Every Dog Every Day
9. early days out and about
Most of us wish to take our dog out-and-about with us; from the countryside walk to brunch at the local café or pub. We will plan to go on holiday, stay in hotels or visit friends, perhaps go to classes, a dog show or the local garden fête.
To ensure these outings are as pleasant an experience for your dog as they are for you we need to begin to familiarise the youngster with these anticipated but unnatural environments.
A familiarisation protocol should ensure that a puppy has the time to assess, observe, and become familiar with, the weird and wonderful life that will be their future. If you rush this and the pup becomes fearful of people at the cafe, then this shared outing may never be on your dream list.
Do not rely on putting it right or fixing this associated anxiety at a later date. “Become familiar with” should never involve anxiety, it should always be gradual, never extreme and the pup should always have the right to say “no thanks”.
Travelling in the car
Your first journey for the pup should be in the arms of the passenger in the front seat. By holding the 8 week old pup you absorb some of the motion and the front seats are the least likely active.
A professional driver once used the expression – “you should always take the corner so carefully that the ice in the G&T does not hit the side of the glass.” Hah! Do not throw the puppy around especially if they have been dumped in a crate in the boot of the car – pea in a colander, almost guaranteed to induce sickness – try it yourself sometime.
Once you can take regular short journeys with a sleeping pup in the arms of your passenger, then transfer the pup to crate with plenty of cushioning to absorb the motion. If the size is suitable place it on your front seat with seat belt around it so the pup can stay in visual contact. Over the growing months the crate can move backwards.
If you wish to arrive at a destination without the screaming-for-release then do not make a habit of arriving and releasing the dog from the car within 60 seconds. Arrive, take out a book to read, go through your texts, go find a bathroom, fill up with petrol. Once the “we’ve stopped” and the dog escalates arousal in anticipation of the hunt, it is one of the hardest behaviours to change. The dog will learn to recognising the changing down of the gears or just the indicators, the scent, a speed bump, a series of pot holes; since these are all part of the sequence for turning into the car park.
Plan to take your dog, if they travel well, on many journeys, where they do not leave the car but simply accompany you during all those errands. Of course be sensible about the weather some months are simply never going to be suitable taking the dog for rides.
For all dogs it is a good policy to accustom them to confinement in the car for when you need to leave them. Begin with turning the engine off and stay in the car. The engine switch off can be a cue for abandonment so avoid allowing the dog to study a new habit – be variable. Occasionally jump out to fill up, pay and off we go again, other times, just stop and admire the view.
When you arrive
Lay down good protocols for opening the car and releasing the dog. It may be convenient to turn up at the park and let the dog shoot. But one day you may need to pull over on the side of a busy motorway. On this occasion the dog will need to get out, with great control and be moved to a place of safety. Release from anything, be it the crate in the kitchen, out the back door, from the car, off the lead etc., should be only allowed after the dog is under control. Just as your mother put the dinner on the table and we learned to wait with good manners before we begin. These good manners are excellent practising points for future tricky situations.
Become familiar with our world should never involve anxiety, it should be gradual, never extreme and the pup should always have the right to say “no thanks”.
Just watch the world
Nature has designed pups to learn things in order of safety. Nature has done this before and has excellent logic. The first bones that complete their growth are those in the feet and then the lower legs and then the upper legs. The last growth will be the head. It would not be practical to have a fully grown head on a puppy body, some falling over would occur more than is normal.
When a pup sees something new they stop. New things need to be proven to be friend or foe, threat or opportunity. Until you know or recognise it for what it is, it would be stupid and dangerous to proceed any closer.
My strategy is to arrive at the supermarket car park, open the back of the vehicle, park my butt on the bumper and let the pup watch the world for the first five visits. No outings, just watching. At home in a secure and familiar environment I will teach them how to respond to cues through the collar and when competent they will be lifted out of the crate at the car park to nosey around. I like car parks, not to many wild creatures, no loose dogs that consider my puppy fair game and people too purposefully busy to bother with cooing over my pup.
We will purposefully wander around, admire the white lines, empty parking space and sniff a few wheels of cars. Cars moving around will be slow, which is an important consideration with sheepdogs who can find road traffic releases their herding instincts. Every time the puppy comes to a halt – because they have spied something new, I pause with them and wait for their filing system to memorise the new information. This filing process makes an excellent sleeping potion.
