“God made the earth, the sky and water, the moon and the sun. He made man and bird and beast. But he didn’t make the dog: He already had one” – Native American Saying
Within the last few years, I have noticed that public awareness and knowledge about dogs’ emotional and physical development and needs have significantly increased. Potential dog owners are more likely to conduct their own research prior choosing a puppy and when we book a puppy course at the age of 8 weeks, these owners are already armed with quite a lot of knowledge and motivation to help their pups to become reliable members of human society.
My name is James Grey, I am an accredited Royal Kennel Club Dog training instructor (KCAI CD) and I work as a dog trainer for the last 38 years. Since 2000 , I started focusing on behavioural and emotional aspects of the dog for two main reasons:
– usual training was often not working and no one could explain me why;
– new studies about dogs’ behaviour, development and cognition became available and they opened a brand new page in dog training and dog-human relationships.
I became more interested in taking on board behaviour cases because I found it very important to dig deeper to see what lays inside of the dog with issues and how I can improve his quality of life. Now, I provide a dog-owner centred care where the relationships and dog’s emotional side are my top priorities. I often use a combined approach using training and behaviour modification techniques to get the best outcome from the dog.
In this blog, kindly offered to me by Lady Wimbledon, I will cover a few moments to support all potential and existing dog owners on their way into successful dog-human relationships.
Let’s start from choosing the breed. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we talk about pedigree dogs only. There are plenty of so called “designer” dogs – a mix of different breeds, or you may opt for adopting a dog from a shelter. However, the main principles remain the same. It is also helpful if you check to what group of dogs your breed falls into. There are currently seven major groups with a couple of subgroups within them. By simply looking into description of these groups, we can figure out what we can expect from the breed. It could be herding, or guarding, or focusing on smell, energy level and so on.
Rather than asking what dog would be good/right for you, ask yourself what do you want your dog to do? Most breeds were created for specific purposes and will be hard-wired and pre-programmed to perform specific (but not always desirable for companion dog owners) behaviours. “Designer” dogs pose another problem – 2-3 dog breeds combined in one and we never know which trait would be leading in that particular puppy. This is what we call Nature and Nurture where the Nature is what we cannot change – genetic and hereditary fundament, “blue-prints” – this includes appearance and behavioural traits (including some types of aggression, stalking, guarding etc) and Nurture is what we can change – the environment in which this puppy was born and his further life experience and training.
Interestingly enough, there is no guarantee that your chosen puppy will show all desired behaviours. For example, a border collie may fail on showing “an eye” or your cavapoo suddenly starts stalking other dogs to your intimidation… Things happen and we should bear it in mind.
Your previous experience with the breed and dogs (if you are not a professional trainer) may also play some tricks. I see it every now and then and I simply would like you to bear it in mind that all dogs of the same breed are different and have their own character and temper. They will highly likely be not the same very dog that you had before. They are the same as us – individuals with their own cockroaches in heads…
Here is a short list of what could help you to make a right choice:
- Breed’s energy level, training needs and your experience – those smart dogs on tele shows and in movies could be very tempting but none of those dogs came to life being trained and it often takes years to get to that level. They are smart but this can play against you as these dogs quickly learn to ignore you if there is not enough leadership and consistency in place.
- The environment – where are you going to walk your dog x3 times a day when at least once should be a long walk off leash? Does your home have a safe place out of the way for your dog to rest without being permanently disturbed and requested to move away? It doesn’t mean it needs to be an extra room for a dog. It is all about having a space, a corner, where you could place a dog’s bed without having a need to step over it every now and then.
- Your own family, commitments and health. I would strongly advise not to get a puppy for your relatives that struggle with depression or other mental health issues. Dogs indeed can help people with different conditions but they need to be trained first! People with conditions will find puppies hard to handle and their expectations of having a dog and enjoying his company will almost always fail as each puppy will require some training before they actually become a good companion dog. This is one of my “hard stops” – if you want to help those people in needs, get a puppy trained first by yourself with a help of a professional trainer before you give that dog to the person in need. Otherwise, I have a number of cases when both sides deteriorated and the dog had to be rehomed.
There is a myth that dogs require a lot of space inside the house and that flats are not suitable for them. This is far from the truth because most of activities should be carried out outside during your walks when you not only enjoy the walk itself but also engage with the dog maintaining a good balance between physical and mental exercises. These sessions and activities with you are especially important during the puppyhood and adolescent (teenage) periods of your dog. This is how you create a strong bond and relationships with your dog.
NB: All current pedigree or non-pedigree pet dogs we refer to in this article are actually the designer dogs. We intervened the Nature and created them for our different needs. Roughly saying, there are only about 250 million pet dogs on a planet. The rest 750 million are free roaming dogs. The village dogs. The ancient ones. The ones that all domestic and pedigree dogs are coming from. Let’s keep them there – they do not need our rehoming!
Oh, those big brown eyes!
