For Our New Puppy Parents
Base behaviors for the program
Your dog will eventually be required to go off leash with us in order to stay in our program. The ability to be off leash is one of our greatest screeners. The well behaved and well balanced dogs you want around your own can be off leash, so, the ones that can't do it are asked to find alternative care. But don't worry, it's very very rare that a client would start a puppy with us and then not hit that mark. What's important is simply to understand that we have to hit it together. We cannot be tasked with all the training of the behaviors that are important for our program, like recall. In fact, we are not going to be successful if we're the ones that build the base of any behavior. Behaviors should be learned initially in a much less distracting and more controlled environment. Our environment is best for bulletproofing behaviors. If we get the steady foundation from you, we build upon it and will make it rock solid.
Recall is the #1 most important behavior. My advice is that you teach it in a low distraction environment and then slowly but surely level up the distraction present around your training sessions until you reach the max level, but NEVER use it above their current level! Use setup or tools to limit your need to. You wouldn't lift weights above your level in the gym, and you'd avoid real life circumstances where you're asked to lift above your limit until you're ready. You figure out your max and you work below it, leveling up slowly with your progress toward an end goal. If you jump levels you hurt yourself. However, all too often clients jump levels and do something like use their recall command at the dog park when their dog is simply not ready to perform it there, and would then be practicing NOT coming when called. Instead, in situations where your dog is not setup to succeed I say, “use your feet, not your mouth,” and go get the dog.
All important behaviors and links to videos are listed on our Blog spot, which is a great reference for you in raising your dog. Sometimes I get frequently asked questions and I write a blog post to answer them as well. Feel free to send any in.
Here are some important article links:
Training Material: Links to training videos on various important primary topics
Coming When Called: A how to article on all the elements you need for perfect recall
Off Leash Training: Why it's important and safe to start young
The Karate Kid Method: How practice makes perfect
Neutering and spaying
With females ideally you're getting them spayed before the first heat. Keep in mind that we're not allowed to bring out females in heat as per park rules. And female's heats can last weeks. The lingering smell can attract attention after the heat has ended. If your dog goes into heat we cannot provide walks for nearly a month! That could be a really big deal for you and there's no way around it for us besides private walks outside of 10-4 and very short potty breaks.
Males should be neutered before 8 months or before problem behaviors that could be associated with being intact begin to occur. It's different for every dog. Many people want to keep their dogs intact because of purported health benefits. We can often work with that, but will not be willing if problems start to show. Those can include excessive marking, barking, mounting, aggression, reactivity, roaming, overexuberance, and dominance displays, amongst others. Many people think that certain behaviors might dissipate after the surgery. I've found that more often that is not the case, as behaviors quickly become habits and habits aren't changed with the surgery. Be aware that when these behaviors start to show it's often hard to get into the vet in a timely manner! I'll also go out on a limb and add that anecdotally I have found males that are neutered younger, as many rescues are, to be much much easier for everyone. Of course that has to be weighed against everything else you might consider, but I add it so that it's not forgotten.
I should also mention that a huge problem, most notably for larger males, is that at a certain age they begin to receive unwarranted negative attention for their smell if they're still intact. Enough of this could cause anxiety and defensive aggression in turn. Once that begins it is SUPER difficult to fix. Honestly, on more than one occasion a client has mentioned that they wish they could turn back time and neuter earlier to prevent aggression which is more problematic for longer than any physical ailments that may or may not be linked, which develop much further down the road. If you begin to see that, I advise you to immediately schedule the surgery and keep them away from other dogs on leash until a few weeks afterward. The excess testosterone is still detected by others for weeks after the surgery when humans have dropped their guard.
We highly recommend everyone consider the PetSafe Easy Walk Harness. The Easy Walk features a front clip design that helps to correct a dogs momentum if they get out front or pull by turning them back toward you. Though your puppy will undoubtedly grow out of it the Easy Walk is not very expensive at just over $20. Most clients tend to buy them too large! For this reason I DEFINITELY DO NOT RECOMMEND ORDERING THEM ONLINE! You should go into a pet store and try one on to ensure the best fit; one where your adjustments on the straps are not at the smallest or largest settings, but somewhere in the middle. We do not recommend anyone send their dogs out with a back clipping harness (one that has a D ring to attach a leash behind their shoulder blades) unless their dog is not a puller at all. These harnesses do absolutely nothing to teach or inhibit a dog not to pull, they're for comfort only.
Most puppies need some time before they can learn to walk well on leash. They're just too energetic and distracted. However, those that try early have an easier time later. My biggest recommendation is to practice indoors, or in an enclosed space. Do not teach this behavior solely on the walks themselves. Too much going on. Target "oppositional reflex," a Googleable term, before starting to teach leash walking in its entirety.
