Puppy training: why it’s essential for dogs

Puppy training may seem like a bit of a luxury, or unnecessary effort to some pet owners, but as trainer Janina Kruger points out what you put in at the beginning pays rewards in the long-term. Dogs that are not trained as puppies tend to exhibit a range of behavioural issues and bad habits.

Dogs are highly social animals and need a well-developed means of communication with other dogs, and a way to confidently cope with the varying environments and stimuli they will encounter throughout their lives.

While learning is ongoing, puppies have a very short period – up until 16 weeks, – where they are especially receptive, and where the most work needs to be done, building up a ‘frame of reference’ for them for all things, living and inanimate.

When this window closes (called the critical socialisation period) they will increasingly regard any novelty with suspicion.

Puppy training: the basics

As a puppy owner, you will need to introduce your puppy to as much as possible, living and inanimate, with every experience being a really good one, before your pup reaches the age of 16 weeks. Socialisation & Habituation are crucial during this period, in order to build up your pup’s ‘reference library’ of experiences.

Socialisation entails introducing as many different animals and types of people as possible, e.g. cats, other dogs and puppies, horses, cattle, sheep (if possible) babies, toddlers, young children, teenagers, elderly people, and people of different colours. Consider types of clothing and gear too, e.g. cyclists, people with walking sticks or wheelchairs, coats, hats, glasses, and beards.

Habituation entails introducing inanimate objects, e.g. lawnmowers, vacuum cleaners, hairdryers, the washing machine, wheelie bins, motorbikes, bicycles, rubbish trucks, buses, skateboards, and car rides.

Why ‘school’ is so important

Puppy School is a vital part of a puppy’s development.

• Owners/handlers learn how to do gentle body handling with their pups. It is essential that puppies are comfortable with, and enjoy, being touched and felt all over, so that all future vet visits and possible grooming visits are stress-free. Owners also learn in this way what is normal on their pup’s body, so that a hotspot, a lump, thorn or tick is picked up and treated by your vet, if needed.

• During class, puppies will get to meet at least five or six new people, and other pups of all shapes and sizes. They will get the opportunity to have supervised play, in a safe environment, where they will learn to read other puppies’ body language, learn how to inhibit their biting, and learn manners. They will learn how to self-regulate during play, to avoid over-arousal and games ending in squabbles.

• There are obstacle courses every week for pups to negotiate which assist with proprioception (sense of self-movement and body position), confidence building, and balance, both emotional and physical.

• Basic obedience (should always be done using positive reinforcement). It teaches pups to focus on their owner, and obey basic obedience commands.

• All puppy problems are discussed, with gentle, and positive solutions, e.g. house training, biting, chewing, jumping up, digging, resource guarding, as well as socialisation and habituation, and lots more.

• Puppy classes should be fun, and most importantly,  help to strengthen the bond between owner and puppy.

Puppy training is critical in those first few weeks before the puppy reaches 16 weeks. If a puppy is not exposed to sufficient challenges and experiences during this period, his reference library of experiences will remain small, and result in a high level of sensitivity to anything new into adulthood.

This end result is a dog who is fearful and reactive to anything novel. About 30% of canine behaviour problems referred to animal behaviourists concern problems of fearfulness and reactivity resulting from a lack of proper socialisation and habituation during the critical period.

It is for this reason that puppy school is so essential for a puppy, in order to develop into a well-balanced, well-socialised and confident adult dog.

Puppy trainer Janina Kruger (second right) and her pupils

Information supplied by Janina Kruger, puppy socialisation & habituation, clicker obedience classes, and Tellington TTouch behaviour consults. She can be reached in Hermanus on 082 490 1650

 

 

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