Raising Your Puppy Right
June 15th, 2010
How a puppy is raised can have a dramatic affect on it's ability to be trained. There are things you should do and things you shouldn't do. There are things you should let the puppy do and things you shouldn't let the puppy do. The negative effects of the "Don't do's" are you paying the trainer to do some simple things you could have done and paying the trainer to 'undo' some things which are slowing down the learning process. When you send your young dog to the trainer, you want it to learn as much as it can in as short a time as it can. Doing the "Do's" and not doing the "Don't's" can help make that happen.
Keep in mind that like us, the dogs learn by association. They associate the good and the bad with what was said when it happened or whether or not you were involved. Think of the example of teaching a puppy not to jump up on you. If you call a puppy to you and it jumps up on you and you hit it in the face with your ball cap, then the pup associates going to you with getting hit in the face. Sure you stopped it from jumping up on you but you also stopped it from coming to you. What I do is lightly step on one of its back feet, making sure I don't make a sound when I do it. If you make a sound and the puppy feels some discomfort or slight pain, then they associate you with causing that. If you don't say a word, then they associate the discomfort with the act of jumping up on you. If you do this correctly 2 or 3 times, the pup will come to you when called and probably take a sitting position right next to you because to him/her, jumping up on you hurts it's feet. So ask yourself every time you do something with your pup, if there's some association the puppy might have picked up from this experience and was it the right one or the wrong one. Let me remind you of the joke about the 3 brothers sitting at the breakfast table and when the mother asked the first one what he wanted for breakfast, he replied that he'd like to have some of those blankety blank corn flakes. The mother promptly backhanded him right out of his chair. When she asked the second, he responded the same way and she gave him the same treatment. When she asked the 3rd boy, he replied "I don't know but you can bet your sweet *&^% I don't want any of those blankety blank corn flakes". Another example of association but the wrong association so give it some thought when you do something.
The following are the things I like and don't like when raising a puppy.
- Teach your puppy it's name--You should be able to call the puppy to you using just it's name. DON'T say "Come Here" because "Come Bye" is the left hand command so don't teach "Come Here". Just say "Here" or "In Here" after you've called it's name and you want it to come to your feet. It's also a good idea to teach "That'll Do" at this time. This is the recall command that herding people use. You would say, "Spot, That'll Do". That way they are associating both their name and the recall command with coming to you. If the pup doesn't immediately come to you, then save the name calling until you can put a light lead rope on it and pull it to you when you call it's name. If it ignores you but you keep calling without doing something about it, then the pup is learning to ignore you and it's name is not being associated with anything other than doing it's own thing.
- Expose your puppy to as many different people and environments as possible. This socializes your pup so when it's time to start training, they won't be easily distracted by noises and other activites going on at the same time. Take your puppy for walks where there's no stock around. As the puppy tries to catch up with you say, "That'll do" or call it's name and say "Here". It's coming to you because it's young and insecure about being alone and on it's own. It'll start associating the verbal commands with going to you. Be sure and reach down and pet and praise it for coming to you. This will make the trainer's job so much easier.
- Teach your puppy to tie and lead--Do it while it is very young. It'll take the restraint with less fuss the younger it is. When going for a walk, put a slip lead on the pup. Some call them choke chains but you can get a small nylon version from your vet or any pet store or feed store. This helps the puppy start to learn about pressure and releasing pressure. If your pup tries to take the lead, give it a slight jerk to the side, enough to cause it's head to change directions. That puts pressure on the dog's neck. When the dog changes directions and stops, then you put slack in the lead, releasing the pressure. Then walk up beside it and start your walk again. After repeating several times, the dog begins to associate that when it gets ahead of you, it gets pressure on it's neck and when it walks beside you, there is no pressure. Sometimes, before starting again, take a couple of steps backwards. This will make the pup start watching you more closely and staying closer to you.
