Thursday, May 14, 2009

Training Rant - The New Puppy

Have you ever noticed that when people get new puppies, they let them do whatever they want? In my discussion with the person who just got a Border Collie puppy, one of the things that she said was that the breeder told her not to use the word "No" for a few weeks. (Now, I have to warn you that I have quite a lot to say about this conversation and my ranting may go on for a few days about this ...)

What the hell is with that?!

Does it go hand in hand with the "don't say no to your children??" I'm not going to get into that one, but lest I remind everyone that DOGS ARE NOT CHILDREN. Trust me, you will NOT hurt their feelings or scar them for life if you say "No" in a controlled manner when he tries to chew your $600 pair of boots that came from some foreign country that you bought on your honeymoon.

Hearing things like this makes me want to bang my head on my desk ... again and again and AGAIN.

So here's the thing. Image you get an 8 week old puppy and you don't say "NO" for two weeks. During this time, you have done what so many people do with a new puppy - gave them the run of the house, didn't crate train and let the puppy do whatever he wanted. What do you think the puppy thinks his role is in the family?

Now he's 10 weeks old. You start imposing rules (and trying to enforce them). You figure it's ok for you to start saying "No" to him now that he's been with you for a few weeks so you start telling him not to chew the carpet, shoes, boots, sofa, chair, table, wall trim, and anything else he finds to chew. You quickly find that "No" comes out of your mouth more than any other word. Not only that, but you also find you have a power struggle.

Finally, he eats something he shouldn't and you lose it. You've been holding in your frustrations for a few weeks, quietly replaced what he destroyed, but this is the last straw. The thing he chewed was your great grandmother's thing-a-ma-bob that she left to you in her will. Now you yell at him and tell him he's a bad dog for eating such an important thing. Maybe you put him in "jail", maybe you isolate him in a room or crate, maybe you do something more drastic?

Guess what? You may have just created damage that it will take months to fix. Depending on how scary you were, you just crumpled the pup's confidence in himself and the trust he has been building in you as well as creating an "if they don't find me doing this I'm not in trouble" attitude.

Here's what you SHOULD do with your new puppy. Your puppy should be crate trained so he can go in there with a kong treat or a teething cloth when you are not supervising. Your puppy should not have free run of the house. When not crated, your puppy should be with you, not wandering around. You should start teaching appropriate vs non-appropriate toys; have two different toys he can play with and when he has something in his mouth that is not appropriate, say "No" and exchange the shoe/etc for a dog toy. You should have set meal times through the day and potty breaks should follow those meal times by 15 minutes (so 15 mins after eating, it's time to go out). Start obedience training right away - walks should be NO Pulling; he can learn Sit and probably Paw/Shake in the first week. Start bonding exercising immediately and he needs to spend time with each member of the family.

Why do I keep hearing the same things from people about their new puppy? I can tell you why they are all crazy and uncontrollable by the time they are 6 - 12 months old.

I wonder how many will disagree with me on this one?


Splash said...

It's a little psychology trick that we can play on ourselves.

Saying no implies the DOG did something wrong.

It doesn't, at least to our limited human minds, say that we messed up by not having a routine and plan in place.

Having a rigid routine, having rules, and only giving Mr. Puppy as many rights as he has proven he can handle responsibly, means you never have to say no.

I have found that substituting "oops" for "no" puts the blame right back on my shoulders where it belongs.

In my puppy/beginning classes, one phrase I use that gets through to my students (the humans!) when their puppy messes up is this:
"He's just proven to us that what we are asking for is too advanced, so let's make it a little easier." Works every time. Once they understand that concept, they find they don't need to say "no".

Cyndi and Stumpy said...

When training for Schutzhund, conditioning starts at 6 weeks old, no formal training until after 6 months, depending on the dog’s sensitivity. Those first 6 months are all about building the dogs confidence. That means no corrections.

On the other side of that is a very controlled environment where the dog has very has very little opportunity to NEED a correction. For example, we conditioned our dogs to sit, in the heel position, and to walk beside us in the heel position. We accomplished this with praise, treat and toy rewards. By the time most dogs were six months old, they knew how to behave without being told. At this time commands are introduced with the action.

As Splash said, other words, such as fooey and oops were used when a correction was needed. "NO!" came later, when a dog was well conditioned, and knew what was expected without being told. At this time commands (spoken in German) were introduced with the accompanying behavior.

When working with clients I try to show demonstrate this technique, but it’s usually too much for them. Just keeping their puppy in a controlled environment where they can house break it seems to be too much for most people. Basically, this is why I no longer train with people. Commitment, responsibility and obligations seem to be too much for most people these days. Give me a dog without people to work with anytime.

mytwh said...

I'm glad you posted about this and would like to add that I think this applies to recently-adopted-from-the-shlter/rescue-adult-dogs as well.

With our new shlter dog we were pretty lax for the first two weeks (OUR bad). We felt so bad for him, you could tell he'd been abused, so we coddled him. We said no when he did something "wrong" or made him go lay down when he followed us around the house, but obviously weren't as firm as we should have been.

Everything was great for the 1st 2 weeks, I couldn't believe how lucky we were to find such calm, lovable, good dog. Then, after 2 weeks, the $hit hit the fan. He has developed what I think is pretty severe seperation anxiety. It sucks and is so frustrating. I want to give up, but I can't, not on him.

