Your puppy may start off playful and easygoing, but as she matures she may become more difficult to control. Since dog breeds have been selected over many generations for specific characteristics (physical and behavioral), and since much of a dog’s behavior comes from the genes of the parents, researching the breed and meeting the parents or siblings can help you to get a better idea of what your dog might be like as an adult. While genetics plays an important role, how you handle, train, and communicate with your puppy is also critical in shaping adult behavior.
It is important to learn how to communicate with your new puppy and meet all of her behavioral needs. Training should start as soon as you bring your puppy home. Begin by rewarding your dog only for behaviors that are desirable while preventing behaviors that are undesirable. Consistency is critical, so make sure all family members are on the same page. Otherwise, you may soon find that you are losing control as your dog becomes increasingly unruly and no longer responds to your commands. Early experiences should include learning positive ways to make handling enjoyable and teaching your dog to give up food and toys for even more valuable rewards in order to eliminate possessive and guarding behavior. This should help to prevent problems with handling and possessive aggression.
Set up your household to ensure success. When you cannot watch your puppy, house her in a safe area where she cannot do harm to herself or to your household. When you are with your puppy, training and control can be achieved by rewarding behaviors or interrupting those that are undesirable. Keeping your puppy on a leash will help prevent her from getting into trouble and will also provide you with a means of controlling unruly and undesirable behaviors and guiding her to what is desirable. For better head control, you can attach the leash to a head halter
Reward-based techniques, such as giving your puppy food, favored toys, and praise when she displays good behavior, are the best ways to train. By giving rewards consistently, immediately, and predictably, your puppy can quickly learn which behaviors are acceptable and which are not. Avoid physical punishment, scolding, leash corrections, or pinning the dog down, as they can lead to fearful, defensive, and even aggressive reactions. Visit http://www.avsabonline.org for the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior’s position statements on punishment and training.
Problems often begin with normal behaviors that get out of control. Examples are pulling against the leash on walks, jumping up during greetings, play biting, and barking for attention. As soon as your puppy begins to exhibit undesirable, demanding, or overly exuberant behavior, you should ignore her so you do not encourage the behavior. For dogs that jump on you to greet you, try a verbal command such as “quit” or “off,” but do not give your puppy any attention until the behavior ceases. If your dog has been trained, an even better choice is to use one of the commands such as “sit,” “down,” or “go to your bed” (or crate or room) to teach your dog a more desirable greeting behavior, which you can then reward. Keeping a leash and head halter attached anytime problems might arise is an effective means of immediately interrupting undesirable behavior and teaching your puppy how to act appropriately.
Throughout your dog’s life, you will need to handle or lift her, bather or groom her, brush her teeth, clean in or around her ears and eyes, and trim her nails. These interactions can elicit fear and possibly aggression from some dogs that are not used to them. Gentle, positive handling exercises can prevent these types of problems from emerging. Begin at times when your puppy is calmest, such as after a walk or dinner, starting at a level she will accept. Give your dog tasty treats while gently handling her. Puppies that are headstrong or fearful may struggle and resist. Should this happen, you will need to gradually overcome any resistance by proceeding slowly and using rewards such as food to turn the situation into one that is enjoyable. Always end the session on a positive note and use this as a starting point for your next session. Never force the puppy to a point where you cause fear, struggling, or aggression. If you identify resistance or threats, seek the guidance of your veterinarian.
Possessive behavior or guarding of food, toys, or stolen items is related to how strongly your dog wants to keep what she has. It is not related to how she feels about you. Should your puppy display any aggression, seek immediate guidance from your veterinarian. To help prevent guarding, the first step is to teach the puppy to give up objects for rewards of higher value. Begin with a toy that is of minimal appeal and teach your dog to give it you by trading it for a tasty piece of kibble. Initially, you should present the food and say “drop it” while the dog has the object in his mouth. Each time thereafter, do not show the food when you say “drop it,” and give it to your dog only after she drops the object. Once she reliably drops objects on command for food, switch to intermittent food reinforcement (offer praise each time and food only occasionally). After the pet willingly gives up toys of minimal appeal, progress to practicing the “drop” command with toys that are more attractive to her and tastier treats as rewards. Clicker training (a clicking sound is associated with a food reward) can also be a very effective way to reward your dog for dropping. Simply monitor your dog closely until she drops the object and then immediately click and reward the behavior.
Although it’s best not to bother a dog during meals, it is important that the dog does not feel threatened when family members are around. To this end, have your dog site while you prepare her food and place it on the floor. Then call your dog to come and eat. During feeding approach your dog once or twice, interrupt her with a “sit” or “come” command, then lift up the food bowl, put a special treat in the bowl, and give it back. Another exercise is to have your dog sit, place about 10 percent of her meal in her bowl, and have her come and eat. As soon as she is finished, have your dog sit, then pick up the bowl and add another 10 percent. Repeat, and occasionally add a special treat, until your pup eats all the food. To reduce any threat the dog might feel when people come near her while she is eating, occasionally drop a special treat into the bowl as you walk by. If your dog shows any threat, consult your veterinarian. Never punish a puppy for growling while at her dinner bowl.
Tug can be a fun game to play, but only if it does not escalate into unruly or aggressive behavior. Teach your dog to sit or lie down before the game begins and be certain that you can stop the game without problems. Practice a “drop” or “give” command during the tug game, then give a treat and resume play. When the game is done, either take the toy away and give a final treat or leave the toy with the dog (as long as she doesn’t damage the toy or become aggressive).
Even with the best of efforts, problems may arise. If you are having difficulty training your puppy or controlling unruly behavior or aggression, contract your veterinarian.
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