Dog’s Eye View: Sink or swim
Recently, in our Head Start Puppy Training class, we were talking about ways to help a puppy experience new situations without stressing or scaring him.
Did you ever hear of someone tossing a child into a swimming pool while extoling the virtue of this learning experience by saying, “That’s the way I learned and it didn’t hurt me.”
There are those folks who swear they learned to swim by being thrown into a pool. I believe it. In my understanding, however, the bottom line for learning a new skill is not just effectiveness alone or that “it worked.” There’s more to it than that. Many things can be learned by using some pretty awful methods. Pain and fear are two things I would avoid.
Every week in puppy class, we ask owners to share a new experience they’ve had with their puppies. It’s so nice to listen to proud owners explain where they went or what happened. The main point of this is that the family is learning each new experience needs to be positive in the eyes of the puppy. It’s no good taking him/her to a Fourth of July parade where he spends the whole time hiding behind your legs.
Keeping your distance from what he perceives as scary is one key to allowing a puppy to explore. Allow your puppy to investigate new things at his pace without pulling on his leash. Go with him. And, by the way, keep your pockets brimming with the tastiest treats around. He should get a treat just for checking things out. Let him (don’t force him) to approach new things and situations with encouragement and an “I’ve got your back” attitude. This will go a long way toward building your puppy’s self confidence, as well as his confidence in you.
Don’t hesitate to move away from something that is frightening your puppy. The method of “approach and retreat” is often used as a training tool. It means that, if your dog is showing signs of anxiety or fear, you can just retreat to a distance at which he feels safe. You can then carefully approach a bit to the place where he feels a bit more comfortable.
In my mind, the value of a beautiful relationship is foremost when we’re working with our pet dogs. Relationship is about give and take and learning to listen to and speak the other’s language. We know our dog’s strengths and weaknesses. We know there are some things that worry him. We don’t want to use those things against him, just as we would use such things against a friend. It’s about trust.
Our preconceived notions about what dogs should or shouldn’t do or feel based on unsound methods can really damage a relationship. Can you remember how it felt to experience something new under the guidance of a kind, loving and patient teacher?
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training, LLC with more than 25 years of experience. totalteamworktraining.com.
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