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DIY Puppy Training Part 1

For all the correctional work required by very many of the dogs we see here in Spain only a few owners actually believe they should do something about it. It is not that difficult but never the less many owners rarely see it as important though many neighbours would often disagree. Again, we read about lady and her dog attacked by a neighbour’s dog were there were already fear at the owner’s obvious lack of the control over their dog.

Following on from how to buy a puppy and the vets support for their early socialisation it is an opportune time to start at the beginning with training puppies. This starts from the moment they first arrive into your home.

We all know that not everyone finds it easy to attend puppy-training classes even if there were any available in their area. Very often, many such classes are at an inconvenient time for owners so the only answer in such cases is to train your puppy yourself but when do you start and how.

Last week I wrote about immunity verses sociability and the important need for both. The problem was or is that puppy training needs teaching at the same time that there is also a protection need whilst the puppy is becoming immunised. The point of last weeks article is that with precautions, there can be a compromise and though Spanish vets say there is a slight risk, they agree there is an important need for socialisation in these early weeks.

When you get your puppy home at 8 weeks then do visit your vet and agree to the dates you can take your puppy outside to socialise. You may find some vets are more for immunisation than socialbility so it is then up to you to make that informed decision.

Socialbility began with the breeder and it is for you to continue with the training once you get your puppy home not at some period away in the future. There is no school holiday simply because it is a puppy. It is not as weak as people often believe because if it were in the wild it would still adapt to a far harsher regime.

For a puppy to learn all the knowledge that it needs to survive it must become skilled in all the correct responses. This we now know from scientific investigation that puppies learn to interact with other species at their most rapid between 8 to 12 weeks of age. Some scientists believe owners of certain breeds can extended this up to 14 weeks but if the owners have effectively quarantined the puppy for all of this time, the opportunity is lost. This means that puppies must be out meeting as many species and experiences as it can in order to learn what to and what not to fear.

What are we looking for? The simple answer is we need a sociable dog that does not rely on using aggression to obtain its goals or for protecting its hybrid pack. It needs reasonable control and not be a nuisance by barking or show any other anti social behaviour.

We know that puppies during this 8 to 12 week period will accept all species as benevolent until they recognise signs that they are not. How the puppy reacts is governed by its need for self-protection and once learned during this period is almost learned forever. Only gradually in later life can this learned response become diluted because of so many instances where it learns the initial response was wrong. It is in these early weeks it can learn a permanent reaction to only one incident yet later it could take 50 similar incidents to correct it.

Yesterday Kathryn Hollings introduce Osito to a ferret. This was by mutual agreement as the owner also wanted his ferret socialised with dogs. He told her not to worry, as his ferret was not a problem. When I had my own ferrets, they met many dogs and never bit any of them. Killing machines of rabbits, rats, and chickens they maybe but there is no inherited interest in attacking dogs just the occasional Television presenter.

For Osito, the ferret was pleased to play and very soon, there was a crowd of people watching this 8-week-old Spanish Water Dog playing chase with a ferret. Certainly, such a sight is not something you witness every day but proves the point that two very different species can play when both assume there is no aggression shown by either side.

Just as much as puppies automatically assume all species are indeed benevolent, all species believe that puppies are harmless and happy to meet them. I will accept that there are occasions where some dogs never socialised properly with other puppies because of possibly leaving the litter too early or owners quarantined them for 16 or 20 weeks away from other species. Such dogs will have never learned the correct response on how to greet a harmless puppy. Instead, such dogs often attack instead of giving the initial learned warning.

We do know that if puppies meet any such dog or cat then the puppy could receive severe injuries like loosing an eye. The question remains about the importance of socialbility or do we wrap puppies up in cotton wool.

What we need to remember is that normally they have an excellent safety defence by backing off rapidly and out of range. Watching Osito, finding something that he is uncertain of he can back off even completing a summersault at considerable speed.

We find children too will gladly go forward and meet a puppy because it looks just like a toy they had not so long ago. Because both are eager to play, they have no problem. At 8 weeks of age, the puppy’s teeth are beginning to become sharper but they are still relatively harmless making this a good time for harmless interaction.

It is important that we do not forget it is the natural tendency of puppy play at nibbling its siblings. Once it is with its new owners or meeting any other species nibbling is not acceptable behaviour. Some people do believe they can allow letting puppies do this and continue when they are older as some form of controlled nibbling but this is dangerous. Should a child find a dog trying to hold its hand the child would remove their hand so rapidly they may easily catch the dog’s teeth in the process and then accuse the dog of biting when it did not.

Many owners try to teach puppies to stop nibbling by pushing the puppy away with their hands or feet. This is in fact the wrong method to use as it is all part of the standard puppy game and so it will continue to play the nibbling game only this time return with more vigour. Puppies must learn that nibbling is not acceptable.

Teaching a puppy, we find there are many little rules they will follow in order for learning and in order to survive. If we can learn these rules, we can mimic their use in order to help us train our puppy in the quickest possible way. Imagine teaching a puppy to sit in just one attempt and it remembers it all of its life. On the other hand, once the puppy passes the 16-week period, they are still trainable but at a much slower pace and much of the education will become corrective training.

We know the sort of character we want our puppy to act like, when it grows up but how to achieve this. A lot of the training is common sense helped along with the natural inquisitiveness of a puppy that has an almost addictive need to learn during this early period. Using this time or window of opportunity in four weeks we can achieve a very sociable dog that is friendly, fearless and what we would call “Bomb Proof”.

One problem with DIY puppy sociability training is how many owners would actually think of spending many hours each day just taking their puppy to everywhere they can think of. How many owners would like to list all the experiences their puppy is going to meet and then train them to learn that such experiences are or are not harmless?

Kathryn Hollings was telling me she was looking in the paper for the nearest fiesta that included firework displays just to give Osito experience of the sounds smell etc of fireworks and that there is nothing to fear. She has spent a lot of time desensitising him with balloons and party poppers that it was now time to try the real thing. How many people would lock their puppies away rather than take them to such a display.

We must not treat puppies with kid gloves or wrap them up in cotton wool. We too must always assume our puppy will not be apprehensive nor we show it any apprehension. We must act as if such experiences are all fun. If we show by our voice and body language that a certain experience is only some game for us then the puppy with correct training will respond in like fashion.

Puppies must learn all they can during this 4 to 6 week period in a way that shows them what experiences are or are not dangerous. If the puppy shows any apprehension towards an experience that it would not normally fear then it must learn this before its next sleep where that response, good or bad, will become permanently imprinted in its mind.

So where do we start? (To be continued)

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