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First learning

First learningWe all remember things from our childhood. During this time we form habits that stay with us for life. If you consider that the skills you teach your puppy now are for life, what are the most important ones to teach? Your focus should be on skills that can help avoid problem behaviours developing in future.

House training is the first thing on most new puppy owner’s mind. In my experience newspapers and puppy pads can be detrimental since they teach your puppy to toilet indoors so restrict these to night-time use.   Let your puppy locate the back door and find his own way into the garden, and limit access to carpeted areas with a baby gate unless supervised.   Winter puppies are often harder to housetrain as the back door is rarely left ajar and your puppy becomes accustomed to toileting indoors. Go in the garden with your puppy – note this is not playtime. Wait for your puppy to eliminate and add a cue such as, “busy busy” when your puppy is ‘spending’, not before. How quickly a puppy is housetrained varies, but as he matures the scents in the garden and on walks will stimulate outside elimination.

Introduce your puppy to car travel early. Establish a good association – his first car trip should not be to the vets!   Gradually build your puppy’s exposure to the sights, sounds and smells of car travel, including turning the engine over without driving. Use a crate for safety, spray bedding with calming Pet Remedy herbs and take your puppy on short boring journeys – not always to the park! Cover your crate to reduce visibility and encourage relaxation – some dogs, especially collies, do not relax with the constant stimulation of passing vehicles. Also be mindful that there is more movement in the boot so drive carefully.

Teach recall now. Your puppy comes running to you in the house because wonderful things always happen, such as dinner, playtime or treats. As he matures, his environment and other dogs compete for attention and he learns that when he hears his name being called outside it means end of play.  Build the foundations of a reliable recall by blowing a whistle when you feed your puppy to pair the sound with food. Whistle your puppy back frequently on walks, rewarding with find-it and chase-it games using moist, highly scented treats (not kibble).

Puppies must learn to enjoy their own company.   Don’t create dependency by allowing your puppy to follow you everywhere: use baby gates to restrict access and plug in a relaxing Pet Remedy diffuser by his crate. Teach your puppy to look forward to your departure by giving him a stuffed Kong, chew toy, biscuits or dinner, when you leave him. Separation anxiety is a serious problem: don’t assume it won’t develop – teach ‘home alone’ skills now.

Prevention is better than cure. Don’t let your puppy practice unwanted behaviours: manage the environment or remove the puppy from the environment.   Do you remember those two very important questions from last month’s article? They are, “what is my puppy learning from this experience?” and, if appropriate, “what would I like my puppy to do instead?”

Next month we will discuss more life skills including loose lead walking and whether you should use a collar or harness.

This article, along with a selection of others about behaviour and training, is available in our Dog Blog booklet.  This can be purchased for £2 and is available as a paper copy or downloadable e-book.  All proceeds to Irish Retriever Rescue.

If you would like to sell any copies of the Dog Blog for your rescue organisation, please contact kate@contemplatingcanines.com.