Begin with very short outings, no more than 5 minutes and slowly build up the duration. Do not try to measure their familiarisation by distance, only by time. The busier environments will take much longer to process. If you have a time schedule and need to be somewhere, then carry the pup.
Familiarisation is about observing, assessing and filing away. It does not require interaction. Your pup can benefit from seeing many different shapes of dogs, and people, but they do not need to greet or be physically touched by them. If these people in this environment are not part of their future then treat them as if they were part of the street furniture.
As their assessing skills increase you will notice they will be able to bobble along and watch the lollipop lady. This will arrive on their own schedule, when they are ready, not when you wish for it. If you push them too fast in this process you can overwhelm the puppy and risk damaging the critically important assessment skills. This may lead to everything being fear inducing which is not a future that I would wish for any dog or their friend.
Label the day
You can attach a verbal label to every action your puppy does. Having a pee is one of the most useful verbal cues you will ever add and need. Choose the words carefully: “be quick” or “hurry -up” is advised for the more public events. I add words for:
“outside” when they are going out of the door from the house to garden, usually following me or the other dogs
“inside” opposite way around
“in your bed” going into the crate when following a tossed treat
“wait there” on every occasion that it predictably occurs “wait there” when the crate door experience has taught the pup to hold position
I also pair lots of words of future praise when the pup is naturally self-chuffed. They have secured a toy and travel towards me for some positive stroking – lovely jubbly, what a hero, clever, clever boy-pup. By adding these words, sounds (mouth clicks, whistles), and gestures (clapping) to the natural occurrence of that emotion, I can stimulate that emotion in the future to mark successful events. This is just a simple way to teach the dog our language.
You can also think about whether you wish to add a release word to the wait behaviours or use the situational cues. Does the dog come out of the car when you step back or when you say “let’s go”? If you can be guaranteed to only ever step back as the releaser cue, then a word may not be necessary, but in reality you may need to step back for a whole host of reasons that do not signal the dog to come out of the car – so the release word may be a safety need in these conditions.
Using verbal cues can be very useful to improve communication provided you never make an assumption that “they know it”. They may know it, but they may also forget it, or choose to do something else at that time. Do not use a verbal cue or any other cue more than once and never unless you are in a position to back it up. Do not send the dog “in your bed” as you walk out of the room with your dinner on a tray. Do not ask the dog to go out when you are not prepared to get up off the sofa and walk out with the dog.
Repeating a cue just explains to the recipient that you are in a position of weakness or being lazy.
Repeating a cue just explains to the recipient that you are in a position of weakness or being lazy.
Be a parent not a pimp
Try to read your pup’s level of confidence, if they do not wish to be touched and do not respond by stepping towards the person then on their behalf fend off the intention. Quite frankly, some people approach with really bad hand language, stink of cigarette smoke and have every intention of mussing the pup’s head. Imagine if strangers did that to you or your child? Yuck.
It is the person’s agenda to fondle your puppy, it is rarely of any benefit to your puppy and you may need to practise some serious blocking to stop the urge. Be ready for them to take offence, you can try the polite “he’s in training, thank you”, but remember your contract is with this puppy for the next 15 years, not the passing stranger, who will most definitely consider you rude and ungenerous. No one has the right to touch your puppy, just as no one has the right to touch or fondle you or your child. Not good behaviour.
At the other end of the spectrum your puppy may be extremely eager to greet all humans. This is not a good trait. People will be sucked into the cuteness and provide all the interaction the puppy desires. But how will you explain to the 11 month old muddy dog-thug that people no longer wish to touch him? What is going to happen when you are out for a walk with the dog off lead – do you want them to rush up to all people?
Middle ground is best choice, strangers should remain strange and of no interest, friends and acquaintances when you invite interaction and family free to interact as is appropriate.
Always consider where the behaviour will be in 2 year’s time and do not allow social custom and expectation to require punishment in the future because indulgence was not under control when they were young – indulgence for both people and the pup.
Just because lots of people do it does not make it right.
NO ONE has the right to touch your puppy
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sounds like a biscuit …….
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