MIAMI - Last week, I called out someone in my neighborhood whose Christmas puppy had been banished to the backyard and ignored. Some of my words were harsh, but I promised I would offer some solutions, and that solving this problem would be fun. So let's start off with something positive.
Your puppy really wants to please you.
She isn't just crying and whining in the yard because she's lonely. She's frustrated because she doesn't understand how she failed you. I'm guessing you're pretty frustrated as well. Puppies need to know what's expected of them, and it is up to us to set that expectation. This requires a bit of forward thinking on the part of humans, and when puppies are purchased impulsively, this vital step is often skipped. Your puppy was not born knowing how to sit, stay, and refrain from jumping on the kids. These behaviors must be taught, and it is up to you to teach them. There are countless resources available online and in bookstores to help you get started on the basics. You can also contact my office, or any veterinary office for that matter, for information on local trainers and classes. "Sit" and "stay" are fairly easy commands to teach, and can make your puppy a whole lot easier to live with. I am personally a big fan of the "off" and "wait" commands.
"Off" equals "Wherever your paws are, take them off." This can apply to furniture, gardens, even people. Not only does it help your puppy learn boundries, it comes in handy when trying to break the natural, yet unacceptable behavior of jumping on her human family members. "Wait" is used to teach that while a door may be open, they cannot go through it without permission. Also known as doorway respect, this command can save your dog's life if a door is accidentally left open. When training your puppy, use praise often and lavishly. Positive reinforcement will teach your puppy that pleasing you is rewarding and fun, which will motivate her to repeat desired behaviors. And the positive, dynamic nature of these exercises will create a strong bond between the two of you. Never use punishment when she makes a mistake, and never, ever resort to hitting. Even the classic "rolled-up newspaper" can lead to anxiety, and ultimately, aggression.
Socialize your puppy
Between the ages of eight weeks and nine months, puppies develop the social skills they need to safely interact with humans and other dogs. It is vital that puppies of this age be safely exposed to as many different situations as possible. Without this early stimulation, your puppy may not develop the coping skills she needs to handle new situations later in her life. Poorly socialized puppies can mature into dogs that struggle with anxiety and fear aggression. And puppies who grow up isolated and alone do not develop healthy social skills.
Take your puppy for a walk
Walking on a leash is not a natural behavior for a dog. This is a skill we must teach them, and for you, dear neighbor, it will not be easy. You have only yourself to blame for this, as you are getting off to a late start. Don't be surprised if you need to call in a professional trainer. That being said, you are in good company. Every trainer I have ever worked with has suggested we start the training session with a walk. In addition to exercise, walks provide mental and sensory stimulation for our dogs. No matter how big your yard may be, it is the same environment day after day. This is boring for a dog, and even more so for a puppy. Walking will expose your puppy to cars, bikes, children, joggers, cats, skateboards - not to mention a veritable potpourri of new and interesting smells. Once you get the hang of it, you will find that you have yet another tool for deepening your relationship with your dog that requires little time and effort on your part.
Don't just teach "NO!"
If you feel like you're spending a lot of time training and your puppy is still driving you crazy, you may be inadvertently focusing on negative behavior. Sometimes we become so focused on teaching dogs what we don't want, we forget to teach them what we do want. When correcting an unwanted behavior, try substituting a desired behavior. For example, a puppy that destroys shoes may repeat the behavior because she doesn't know what else to do. She may also use this as an attention-seeking behavior. After all, negative attention is still attention. If the only time we interact with our dogs is when we correct them, they will repeat behaviors that create interaction, even if the experience is negative. In the case of the shoe chewer, try replacing the shoe with a designated doggie chew toy. This not only teaches her what she is not allowed to chew, it teaches her what she is allowed to chew, and empowers her to make good decisions on her own.
Reward good decisions - lavishly!
Eventually, the shoe chewing puppy will sniff at a shoe, think about chewing it, then opt for a chew toy instead. This a very big deal and should be rewarded with lots of praise - which is really all your puppy wants from you. Any time she chooses a desired behavior over an undesired behavior, tell what a good girl she is, and don't be shy about it. When your puppy is doing something you like it's praise time! When she asks to go potty, tell her a she's a good girl.
When she curls up in her bed, tell her she's a good girl. When she looks up at you during a walk, tell her she's a good girl. Remember, you're not just making her feel happy. You're giving her an incentive to repeat behaviors that you like.
Never underestimate the power of cognitive enrichment
Once you and your puppy master basic obedience, you may want to consider teaching some more advanced behaviors. Why? Because it's fun! Our older dog, Grendel, loves using her nose to sniff out treats that we hide around the house. Zohan is learning how to beg, roll over, spin, and shake hands. While none of these qualify as important life skills, the training sessions engage their brains and burn off the pent-up energy that often plagues suburban dogs. They are less reactive, more mentally balanced, and more attentive to our commands. And it makes us happy to see how switched on and eager to please our dogs truly are. If it sounds too time consuming, consider this: we spent an hour with a trainer laying the groundwork, and the daily activities take about ten minutes per day.
With just a little bit of time and commitment, that rowdy, barking nuisance in your yard can turn into a loving and loyal family pet. Since this is certainly what you had in mind when you bought her, take the next step and become the leader she needs you to be. The unconditional love you get in return will be well worth the effort.
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