Trick#1: Never leave your puppy unsupervised. In other words, buy a crate. If you don’t like the idea of confining your puppy in a crate… get over it, quick! The crate is an exceptional device for training your puppy–from both the canine perspective as well as the human perspective.
From the canine perspective, the crate fulfills the dog’s den instincts. It is therefore able to give your pup a sense of security and well being because (opposite of humans) dogs gain confidence from a small, tightly enclosed area. A crate also gives the dog the ability to know that his backside is protected (even when he’s asleep) and also the doggie odor, which begins to linger on the crate, provides a familiar and personal atmosphere. To the dog, the crate is his private condominium. It is a place where he can go where nobody will bother him… a safe place.
For maximum effect, choose a crate small enough so that your dog has just enough room to stand up and turn around in, but not so much as to deprive him of a sense of security. For the dog, being in the crate is similar to being tucked safely in bed underneath a warm blanket on a cold winter night. (How’s that for imagery!) From the human perspective, the crate serves the purpose of being a place where the owner can put his puppy as to ensure he won’t get into trouble and develop bad habits.
As in many other fields, the phrase, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” rings true. For example, when your puppy enters his teething phase of development, the puppy will try chewing on all kinds of things. If he’s not being watched, he will learn that chewing on the couch stimulates his gums… that chewing on mom’s shoes tastes good… and that chewing the baseboard off the kitchen perimeter is a fascinating pastime. However, if the puppy tries to put his mouth on the remote control and he is given a motivational correction, then such behavior is never allowed to develop into a bad habit.
There are numerous other ways in which using the crate can be used, such as: housebreaking, hyper-activity, destructiveness, separation anxiety, and automobile travel. The bottom line is that, when the professional trainer can’t watch his puppy like a hawk when he is running free in the house, thus keeping one eye on the puppy and one eye on whatever else he may be doing, then he simply confines his puppy to the crate. Note: During warm weather, or for longer periods of time, a confined outdoor area such as a kennel run can also be used.
Trick #2: Utilize critical stages. Puppies go through two-week critical stages from the time they are born through four months of age. These critical stages can best be defined as phases in a puppy’s life when a small amount of exposure to a stimulus (a specific type of experience) will have a lasting affect on the grown dog’s personality.
The two most important critical stages that the professional dog trainer will use to mold his dog are the six-to-eight week stage and the eight-to-ten week stage. The six-to-eight week critical stage is the phase in which a small amount of exposure to other dogs will have a lasting effect on how he relates to other canines throughout his life.
For individuals looking to raise a dog as a personal pet (rather than as a working or competition dog) it is best to let the puppy experience this critical stage with his littermates. Why? Because in the litter, from week six to week eight, the puppy will learn to communicate through dominant and subordinate behavior with the other puppies. He will learn how to be dominant to certain dogs, and submissive to others.
The puppy that never learns this type of communication and relational skills may mature to be good with people, but will very often not know how to relate properly with other dogs, and can either react or instigate (often unknowingly) aggressive confrontations. However, there is one exception which is often employed by the competition (either obedience or Schutzhund) trainer, which is to adopt a dog at six weeks of age.
The reasoning behind this is so that the dog will never learn to avert his master’s gaze by going submissive. In competition, the handler wants his dog to always look straight up… thus giving the impression of a confident, happy working dog. Such trainers speculate that creating such a performance is easier if the dog never learns as a puppy to show submissive behavior.
The eight-to-ten week critical stage is equally important. In this phase, the puppy’s exposure to people will have a lasting effect on how he relates to humans. Puppies who aren’t socialized to people during this critical stage often grow up to have a difficult time bonding with humans.
Similarly, if a puppy isn’t handled by a variety of different people, he may mature into a dog that is aloof, and in some cases aggressive around unfamiliar types of people. Many individuals claim that their dog is racist. In fact, if a white guy buys his puppy, and from eight to ten weeks of age the puppy is never petted or handled by a black person, he will likely be insecure or fearful around black people in later life.
And it’s not just skin color. Sex, height, race, weight, and many other factors can play a part. The best advice: take your puppy down to a local fair and let him socialize with as many different types of people as you can expose him to.
Trick #3: Establish yourself as the “pack leader”. Your puppy is a social pack animal. What this means is that he relates to you as part of his pack. (Or more specifically, he as part of your pack). And he sees the pack as having a linear social hierarchy, similar to a pecking order. As I mentioned earlier in this book, at the top of this pecking order is what professional dog trainers refer to as the “Alpha dog,” or the Big Cheese. When the Alpha dog says, “Jump!” the subordinate dogs say, “How high?”
Throughout every stage in your puppy’s development, you can develop your relationship so that he will grow into an adult dog who will respect you, respond to you, bond to you, and want to please you by simply acting like a leader. In plain English… be 100% consistent. If you tell your puppy he should do something for you, you should always make him do it. Pretty soon he’ll come to understand that you’re serious about being the pack leader and your relationship with your dog will bloom into one which is happy and healthy.
Trick #4: Pay special attention to “touch” conditioning. Especially during the eight-to-ten week critical stage when your puppy’s experiences with people will have a lasting effect. Make a nightly ritual of touching your puppy all over his body. Touch his ears. Touch his feet. Touch his gums. Even touch his genitals. Adult dogs that haven’t been conditioned to allow humans to touch them in various places may later develop fear or aggressive behaviors. At the least, such dogs make it very difficult for groomers, veterinarians and other professionals to do their jobs.
By using these various tricks employed by professional dog trainers when they obtain a new puppy, you will be drastically reducing the amount of headaches, training time, and hassle that inexperienced dog owners associate with puppyhood. If these rules are followed, by the fifth or sixth month, you will begin to notice that your puppy is becoming an extremely well mannered and easy to be around young adult who “naturally” knows how to behave in the house and in public.