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Five Things You Can do to Bite-Proof Your Puppy

Five Things You Can do to Bite-Proof Your Puppy

1. Start early!  Puppies have a window for socialization that closes and you can’t re-open it easily once it does.  The best time to take a puppy to a positive training class is when they are less than 16 weeks of age.  Sadly, many people wait because they think they cannot attend class until pup has had all his shots.  But, many veterinarians now believe that it is just as important to protect a puppy’s mental and behavioral health as his physical health.  Puppies should have at least one set of vaccines at least 7 days prior to their first class, be parasite free, and kept up to date with age-appropriate vaccines during classes. 

If you are considering a purebred dog from a breeder, be sure to do your homework – does the breeder do any socialization exercises while the pups are still with their mom?  They should! Puppies can be exposed to different people, surfaces, sounds, wobble boards, mazes, crates and chew toys, etc. while still at the breeder’s home.  While we advocate rescue, we understand that some people will want a purebred from a breeder – however, it is critical, if you go that route to find a reputable breeder

If your particular breed has a breed standard that says “aloof” or “reserved” for example, be aware that you may need to pay particular attention to careful, early, and ongoing socialization. 


2. Meet and greet!  Meet and greet some more!!!  Puppies should meet and greet lots and lots of people in the first weeks. That means people of different gender than the owner, and people of all sizes, especially babies and children of all ages and elders.  If your pup is shy, all the more reason to get to puppy class with an experienced positive trainer.  Make all interactions with people comfortable for your puppy.  A small tidbit or lick of cheese offered by you just after someone starts petting the pup will go a long way to keeping his mouth occupied, telling him that petting is GOOD, and telling him that people predict good things happening for him.  You can print out a Socialization Checklist and take it with you.

3. Socialize carefully.  Puppies need lots of “padding” with other puppies and safe older dogs.  They do not need to be “told off” or learn bullying play styles, either by example of older dogs or through fear.  That’s why puppy socials or puppy classes are ideal for first experiences with off leash contact with other dogs.  

It’s not enough that your pup plays with the other dogs in your home, or with one or two neighbor dogs.  They need to learn that many different kinds of dogs are out there in the world, but that most are friendly.  If a friend suggests letting your pup meet their dog, the question to ask is, “Does your dog play nicely with UNFAMILIAR dogs and PUPPIES?”  Introductions should be made with leashes dragging (you’ll have to be a careful “wrangler” so that no one gets tangled).

Be sure that all play takes place in a very securely fenced environment so you can remove collars and harnesses once you are sure the dogs are friendly.  The area should also be small enough for you to intervene if you need to quickly step in to remove a dog, or give a gentle time out to pups that get overly-aroused.  

Normal play means both dogs are having fun, no one looks stressed, and there is plenty of “give and take” with lots of curved body language and meta-signals, such as “play bows” and exaggerated pouncing.  There may or may not be wrestling, growling, play-biting, etc.  If you are not sure your pup is having fun, do a “consent test” – gently remove the “offending” pup and see if the underdog pup goes to seek him out again.  If so, they are probably OK.  If not, time to find another play mate for a little while, or even permanently.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that the offending dog is awful (after all, it may be YOUR pup that is overly aroused at times), it may just mean that the dogs’ play styles are not compatible at this stage.

4. Make sure your puppy gets husbandry training so that he/she will be more comfortable when you must give puppy a pill or clip nails, or he/she must go to the veterinarian or groomer. Acclimating puppies to being handled all over is important, as is getting them used to having their collar grabbed or to being hugged (children tend to hug dogs, and most dogs don’t naturally like being hugged, so it’s important that we teach them!).  For those of you who want to more thoroughly understand the process that good trainers use to do this, the ASPCA has an article about “Desensitization and Counterconditioning” on their virtual behaviorist section.


5. Use force free training!!! Evidence is mounting that if you train with aggressive methods your dog may be more aggressive.  Many who are new to training think that all trainers do the same things.  Training, however, is an unregulated industry and knowing how to find the right trainer isn’t always easy.  The first place to look to find a force free trainer in your area is the international organization for force free pet professionals – Pet Professional Guild.  
If you have no trainer nearby, Puppy Start Right is a great book that can help you with puppy’s early education.

Let the Dog Decide

How to Get Your Puppy to Like Being Groomed

It’s important for puppies to be exposed early to the things that they will need to accept as adult dogs.   It’s so important not to waste puppy hood that Dr. Ian Dunbar, the originator of puppy socialization classes, has started an awareness campaign about the issue, and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has published a Puppy Socialization Position Statement to educate veterinarians and the public. Getting a puppy in to a good positive puppy class by age twelve weeks is highly recommended, and the first step in creating a well adjusted dog.  

Most puppy classes, while valuable for dog to dog socialization and skill building, don’t provide much guidance on how to acclimate a young dog to the sights and sounds of the grooming salon, a potentially scary environment, although you should pay attention when the pups are being taught the “stand” cue.  Dogs that know what to do on the grooming table are far less likely to be constantly manhandled to keep them standing!  

