The subject heading for this Article is pretty confronting for some and I think others will be interested to see what is the best method when Punishing puppies. I hope I don’t disappoint when I say that when raising a puppy, my aim is to avoid all physical punishment if I can and try to save my “No’s” for special occasions. Read on as I aim to help outline some of the things I see a lot of that can be easily avoided.
When I have a puppy that I am going to raise, we set up our house so that we can confidently manage the puppy, toilet train and safely house the him or her. This means we use dog crates and exercise pens inside our house.
I meet loads of people that quietly tell me that they really don’t want an Ex Pen in their house, and I share this secret with them; neither do I. But I find this system is extremely helpful in raising a puppy the right way.
Most people by the end of week one of getting a puppy are in one of two places: –
- They have said “NO!” to the puppy so many times, the word itself means nothing at all to the pup
- They have decided not to chastise their pup at all and the pup is running wild.
Lets look at each of these points, because they are so common, they deserve their own piece of this article.
No, No, No NO!
Puppy has arrived at your home and you have put puppy down on the floor, inside your home. You likely transported the pup on your knee where it was warm and puppy would have been all relaxed or maybe had fallen off to sleep – bliss. Puppy is now active after relaxation and this will stimulate little bowels and bladders and oooops puppy starts to squat in your house and out slips the first “No!”.
Even though puppy has finished you pick puppy up and run outside holding him or her as if some subliminal message will transpire between the pup and you that toileting is for outside. Never have I saw a puppy that just toileted in the house ever toilet right after on the grass.
Back inside now and puppy is exploring the inner sanctum, and its after 2 – 3 minutes of vigilant supervision that you get a text from your friend asking how the puppy is going. As you type the response the puppy has found an evil wire that leads to your television and puppy has decided to decapitate it. “NO!”
Well I mean you have to intervene right? Can’t let puppy chew wires.
You engage the puppy with some play but soon your home duties call and again you need to focus on something else, which undoubtedly will see the puppy find some behaviour that will inspire you to “No” again.
The first day hasn’t gone so well, and the first night, well lets say your first night was rocky too when you had decided that the puppy would sleep in its kennel but at 1 am you had to revise that ruling just for tonight; and you know what, a few “No’s” slipped out during the sleeping arrangement negotiations didn’t they?
Now perhaps I am wrong but we may have started some rough and tumble puppy games this first week and there are times that they are appropriate and there are times there are not, of course puppy doesn’t know this and spawns a game any time he or she takes the notion, right? NNNnnn…
Week two comes around and you know what, you have learned that you have quite a hard little puppy on your hands, no amount of “No ing” him or her seems to have an effect, in fact although you didn’t want to, this little guy needs a correction; right?
Some will be raising out of their seats right now and saying the dreaded word “no” at this article about now, but the true answer is “maybe?“. Not because you have a hard little pup on your hands but because you desensitised your pup to a verbal reprimand by over using it.
2. No correction method in this house!
This is not a bad way to go but often people have zero rules, boundaries or management either and they are subject to a rambunctious puppy living in their house that knows no limits. When I meet these families they will often desperately clarify with me that “he/she will grow out of it?!“
The sad news is that puppy will not at all grow out of a behaviour, in fact they grow into them. Rehearsal is the number one behaviour reinforcer, in fact we have a special name for it, its called a habit.
Habits are behaviour patterns that often no longer require the original stimulus to trigger the behaviour. Humans are a great example of a species that are more habit driven than any other species, so we should know best that habits don’t stop themselves.
In both cases you can avoid being the bad guy with a good puppy management plan.
Here is an example of how I would save my No for a special occasion.
At least a few days before puppy comes home, I have an ex pen and a crate set up awaiting the big day. I arrive home with puppy, perhaps even on my lap, and I place puppy that is already wearing his harness and long line on the front lawn right out of the car.
I might even mist a little water over the front lawn to help loosen that little bladder. Puppy investigates front yard and and by no surprise, it decides to toilet on my lawn which makes me praise with delight as soon as the stream stops.
Knowing I have an empty puppy, I bring the puppy into my house and allow the puppy to smell everything, this is the pups natural identification method and I give the pup time. Of course I can guide the puppy away from electrical cords with the long line or some well placed treats.
My phone rings, so I put puppy in his ex pen and he begins to play with the toys I have put in there for him. He is perfectly happy in there and I can tell my friend how cool my new puppy is.
I get my puppy out of the ex pen and out the back yard he comes, we have fun playing and experiencing together, which means my pup now needs to clear the bowels after all that movement if he didn’t go in the front yard. Yet another opportunity to reward that outdoor toilet habit my pup is building.
We have been outside looking and learning and playing and I can see puppy is feeling a little tired, into the crate he goes for a nap whilst I have to be an adult again. My puppy is delighted at this very peaceful, safe bed I have prepared for him.
