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Skills for life

Puppyhood is a time of intense development and learning. Puppies can learn the right way to do things, and just as easily the wrong way! Some unwanted behaviours come about because we inadvertently teach/reward them, while other behaviours are more likely to develop because of genetic predisposition. When your new puppy leaves his mother and siblings around eight weeks of age, he is already highly inquisitive and learning many new things.

A home-bred puppy will have already experienced many sights and sounds in the home. As his new owner you must continue introducing him to his new world during this period of critical socialisation. Your puppy will sleep about 16 hours a day, so provide him with a covered crate in a quiet place, feeding all meals in there. This is his safe haven.   Feed your puppy from a Kong. At first put dried kibble in and when he gets the hang of this, make it harder by sitting the Kong in a cup of water to soak and swell before offering it. If feeding a raw diet, pack the Kong loosely, tamping it down as his skills increase.

Familiarisation means teaching your puppy to become so accustomed to his environment he disregards cars, other animals, bicycles, noises, etc. If your puppy is fearful, increase the distance until he is calmer. Always give him the choice to approach novel objects and time to process new experiences; don’t force him. Be mindful that continually exposing him to things he is anxious about may cause longer-term issues. For instance, if he barks and chases the vacuum cleaner he is telling you he worried and is trying to scare it away. When it is eventually switched off and/or moves away, what has he learned? Barking works! Successful behaviours are repeated and if practised on each appearance of the vacuum as a youngster this behaviour becomes established. Instead, put him in his crate with a stuffed Kong (that already has a value since you have been feeding him in there every day) and vacuum in another room until he is comfortable, slowly decreasing distance and increasing noise.

Choose puppy socialisation classes carefully. Puppies need exposure to friendly, sociable adult dogs and other puppies. Frantic off-lead play can upset sensitive puppies, who may become anxious if pressured by stronger personalities. Please ensure your puppy meets plenty of friendly dark-coloured dogs, too, to learn how wonderful they are, as many dogs don’t see or read their facial expressions as easily.

Puppies need to meet people from all walks of life. Everyone loves a puppy – so think carefully about how you wish people to greet your puppy. Many dogs don’t like being leaned over – signs are turning the head away, leaning/moving away and lip licking. Ask people to scratch his chest – this often avoids jumping up, too.

Have adult expectations of your puppy. This means from day one: no jumping up, waiting when coming out of the car, coming when called, settling in his crate, standing for grooming etc. Manage his home environment to avoid unwanted behaviours starting, and always ask two very important questions, “what is my puppy learning from this experience?” and, “what would I like my puppy to do instead?” Remember, don’t let your puppy practice behaviours you don’t want!

Puppyhood is an amazing time of learning! Next month we will explore more important lifeskills to ensure your puppy becomes a well-behaved member of society. And if you have a rescue dog, going back to puppy basics is often a good policy!

If you are at all worried about your puppy’s behaviour, please speak to your vet or seek the advice of a qualified trainer/behaviourist. The Dog Blog, available from www.contemplatingcanines.com/shop gives you a number of useful life-skill tips including reliable recall. Price s£2, all proceeds to Irish Retriever Rescue.

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.