We all make mistakes, it’s inevitable. When raising a new pup, some mistakes or errors of omission aren't a big deal, while others can have a long-ranging impact on the pup’s behavior and quality of life.
In my training practice, I frequently notice pet owners inadvertently reinforcing puppy behaviors that are going to come back to haunt them down the road. Folks may not realize that the 'cute' behaviors their pup is practicing every day are not going to be so cute six months from now.
Come on, fess up – how many of you have done the following:
Squeal with delight and lavish a puppy with attention when he’s jumping on you, even though this pup will be ginormous as an adult.
Chat back to pup who is yapping ‘adorably’ at you. (Confession: I never find that adorable.)
Giggle over the feisty 5-pounder who soprano-growls ferociously when he has a yummy bone.
Make excuses when he shrieks, pulls, and rushes towards another dog when on a walk.
My advice: stop doing this!
Behaviors get stronger when reinforced. And by "reinforced" I mean that when something pleasant closely follows a behavior, pup is going to try that behavior more often in the future, to try to score that pleasant thing again.
Puppies will also telegraph early signs of trouble brewing, but if they're subtle you could miss them, OR you may not realize there's need for concern. Examples:
Pup shyly stands back or hides behind you when a stranger enters the home.
Vocalizing escalates for long periods of time when pup is left alone.
Normal sights and sounds in your environment cause fear or sustained vocalization.
Pup is fearful of other socially appropriate dogs.
Intolerance of necessary body handling, grooming, etc.
Unwillingness to release items he’s picked up in his mouth.
And that’s just the short list.
Professional trainers can be quite useful providing clear-eyed evaluations and offering advice, even during the honeymoon phase of your puppy love affair, when your eyes are glittering with new love, and oxytocin is oozing out of your every pore.
An experienced trainer is going to:
Explain the critical importance of early, positive socialization and how to do this properly.
Spot early warning signs of small problems that can grow into big problems if you don’t address them early.
Provide easy-to-implement training advice. Puppies are SO ready to learn from a very young age, and they excel with positive reinforcement strategies.
Share wonderful enrichment ideas, and smart management tips.
A small investment in hiring a trainer will quickly yield savings. Just knowing about food puzzles and safe containment, for instance, keeps a puppy's mouth on appropriate items, thus averting expensive chewing damage and potential danger for you beloved furball.
If you like this article, please share with other puppy lovers you know. :-)
Virginia Dare is a certified dog trainer & behavior counselor with decades of experience. Her business offers live video consultations anywhere in the US for training and behavior help, puppy matchmaking services, and pre- and post-arrival counseling for new puppies. She also provides in-home, private lessons and behavior consultations in northern Fairfield and Westchester counties, western New Haven county, Putnam and southern Dutchess counties.
Please visit www.NorthStarCanines.com/services to learn more, or contact me at 804.784.0120
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