Once you see them, your emotions take control and the logical part of your brain shuts down…
This is what commercial breeders use to trick you into buying from them. There is an easy way how to find out if your breeder really cares about health and wellbeing of their litters and dogs they use for breeding. I’ve created a user friendly step by step guide what to do once you found a litter of pedigree or non-pedigree puppies:
- Before choosing and collecting a puppy. Have you been allowed to come in person once or twice to see the litter before choosing and collecting a puppy? Have you seen their mother? Have the breeder provided you with videos and photos of pups (usually on a weekly basis) so you could see them in action? For pedigree dogs – has the litter been registered on the Royal Kennel Club page with parents’ pedigrees and health checks available there? If the answer is No to any of these questions – avoid this breeder.
- When collecting a puppy. The first vaccination DHP+L, worming and microchipping had to be done by the breeder at the age of 8 weeks. On collection, you should get the following:
- Puppy contract – a legal document signed by both parties;
- Vaccination record card – these controlled drugs must have stickers confirming a manufacturer, medication and a batch number. Vets sign off with the date of vaccination. This is another confirmation that the puppy had his first health check;
- Microchip number and in which database it was registered;
- Pedigree or receipt of the registration certificate if applicable. This will contain information and options on how you can transfer the ownership into your name. If the registration certificate is not available at the time of purchase, ensure that you receive confirmation in writing from the breeder that this will be sent to you when it’s available.
If any of the above is missing – avoid this breeder. If you are being pushed to buy in a hurry – avoid – as they are trying to find those buyers that are desperate and will not check. Together we can stop Puppy Mills!
Take my breath away!
How to choose that very puppy from the litter? It is not necessary a lottery – there are some common rules that could help you to make the right decision.
First of all, ask the breeder to send you a few videos of the litter when puppies are visible and interacting with each other while playing or eating – this can tell you a lot about their characters and temper. When meeting pups at the age of 5 weeks for example, you may try to separate your favourite one from the litter to see if there is any severe separation issues or a puppy prefers a new toy without paying any interest to you, or maybe he completely ignores a new toy and prefers you and only you. We are normally looking for something in between – a little interest in a toy and in you. Another temperament test that behaviourists use is to gently turn a puppy onto his back and gently hold him in this position for a very short period of time (5-10 seconds) with your palm so he is not able roll back. The usual pup’s reaction would be to try to get back on his paws but we wait to see what would happen once he realises he is not allowed to (by our hand). If within these 5-10 seconds the pup becomes very agitated, crying, biting etc, it is likely that these types of behaviours will manifest once he grows up. We would prefer a pup that will try to escape but without overreacting.
NB This has nothing to do with an “Alpha roll” as we should not apply any force during this gentle assessment. Alpha roll is outdated and even a harmful practice that was used ages ago when we had not enough knowledge about dogs’ development and emotions.
Back to School
Puppy training/education starts immediately once you bring your puppy home. There is no need to wait until he is allowed to go out. It is not the obedience we are looking for. We are working on relationships, motivation and leadership, learning to learn and enjoy the process. This also includes teaching your puppy some house rules and being able to stay on his own and prevent separation disorders from developing into a big issue. Lots of my clients brought me in to start training at the age of 8 weeks while puppies were still “housebound” due to vaccination and none of those puppies were hard to deal with later in life. When you know me, you’ll find out I am a big fun of prevention…
Darkness has no difference from Light. Except fear…
Another important tip about how to raise a well-behaving puppy is to start socialisation and gentle grooming practices once you got your puppy home. I’ve mixed them both together because the process and the reason are very similar – habituation and making puppy’s experience positive. Fear induced aggression is the main cause of dogs’ bites and reactivity. Both socialisation and handling/grooming are slow ongoing processes and there is no need to rush. Once this is achieved, it will simply need to be maintained throughout your dog’s life.
Socialisation doesn’t mean that your dog needs to be pet by hundreds of people and learn to jump on them on default, or that he needs to meet and play with all possible dogs on the walk. The most important is that your puppy is aware of different events and situations, aware that there are people and kids of different colours, clothes, sounds and sizes, and there are many different dogs and other animals around but they are not a threat. The same applies to grooming and handling. In both cases – fear is our main enemy. Once you get your puppy familiar with what he could face later in life, your own life will become much easier and cheaper as you will be able to do things on your own for free. It is that simple:
You start gently and briefly touching your dog’s different body parts, not as a part of the play but using treats and reassurance to create a positive experience. If your pup would require trimming in future, get a clipper and introduce it to your pup without switching it on at this stage. Brushing teeth is another important procedure for your dog’s health but before you actually start brushing them, you may find it much easier to start with touching your dog’s mouth and surrounding areas during your training sessions. Some dog breeds will require extra care inside their ears or paws and pads. From my experience working at the Vet clinic many years ago, the worst and the most aggressive dogs were spaniels with dermatitis and ear infections as none of them had early life experience of being handled plus pain was driving them completely mad. This is avoidable if you teach your puppy to tolerate your touch.
In our next session, we will talk about preventing a puppy from developing destructive behaviours and separation disorders. We will touch base about what to do if your puppy or dog has issues and where and when to seek help.
For more help & advice follow James Grey online or contact:
Tel: 07724 776698