Monday, February 10, 2014

New puppy 101 part 2: What is He Thinking?

What does your puppy think about?  Well we all know that dogs are smart, right?  Well what would do if you had 18 plus hours of being able to do nothing other than observe those around you.  If you had all the time in the world to figure out how to get something you want, which is most often food, or play, or to check out that new smell.

Puppies develop in stages, and each new stage brings with it it's own new set of challenges.
The "new home" stage is where you pick up your puppy and take it away from everything that has ever been familiar to it.  It may sound rather traumatic, and can be for quiet a few puppies, but most adjust fairly well, because of the exploratory stage they are in (or just coming into).  When you first bring that cute furry bundle home, try to keep things quiet.  Most puppies are still mommy clingers at this point, and not having their mommy to cling to, they will look for something warm, and quiet.  

Most pups are about 8 weeks old at this age.  They are just starting to venture out and explore the world.  At this stage the most important thing for their long term development is leaning that new things are not scary.  Wear hats, glasses, scarves, have them meet with calm children, and lots of men and make sure they get lots of good things (i.e. treats) to help them learn that these things can bring great things, no possible bad thing will happen just because that guy has a hat on. 
 These seem to be the biggest challenges that most dogs have as they get older.  Between the ages of 6 to 12 weeks your goal should be to expose them to at least 100 new POSITIVE things.  The big key here, in case you missed that, is positive!  If they have a run in with a kid who pulls their whiskers, or tail, I would not consider that positive.  Take them to a park where you know there will be lots of kids and have those who want to pet the puppy line up or sit quietly on the grass as you bring the puppy to them.  
This is also the age where you will be needing to get them their shots (and keep up on them).  That means a trip to the vet.  After your initial visit, take your pup back and let him explore during a quiet time (lunch time is probably a good time to shoot for).  Give lots of treats and belly rubs to show that the vet is not always a bad place.  Continue that as often as you can, and you won't have your dog hiding from you every vet appointment.  What this teaches is that yeah, sometimes crappy things happen there, but not always.  

As your puppy continues to grow and get older, they will want to start exploring more and more out of your range.  Between weeks 12 and 14 most puppies begin what I call "selective hearing."  They may have been heeling perfectly up till that point as well as running to you the second you called them, but now things start to be a bit different.  Now they enter into a phase similar to your pre-teen phase in us humans.  I have had many people tell me how much they love how well behaved their dog is, to a week later coming to me in tears wondering what went wrong, and is there a way to fix it!  Trust me, this is normal puppy behavior.  Just like your kids push and test your rules and limits, now that your new pup has learned them, they will begin to push and test too.  This is where you will make or break your relationship.  Yes you can always fix thing later, but if you want your dog to believe you when you say something, this is where being consistent pays off in the long run.

If you say "Sally, here Sally!" and Sally turns tail and runs, have no fear, simply turn and run the other direction while calling her name.  For most pups this presents an irresistible game of tag/chase.  90% of the pups will turn around and chase you.  Let them catch you, when they do, make sure you treat them or praise the heck out of them at the very least.  Never scold your dog for coming to you.  Especially at this age, you do not want them thinking that coming to you is ever a bad thing.  When they weigh the options of coming to you in their head, you don't want any negative times tipping the scales on the "keep going" part.
Remember your pup has a lot of time on his paws to simply sit back and observe.  They learn your routine, they learn your body language, and they learn how to manipulate it.  Now they don't do this so they are the "dominate" ones in the "pack," not every dog has the leader type personality.  They do this because this is what all creatures do.  If you want something you learn how to get it.  If your pup learns that you cave in all the time to his demands, he is going to get very bossy very fast.  Even shy laid back pups learn that if all they have to do is demand something and they get it, they will.  This is where leash pulling comes into play.

This is Bella, she is about 12 weeks old.   Do you notice anything?  Do you see how big she is?  Guess what, at this age if she pulls she is going to get where she wants to go.  The only reason a dog pulls when being walked is because it accomplishes it's goal.  In other words, your dog pulls because she can.

