1. Listen, Watch, Learn
Building a relationship built on trust, respect and communication can only begin once you consciously begin to learn about your puppy’s unique personality. Spend time observing her body language and facial expressions. See how she responds to various people, sounds, objects, activities.
- What does she love?
- What does she hate?
- What makes her excited?
- What makes her nervous?
- Does she enjoy being held, or does she squirm or bark until you let her down?
- Does she mind having her paws touched?
- How does she respond to loud noises?
- How does she respond to kids?
- How does she respond to men wearing funny hats?
- When she is scared; does she run, bark, startle or do a combination of the three?
- How long does it take her to recover if something scares her?
2. Develop Trust
Take time to ensure that your puppy feels comfortable being handled, restrained and examined. Routinely forcing your dog to do things that they’re not comfortable doing can erode your dog’s sense of trust and compromises your relationship. Teach your dog to enjoy going into their crate, having their nails trimmed, having their collar grabbed, or placing their head through their harness. Taking the time to guide your dog through experiences that she might otherwise find undesirable is an important relationship builder.
3. Teach Her How to Behave in New Environments
- Off-leash dog parks
- On-leash walk in the park
- Coffee shop
- Pet shop
- Book store
- Friend’s house
- The farmer’s market
First, imagine which behaviors or habits you would most like to see develop in these situations. Now prompt and/or reinforce (with food or toy rewards) behaviors that you find desirable in each specific environment. For example, practice a down-stay at a friend’s house. Practice heeling through a book store. Ask your friends or even strangers on the street to give her treats or a favorite toy for polite greetings. Teach her to be calm and relaxed before letting her off-leash at the dog park, reward her for checking in with you when she has free roam.
4. Impulse Control
A lot of nuisance behaviors stem from the fact that early on in a dog’s life they never learned how to handle frustration or delayed gratification. When a dog sees another dog walking on the street – they meet the dog (this can feed into leash pulling and reactivity). When they start to bark or cry – they get lots of attention. When a new person arrives in the house – they’re showered with attention (this can feed into excitable greetings). Make a list of the things that your puppy loves most in life: meeting new people, meeting new dogs, going for walks, playing games – now use these activities to reinforce calm behavior (for example, a sit or a down). In essence, your puppy is learning that sitting or lying down is synonymous to saying “please.”
5. How to Conquer Fear
As puppies move into adolescence they frequently go through “fear periods,” during this time you might notice that noises, objects or activities that she had previously been comfortable with now evoke a fearful response. To help your puppy overcome these fears or uncertainties you should encourage curiosity. Allow your puppy the opportunity to sniff and/or investigate the fear inducing stimulus at her own pace. Use food or a favorite toy to create positive associations. For example, reward for sniffing or taking small steps in the direction of whatever it is that she might find scary. It is better for her to be rewarded for sniffing or looking in the direction of aversive stimulus, than it is to be physically forced to come in direct contact with that person, sound or object.
6. From 0 to 60, and Back Again
Once your puppy is fluent at responding to “sit” and “down” in low distraction, calm environments (ie. your living room), you want to begin to teach her to respond to those same cues when she is excited. To do this, incorporate training into playtime. Alternate between 30 seconds of calm behavior (sit-stay or down-stay) and then 30 seconds of playtime and then back to calm behavior. When she has mastered the art of transitioning between between calm and excited behavior you can begin generalizing this game to new environments: the backyard, the street, a friend’s house, the park.