So, how do you get your little one educated about the grooming process? First, let’s look at the things that happen in the salon.  Your pup will have to undergo brushing, combing, bathing, blow drying, ear cleaning, and nail clipping.  If your dog is a “haircut dog” then there will also be body clipping and/or scissoring.  Acclimating a young puppy to those things is best done in a calm manner, and before his first experience being dropped off for a “tubby and a trim.”  The first thing I like to do is simply get puppy used to the salon environment. To do that, I make repeated visits to the salon long before he’ll really need an appointment, walk in, get someone on the staff to give my pup a cookie, and walk out.  I do this randomly for at least a couple of weeks before puppy’s first bath.  This puts “deposits” in the bank of “I like that place. I get cookies there.”  The pup will have already formed a positive association with the salon and some of the staff by the time it’s appointment time.  Even if I plan to bathe and groom my own dog, I still acclimate them to a professional salon environment and have the puppy bathed and groomed professionally while he’s still young.  You never know when, during your dog’s lifetime, you might be unable to do it yourself at home, and it pays to be prepared.

I get puppies used to the actual grooming process through the use of food paired with each aspect of the grooming process, to create positive associations step by step.  For example, I get puppies used to being in water by using the “bathtub ring method.”  I have a pitcher of lukewarm water handy, then I smear some lamb baby food around the tub at puppy mouth level, and put puppy in the tub.  After a few moments of puppy happily lapping the baby food, I gently pour some water into the tub so that the puppy’s feet get wet, and I watch puppy’s reaction.  If he’s nonchalant, I might pour in some more, or turn the faucet on a trickle.  If not, I just let him finish lapping, then end the session. Over several sessions, I increase the depth of the water, start pouring some over his back, wet his face with a facecloth, etc., so long as he is reacting calmly before I go to the next step, and still allowing him to lap at something delicious for each new step, even if I am no longer providing food for earlier steps.  This is classical conditioning and can also be used to get puppy used to the sound of clippers, nail trimmers, dryers, or other new or potentially scary happenings.  The key is to start at a low intensity of the stimulus (clippers running at a distance, far away from puppy’s ears, for example) and progress only when puppy is comfy at each stage.

It’s important to teach your puppy to be handled everywhere on his body!  So, you might smear some peanut butter on the face of your fridge at puppy height and let him lap as you pick up his feet, handle his ears, gently swab his ears with a cotton ball, run your fingers over his gums, or handle his private parts.  I know, it’s gross, but the bather or groomer will be doing that, so it’s better for your puppy to learn from you that it’s not scary to be touched in those areas.  Besides, as my mentor used to say, you do not want a two year old to grab your puppy in the “wrong” place out of curiosity and get snapped at because puppy has never been handled there before.  It’s just one more layer of protection against your dog getting in trouble over something that might have been preventable.

Groomers are patient with puppies, as a rule, but if you can set your puppy up for success at the salon, everyone is happier.  There’s nothing sadder than the pup whose owner does no preparation, waits until the puppy coat has turned in to a matted mess, then takes the unsuspecting pup in for his first appointment to a terrifying environment where there are other stressed dogs, lots of noise, barking, and where he will be subjected to new procedures, possibly including de-matting, which can be painful.  Grooming should start at home, start early, and be stress free!  The groomer you choose should be more than willing to show you how to correctly brush your puppy so that he remains mat-free until his first “real” visit.

If you need help with the process, you can find a positive trainer through the Pet Professional Guild, Truly Dog Friendly, Academy for Dog TrainersVictoria Stilwell Positively, or Karen Pryor Academy.

Karen McCarthy has written a book entitled “Click for Grooming Handling and Treatment” which is a great step by step guide to training dogs to be cooperative about being cared for by groomers, vets, and others.

Here’s a nice video on acclimating dogs to getting their nails trimmed, which works well either for puppies, or for dogs that have formed an aversion to the process:

Happy Grooming!


The Great Divide in Dog Training – What to Do…

Just as humans have argued for many years about whether to spank or not spank their children, dog trainers have argued about whether to physically punish dogs.  In psychological terms, parenting takes different forms.  One is authoritarian – that’s the obedience-oriented parent who allows little dialogue, and is the likeliest spanker, the one who, when a child asks, “Why?” responds with, “Because I said so.”  Another style is so-called indulgent parenting – the parent who allows the child excessive freedom, the permissive parent.  These are the parents who want to be their child’s friend, and who have low expectations of obedience.  An extreme form of indulgent parenting is neglect.  Either neglect or over controlling can cause learned helplessness. The third type is authoritative – the parent who is most likely to encourage the child to explore, while still placing appropriate limits on them.  This parent is most likely to use the withholding of privileges as a punishment.

