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Polite Puppy Manners

Few people can resist fussing a puppy.  Many puppies pull towards people and jump up for attention, which he then gets, rewarding both the jumping and pulling.  Reprimanding your puppy gives him attention for unwanted behaviour, inadvertently strengthening it.  Instead, ask yourself what your puppy is learning and what you would like him to do as an alternative.

Decide on your meeting and greeting protocol.  Be prepared to manage people wanting to say hello and let them approach you to avoid pulling. Give clear instructions that you are training your puppy and ensure he has four paws on the ground before receiving attention.  Perhaps ask your puppy for a sit and explain that he likes a chest scratch, to avoid the person leaning over him.   Also consider how your puppy will greet visitors at home.  If he is too excited to sit, choose an alternative such as playing with a special toy reserved for when visitors come, eating from a stuffed Kong or foraging for a few treats. Make it a house rule to only reward calm behaviour with four paws rooted, ignoring any jumping up. If your puppy jumps up and you command, “sit” and fuss him, you have rewarded the whole behaviour chain. Because behaviours link together, you cannot reward one without rewarding the other.

Teach your puppy the skill of settling quietly.  Rather than repeatedly asking for “sit” or “down”, use the ‘settle & relax’ management technique instead – perfect when out for a coffee or at the pub! You will need a long 2m lead. Holding your puppy’s collar in one hand and the end of the lead in your other hand, drop the middle of the lead to the ground like a skipping rope.  Place the ball of your foot (both feet if the dog is large) on the lead, giving enough slack for your puppy to choose a comfortable position, release your grip on the collar, and simply ignore him.  Don’t look at him or reward any attention-seeking behaviour.  Your puppy can sit, lie down or stand up; the only rule is that he cannot interact with you (unless in danger of harm).  Your puppy soon learns that when your foot is placed on the lead, you are occupied and he can chill out.  Don’t reward your puppy with food for settling quietly as the anticipation maintains focus on you – and on this occasion you want to be ignored!  When ready to move, take your foot off the lead and walk off.

Be consistent with your training protocols: never reward unwanted behaviour, ever!  Infrequently rewarding unwanted behaviour ‘just this once’ maintains the behaviour – in just the same way that the occasional pay out keeps a gambler hooked!

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.

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