Often you’ll hear me say the phrase “set your puppy up for success,” but what exactly do I mean by that? First off, knowing what to expect from a puppy will help set you both up for success. Normal puppy behaviours can include biting, barking, chewing, and digging.
See It from Your Puppy’s Perspective
Managing the environment is one of the best ways to set your puppy up for success. By doing so, your puppy may not develop undesirable behaviours such as jumping on people at the door, chewing shoes, and eating garbage.
Take jumping up on people at the door as an example. Setting your puppy up for success in that situation would mean preventing them from having access to that area, either by keeping them in their crate, putting them in the backyard, or having them on a leash until they are trained and know how to sit for greeting people.
For destroying shoes or other valuables, setting your puppy up for success by managing the environment means putting shoes and other stuff away and providing lots of appropriate chew toys. This goes for the garbage as well; put it out of your puppy’s reach. Puppies, just like babies, explore
the world with their mouths. If it’s available to them, it’s fair game.
Sounds like common sense, but whatever the issues are that you may be experiencing with your puppy, ask yourself if the environment is arranged in such a way to help your puppy make good choices. If it’s not, then make the necessary changes.
People like to show me what their dogs can do. More often than not, the dogs don’t perform the requested behaviour. It can be both frustrating and embarrassing for the owners, and they always say the dog can do the behaviour at home. This tells me the dog knows the behaviour but not under distractions or in a different environment.
When we teach our puppies behaviours, it is usually with the same person and in the same location. It’s a controlled environment. To help set your puppy up for success when learning new behaviours, first practise at home, in a non-distracting environment. Then practise in at least ten different areas of your home, including the yard (if you have one). Next, practise while out on walks. This will help your puppy learn how to perform behaviours around distractions. Also, when teaching behaviours, break them down into baby steps to make it easier for your puppy to understand what you are asking.
Just think back to when you were learning something new for the first time.
More dogs are euthanized annually due to behaviour problems than due to illness. Many of these behaviour problems can be prevented, as they come from a lack of socialization. Socialization is the process of exposing your puppy to the world around them in a safe and positive way.
It’s not just about exposure but also about making positive associations. Use treats, allow your puppy to set their own pace, and be their advocate. Setting them up for success – to be comfortable and happy with the world around them – means introducing them to all kinds of different people, places, animals, sounds, and surfaces and making positive associations with all of those things.
Learn as much as you can about dog body language so that you can let your puppy be the one to guide you through this. Your job is to make sure that they feel safe and are having fun and that they are forming positive opinions about the world around them.
When training a puppy, we need to check our own expectations and make sure that they match what our puppies are capable of knowing and doing. Ask yourself:
“Are my expectations too high?”
“Does my dog really know what to do?”
“Is the environment arranged in such a way to help my dog make the right choice(s)?”
“Have I helped my dog to feel comfortable, safe, and confident?”
And this is what I mean when I say, “set your puppy up for success.”
Marlo Hiltz, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP.