Caitlin, a young High School student from Australia, is doing a class project on "How To Raise a Puppy." Caitlin chose this topic because she is extremely passionate about animals and is raising a Labrador pup of her own.
Caitlin has these questions for us. I have done my best to answer her, but you might like to add your own comments below, please be sure to reference the question you are answering when you do.
Q. Do dogs respond best to positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, or a balanced mixture of both?
A. Dogs will respond to both positive and negative training methods, or a mixture of both. Some dogs do not cope well with aversive (negative) training, and it is easier for a trainer to do long term damage using aversive training methods.
But really the question becomes "what am I comfortable training my dog with?" Some of us have made the decision that we are simply not comfortable using aversive training methods when we have an option not to.
Q. How do you stop your dog from barking, pulling washing off the line, destroying plants, and digging?
A. First we look at management. How do we prevent our dog from destroying plants? How do we keep our dog out of situations where he is likely to bark? Can I give my dog somewhere to dig that doesn't damage the garden?
Once we have minimised the chances for our dogs to rehearse unwanted behavior, then we look at training. Can I train an incompatible behavior? Can I change the unwanted behavior into something more acceptable? Can I give my dog other things to do? Is my dog doing these things because he has a need which isn't being met? If so, how can I meet that need?
Examples would include training your dog to:
- bark just three times, then wait on a mat when a visitor comes to the door
- play with a 'legal' toy attached to the washing line but leave the washing alone
- play with a food dispensing toy in a pen instead of digging up plants
- use a sand-pit with buried toys instead of digging in the garden
Remember, dogs do what works for them. If your dog is doing something you don't like, ask yourself what purpose it serves for your dog and try to find a solution based around that. In the above examples notice how we have provided the dog with behaviors that meet the needs of the dog and the owner.
Q. How often and for how long should I train my puppy?
A. That depends on the puppy and how long pup remains interested in training for. The best all-round recommendation is to train for 5 minutes at least once a day, if not two or three times a day. Funnily enough, this same advice could apply to older dogs too!
Q. How long should walks be for my puppy?
A. This is a question for your vet, but the general recommendation is about 20 minutes at a time. Watch pup and see how long he plays for, then how long he rests for to get a general idea.
Q. What are the ingredients of raising a happy, well-behaved puppy?
A. Reinforce the behaviors you want more of, ignore or manage the behaviors you want less of. Introduce pup to new things, people, other friendly dogs and places every single day. Make these experiences fun and rewarding for pup.
Q. Would you say a dog is spoilt if he/she is fed human food instead of dog food, and is allowed in and on people’s beds and chairs?
A. Let's look at those two things separately. There is a lot of debate about what is the best food for a dog, but you have asked specifically whether or not feeding "human food" instead of "dog food" is spoiling a dog. I don't think feeding any particular food will spoil a dog unless the food is unhealthy for a dog, given in too large a quantity, or given too freely. Food should only be given at meal times and as a reward for behavior you wish to reinforce.
Allowing a dog on furniture for people won't cause any problems in and of itself. It might cause a problem if the dog sees the furniture as a resource and has uncontrolled access to it. For this reason it is often best to teach a dog to get on or off a piece of furniture on cue.
Q. How soon should I socialize my puppy?
A. Straight away, and don't stop! But make sure these experiences are fun and rewarding for pup. The important thing is for pup to be comfortable with these experiences, and not frightened or over-excited. That is not to say that you should avoid all stressful experiences, but guide pup and control the experience so that pup quickly becomes comfortable with it.
Q. How do puppies learn tricks?
A. You train them using positive reinforcement. Break the trick down into tiny, easy pieces and build it up, step by step. Clicker Training is an excellent way to teach puppies tricks.
Q. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. Is this statement true or false?
A. False. If your dog is physically capable of performing the trick, you can train it at any age, so long as the dog is healthy.
Q. Are treats necessary when training my puppy?
A. No, but training with treats (or even normal food) is far more efficient and convenient than by any other method. Dog trainers often use other rewards, such as tug or fetch games, but these slow training down simple because it takes longer to play a game than give a food treat.
Remember, dogs will work for food and after a while, many dogs prefer to work for food than to get it for free!
Q. How do I know how my puppy is feeling?
A. By watching him and learning what his body language and behavior tells you about how he is feeling. But never assume you know what your dog is thinking or how he is feeling.