Meet Quiz. He is a gorgeous 8 week old Australian Shepherd who is staying with me for a couple of weeks to train and socialise before he heads on to his other family. I love it - I get Quiz for the 'fun' part - the cute, fuzzy puppy who is full of confidence and cheek and I get to have some serious fun doing some basic 'foundation' training with him.
Often I get asked how much time I spend training my dogs (adults and puppies), whether my house is mayhem (since I live with 4 permanent dogs) or how I find the time to train them all. The truth is - it is so easy! Naturally, training Quiz over the next couple of weeks will be no different.
Raising puppies is hard work - don't get me wrong! If you are feeling despondent, worn out or even regretting the choice to bring a new puppy into your family - you are not alone! Just like with babies, there are sleepless nights, tantrums and SO MUCH to teach this little bundle of fuzz.... and of course we all want them to have learnt everything yesterday! The thing is - puppies aren't pre-programmed to live with humans or even understand what we want out of them. Our expectations are high as we try to cram everything in to the first few weeks or months of their lives with us. There is just so much to achieve! Naturally, this can become very overwhelming.
So here are a few tips that Quiz and I thought we might share with you....
Firstly... Prioritise. As I said - it's overwhelming trying to think of all these things to teach your puppy. Rather than trying to teach everything at once, pick one or two key behaviours that would be *really* important for your puppy to learn. This changes for each family. I'm also going to let you in on a little secret - obedience training (sit, drop etc) is actually really easy. All you need is a dog that knows how to learn - the rest falls into place so quickly after that. So what are the two things I'm teaching Quiz in the short time I have him? For me that's an easy choice - First - his name. Two days ago - Quiz knew his name as "Albie" (his puppy name... named after Albert Einstein)... since yesterday - he's Quiz. So I need him to be responsive to both his name, and know that it means only one thing - FOOD! We are now on day 2 of "name recognition" and it's safe to say - Quiz thinks that every time he hears his name it means somthing pretty awesome is about to happen. My second most important thing I want to teach is "relationship building". Without a relationship - or a desire to learn - I can't really teach Quiz anything. The world is *way* too exciting and Quiz will never really understand all the wonderful things that I can bring to his environment (food, attention, toys, play.... the list goes on). Without these two things, I don't have a responsive dog - and that is the first key to training anything. How do I teach relationship? That's the easy part - we do this with lots of cuddles, attention for *good* choices, tug games, and working for his tucker (see below).
Secondly.... Socialise. Maybe this should be point number 1. For most of you it will be. For us, the reason I list it as second is because I again need to have some relationship with Quiz for him to know and understand how I am part of his environment and how I can help him interact with it. So this means that for me, relationship is more important. If he understands we work together as a *team* then he is going to be re-engage with me quickly when he is in his environment. I want him to engage with his world, I want him to understand that nothing is scary or worth worrying about. I will introduce him to so much. However, even at this age, I still want to have him focus on me and listen when I call his name - all for heavy rewards of course! We only have a small socialisation window (up to 16 weeks) and I want to make the most of it. At this point in time, Quiz has a new experience each day. We go and meet kids, learn how to walk on a leash, meet the vacuum cleaner and visitors and friends. At such a young age there is still so much I can do with him! So for me - this out-ranks teaching any form of obedience - as Quiz' social experiences as a youngster will help set him up into a well-balanced adult.
Thirdly...meals don't come for free. That makes me sound like such a tough puppy owner doesn't it?! However it actually makes life easier for me and for Quiz! Puppies need almost as much food as they need training. They need constant observation and watching - to avoid toilet accidents, chewing things they shouldn't and of course I need to *train* him skills as well! If I was to set aside training time for each and every one of my dogs, I would never have time to do anything. It can be very time consuming... and predictable! Treat pouch comes on, food bowl comes out, clicker in hand - Oh! Training Time! As a result, my dogs, particularly my puppies get trained as part of our daily interaction and 'feed' reigime (remember: relationship building - I bring all wonderful goodies!). To help me out - I set out containers with their food rationed in them around the house. This allows me to manage and ensure I'm not over-feeding. Any wet/ moist food goes into Kongs and other such enrichment devices for 'quiet' time and 'settle' time (we all need a break eventually!).
So how do I actually do this? Easy! If I can't watch and/or observe Quiz, he is either outside or in his crate / puppy pen. This is his 'settle' area and filled with all things wonderful - food, toys, treat dispensing items. The catch is - he is not simply placed in there with me walking away - Quiz goes into these areas, we play, we have a great time and THEN I teach him to settle with a Kong. I show him how it works, I engage with him and I settle him in his pen while I then exit and do what I need to do nearby. Quiet puppy = more food tossed from the sky. The worst thing I can do is simply toss Quiz into his pen and walk away. Undoubtedly that will get some cries of displeasure! Sometimes it takes time and a little bit of practice, but Quiz' puppy pen/ crate should always be somewhere he races to for some enjoyable food and playtime. The same goes for outside time - this is time for Quiz to romp and enjoy his time in his yard. Once again, food might be scattered, he is taught to wait at the doorway before he comes in (for more food!) and he is not simply tossed out and ignored, but usually we will have had some fun outside and he is ready for a sleep. One advantage of young puppies is their batteries expire quickly!
When Quiz is with me, I'm teaching him incidental behaviours. What does that mean? It means I'm teaching him manners. Jumping up on the chairs/ tables etc causes me to walk away and ignore him - a polite sit means I grab him a treat (from the container) and reward him. Sometimes I'll just reward him with a smile and a cuddle too! Settling down and chilling out at my feet - results in attention or a treat that dropped from 'the sky'. Appropriate chewing of a toy results in a fun game of tug or fetch. Chewing chair legs results in redirection to a toy or removal of item (if it can be removed). Just as an example - I came home from work and was pulling in washing before the rain started. As I fold the clothes, every time Quiz is chilled at my feet - he gets pats, a treat or even just a plain 'good boy'. Acknowledgement for behaviour I like. We even had a 30 second game of tug! I introduce all of my training at times where it is convenient. Sure - we have training sessions too - but these are for shaping (guess what I want you to do) or for a particular purpose. Our sessions also only last about 1 - 2 mins (maxiumum). So naturally, most of Quiz' training happens in our day-to-day life together.
I find with this reigime, raising well mannered puppies is just SO easy. Training takes place as the opportunity arises, not by what I 'feel' like doing on the day. This means that Quiz will learn his 'household manners' so much faster. I'm also being pro-active by ensuring that he knows when he has made a 'good' choice (as it results in attention by me!). What's more - this also makes living with 4 (and sometimes 5) dogs easy. The adults know the rules and will settle/ send to their mats/ help Quiz out when it comes to understanding the rules. The small boundaries help with things like toilet training and destructive chewing (lack of access) and all the while, teaching Quiz that life on his own is really enjoyable too!
Hopefully Quiz and I can keep you updated in his progress over the next week or two. Maybe even with a video or two. If there is something you want to see in particular - don't forget to comment and I'll try and video how we teach it.