- Teach your puppy to lie down--You can use treats if you want to at first but eventually wean them off of the treats. You're probably thinking, "Isn't this what I pay the trainer for?". What you are doing is conditioning the young dog's mind to learn. It's finding out that learning is okay and not stressful and learning it with someone it knows and likes. Get down on one knee if possible. Take the lead in your hand close to the snap and under the dogs neck. Pull down and towards the dog's hind feet kind of rocking the dog back and then down. Do it gently. When the dog goes down, say "Lie Down". This is not supposed to be a punishment of any kind. This is just something the dog learns to do on command. Stay on one knee for a few minutes and then slowly get up repeating the command as you rise. If the pup gets up, go back down and repeat. With you on one knee, it seems to be less threatening to the puppy to go down because now you aren't so tall. After doing this a couple of days you can probably reach with your foot and step on the lead and say "Lie Down". Have a command to get up, like "That'll Do". Don't just let the pup get up on it's own. Some people teach "Lie Down" and "Stay". That's implying the pup can get up when it wants to unless you say "Stay". If I have told a dog to "Lie Down" and I haven't given another command, then the dog should still be lying down. I shouldn't need another command. You have to control the lying down and the getting up. Allowing the pup to get up on it's own is a BAD habit that'll make things much harder during training.
- Take your puppy for walks off the lead--- Don't ask it to heel, just let it play and be a puppy. This teachs it to follow you, initially because it's afraid you are going to go off and leave it and later because it's become a habit to stay with you. As you get ahead of your pup, stop and say it's name and then say "That'll do". Again you are making the assciation of a verbal command with it's own desire to stay with you. When the pup comes to you, pet and praise it and then start again repeating the process.
- Teach your puppy to pay attention to you--- Often times when you are walking your puppy around on the lead, it will suddenly become so focused on something that it totally forgets that you are there. We need to teach the pup to always keep an ear to us and be aware of what we want at all times. Say the pup's name. If you get a response, pet and praise them for giving you the response. If you don't get a response, stomp your foot or giggle the lead to see if you get a response or gently tap it on the side with your finger or the toe of your shoe. If you still don't get a response, stomp, giggle, or tap a little more aggressively and keep doing that until you get a response. Then pet and praise. Many young dogs go to trainers with such focus that training can not start until they learn to listen and pay attention no matter what's going on. Those pups that are really 'keen' have to almost be 'run off' of stock in order to get them to acknowledge that the human is there and they should pay attention. Teaching the young dog to 'keep an ear tuned' to the person will make the beginning of training go much smoother. We expect our children to be obedient and to listen and respond when spoken to. The same should apply to your puppy if you expect it to be an obedient stock dog.
- Try to get your hands on your puppy everyday--- Handling your puppy is very important. Not just a pat on the head but do something specific. Inspect the bottom of it's feet, roll it over and check for fleas, anything. It will trust you sooner because you've been touching it on a regular basis and it will become better mannered because of being handled. Start a little routine of loosening the puppy's collar one notch in the morning and tightening it back in the evening. You'll be surprised how much better behaved your pup will get by this regular 'hands on' handling.
- Teach your puppy how to be corrected--- If a puppy learns a correction command while with you, it's owner, it'll accept it from me sooner because when they hear it, they're not afraid of it. Many people correct their dogs by saying "No". I think you'll get better and faster results by talking to the dog in it's language and the way one dog tells another dog that they don't like them or they don't like what they are doing is to growl at them. You can do the same thing and it's very effective. I use the word "Hey" but I say it as a growl. "Heeeeeeeyyyy". This applies to anything the dog is doing that I don't like. If I lie the dog down and they start to get up before I tell them to, I say "Heeeeeyyy, lie down". If they are not coming to me when I call them and I know they should, I say "Heeeeeyyyy, that'll do". The dog understands what you mean and will respond quicker than saying something in English.
- Don't let your puppy run loose. They get into things they shouldn't and develop bad habits that you don't know about, like chasing stock when you're not around. Keeping the pup contained in a kennel or yard helps condition the pup to rely on you for additional adventures.
- Please don't let your puppy bark. It should be annoying to you and it certainly is to the trainer you send them to. If you have allowed this to go on, the trainer has to correct the puppy at the same time he/she's trying to build a trusting relationship with your dog. If corrections are being given the first day it arrives, it slows down the dog's acceptance of the new person in it's life. Don't hollar at the puppy for barking. They don't understand English so for all they know, you're barking with them. If you feel you must make a noise, growl. If that doesn't work, go to your puppy and roll it over on it's side and growl to it again. This is the way a dominant dog or pack leader would correct a member of it's pack when the pack member was doing something that it didn't like. This is also establishing you as the pack leader. The next time the puppy barks, you might get the response you want by saying "Shhhh" and snapping your fingers. When correcting a dog for barking, usually the less said the better. If you want to invest in a bark limiter collar, Tri-Tronics sells a training collar the dog wears that will discourage them from barking and the discomfort they feel for barking is not associated with you. The dog wears it when not being supervised by a human. You can find them at www.tritronics.com .
