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Puppies: Behavior vs “Obedience”

So, here you are and you have a growing, teething puppy and you are confronted with a mountain of natural but undesirable behaviors. From jumping up and nipping and shredding your arms and clothes to pulling on leash or just sitting there not wanting to move, or picking up every disgusting piece of crap from the sidewalks. In your house, basically everything is a toy.

Yes, it can be frustrating and take all the fun out of having a puppy IF your motto is: “This has to stop NOW”. You fall into the trap and you give in to the temptation to yell: NO! NO! And, of course, I can understand it as a knee jerk reaction. However, after observing many puppy and dog owners I can also promise you: It does not work!

Faced with all these challenging behaviors it is best to see the process as just that: a process.
Kathy Sdao www.kathysdao.com a trainer I greatly respect, likens it to organic gardening. Encourage and reward the behaviors you want to occur and neglect the behaviors that are undesirable to you. No “behavioral pesticides” are needed.

I am raising my own puppy now and faced with a myriad of these typical puppy behaviors I had to set priorities.

This is what came up on my list:

  1. house training
  2. walking on leash
  3. functioning and being able to focus in the distracting city
  4. impulse control ( in this case: counter surfing extraordinaire!!)

Since I want her to be calm in the house the first thing we learned was to “settle” down. Settling on a bed or, in her case, her little baby blanket, was amazingly easy and has been so useful.

It also made house training easier for her because relaxing on her blanket is such a highly rewarded activity for her …and makes me feel better since I cannot let her roam around freely, obviously.

What it also did: Help me teach her impulse control regarding the counter surfing. At first seemingly ridiculously often, every time she leaped onto the counter as I was preparing her food, I would stop, move the food out of her sight and wait for her to “give up” and land on the floor again. CLICK! TREAT!!! The amazing thing: How fast Zeldi learned that she would get rewarded much more efficiently if she left out the ” jump for the food part” of her behavior. Once that happened I could establish the food preparation as a cue for “settle down” really quickly. The behavior was already highly rewarded, so she eagerly offered it when I connected my body language for settle with the food bowl predictor

What I am trying to say is: teaching your puppy to sit is fine, but if it is out of any meaningful context for the dog it will not be an automatically offered behavior. It would be seen as a game maybe, that is apart from the daily stuff: “Yes, sometimes my human asks me to put my butt on the floor and then I get a cookie.” But let’s face it: you want polite behavior from your dog and not have to specially ask for it all the time, right?

It is a process. If I want my  puppy to learn to walk next to me, seize the moments when she is actually next to me and reward those. And yes, sometimes it seems ridiculous..she hardly ever is next to me. She circles me and I am walking like a drunken sailor.

And then she is mostly busy spying little disgusting things on the sidewalk that have to be explored. Or flowers that can be torn out of the tree beds!

I spent a good 2 weeks just wrangling around the sidewalks , feeling triumphant when she could hear me say her name so I could reward her attention to that!

I was triumphant when she actually dropped stuff she had in her mouth so I could reward that.

I was either clicking my tongue to entice her to walk or she was pulling ahead like a banshee.

And when she was pulling I was constantly debating: ugh I should not let her leap ahead… but then correcting myself and telling myself: you can’t fix everything at the same time. Let her pull! At least she is moving forward in a straight line.

And every day we had better walks and on some walks she would try the other old stuff again ( stealing, leaping, jumping or sitting and not moving at all) but it did not work in her favor. Every time she dropped something, I would reward her. CLICK! REWARD!! Every time she did not even pick the object up: CLICK! REWARD!!!

And then I could see wonderful glimpses of progress: All of a sudden, seemingly, she understood so many things at the same time. She started to check in with me every few seconds. CLICK! REWARD!!

She started to walk NEXT to me on my left CLICK! REWARD!!! She would still look at crap on the sidewalk but not pick it up: CLICK! REWARD!!!

She started to sit automatically when I stopped walking CLICK! REWARD!!!

She is able to walk through the lobby without being lured or even carried (which I did in the beginning a lot).

All this: And I have not taught her any “formal obedience” although she knows “sit” and “settle” both verbal and hand signal…but that came naturally.

That is what I mean by teaching behaviors and not “obedience”.

It is so much more useful than formal obedience training.

And the best part is: She thinks all this is great! Now she settles on the floor, sits up when I put her bowl of food in front of her and eats with great gusto after I release her!! Impulse control is great. She will self correct when she forgets herself  every once in a while: it is the sweetest thing.

And the greatest reward is MY reward. I am so proud of her and the bond I have with her is already so strong, it is almost scary.

So please don’t fret with your puppy. Just reward what you like!

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