Bella, our six month old Golden Retriever, is always learning. Anything we do (or don’t do) tells her something and she learns from it – for better or worse.
Raising and training a puppy has, for us, involved lots of reading and watching videos in an effort to “get it right”. I’ve come to believe that a lot of it comes down to the particular disposition and personality of the dog you choose. However, we certainly have learned some key lessons that seem to make the biggest difference. The core of our approach comes from the teachings of Cesar Milan.
Here they are:
- Your own tone and energy is important. Be self aware and manage your emotional state. Exit a difficult situation, when you feel frustrated.
- A tired dog is a good dog! Find ways for her to get lots of exercise everyday and she will be happy, healthy, and well behaved. She will tend to get into mischief when she is anxious from pent up energy. This can commonly manifest itself as chewing, barking, or digging. Swimming and wrestling will burn more energy than walking, however, dogs are hardwired, based on their genetics, to walk in a pack everyday – so make sure you do this. And make sure you are leading on the walk or your dog will take the lead, resulting in her having anxiety associated with being the leader of the pack.
- Redirect from undesirable behaviour, such as chewing a shoe or hand, to a toy or chew rope.
- When she bites your hand, even just a bit, say “ow!” and pull your hand away. This is what her litter mates did to tell her she was playing too aggressively. If it happens a second time, turn your back and even consider leaving the room to ignore her, thus letting her know that rough play means play time is over.
- Reinforce desired behaviours. Use treats and praise for good deeds. Even when she does them on her own – for example, when she automatically sits at the curb, before crossing the street on a walk.
- Be the alpha. Go through doors first.
- Be the hand that feeds – and takes away. Practice taking food and toys away, while she is eating or playing. Then return the food or toy, so she associates the removal as something temporary and thus not something she needs to get anxious about.
- Use lures, not force of pushing or pulling. Present opportunities for her to make choices, but stack the deck, so the chances of her making the “correct” choice are better.
I’ve found that I have a much more attuned sensitivity to behavioural cues and responses, as a result of paying attention to our interactions with Bella. It’s also made me aware of the challenge of always “being on” and making sure we are following the rules ourselves – never mind Bella following the rules.
Consistency is so important. Consistency is critical. Consistency means making sure these rules become habits – just as much for us, as for Bella.