When we bring our pups home, we have set goals in our minds of what we want our pups to grow into. Maybe you know of an adult dog now who behaves well and your aim is to have your dog behave similarly, or maybe you had a dog as a child who was wonderful, and you’re wanting a similar companion now. Largely, we have ideas and plans to create this ‘perfect’ dog. With all the best intentions, we plan for the necessities, but do we often miss out on the fundamental exercises and lessons we really need to teach our pups?
What are a new puppy owners first thoughts? There are a few, here’s a few ideas:
Walking well on a lead
Sit on cue
These, are often some of the most important things people start to work on, and rightfully so. These are basic dog behaviours we should be encouraging our pups to grasp. However, whilst these are important, there is one common thread linking all of these…….engagement. What do I mean by ‘engagement’? We can think of others words; participation, joining, taking part, involvement, interest, I think you get the idea! We as owners, from a very early age, even before we start to expect our pups to walk well on a lead or come when we call, need to have shown our pups that engaging with us, interacting with us, and looking to us for cues/guidance is actually incredibly rewarding and incredibly fulfilling. Pups don’t arrive with us ‘trained’ (thank goodness, can you imagine how boring that would be?!), they are completely unaware that having interactions with us and taking part in training etc is rewarding and fun, it’s our job to SHOW and teach our pups that. We may hold a treat to our pups nose and lure them into a sit, that’s brilliant and I suggest you DO teach your pups to sit, however engaging with you and indeed learning to OFFER engagement is truly something to encourage.
We worry so much about teaching a reliable recall or gaining the perfect ‘heel’, that we forget to work on the actual process of paying attention to us. This, in itself, is an exercise and one which can start from the day you have your puppy.
If a puppy is taught from very early on that their owner/handler is actually MORE rewarding and full of fun than the environment around them, they’re far more likely to seek out engagement with you. So before we start expecting them to learn the behaviours we want to teach, lets start by encouraging them to actually want to listen to us!
How do we start off some engagement training? There are a few ways, here’s a couple:
- Teaching/encouraging eye contact – People may not start teaching this until further down the line in their training, however you can start this (and I recommend you do) from the day you have your pup home!
- Games – Tricks or games which involve your pup needing to find you or interact with you/your body in some way – Weaving through legs? Hide and seek? Target training?
- Capturing check ins – Our pups will sporadically ‘check in’ with us regularly throughout a day, they will either look for you/offer eye contact, come and find you if you are in another room, run up to you, capture these! (Don’t know what capturing is? Have a look back through my articles!)
- Hand feeding – I’m not suggesting you sit on the floor at every meal time and feed your puppy their whole meal, however the odd bit of hand feeding can really help your pup to ENGAGE with you, and for a fairly long duration, learning that actually you’re pretty exciting and good things come from you!
All of these can be started early, you don’t have to wait until you go to training classes to begin this focus training and I indeed urge you to start early. If you find your pup is NOT very engaged and doesn’t offer many behaviours whereby he is interacting, looking, or approaching you, use a little prompt! Make a ‘kissy’ noise, he’ll soon whizz his head round to look at you and when he does you have something to mark and reward. You can of course, extend this. Once your pup has reached an age where he can go on walks, have a little engagement game on your walks! Walk 5 steps in any direction and the second your pup looks to you (which he will if you’re walking in lefts/rights/diagonals/back) mark ‘YES’ and reward. We talk a lot about ‘checking in’ when we’re walking our pups, any offering of behaviours such as coming back or looking at you, mark these!! These are important and if your pup offers these, before you’ve even put them on cue, we want our pups to learn this is huuuugely rewarding.
I cover basic focus exercises during my 1-2-1’s, if you would like more information just get in touch!