Revisiting What To Do With That Bonkers Pup
Yet more surefire G.O.A.L.S. to create a great relationship with your new — or old — dog.
Pop quiz. How do you want your new puppy to relate to you as training begins? As boss? A buddy? Or something else?
Modern puppy training methods build communication between humans and canines by creating positive associations between a word, gesture, or other cue and action by the puppy. Your puppy earns a small reward for offering the smallest increment of the final behavior you want. You reward each baby step along the way and gradually build toward the “perfect” end behavior you want.
Traditional training methods use corrections of unwanted behavior to motivate the pup to search for the behavior you want. You pup experiments with different behaviors and, through trial and error, gradually builds an understanding of what behavior gets corrected and what gets a pass. Traditionalists typically eschew food rewards.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
These are gross oversimplifications of two primary schools of training thought. Today there is an alphabet soup of practical dog training systems, and most people wind up mixing and matching techniques from several programs.
However, these simplifications can help you understand how different training approaches may make your puppy feel about training — and YOU — as you build your relationship.
I’ve harped on training goals before. Now, here are yet a few more training G.O.A.L.S. to help you build a rewarding lifetime relationship with your dog.
G is for GOOD ENOUGH. Put your ego aside when you’re training your pup. The steps to teach a behavior you learned from a video or a book, or a training class you’re taking are just one way that works. If it doesn’t work for you and your pup, don’t beat yourself up. And don’t blame the dog. Neither of you is a failure. You’re in this learning together.
Step back a bit. You have a teaching style, and your pup has a learning style. Can you modify even a tiny step in the training sequence so that both you and your dog understand it more clearly? Is the training system you’re working with working for you? For your pup? Explore alternative training techniques that might be more helpful.
And think about this. Is there any relationship that is ever truly perfect? Each one has its quirks and quarrels and compromises. Your relationship with your dog is no exception. Your pup may not be ideal. But he can be good enough. Good enough for the activities you’d like to do with him. Good enough given his personality, his physical abilities, and his ability to focus on tasks? Relax the perfect performance pressure. With a “good enough” mindset, don’t be surprised to find your pup relaxing and learning faster. Sweet.
O is for OWN THE SPACE. It’s a beautiful thing to watch an anxious dog relax and chill in the presence of someone who “owns the space.”
Owning the space is not about dominance or intimidation. Nor is it about being the boss. It is an aura of quiet, calm, emotionally-neutral self-control on the part of a person that telegraphs, “I’ve got this situation. You can relax.” Instead of correcting your dog for being noisy or rowdy, you make it clear that you’ve got the situation under control.
Message received by the dog? “I don’t have to worry about this. My person has everything under control, so it’s OK for me to chill.” (Fun fact — you’ll know your dog got the message if he does a “shake off.”)
To “own the space,” you need to turn off your constant mind chatter (and I’m also assuming you’re not on your cell, either). When your mind is busy, you can’t focus on the task at hand. The bio-energetic field around you is as scattered as your mind and animals sense that.
Watch yourself and stop any of the default reactions people have. Do not yell as loudly as your dog is barking. Or shout, yank the collar, or make some other threatening move.
Instead, take a deep, calm breath. Assume a confident posture, awareness of your surroundings, and emotional neutrality that project to your pup, “I own this space, this situation. You’re safe here with me.”
Watch how changes in your mental state and body language make your dog pay closer attention to you and build trust. Watch how that begins to affect all of your puppy training sessions. Prepare to be amazed.
A is for ANNOYING BEHAVIOR. Another technique helps change the dialogue whenever your pup is being a brat.
Again, take that deep, calm breath (this is as much for you as it is for the dog) and invite the dog to join you there. Instead of doing something “corrective,” remind yourself that he’s a puppy, just a baby. He has a brain that will never advance much farther than that of a human toddler, even when he’s fully grown. Stuff is going to happen on the way to canine adulthood. Keep that in mind and develop a different training strategy.
Prevent, interrupt, or redirect the puppy’s reactions while her puppy’s brain matures a bit. Then some serious training can begin. Therapy dog? Tracker? Detector of medical conditions? Agility dog? Or just a great walking, jogging, or couch companion? Your choice!