There are studies which have concluded that children whose parents are indulgent increased the child’s likelihood of problem drinking by three times (  Authoritarian parents doubled it.  It’s worthwhile to note that parenting style is not always predictive of success or failure of a child, because other environmental factors and genetics play in to the equation as well, but there are some predisposing factors for failure associated with various parenting styles.

So, how does this discussion of parenting factor in to the dog training debate?  Well, the authoritarian dog trainer is similar to the strict parent.  These are the trainers who often see the dog as “wrong” and requiring “correction” and who have no problem using physical manipulation or punishment to effect changes in the dog’s behavior.  When you see the words “boot camp” or the training method is described as “balanced” you might be seeing a trainer who falls along the continuum in this group.  They are bolstered in this approach by the fact that punishment, administered in sufficient force, does work.  The dog appears obedient. But, some would argue that the dog has learned helplessness.  This is Wickipedia’s description of Seligman’s 1967 study on dogs: “In the learned helplessness experiment an animal is repeatedly hurt by an adverse stimulus which it cannot escape. Eventually the animal will stop trying to avoid the pain and behave as if it is utterly helpless to change the situation.  Finally, when opportunities to escape are presented, this learned helplessness prevents any action. The only coping mechanism the animal uses is to be stoical and put up with the discomfort, not expending energy getting worked up about the adverse stimulus.”  When trainers who are opposed to correction training describe a dog as “shut down” this is the definition they are suggesting.  The dog does not have to look unhappy to be learned helpless!  For the dog, this is the job where, no matter how good, the boss doesn’t notice your work that often, but make one mistake…

Contrast authoritarianism with a “trainer” (usually the owner) who allows the dog lots of freedom or doesn’t really know how to modify the dog’s behavior, may even think that loving the dog is enough – or the equally “hands off” laissez faire owner who thinks that dogs should be born knowing how to come when called, who when the adolescent dog decides not to listen, unceremoniously dumps it off at the shelter, or worse, off the back of a pickup truck in a strange neighborhood.  This is the person who excuses their dog jumping up on you by saying, “Oh, he’s just trying to be friendly.”  Or, it could be the person who might think the dog was born stubborn or spiteful, and there’s nothing that can be done to change it. For the dog, this is the job where you get either paid for just showing up, or you end up in “prison” at the animal shelter waiting for a better family to give you a second chance.

The authoritative trainer, like the authoritative parent, wants to engage the dog in the process.  This is the trainer who might use absence of a reward as a punishment, or who might heavily reinforce the dog with something the dog likes as a reward.  Just as the parent wants the child to gradually take responsibility for his own behavior, the assertive but democratic style trainer wants to encourage the dog to be an active participant in the process, and to choose appropriate behavior by a series of training scenarios that show him that it’s in his best interest to do so, and that poor behavior results in no reward.  These trainers might use a marker or click to tell the dog which behavior they like, and follow it up with reinforcement, not always food, that the dog is happy to work for.  For example, what’s better to reward a good sit/stay first thing in the morning, than to reward the dog by opening the door so you can take a walk together?  This is the job that pays on commission or gives merit raises.

If obedience is the only goal, both authoritative and authoritarian training methods work.  Even indulgent dog parents are sometimes rewarded with a naturally good dog.  But, if your goal is a dog that is a willing participant, enjoys his time (including training time) with you, and understands your cues as requests that he is only too glad to fulfill, consider choosing a trainer who embodies the true “balance” of authoritative training.  They often describe themselves as “truly positive” but that’s only in the sense that they do not use aversive methods to train, and their desire to separate themselves from those who do.  It doesn’t mean that the dog faces no consequences, but it does mean that the dog is the one who decides what’s aversive and what isn’t, and what’s reinforcing and what isn’t.  Most dogs would not volunteer to put on a pinch or a shock collar, given a choice.  Most dogs would volunteer for a job that pays off in liver treats.  It is the judicious avoidance of punishment, and the judicious use of reward that makes a truly great trainer.

The responsible pet owner is faced with quite a dilemma these days, but MUST determine accurately the method that a prospective trainer uses, before deciding who to hire.  There are shock collar trainers claiming to be force free, and positive trainers offering boot camps.  So, avoid listening to the buzz words.  Ask about the tools and methods your trainer is willing to use on your dog.  Be specific.  Do they use clickers, do they use lure/reward training, do they use shock collars, do they use prong collars, do they use absence of a reward, do they ever physically manipulate the dog (ear pinches, forcing the dog into a sit, etc.)?  Before choosing a trainer, ask around among groomers, veterinarians and dog sitters.  Search the reviews on Yelp.  Does the person belong to a professional organization?  Authoritarian trainers gravitate toward IACP, others to APDT, and IAFFPP (formerly IPDTA) or Truly Dog Friendly.  See which organizational mission you identify with.  Remember, there is a great divide among trainers, but there should never be a great divide between you and your dog.  Choose wisely.

Anne Springer is a graduate of Salem State University, member of Psi Chi Psychology Honor Society, Certified Trick Dog Trainer, member of IAFFPP and Truly Dog Friendly.

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