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To Tug, or not to tug?

Tug games with your dog can be one of the most rewarding games for dogs, most just love it!  It’s a great way to reward after a job well done, as many working and agility handlers do, or to use as a distraction in an exciting situation.

However, I do have concerns on teaching it to the very young puppy who is still learning what is know as bite inhibition – the ability to control the pressure of their bite.    This crucial skill must be learned before they are 4 months of age, because it is nearly impossible to learn after that time.  The best way is through socializing with other pups, as in a Puppy Kindergarten.  There they learn that if in play they bite down too hard – the other pup squeals and won’t play any longer.  Humans can provide the exact same feedback – high pitched “ouch!” when the pup mouths your inappropriately and on a second occurrence, you stop playing and leave.

Many young pups that engage in tug with rope or cloth toys have a problem distinguishing this joy of the hard grab and bite in the tug game, from doing the same to your shirt or pants.  I only teach tug after I have a totally solid “out” command with any type of toy and when I’m certain that my pup has enough self control to listen when he’s all revved up.   This is a great way to teach self control – but they need to demonstrate the “out” with toys first, before I introduce tug.

This is specially true when there are children in the household. I want to be absolutely sure that the puppy understands the rules, because a puppy playing tug with a child’s pant leg can be a very frightening thing!  Because of children’s quicker movements, higher voices and general proximity – pups often feel that they are just another playmate for them and might engage too enthusiastically for a small child to be comfortable with.  Those very sharp teeth can be unintentionally dangerous!

Tug is a great game and wonderful skill to teach – but be sure to introduce it properly, so that it doesn’t lead to behavioral issues down the road!

Puppy training basics

Young dogs go through a number of physical and mental stages as they grow and it’s important that we keep this in mind as we train.

Puppies in the 8 weeks -4.5 month stage are growing quickly, but mentally are very immature with a very short attention span.  They still retain a high level of dependency on their owners which translates to a desire to please.  At this stage this willingness makes it fairly easy to train the basic commands, and an excellent time to set the ground rules for what you expect down the road.  You need to clearly establish the house rules now to be effective later.  Often, the puppy will challenge the youngest and smallest in the house and they tend to see them as playmates.  Teaching young children how to handle the pup respectfully is very important – they’re not stuffed animals!

 Behaviors that are totally common in puppies might seem cute now, but will not be as endearing in an adult dog.  It is best to manage them now before they become ingrained.  Behavior such as begging, nipping and chewing in play, jumping up and getting on the furniture are normal concerns – but they can translate into big problems down the road.  Set out your house rules consistently and show your puppy positive alternative behaviors, such as redirecting to a soft floppy toy when they want to grab your pantleg.

All training is cumulative – even small activities can help improve  the total learning of your dog.  Training a dog to come when called is not just about them understanding what the command “come” means, but knowing that they will be rewarded when they listen to you.

Puppies are not good at policing themselves – they naturally need to chew, may not have excellent bladder control yet and don’t have a clear understanding of what is yours or theirs.  Therefore, it is important to limit your puppy’s range both when you’re at home and when you’re away.

Crate training can be very effective for this when done humanely, and can be the difference between coming home to a puppy who you are as happy to see as they are to see you.  Accidents from too much room to roam are going to happen in a young dog – and it is up to the owner to help the puppy be successful.  Baby gates to control the amount of freedom your puppy has are an excellent means of letting the dog be with the family while not allowing them to wander out of sight and get in trouble.

Long days at home alone can be just too much for a puppy, and if given a chance they will look for ways to entertain themselves that might not be so acceptable to you.  A “safe” room, such as a laundry or fenced off basement area, can be an ideal alternative to a crate.   You can leave toys, a chew bones and maybe a corner with pee pad/paper if you have to be away for too long.  This way you can possibly crate at night and have a safe space for the puppy during the day – or vice-versa.  The general rule of thumb is that a puppy can only be successful at housetraining for as many hours as they are months old.  When they’re up and actively playing though, 30 to 45 minutes is appropriate. Working towards helping your dog be successful at being alone is very important in how your relationship develops. 

 

New Puppy Crate Mates

 

I always recommend that before bringing puppy home, clients find a stuffed dog for their new addition. Sometimes I get the feeling that people think this is a tad crazy! However, the puppies really do appreciate their new buddy and most bond with it quickly.

Try to remember that your puppy is likely leaving behind a litter of buddies and that the transition can be stressful on a number of levels. Puppies tend to sleep in “pig piles” when they’re together; completely on top of each other and cuddled up close for comfort. Suddenly, mom is gone, as are all the familiar sights, scents and sounds and they’re all alone in their crate or bed.

At this age, puppy vision is not highly advanced and they tend to see more generalized outlines and recognize color shades. So if you find a stuffed dog with similar size and coloring to their litter mates, and the same type of ears – floppy or up – puppies will recognize them as their new buddy.

Here’s Dante, happily curled up with a very chocolate lab looking toy!

As improbable as it may seem, I’ve seen it happen over and over and they really do seem to take some level of security and comfort from their stuffed buddy! Sonic still has his buddy, “Dale” as his favorite crate mate.

So help your puppy have a positive transition! Pick up a crate mate before bringing them home.

Welcome to the new site!

Our new site has a blog and members can share their personal experiences and concerns with their dogs. Others can comment and share experiences.