- Don't let your puppy work stock on its own. Puppies should associate working stock with the handler(you or the trainer) there with them and not by themselves. If you don't know what to do it's better to not work stock at all. Allowing the pup to go chase or hassle the stock while you are doing chores or just when you let it out of the kennel to exercise, can make the dog untrainable if this goes on for very long. Here's an example. You let the pup out to run while you do some feeding chores. The dog goes to the stock, you can't do anything about it for a few minutes and when you can get there you immediately grab up the dog and take it away from the stock. What the dog learned from this was that when no one was around it can go chase the stock but when a person gets there it has to quit. You arriving at the scene means no more stock working. That's the association the young dog is catching on to. If you try to call it to get it back and it doesn't come, now the dog has learned to ignore what you are saying. Pups with a good genetic potential are sent home after a few weeks with the trainer or have to spend extra time with the trainer because they won't work stock when anyone's around and they learned that at home. You don't understand because as you tell the trainer, everytime you let it out it goes straight to stock. How come it won't work for the trainer? It wasn't working for you, it was working for itself. Everytime the dog works stock without you, it's writing another chapter in it's own book on how to work stock. It's training itself. In each of those chapters, it's working by itself, not with someone or for someone. When we try to teach it what's in our book, many times they will not let you train them. They'll refuse to work. They'll quit and go to the house. Don't panic if this happens once or twice but don't let it happen more than that. The more times this happens, the longer the pup will have to stay at the trainer to try and overcome what has happened. Your dog could have to stay at the trainer as much as a month more than it would have if this hadn't happened. Spend $5.00 for a chain and snap to tie the pup up while you are doing chores instead of $300 or $400 for that extra month at the trainer's.
- Don't show stock to your puppy over and over with it on a lead. The puppy doesn't need to see stock over and over. If after a few times of taking the pup to stock, it shows an interest and you feel like it wants to work, then that's enough. If you repeatedly take it to stock on a lead and don't let it work, then you're teaching it to not work. The association here is look but don't touch. When the trainer unsnaps the lead, the young dog won't leave their side because it thinks it's not supposed to work.
- Don't use your pup to help you work stock before sending it to the trainer. Because you don't have any control over the dog, it then starts to think that it can do what it wants all the time. Again remember, if you are doing this you are allowing the dog to train itself. The dog and the trainer will have some real battles during the first few months of training. You aren't getting as much for your money as you could have if the dog hadn't come in with some bad habits.
- Be careful of the name you give your pup.--If you haven't already named your pup or the breeder hasn't named your pup, I encourage you to stay away from names that rhyme with the commands we use in herding dogs. If the name rhymes with a command, it could become confusing to the dog as to whether you're calling it's name or giving the command. Here are some of the commands: "Away to Me", "Come-by", "There", "Here", "Stand", "Get Back", "Out", "Lie-Down", "Down", "Look", and "Look Back". If it rhymes with one of those, try to think of something else.
People often ask me about making a pet out of their Border Collie puppy. That's fine as long as you remember that down the road you are going to want this pup to be an obedient stock working dog and obedience starts with day one and must continue on. You'll be okay if you remember it's a dog, not another person, and don't treat it like a person. Many people tend to be sloppy with obedience when it comes to their pet. Where people usually create problems and don't realize it is when going for walks and also when enforcing the lie down. For example, the dog is in the house moving around the family room while you're trying to watch TV. You tell the dog to "Lie Down" but then you get distracted by the phone ringing or someone at the door. Now you go off doing something else besides watching TV and the dog gets up and does something else also. This is bad because the dog didn't wait for a command to get up. In the house it's a good idea to have a dog crate to put the dog in when you're not able to watch it. In the crate there are few commands and therefore the dog is less likely to be disobedient. Lying down and going for walks seem like small things but the mind set that the dog can get into because of a lack of disipline, can cause many problems later on at the trainer's.
You and I and our pups are all a product of heredity and environment. If you bought a pup from good working parents then you've taken care of the heredity part. YOU, control the pup's environment. Just like people, if the environment is good and correct while growing up, then training and adult life should follow suit. If not, not much should be expected and that's not what you want. I know you're anxious and even thou the puppy may seem big enough to work, you have to be patient and stay with a good program if you want this to come out right. If you've made a financial investment in a working dog for the future, don't kill the dream before you get a chance to put your plan into action. Most people don't realize that a pup is learning from day 1 and how they are raised has a lot of effect on their trainability. Raise your puppy so someone can train it.