Setting Your Dog Up For Success

Get off on the right paw with your shiny new dog. You’ll have fun and steer clear of bad behavior if you recognize important signs early in the game.

Fear aggression and submissive behavior can be avoided if puppies are exposed to gentle strangers and friendly dogs every day. Puppy socialization classes are great. Adult dogs stay well adjusted if they continue to run and play hard with other dogs.  Don’t let bad habits start. “Fence fighting” and lunging at other dogs on leash walks should be avoided.

If your dog shows “appeasement”: yawning, lip licking, freezing, trembling, or looking away when she sees other dogs she’s telling you she’s afraid. Ignore her as you lead her away so she can relax. Any corrections will actually reward the behavior.  Praise her when she explores and investigates new situations.

Puppies who growl when someone approaches their food, toys, or sleeping area are usually showing competitive aggression. You can inadvertently encourage the wrong responses by pulling the food bowl away. Instead, teach your puppy to associate a reward with not guarding his food bowl. Put boring food in the dish and then offer a really tasty alternative, by hand, a few feet away. Your puppy will have to leave his bowl and approach you to get the good stuff. Repeat hundreds of times.

Aggression is serious business. You can dramatically reduce the risk if human anatomy is always associated with good things. Dogs don’t bite hands that reliably give gentle touches and excellent rewards.

Barking, destructiveness, and unruly behavior in puppies can be harbingers of separation anxiety. Dogs in the grip of this overwhelming fear can do major damage to the home. Starting on day one, make alone time enjoyable. Stuff food toys, like a Kong or Twist and Treat, with outrageous canine junk food (Cheez Whiz mixed with hot dog pieces). Give these compelling rewards only as you leave and be sure to pick them up when you arrive home. Your anxious dog may learn to look forward to your departures just to get the reward. It will help him to accept being alone if you start with short absences and gradually lengthen them. Your puppy will be calmer if a DAP diffuser is plugged in where he stays.

Finally, we all know how dominance theory has become widely accepted. Dogs certainly do function within the hierarchy of their social groups but heavy reliance on forcibly putting them in their place is creating serious behavior problems. Learning theory (reward-based) is much safer and it will work better by training your puppy to earn a treat or other privilege. She’ll have to perform to get what she wants. A simple “Sit” works well at the start.

Punishment (firm but gentle) can be legitimate but it must be initiated, literally, within one second of the start of bad behavior. Be very careful. When punishment is strong enough to be effective many dogs respond with fear, which can lead to aggression. Avoid alpha rolls, scruff shakes, and staring. Drag lines and head halters are better tools for teaching a puppy who the boss is without creating a monster. Good luck and may the force be with you.