So, why the word ‘parenting’ for a pet? Because sometimes this helpless little creature will need even more from you than a small child. Puppies develop their faculties quickly, along with their capacity to chew through anything, run away on impulse, ruin an expensive sofa or get in a fight with another dog. A bit like a child, only your puppy will never speak in full sentences to you.
Puppies are handed to their new owners at a stage where you are essentially taking over from their mother. They depend on you for food, warmth, somewhere to sleep and physical contact and interaction. They also depend on you for training and rules as without these you will have a hard time communicating with each other and your frustration will get in the way of your ability to give them what they need. Thankfully the right training and showing kindness to your puppy will get you both on the right track.
Let’s take a look at a simple game which is the beginning of recall training. ‘Recall’ is simply when you call for your dog to come to you and he successfully does that, which is the first foundation of puppy training. You want to do this every time you interact with your dog as that way you will have very good recall when you need it to work – such as when you’re running around in a park together and need your dog to come back to you quickly. So even if your puppy comes towards you unprompted, it’s still worth stepping away and calling him to you. Without recall established, your dog will take your call to mean “For informational purposes I’m here, come to me when you feel like it” which is not much use when it’s time to leave the park in a hurry.
When you call him, he’ll be curious to know what’s up and you don’t want to stress him so praise him when he comes as well as using your special word for ‘come here’. NB it doesn’t have to be that special – ‘come here’ will do!
When you don’t want your puppy to join in
Let’s say you are planting bulbs in the garden and you don’t want your puppy to join in (or dig them up!). If he joins you without an invitation, guide him away with no recall word or eye contact. This is the natural canine way to say ‘raincheck’ or ‘catch you later’. He’ll understand. If you have been practicing the recall game, all contact is on your terms so recall is established regardless of the situation. This gives you the necessary upper hand when you want time away from your puppy (hard to imagine but you will!).
Step by Step training – the recipe for successful recall:
1. Decide what indicator (not the actual recall word) you are going to use when you ask your puppy to return to you. It doesn’t have to be a word, it can be a noise or a scratch (a mixture of verbal/non-verbal is best). Now do it – scratch the ground or rustle the leaves and say his name. Anticipation is building – you are about to call him!
2. When he looks at you, having heard his name or some promising rustles, say your recall word(s). Always follow calling his name with the recall word as if you just say his name it’s like calling a child’s name with no instruction. The child will just ask what you want or what’s up before they decide to come over to you.
3. Hurrah! Your puppy heard your recall and has started coming towards you. Keep the encouragement coming with “Good boy!” or other encouraging sounds.
4. He’s getting close now, so make sure your arms are not wide and outstretched. You want to avoid looking like a scary tree. Don’t lock gaze with him as prolonged eye contact can make dogs very uncomfortable. If it’s too late and you already over-stared and freaked him out, turn yourself sideways to break the eye contact and look at him intermittently.
5. He’s nearly here! Crouch down and keep your hands close to you but open and ready for a cuddle or stroke. Make yourself into a human safe space and make sure not to grab him by his head, collar or neck as this will seem threatening. Go for the body.
6. As he arrives, move away in your crouched position, encouraging him with ‘Good boy!’ as he follows you. Dogs are very chase-oriented so movement is a powerful form of communication and this way you can start to train him to follow you – which is the next step. Note that now and then you can give him a little edible treat in this process but you don’t want to lure him with food every time otherwise he will get in the habit of being bribed. The reward should be seeing you!
7. Now hold your puppy, keep up the verbal praise and encouraging noises, and give him a little massage. When you are finished, simply let go. He will then know the interaction has ended and that you are in charge – a bit like someone starting and ending a phone conversation every time. Remember you are the parent and he is the child so you are top dog! He will work out that he is free to go but also that he cannot just dash off when he feels like it.
Some extra tips
Don’t bother at this stage with ‘sit’ and ‘stay’. His mother didn’t use them and neither will you – he’s too young and will feel overly regimented by you. Go with the flow – if he starts standing up on his hind legs and pawing at you, take his front paws and gently place them down with encouraging words and sounds and massage.
If you call him and he doesn’t respond because he’s fascinated by an insect or has his nose down a molehill, remember he isn’t ignoring you. He’s just completely absorbed. You might have to get in his eyeline and call his name or touch him gently to make him aware of you. As long as you are kind and don’t yell harshly at him, he’ll come around to you!
Parenting Your New Puppy (Robinson) by Caroline Spencer and Lesley Harris, with a foreword by TV vet Paul Manktelow