You have to have a heart of stone not to love puppies. Their cute, cuddly looks and those puppy-dog eyes can surely melt your heart in an instant.
I have loved dogs since I was a little kid, and I saw how my parents cared for family pets. My mom always made sure they were properly groomed and father taught them how to behave appropriately, especially around people. Years later, I was fortunate to get married to a guy who share the same passion for dogs. My husband raised two black Labradors and he taught them basic obedience from the very first day they came into our home. It was a must since they were going to live with our two very young boys and we regularly get visitors at the farm where he works. My husband hates it when a dog snatches food from a kid’s hand or looks up to guests while they eat, begging for food. And so he taught the labs to wait until they are told to eat, even when the food was in their bowls.
THE BEST FAMILY PET
Labradors are known to be perfect family pets and trustworthy companions for kids because of their temperament and extreme patience for children. We never had problems leaving our then three-year-old son to either of our labs at the living room while I cooked in the kitchen. They seemed to have understood why I had to ask them to come in and stay with the baby — to babysit him, of course. They never complained when the boy would squeeze their paws, pull their fluffy ears or ride on their backs. They never touched the kid’s cookies on the center table and always waited for him to give them treats.
Of course they weren’t angels when we first had them. They used to chew on things, shoes and the kids’ toys. They barked when they saw us coming with food and crossed our boundaries. But my husband had the patience to teach them, and sometimes when soft words and gentle commands did not suffice, they each received some spanking.
TRAINING: THE TRAINER AND THE TRAINEES
Things are a little different with German Shepherds though. I gave my husband two GSD puppies for Christmas because he always wanted German Shepherds when he was a boy, but we were told GSDs don’t respond well to aggression and punitive training. Instead, they can only learn aggression and negative behavior when they are punished or yelled at. So we had to do things a little differently with them.
The puppies have been with us for about a month now and so far they are learning well. They have identified my husband as the alpha of our pack but they need to learn to obey orders from other members of the family, too, so there is a need for me to learn how my husband does things.
Consistency is Key
If there is one very important thing disciplining puppies taught me, it’s consistency. If there is one behavior you do not allow, you make it very clear to them that it is not allowed. You can’t disallow it today and change your mind tomorrow. And so before having puppies move into your house, it is very important that the house rules are already there. Every adult — and even children — in the family should be aware of what’s okay and what’s not and what is expected of the new pets.
Reward vs. Punishment
Barking and whining for no valid reason is a big no-no, but this is normal behavior for puppies especially during their first night at home, so they need to learn to how stop this undesirable behavior. Running to get them, giving them food and attention to get them to stop barking does not solve the problem. The message you are telling them is this: if I barked loud and long enough, my human will come and give me treats. You have just rewarded him for doing an undesirable behavior just because you can’t stand the noise.
My husband taught me a trick. When I come near the barking puppies, I give them enough time to calm down without getting close or even interacting with them. Sometimes it takes only a few minutes, but other times it can take more than an hour. Yes, one heck of a waiting game. I only get close and give them food or water as soon as they have settled down. Takes a lot of patience, but it’s all worth it in the end.
Yelling is just as ineffective. It is still some form of attention given as reward to barking and has the same power to reinforce the undesirable behavior.
BEYOND TRAINING CAMP
Teaching small dogs basic obedience takes a lot of patience and so in a way, the trainees are training their trainers to be extremely patient especially at times when they can be very frustrating. Trainers need to be very careful in their interactions and in expressing frustration. Conversely, trainers need to be very quick in finding desirable behavior and rewarding that behavior and telling them that’s the way they ought to behave. Sometimes I feel bad about how quick I tend to be at spotting my children’s or students’ bad behavior, but negligence or unappreciative of their good behavior.
The patience I’m learning at dog training camp is helping a lot in my job both at home as a mom and at school as a student career coach. My husband and I agree on the importance of having house rules and communicating to our boys what’s expected of them. At school, I have seen the frustration brought by not having classroom rules set to teachers. Yes, students can learn as they go, but the rules can be different from one subject teacher to the next and without a standard guideline to follow, students can get confused. Adults — both at home and in school — need to agree on what set of behavior is expected of children and what are not allowed. This can save both adults and children unnecessary pain and frustration.