Top tips for raising a happy, sociable dog
Rachel Butler is the Operations Manager for Puppy School (www.puppyschool.co.uk), a national network of reward-based puppy trainers, and has been running puppy training classes for eight years, during which time, she has trained over 1,500 puppies. Here, she gives some useful information about the preventative measures that can be taken to minimise the risk of aggression within the home.
“Whilst daily management is vital when young children and dogs are living together, there is a huge amount more that can be done to help dogs to cope in our weird and wonderful world. Puppies weren’t born with an understanding of how people work, why babies cry, why toddlers throw tantrums or why children do seemingly irrational things. It’s our role as a puppy or young dog’s protector and educator to teach them about life in these alien surroundings that we have brought them into.
Education needs to begin from day one, when the puppy is brought home for the first time, or ideally even sooner, with the breeder playing their part too. It simply isn’t enough for puppies to be exposed to the small corner of the world where they will exist for the next 12-15 years. Time needs to be taken to carefully and gently expose them to the sights, sounds and smells of everyday life. However, there is a fine line between carefully managed socialisation and over exposure which can turn even the most confident and happy puppy into one that is distrustful of its owners.
Imagine the school gate scenario – whilst it is great for puppies to get familiar with children, is it really necessary to stand outside the school gates, holding an overwhelmed puppy whilst scores of children pat her on the head? Is it not better to invite a small number of children into the puppy’s home, encourage them to sit on the floor and allow the puppy to explore them in her own time?
Training skills, such as learning to sit or walk nicely on the lead, are of course high on the list of priorities when educating a young puppy, but so too should be ‘survival’ skills – helping the puppy to thrive and survive on ‘planet human’. Does a puppy really need to be crated every time a visitor enters the house or could the owner take the time to teach him how to settle quietly in the same room? Has the puppy been taught to accept treats from, and be comfortable around, someone with a walking stick, someone wearing sunglasses and a sunhat, someone in a wheelchair or someone in a Halloween mask? Is the puppy able to comfortably adjust to sudden and unusual noises such as that of a baby crying, a firework exploding or a bus backfiring? In the long term, it’s the ability to cope with scenarios such as these that will keep the puppy safe and able to make good choices.
Well run, family friendly puppy training classes, taught by trainers using up to date methods, will go a long way to setting up puppies for the future, not simply by teaching them to respond to cues, but by educating owners about how to raise rounded, well-adjusted canine companions which can adjust to the needs and pressure that human life can put on them.
Whilst we are considering the socialisation aspect of puppy ownership, it is also imperative that we look at other ways of helping them to cope in our world. Teaching a puppy to play properly with humans is a skill overlooked by so many owners, who fail to understand the benefits, which are extensive and varied. As well as helping us to bond with our new addition, play allows us to build motivation, gives us an opportunity to educate the puppy about rules (teeth on toy, not skin) and provides a much-needed outlet for so many ‘annoying’ puppy behaviours. Longer term, a bored dog will seek its own entertainment if not sufficiently stimulated; the cries of a new born baby are akin to those of a small animal and can trigger a potentially deathly response from an under-stimulated, poorly exercised and under-socialised dog.
Another wrong assumption which can lead to a myriad of problems is the belief that, once puppy has reached adulthood, the owner’s work is done and they can sit back and relish in their achievements. Maintaining dog-owner harmony takes a lifetime of commitment and consideration on our part. A contented dog makes for a happy home but it can be a challenge when you add in the multitude of other commitments facing many dog owners; most of us have to work for a living, often long hours away from home. Busy social lives, children with their own demands, commitments to pursue one’s own hobbies – all of these will naturally take time away from the family dog, who is often left to his own devices, perhaps for too long in some cases. In order to maintain equilibrium and reside with a happy hound, here are some top tips;
- Exercise is of paramount importance but consider quality, not quantity. Allow time for sniffing, rotate around a number of different walking locations, ensure your dog’s recall is sufficient for him to roam free on a daily basis. If not, get help to make this a reality.
- Be creative about how you feed your dog. Rather than using a food bowl, adopt a scatter feeding approach where food is scattered across the kitchen or garden, encouraging the dog to use his nose and work for his dinner!
- Take time to play – discover the games that your dog enjoys playing best and make time ensuring that you are the playmate that your dog wants you to be. Vary the game, rotate the toys and have fun.
- If needs be, get help. If your dog is being left for long hours, consider employing the assistance of an experienced dog walker who can take your dog out for an hour when you can’t.
- Be creative in finding ways to help your dog use up some of his mental energy. Toilet rolls stuffed with a few treats and then folded over at the ends make great, cheap toys. Teach your dog to play hide and seek with the children for hours of free entertainment!
- Enjoy your dog’s company. Don’t shut him away at the end of a long day. Spend time together and get to know your dog and what makes him tick. He’ll thank you for it.
Whilst issues and challenges will continue to occur and people will continue to ask where it all went wrong, we can be helping to ensure that our own little corner of paradise remains as harmonious as possible. Careful puppy selection, a commitment to carrying out effective socialisation, teaching puppies to play and working hard to maintain a contented existence for our four legged friends will go more than some way to helping tackle the problem.