When we bring our pups home, they have no concept of their name (unless your breeder has been working hard!). They respond reliably to no specific sound, name, noise or action. They have learned no associations to any of the words we use, and have no concept of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ behaviours. So, how do we set about associating certain words, or actions? And how can we use certain noises or sounds to help discourage undesirable behaviours?
When you think of some of the behaviours your pup performs, the undesirable ones, the ones that drive us mad, what would they include? Biting would certainly be one! Chewing inappropriate objects, grabbing trousers/legs, barking, leaping on the household cat even! There are a lot of behaviours we don’t like, however normal and natural they may be. Puppies have no concept of whether certain behaviours are what we want, or what we don’t want.
Often, we resort to using our pups name to either distract, gain attention, or to reprimand. Our pup is merrily chomping on the table leg, and we say ‘Max!’, or ‘Max no!’. There are a few reasons this will prove to be ineffective:
- Don’t overuse your pups name! Puppies have no concept of a ‘name’ like we do, they don’t associate a name with a ‘self’, or individual within themselves. You can, and indeed should, play the ‘name game’ and start associations being made to their name. (Get in touch for information about the name game). If you repeatedly say your pups name without following up with a consequence, good or bad, there is no associations made and that name means nothing. Additionally, if you use your pups name preceding a ‘no!’ or another negative consequence, you are then conditioning that name to mean something unpleasant will follow.
- Don’t say ‘no’ without prior conditioning! The word ‘no’ means nothing to our pups, it means a lot to us of course, but if you simply say the word ‘no’, it is a word like any other, like bananas or sun! If you are going to use the word ‘no’, you would need to teach a puppy what that means, and ensure you are including this within your training sessions, not just WHEN your pup is doing something you don’t approve of. This is do-able, but there are easier ways.
- You’re not telling your pup what you want them to do! The most important one! You’re suppressing behaviour, not asking for new or alternative behaviours. You will be hard pushed to ask a puppy to stop doing one thing, and presume he will simply lay down and settle, without prior training in what ‘settle’ means, plus regular practice during training sessions.
- What will happen when you’re not there?? If you use a firm ‘no!’, your pup may be fearful of performing certain behaviours in front of you, however when you are out of the room or out of the house, then what happens? He will perform them. There is only a negative consequence to the behaviour when you are in the house, and your pup will very quickly learn this.
- It doesn’t work! Have you ever tried repeatedly and firmly saying ‘no!’ to your puppy? I think we can all agree, it doesn’t have the desired effect and if anything, encourages the behaviour due to the added excitement!
So, how can we get around this? We can’t say our pups name, we can’t say no, what CAN we say?? We can use what is called a positive interrupter. I’ve touched on these before, but they are VERY very useful for tackling behaviours you don’t like. I am not suggesting in ANY way you should let your pup free roam in the house, and leap in with a positive interrupter when they start chewing! What I AM suggesting, is you manage/prevent behaviours, and use a positive interrupter during your training sessions every day. On the rare occasions you’re not on the ball and your pup gains access to something he shouldn’t, you can then use your positive interrupter to help. You will have done a lot of background work, and built it up to the point where it will be successful in all situations.
So, how do positive interrupters work? A positive interrupter is a verbal cue (or, can be a physical cue such as a finger touch on the back). The cue word you use should be something upbeat and fun, as you are more likely to say it in an ‘upbeat tone’ if it’s something light-hearted. Some people like to use a ‘kissy’ noise, others say ‘pup pup pup’ in quick succession, some may say ‘hey!’ in a high tone, but what word you use is down to you. You simply pair that sound with something positive, ie. a treat and set about practicing this in your training sessions every day.
You will be simply pairing the noise with the treat for a few repetitions, you will then start to mark the ‘turn around’ your pup makes when you say the sound. You can then start to incorporate this into your training sessions, a couple of times at the beginning of each training session, and start to randomly perform it throughout your day too. It is important, once you have established a positive interrupter, that you start to ask for another behaviour immediately following. Also, it’s important to bear in mind what you WANT your pup to do instead, ensure you have worked on it during training sessions, and redirect to that behaviour. Following behaviours may be eye contact, ‘on your bed’, or ‘come’, after your pup turns round then reward.
Word of warning! If you are going to start teaching a positive interrupter cue, ensure you ALWAYS practice this in situations where your pup is NOT performing undesirable behaviours. If you only use this when your pup is chewing/biting/barking etc, your pup will learn he has to perform that behaviour, then you say your interrupter to cue, he stops, and gets a treat! This is called back chaining, they learn that the performance of a certain behaviour elicits a response from you, which results in a treat. So, always practice this regularly when your pup ISN’T biting or chewing or barking.
I must add, watch your puppy! All puppies, at some point, lay down, relax and settle. You may feel these calm moments are few and far between, but they do occur. These are your moments to reward your puppy, reinforce a behaviour we like and which is naturally occurring. Never let yourself get into the habit of only rewarding your puppy for stopping doing something bad! So, prevent -> watch -> reinforce -> repeat.
For more information about the services I offer, including 1-2-1 puppy training and puppy training classes, just get in touch!