This regime does not allow the puppy any where near as many opportunities to get me off side, make me angry, destroy my things or toilet in my house. It didn’t take other than just a little planning and it helped me avoid teaching my pup that I am a guy who can punish, hurt, frighten or startle him.
These management steps help make the first few weeks quite easy with a puppy but that is not even half the benefit that you can gain from management.
After your puppy has grown a little he may be around 18 or so weeks, and this means he or she may be in a development period known as Rank and Shaping or if you have an early maturing breed, Independence or Selective Deafness may have taken over your puppy. There is a bit of information on these periods here in another article.
You head down to the park and you let your puppy run free, after all you don’t need management tools such as a long line, right? You feel its time to go home or you want to move your puppy to another part of the park and you give a cheerful “Come” command.
I want you to think now just for a moment who just called your puppy, that is likely now at an age where he or she will blow you off anyway.
If it was my puppy he would have been called by the guy that:-
- Isn’t available all day long every day, but is available for a few minutes every hour to play and reward the me.
- Has the best toys and food treats hidden on him that I can unlock with things such as a recall!
- Is the guy that when he calls you, you have never really not come, because he always has a long line attached to help me make rewarding choices.
- That has only said “No” maybe half a dozen times in 10 or so weeks…
or is your puppy thinking that he or she was just called by the guy that: –
- I can jump on and play with at home any time I feel like it, so I might catch him later and investigate this cool park while I have the chance.
- Usually gets angry for seemingly no reason so I better avoid him and his mouthful of “No’s”
- Can’t catch me anyway so I can do as I please?
Now if you were at the receiving end of puppy number two that won’t come and has no respect for you, I totally get why your upset, but if you think of life as one big video tape, rewind that tape back to where your puppy learned all those things and who taught him or her, and unfortunately you may be looking into a mirror.
Everyone at some time or another may reprimand their dog, some times people feel social pressure to get angry after their dog has done something just to signal to the other people around that they don’t agree with the behaviour. Sometimes people get frustrated and angry and they don’t control these emotions and feelings as well as they should. We are all human.
Well I am not here to tell you how bad of a dog owner you are, but I do hope to help those getting puppies to think about better ways to raise their next puppy.
Imagine if your puppy was going through the most severe independence stage and he or she was heading towards a road, “NO!” comes out of your mouth for the first in a long while and your puppy reacts to this seemingly foreign word, the road is avoided.
Dogs use the words we say to help them make predictions of the near future, perhaps when you say “sit” your dog predicts that you will give him a treat after he sits, so he does.
I don’t like to label the word “No” as a threat prediction or a prediction of anger or frustration, instead I use it (my word is Nope) as a No Reward Marker. It means to my dog that his reward is going away due to the behaviour or action he was taking at the time of the word Nope. He was not born with this knowledge, but he knows because I taught him.
I use the “Yes” marker as a release / reward (Terminal Bridge) so it makes sense to use a Terminal Bridge to no reward events also. Dogs will make connections any way you teach them, you could get a puppy and teach him that “NO” screamed loudly means you have delicious treats and that puppy would come running each time you screamed “No!”.
Help your puppy understand what you want by teaching him or her what you want, and when your not teaching, try putting your puppy in a place where he or she cannot discover things that you don’t want him or her to learn.
Using dog crates, exercise pens, long lines etc in your life can make for a very well balanced and motivated puppy when you use them in moderation. I get my puppies out of the ex pen or crate at 2 hour intervals for a toilet and training sessions. These sessions only last a few minutes as I am usually between lessons and this makes for fast, motivational and rewarding games that are not played so long that my puppy is bored or sick of them.
I wanted to just also on a more serious note touch on those who actually DO feel that punishing a puppy with physical reprimands like smacking, hitting etc is needed or ok. I am not going to try and talk you out of it but I will tell you this. Dogs make connections, they learn by pictures some say…
If I looked at a diary that your puppy had been making entries in, how would you like the puppy to draw you? With a raised hand smacking or with an extended hand feeding? Know that the puppies who draw their owners as smackers don’t recall, ever.
A little bit of management which includes some planning goes a long way to raising a really well behaved dog. It can be easy to live in the moment like your puppy does by try and ask yourself, how will this pan out long term? Whether you allowed your pup to sleep in your bed last night as a “one time thing” or you are letting your puppy run wild through your house, what are the long term effects this will have?
Will you get sick of this one day and abruptly start to punish what you once allowed? That’s not really fair and it is very hard for a dog to understand.
You may have raised many puppies, as I have done, but does this mean you can’t add new concepts and ideals into your work? I hope not because I think the fun would end if I ever stopped the learning and discovery journey dogs can provide and I hope you get to enjoy learning new things with and about your dogs for a long time to come.