L is for LEADERSHIP MINDSET. Quick. Choose one statement:
· Training is about guiding a puppy into preferred behaviors.
· Training is about controlling a puppy’s behaviors.
Is your mindset that of the teacher or the boss in the training adventure you’re starting?
Your puppy feels the difference between those two approaches on emotional and physical levels. Your training mindset drives your body language — your breathing, vocal tones, hormones, or how tightly you hold a leash. Your puppy notices every bit of this input and starts making associations with what happens next.
Successful trainers want a puppy to view them as the most comfortable, safest place to be in their new universe. You want that feeling to be the basis of your relationship for years to come.
Truth be told, training usually involves a mix of guidance, correction, and management approaches. From one perspective, any management strategy is some form of control. But it’s not always simple to make it all about cookies and chicken bits. Especially if your dog (like mine) doesn’t’ give a fig about food rewards.
Have an advance plan to prevent, interrupt, or redirect the pup’s reactions. Manage his options as needed with child gates, crates, or removal from the scene if needed.
Leading means developing a working partnership with your dog. You’re not totally in charge. Your dog’s not totally in charge. You each have some needs to consider. You’re working this out together as partners (does the word “marriage” come to mind?).
Learning to control your behavior so you can guide the dog’s behavior is part of that process. Your mindset matters. Change your mind and change your reactions. Then watch the changes in your pup’s progress.
S is for STEP BY STEP UP A SPIRAL STAIRCASE. Don’t’ get discouraged if your pup’s behavior seems to regress as you go along. Training does not progress in a neatly drawn straight line.
Training instructions are often presented to puppies in a linear fashion. First puppy learns to sit. Now you show her how to lie down. Now teach stay. And don’t forget to ask her to come. One and done. That was easy.
Now you take it outside. And everything falls apart. Your pup starts the bonkers behaviors again. It’s like she’s forgotten everything you taught her indoors. What happened?
It helps to think of training as a spiral progression rather than a straight line. When you took it outside, things were better than when you started from scratch indoors. But now you’re asking for sit, lie down, etc., in a new environment. Now your pup has way more distractions — sights, smells, other dogs, people who want to admire her puppy cuteness.
But behavior requests? Did you just say something?
Take a deep breath (see above). Just revisit all the training moves you made inside in this new environment. And then maybe another new environment. Under different distracting circumstances. There’s an endless list of places and circumstances that can trigger your pup so she temporarily forgets everything you thought she already knew.
Rinse and repeat under as many circumstances as you can.
Similarly, behaviors you’re taught your pup in her early months may fall apart when she becomes an adolescent. Does the word “teenager” mean anything to you? As your dog reaches this stage, earlier training may regress. When things start falling apart, just go back to a training step that the dog totally nails. Begin again from that point so both of you can feel successful.
Training progress will start again. Take a deep breath. Adolescence will pass. You’re not doing anything wrong. Neither is your dog. Don’t beat yourself up or nurse hurt feelings when training doesn’t move along as fast as you think it should.
Just keep going.
Puppy Feelings Count, Too
When you’re a tiny canine, this big wide world you’ve been born into is such an amazing place to explore. But it can quickly become scary, intimidating, and unpredictably stressful without slow, step-by-step introductions to the behaviors we’d like that are logical to a puppy’s baby brain.
Training is about repetition. Try something. Rinse and repeat. Try again. If your “asks” are clear and logical, Your dog will gradually catch on.
Think about how your requests feel from your pup’s point of view. If your dog doesn’t understand what you’re asking him the first few tries, take a step back to something he already owns and start again from there. Or find a different way to ask your pup to perform a particular behavior. You will both build confidence and avoid stress.
Only when your pup nails something you’re asking him every time can you tell him to do it with confidence he will respond with the behavior you want.
Training is about building a relationship as well as a repertoire of behaviors. Don’t forget to keep it fun!
If you missed my previous tips on puppy training goals, you’ll find them here:
From Bonkers Pup to Great Dog
5 Simple Training GOALS Will Help You Get the Job Done
Turn That Wild Pup Into a Canine Good Citizen
More Training GOALS for that Bonkers New Pup
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