The best way to prevent pulling, and one of the ways to teach your dog that you are not a push over, it what I call the "hour block walk."  That means I take my dog for a walk, but I only plan on making it up and down the street, or around the block in anywhere from a half an hour to an hour.  Why in the world would I do that you might ask?  Because I stop and call my dog back to me every time she pulls.  Every.  Single. Time.  And guess what?  Your dog gets just as tired of it as you do.  The next time you go for a walk and you start that up again, your dog will quickly learn not to pull.

Now if your dog already pulls, you will have to break that habit, so it may take you a week or so of the "hour block walks," but if you do this when they are small, they never learn that pulling gets them what they want, only walking next to you.  It sounds so simple, and really it is.  There may arise other issues you will have to deal with, such as a cat that darts in front of you as you are out walking, but it will help lay the foundation for that as well.
Now back to that all important issue of socialization.  I know a lot of you out there are going to hear  your vet tell you not to let your pup play with other dogs till the vaccination series is complete.  Well, unless you have a Boxer, Pit Bull, Doberman, or Rottweiler, (those breeds were found to be more susceptible to Parvo) I would wait only a couple of days after your first round of shots.  They will still have the antibodies from their mother's milk in their system to help protect them, and now you have just given those anti bodies a boost.  Socialization is just as important, if not more so almost, than those vaccines you have just given.  This is the age where their brain takes and processes as much information as possible.  Now is the time they are hardwirering things for their future lifetime.
Your pup needs to know the dog language in all it's forms, from big dogs to little dogs.  He needs to know that kids are not always scary, that wheel chairs and bikes are not scary.  The mail man or the UPS man will not bring evil to the house.  Hopefully you know some people around you who have dogs that you can take your puppy to meet.  Have your pup meet the mail man regularly and have him give your pup treats each time.  Go to a skate park and stay at a distance where your pup won't get hurt, but can see what is going on and give out lots of yummy treats while you are there.  Walk on a route that takes you past a school with kids coming out, and have your pup sit while the kids stream by on foot, bike or scooter.  Every time make sure your dog is getting treats and good treatment.  Then down the road if something scary does happen (whether or not you are aware it has happened) your dog will understand that it was more or less an isolated instance and not what to expect.  

When you do have play dates with other dogs try to make sure the other dog is friendly and wants to play.  If that dog has good social skills they will help in teaching the same to your pup.  This is really not something you can teach as well as another dog can.  If your pup bites too hard, the other dog will let him know.  The other dog should also let him know what types of attention getting play behavior is appropriate, and what is not.  Poorly socialized dogs are the ones who tend to use the "humping" method as a way to try and get another dog, or person, to play.  This type of play can be tolerated by some dogs for a bit, but if the other dog is tired and needs a break and your pup continues this behavior, the other dog will more likely to put a quick end to this.  If the other dog's message is not getting across this is where you may need to step in and take the pup away for a small time out.  Sometime a puppy will get over stimulated and have a hard time calming down.  To prevent problems simply move the dog away, yawn and look away.  You may need to leash  your pup or put him in a crate if he does not start to calm down after doing that.  This will help teach your pup calming signals and he will start to learn what happens if he pushes those limits.  Just as you would not allow your child to push the other children around at the playground, your pup sometimes needs help in learning not to do the same.

Remember, even though your puppy may not look like a puppy at 6 or 8 months old, he still is.  Don't expect your puppy to not be pushing some of those limits until he is at least well on his way to being 2 years old.  However the older they get, and if you are consistent with your rules the testing, and pushing will not happen often, or for very long when it does happen the older they get.  Most of the time once your dog reaches the 1 year mark they have learned enough to be considered an adult, albeit a young adult.  Think of your 1 year old dog as you would a 20-21 year old in human terms.  Sure they are adults now and know and understand the rules, but that will not stop them from occasionally testing them to see if they will hold up all the time.
Don't forget they do want to please you, it's just the laws of nature at work when they are young.  The stages they go through aren't much different than what took you 18 years to go through, just be glad they get theirs done within one year.  When in doubt love them and they will love you back.  Then get a good trainer to help you work out what you might not be able to.