There is no behavior that correlates more heavily with a well trained well balanced dog than the ability to walk well on leash. It takes a lot of impulse control, awareness of the handler, and practice. If you can master that, we applaud and thank you profusely.
If your dog is just not getting the hang of it and a harness is not working, we may recommend considering a Gentle Leader head halti. Like a horse's bridle, a head halti is worn on the snout. It can be concerning for many owners to imagine their dog with this on, especially because to a layperson it looks like a muzzle, and because most dogs do not like the sensation at first. But with the right introduction and training, no other piece of equipment in all of dog training comes close to the Gentle Leader, a truly magical tool. Walks become breezy and relaxed, like they're supposed to be. Let me know if you'd like to hear more.
Detrimental effects of long term crating
It's impossible to have a blanket rule of thumb for when crate training should end and the dog is given more access to the home when you're away. However, it's important to identify a proposed target date for weaning the crate for your situation. Anecdotally I have picked up on what I believe is a large correlation between dogs that are crated for too long and a seemingly stir craziness in their everyday energy. In other words, dogs that are crated for too long seem so anxious to be out of the crate that when they are they're like a bat out of hell, trying to alleviate that physical and mental energy and capitalize on the time out of the crate because they know they're going back in afterward. They are generally overexuberant, almost to a point of frustration.
Sometimes this happens quickly, most notably right around these spay and neuter surgeries. If you're working outside the home and your dog has one of these surgeries or a heat and we can't do group walks they'll be spending most of their days in that small space. We have seen dogs that come back from a few weeks of that who seem to have a different energy.
To know when it is time is hard. What's imperative is that you utilize the time with your dog in the home together when they're not crated to teach them how to behave. Whereas you should normally remove all temptations for practicing destructive behaviors (and all needs to potty so there's no chance of accidents), I would advise that on certain occasions when you have the bandwidth you should allow for the presence of learning lessons. Bring the wicker baskets back out, lay out a couple shoes, or magazines. Be ready to jump into action if they interact with prohibited items. This way you are making rules clear. If you're not able to jump in then do not have those items around, as you're not in control of the associations that could be learned without you, like chewing up shoes being fun and stimulating. Pay the most attention to things that absorb your smell or that are fun to chew up. Shoes and socks hit both those categories so they become a primary target. Put them all away when you can’t teach about them. If dogs aren’t able to interact with them they grow up less likely to target them, as they’re just not a part of their habits. If you do have items out and your dog is not interacting with prohibited items please capture that behavior and make sure it's rewarded.
On the potty training front, the shortest advice is do not let a situation arise where your dog needs to have an accident. You should take them outside constantly. They'd prefer it naturally anyway, so given enough access it should be easy to potty train. The problem of course is we're busy, and we often don't live right on top of grass like people might who have backyards; we live up flights of stairs. You should invest your time and energy up front to have the best success though. Short cuts like potty pads in the house make potty training harder.
Accidents in transport
Often our new pack members might struggle to make it all the way to the park without having an accident in one of our personal vehicles. This problem can be confounding because sometimes dogs won’t go when we're on our way from your house to the car. They’re too excited to load up and can’t pay attention to the opportunity to potty! As well, sometimes the need to potty is stimulated when they feel the excitement of getting in the car, so it wouldn’t be until afterward that the need arises, which is problematic. But a past solution that’s worked has been for us to find a spot of grass down the street, a couple blocks away, or at the next client's stop to get that puppy back out after they’ve been stimulated. It’s our job to find the sweet spot in both location and timing so that it’s not happening before, and we're not stopping too early either. However, we ask that like any client you're making sure your dog has had enough opportunity to go both pp and poo poo before our first pickups of the day. Puppies usually eliminate 15-30 minutes after eating breakfast (longer for older or larger puppies), so you may need to move breakfast up if you're feeding on your way out the door. If there's still an issue after taking all the measures we can, we may try to negotiate an arrangement with you where we'll let you know before our arrival so that you can do one last try.
Access to a professional dog trainer included in packages
CPDT-KA means certified pet dog trainer, knowledge assessed. It's a credential from the largest organizational body for professional dog trainers. I earned it through years of private instruction, logging hundreds of hours of 1:1 work with training clients, and through attending many seminars annually. I've seen your issues before, and with puppy training specific issues, many many times. With all of your packages you get free access to call in training with me! You can ask questions around dog walking related behaviors, or any other. Simply email me your brief questions and I'll setup a time to talk. This is the easiest and one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job, so please give me the opportunity to be of assistance even as much as weekly. I've got a 30 minute commute to work where I'm not doing anything important where these make the most sense.