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Baston animal behaviour expert advises puppy owners to invest in training

Let’s face it, puppies are adorable, at least we think they are in photos and when they are sleepy, writes Baston animal behaviour expert Karen Wild.

We are just about to start our next puppy academy course, and these tiny fluffballs roll up to our classes, full of wonder and joy. And sharp teeth, and frantic playing, and random barking and peeing and… owners often feeling completely overwhelmed by it all.

“This wasn’t what we planned!”, new puppy class owners tell me. Or, they feel responsible for any of the errors and issues they feel their puppy may be causing. Well, I have seen many many puppies over the years, usually see about 15 to20 a week, and I can tell you that you can relax.

Olive the cockapoo puppy
Olive the cockapoo puppy

“What do you mean, relax?” I mean, that these are baby animals and don’t know any of the human rules yet. Whilst they are learning, these things that feel like a nightmare; the mouthing, the crying and chewing, are completely normal. Puppy training is all about steadily shaping the new lessons we would like. It isn’t about telling a puppy they are doing wrong, or panicking that things will always be this way. Instead, start being calm, keeping all interactions sensible and gentle and guiding the puppy by training it with rewards for things you’d like to see more of.

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You can completely drop the word ‘no’, because it just creates stress, and teaches very little. Puppies do not know ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, but they do know ‘scary-sounding owner’ so it’s not something you want them to think about you. You want them to know what TO do, not just tell them to stop every little thing that you don’t like. Teach them steadily, and socialise them carefully.

Socialising your puppy is the biggest, most important part of early learning if you want a nice settled adult dog. But what does this involve? It must be done properly.

Animal behaviour expert Karen Wild
Animal behaviour expert Karen Wild

There’s a lot of risky socialisation ‘classes’ around, where puppies are just let loose to barge into one another and generally ignore the people around them. This kind of teaching is not helpful, because your puppy might end up terrified of other dogs from a session where the bolder ones are knocking them flying! Your puppy also learns to totally ignore the fun they can have with you, in favour of the dogs around them. A gang of other puppies is a bit like a children’s playground without any lunchtime supervision.

However, puppies DO need to meet and greet a large number of new people and other dogs, learning as they go about the outside world. A sensible social setting, like a walk together or a puppy class such as ours, with life skill rules, is far better to create puppies with a shiny, happy future as a team with you at the helm.

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