Training your puppy.
One of the main problems that I see with some dog owners that I visit is that they have zero engagement with their dogs. Engagement with your dog or puppy is an essential life skill for your dog or puppy to learn, without engagement, you are going to struggle to achieve anything with your dog.
Why do you need your puppy or dog to learn this important life skill called engagement?
Well, we must keep our dogs safe from danger, we need engagement for things like when we are out walking our puppy or dog, it helps also with recall which means your dog comes back to you when called, and having engagement helps with other distractions that may be going on in the environment.
When you have that connection and relationship with your dog, they look to you for guidance, you are the source of attention and not everything else in the environment, such as other people or dogs. Your dog will check in with you regularly, they will want to be with you because they want to, not because you forced them to be with you.
Relationship with your dog.
Some owners can make the mistake when they get their puppy of giving give them access to everything, and too many freedoms too soon. You need to build on your relationship with your puppy and engagement, also you want those boundaries to be put in place because these are the foundations of your training.
A problem for some owners is starting their walk by getting pulled out the front door and pulled to the park until they finally arrive at the park. Then they immediately take the lead off their puppy/dog and then let them run around playing with other dogs or chasing squirrels like an adrenaline junkie. Your dog has now been rewarded for pulling you to the park (zero engagement involved or training) and now they get the bonus ball of they get to play with lots of other dogs. By doing this daily with your puppy or dog you are not going to be the source of attention in your dog’s life. You are making everything else in the environment have more value than you.
Your puppy will go through life changes.
Your puppy is going to develop through various stages (just like children) and each stage brings changes in behaviour. It changes the way they respond to you, the world, and the environment. This is the point that I am trying to make, starting early with your training is the key. Some owners can think they are doing ok in the puppy stage, because when they are puppies, they are extremely easy, willing, and coachable, but as they get older, they go through sexual maturity which normally starts around 7/8 months of age and the hormones are changing and so is your puppy. This is the time dog trainers normally get that call from dog owners for help! So do not make the mistake of thinking everything will stay the same with your puppy.
What can you do to build up engagement with your dog?
Engagement can be done in many ways. It can be built through training, games, and fun. As soon as your puppy or dog shows you engagement they should be rewarded and then they will want to focus on you more frequently. Hand-feeding your dog can be a game changer. You can measure out your dog’s food allowance for the day, place the food in a treat pouch, and anytime they give you a behaviour you like you can reward them. You can use a cue word YES and reward it with a treat and the same when your dog checks in with you (looks at you). Here are some examples of engagement, when you’re on a walk with your puppy and they look at you, cue YES reward with a treat, walking through the front door with your dog or puppy, wait for them to look at you cue YES reward with a treat, then you can move forward on your walk. Food has immense value in improving your dog’s life, they can learn faster, be mentally stimulated and have a more enriched life. You are going to be a vending machine for your dog.
Engagement with Play & Toys.
Playing with your puppy is a wonderful way to build engagement and a relationship with your dog. Most professional dog handlers such as sports, and agility, will use play as a reward. Games like Tug of War pulley ropes, and fetch. Training your dog to fetch an object can give your dog that outlet that’s needed and physical exercise. Puppies love chasing our legs and picking up objects, this behaviour is normal in puppies. This is why correctly playing with your puppy can help you channel this natural drive to chase and bite and hold to your benefit.
Attention as Engagement.
Giving attention to your puppy at the correct times is also a form of engagement. Choosing how and when to praise and give attention to your puppy can strengthen your engagement with your puppy. Example: you can train your dog behaviours like going to bed or place, when your dog is on their bed or place, you can give them attention. When they are not on their bed or place, we don’t give attention, your puppy is learning that I get attention or praise when I’m calm, or on my bed.
Start to implement rules and boundaries in your home. This means no free access to toys, and all the play should start and end on your terms. Find a game your dog enjoys, play with your dog for about 10 minutes, then end the game, and put the toys away at the end of the game. If your dog has access to toys constantly, they start to lose value.
Out walking your dog.
When you are out walking your puppy do not let people pet or give treats to your puppy because you are teaching them that other people are more valuable than you. Train your puppy to ignore other dogs when you are out walking, this also means lead greetings. When you are out on your walk together, start rewarding your puppy every time he checks in with you (looks at you). Do not start thinking your puppy has to see everybody and all other dogs on a walk. Socialisation has morphed into a belief that we must put our puppies into lots of situations and encourage them to get on with every dog. When you do socialise, your puppy lets them play with other dogs that you know in a controlled and safe environment.
With the correct training and engagement in place, you are now going to be the most valuable thing to your dog’s life, having a balanced trained dog and a good relationship is key. Once your dog is trained, they can have more freedom in the future, because you know you can get your dog back to you from any situation, and your recall is 💯 proofed.
If you are struggling with your puppy, get help from a dog behaviourist, do not wait to see how they will turn out or think they will improve with age.