Anyway, ever since the 2 week mark I've been saying over and over, we should have treated him like a puppy. We should have given firmer rules and guidelines and we didn't. Now we're trying to undo what WE did. It totally sucks :(

But you're right "NO" doesn't hurt them! They need you to be the authority figure for them!

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

Splash and GSC - Great comments. What do you do when you get an owner who doesn't understand that it's a psychology trick? Or who doesn't understand what we mean by conditioning? Or doesn't provide a controlled environment?

Most owners don't get this.

This breeder told the person not to use "No" but didn't explain beyond that - just don't say "No". If the information gets delivered halfassed, then it is not helpful or positive and can be detrimental to the dog and his training.

"Just keeping their puppy in a controlled environment where they can house break it seems to be too much for most people."

That's a great point and you're absolutely right. People don't understand this concept (and others) or why it's so important - that's why it can be a dangerous one for most people.

I think they get excited to bring home a new puppy or dog and they forget their own, self-discipline. (Or maybe they just don't know)

mytwh - I've seen both puppies and rescue dogs go down this road. It is recoverable if you don't let it get too far, but it's difficult. Takes a lot longer. Don't give up - you're right! Just take it one day at a time. You've also just passed your "Honeymoon Phase" which is around 2 weeks for most rescues (some breeds have it at different times, but most have it at 2 weeks). This is where they start pushing a bit harder to see what they can get away with. If they have territorial tendencies, they begin to show it at this point.

GoLightly said...

So many puppies think their name is "No".

Poor puppies.

Great post.

Splash said...

"This breeder told the person not to use "No" but didn't explain beyond that"...

Maybe, maybe not. In my classes, I find I have to teach something three times before they get it. Just like in medical internships where the slogan is "Watch one, do one, teach one."

It may be that the breeder is (1) not a great teacher (2) they were so excited about the puppy that they didn't listen, or (3) they just didn't hear it enough.

I don't worry about explaining that it's a trick on us. I just make them do it in my class. (If you say "No", you contribute a quarter to the end-of-class party fund - even if you are saying no to your children!)

Most of the folks in my classes are pet people. They don't want a super analysis of the theory of dog training. They just want their kids to be able to walk the dog without getting slalomed down the street. So I keep it simple. Some things, like oops not no, are just stated as the way it is. I haven't had anyone really object to it.

One woman wanted to know why no no's, so after class we went to the coffee joint and discussed. She has gone on to competitive obedience and kicked my @ss at the last trial. :)

mytwh said...

Oh, he's certainly testing the boundaries! I think even more frustrating than the seperation anxiety is what I call stubborness (not sure what the correct term for it is).

This dog knows how to sit and lay down. After the 2 week mark (or there-abouts)he started refusing to sit or lay down unless you have something REALLY worth it (yummy treat, bone, etc) and sometimes even if you have a great thing. He'll just stand there and look at you, or look around, and the latest in the past 2 days-running away when you tell him to do it (into his crate, the other room, not far, but enough that you get his point). It is SO FRUSTRATING.

I stood on the side of the road with him and my other dog for at least 5 minutes last night on our way home from our, getting chewed alive by black flies, waiting for him to sit. (Mind you we had already done this a dozen times in the last hour or so) He didn't move (except his head) but refused to sit. I've learned to just wait it out, no matter how much I want to sit on him! He finally sat, but there's been a few times when it's been a long wait. Now he has to sit or lay down for anything. I don't care if it's going outside, getting off the leash, getting dinner, etc. He HAS to sit/lay down if he wants to do what he wants to do. It's the worst when we get home from work.

Anyway, thanks for giving me a place to vent a little where people understand. I don't think I'm anything special in terms of training (dogs or horses), but I really do think that the average person would have a hard time with this behavior. Or maybe I just let it bother me too much? I don't, I'm just looking ahead (and occasionally looking back going, how could we be so stupid to coddle him like that?!?!!? We know better!) Forward and onward!

Calsidyrose said...

Great post--great comments.

I explain to my adopters that puppies (and adult dogs)understand two major concepts: "Always" or "Never," and that you have to teach these things first (through reward, distraction, calmness etc) before the animal can progress to "Sometimes." So...if you don't want the puppy on the couch, don't let him on it. I know he's small and cuddly and it's easier, but once you start, you're doomed.

I'm big on routines--pop the puppy into a crate if we're not able to watch the puppy (a blanket pulled down over the crate can calm the whiny puppy to sleep) followed by a calm opening of the crate door (no joyful jumping--we're making the crate just part of the routine.

I'm not looking to make a Schutzhund, but I don't use "no" a lot with young puppies--I remove the shoe from the mouth and give the pup a toy.

When the pup tries to bite and chew on fingers and hands, I pull the fingers/hand away, correcting at most with the "eh" command in a low, firm tone. And I put a toy in the mouth if its suitable. "Oops" works well if I'm snatching desirable shoes away from said puppy.

I don't scold puppies at all for potty training slips--I just increase how much I pay attention to the dog's elimination signals.

Most people are caught up in the swoony fun of an affectionate puppy and they forget that what's cute or even bearable with a lovable, bouncy little critter who has sweet puppy breath may be totally inappropriate when the dog is grown up.