How to train your lockdown puppy
North East dog trainer Kate Bean gives us the lowdown on how best to welcome a new four-legged addition to the family
By Kate Bean
Who am I?
My name’s Kate. I graduated from Newcastle University in 2015 with an MSc in Animal Behaviour. I set up my business, Kate’s Family Dog Training, the following year and I’m now proud to be a full member of the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers. I have been listed as one of the top dog trainers in North Tyneside for three years running and, this year, I am delighted to be up for an Animal Star Award as Trainer of the Year.
What do I do?
I support dogs and their humans to develop a better understanding of each other. In recent times, we have moved away from traditional obedience training towards a focus on the partnership between humans and their dogs, which focuses on trust and mutual respect. I use positive reinforcement to ensure that training is fun for everyone, as well as kind and effective.
As a mother of two small people myself, and as the owner of a successful small business, I often work with people who are struggling to juggle the various demands of modern life while raising a dog. Although there are no quick fixes, all of my training programmes are designed to be implemented in short, frequent sessions that set both you and your dog up for success. Training that’s so easy, you can’t go wrong!
What sort of problems are we seeing with lockdown puppies?
There has been a massive surge in people buying puppies since March last year, and I’m working with more puppies now than ever before. Unfortunately, some people have seen the surge in demand for puppies as an opportunity to make a lot of money, and puppies are being produced by well-intentioned but inexperienced owners, as well as puppy farmers. This means that the puppies people are bringing home haven’t necessarily had the best start in life, and possibly haven’t had the health and temperament checks you’d expect from a reputable breeder. The result is seeing puppies that, at best, haven’t received appropriate early socialisation and, at worst, have serious health and behaviour issues.
How can we source puppies responsibly?
The first thing to do is to choose an appropriate breed for your family. Choose a breed based on the lifestyle you have – not the lifestyle you aspire to! Dogs from working lines are often bred for their stamina and desire to work all day long. They’re often not a great fit for people that work full time, even from home. Remember these dogs need a great deal of mental stimulation as well as a physical outlet for their energy, and a couple of daily walks around the block won’t cut it. When these dogs aren’t given a job to do, they will go self-employed. This can look like destructive behaviour, excessive barking and over-exuberance. Not ideal if you’re trying to work! So be realistic about how much time you can commit to exercise, mental stimulation, training, grooming, etc.
Secondly, choose a reputable, experienced breeder who is trying to better their breed. They will carefully select dogs based on health and temperament and will match the parents carefully to ensure puppies are excellent examples of the breed. Ensure you can see the mother with her pups and if she shows any behaviour you wouldn’t like to live with, walk away.
What questions should we be asking breeders?
Ask the breeder what early socialisation they have implemented. Are puppies raised inside or out? If outside, why? If they’re going to live inside with you, look for a puppy that has been reared in the family home. Have health tests been carried out on the parents? Worming? Vaccinations? Where is the proof? If the breeder can’t provide solid evidence of this, walk away. A good breeder will have as many questions for you as you have for them, as they will want to know their puppies are going to the best homes.
And, of course, always consider whether a rescue dog might be an appropriate option for your family.
How can we get our puppies off to the best start?
So, you’ve got your lovely new puppy home. Now what? Well, the most important thing is to build a relationship. Treat your puppy with kindness and respect. Let her sleep near you where she feels comfortable, even if that means bringing her crate upstairs or you sleeping downstairs for the first few nights. Don’t leave her to cry it out! Help her to feel secure in her new home.
The most important thing to do with your new puppy is socialisation. This means carefully introducing the sights, sounds and smells of everyday life that the puppy is likely to encounter so that your puppy learns these things are inconsequential – and not a reason to be fearful or over-excited. Many people worry that lockdown puppies aren’t receiving adequate socialisation because they’re not meeting as many other dogs, but meeting other dogs is only a tiny part of a very big picture. Actually, I want a puppy that can focus on me around other dogs, rather than a puppy that bombs across the field to greet every dog they see!
Don’t forget to introduce separation carefully – even just a minute or two initially, gradually building from there – so that puppy is prepared for when life regains some normality. We are seeing more puppies that struggle to be left alone, so don’t delay seeking help if your puppy is struggling. Coping with being home alone is a skill that we can teach young puppies, but it’s far easier to introduce it to young puppies than it is to work with full-blown separation anxiety further down the line.
What should I look for in a dog trainer?
Look for an experienced, accredited trainer (IMDT is one of several accrediting bodies), who uses positive reinforcement. Balanced trainers or those using punishment-based methods are out-dated and dangerous. We don’t want to just suppress behaviour (by punishing it), we want to understand and address our dog’s motivation for behaving that way in the first place. Is it fear? Over-excitement? Is puppy tired or hungry? Simply punishing behaviour doesn’t address the underlying cause. Only when we understand the motivation for behaviour can we prevent the problem and train a more acceptable alternative.
Dog trainers are still operating, even in full lockdown. We may only be able to work online but an experienced trainer will be able to offer help and advice as effectively as they can in person.
It is far easier to sort little niggles as they occur, before they become ingrained habits. Please don’t delay seeking help! The other thing to say is that training your dog should be fun for both of you! A good trainer is there to support you, as well as your dog, and understands the challenges that puppies and older dogs, can sometimes bring. So many people start emails with ‘it’s probably my fault’, or ‘I probably caused it by…’ Well, from here on in, your puppy’s behaviour is *my* problem – so leave the guilt at the door and let’s get it sorted.
If you’d like to arrange an appointment with me, or want to know more about the services I offer, please contact me via email firstname.lastname@example.org or via my Facebook page, and we’ll get cracking!