In the World of Dog, evening crazies are actually a thing, particularly in puppies. “International Puppy Zoomie Time” often occurs between 7:00-9:00 p.m., on a nightly basis, immediately before your new youngster crashes for the evening. You hope. Or, it may not be until the early hours of the morning.
Puppies. There certainly are some fun benefits to bringing home a young dog; however, there is a lot that goes into raising a well-rounded puppy. And, frankly, in the beginning there’s not much that’s romantic. Between housetraining or creating a solid schedule, lack of sleep if you have a pup under three months (unless you’re lucky), and a mouth that somehow holds razors instead of teeth, puppies are H-A-R-D work.
You’ve made the commitment, so where to begin? The Longsnouts approach leans towards developing creative, independent four-legged friends through a science-based approach, and also weaving in a literal ton of play-based learning. We believe in the “2 Cs”: communication and consistency. Pick your message. Stick to it.
In this article, we could dive into a lengthy dialogue about the Art of Raising a Puppy, from critical skills to how to teach a down. Instead, we’re going to talk a bit more conceptually about our direct experience, while touching on some key “musts.”
Consistency and Manners
There are several aspects of puppyhood that are rather challenging, says this human with scarred hands and arm’s, from teething to a never-ending battery life, and beyond. Having an appropriate toy/chew at arm’s length, at all times, to replace your battered index finger helps. When a puppy is gleefully snagging your $80 bra and wanting to engage in a game of CHASE ME NOW, having a tasty (from your pup’s perspective) toy/treat at arms length to trade for your finest underthings is absolutely critical. Working on crate training, basic manners (sit, down, hand targeting, and so on), or being more exciting than your neighborhood squirrels? Yep, a high value treat or toy is non-negotiable.
Sensing a theme? Dogs do what works. Period. Guess what — your puppy learned that all of the above behaviors “worked,” regardless of your human opinion. She got your attention (those Achilles’ heels are ten-DER!), played some great games, and probably got to go play outside for a bit so you could have a break, right? Our pups don’t arrive speaking “human” and, given their druthers, most of what we demand of them would never happen — it’s not very “dog.” Being consistent and kind, and creating value for all the required routines and behaviors is the foundation for a beautiful long-term relationship.
No Using “No!”
In the beginning of all relationships, communication about needs and wants establishes a rock solid foundation. Right, we already mentioned that.
To help create that foundation, here are some questions to ask yourself:
What is your plan for communicating with your dog? (words, hand signals)
What skills would you like your pup to learn?
What words are you going to assign those skills?
Where is she allowed or not?
Making the time to draft a plan creates consistency (there’s that word again!) in your communication. Longsnouts training is centered around teaching our four-leggeds what we DO want them to do, and spending the least amount of time focusing on what we don’t want. Why? Well, they always do what works, so giving (what we often label) naughty behaviors attention still qualifies as “working” from our dog’s perspective. Plus, it’s REALLY hard to figure out what — as human or canine — we are allowed to do or what the other partner wants when all we hear is “NO!”
As you’re communicating with your dog, especially at the beginning of your relationship, focus on teaching or asking for what you want and crafting (sometimes luring) the result. (Yep, it’s a pretty amazing life skill that works across species.)
Pro-tip: most common mixed message usually comes from “down” (Longsnouts uses it for “belly on ground” or “lie down”) vs. “off” (we use it to mean “get your body off that counter/couch/bed”).
In the world of Longsnouts training, safety is more than physical. Our team puts a lot of time and energy into educating humans, discussing body language, development timelines (physical, intellectual, and emotional), and age-appropriate activities. Learning to balance helping, encouraging, helicoptering, and confidence-creating are all critical and also an eternal challenge. Strategizing timelines and structured Real World exposure is key to crafting a stable puppy. (Truthfully, we “worry” about exposure and appropriate activities for dogs of all ages!)
Our motto at Longsnouts is “where dog training feels like recess” because we realize that we are all more likely to continue any activity when we’re having fun. In our puppy-focused handouts, we even created a scavenger hunt, as a way to encourage humans to get out and help their puppies learn about our often confusing human world. By watching our puppies’ body language closely, humans can ensure the pups explore in a way that feels good for the puppy — safely! If any one experience pushes the pup “over the threshold” — a #DogNerd term that translates to uncomfortably out of comfort zone — there’s no fun or safety, and trust in the human world (and sometimes also the human) deteriorates.
From a physical perspective, Longsnouts advocates all of the standard safety protocols: use of appropriate crate training, puppy proofing, routine housetraining, a toy/chew at arm’s length 100 percent of the time, and making sure that your pup can be seen and heard at all times. And do not take your puppy to a dog park or overwhelm her by taking her out to Meet-Everyone-You-Know-Right-NOW. Period. Small group size and age-appropriate play dates with known dogs or at-home play/training are amazing resources for growth.
Safety, from a Longsnouts perspective, can be summed up in our most favorite tenet: Fear and Trust Cannot Co-Exist. If your pup is scared, s/he won’t feel safe. Period.
This human, Hannah, Lead Trainer at Longsnouts, may have now made puppies perhaps seem like a terrifying option. Truth be told, yes, I do wish more people would put a little forethought into bringing home a puppy — from breed/mix, expected energy level, appropriate age or size for lifestyle and home, and also how to go about creating a superb relationship with your new family member, for the next decade plus. Making the time to think through a best-suited approach pays off … and, yes, this can still be done once puppy is already home.
After 18 years of saying “no puppy” in my personal life, a floppy-eared Shepherd mix pup seduced me in the winter of 2016. In many ways, I’m in a position to create a “perfect” puppy, right? Well, I, too, struggled, and Dougal, the #puppyshark, was an “easy” puppy in many regards. Maintaining human consistency response can be a challenge when you have a herding dog consistently connected to your arm. I get it! That said, he’s been an amazing, unexpected addition to my personal and professional worlds.
If you, dear reader, puppy owner, or human thinking about a puppy, remember one thing from all these words, I hope it’s this: “this, too, shall pass.” The flip side is that “this, too, shall pass.” So, please cherish the crazy, razor-toothed whirlwind that is your puppy!
(Because then you get a teenager! And that’s a whole ‘nother story...)
Hannah Ashmore has been playing with dogs since the late 90s and professionally training them since her apprenticeship in NYC began in 2006. She is certified through the C.C.P.D.T. and a member of several fear-free organizations. She is over-worked at home by Dominic (American Bulldog/Great Dane), Livvie the Minx (Black and Tan Coonhound), and Dougal, the #puppyshark (Shep/Pitbull-type) and Search and Rescue dog in training. She is lead trainer, educator, and advocate for Longsnouts and a founder of Mutts of the Mitten. Hannah is in many ways a Townie, having first landed in Ann Arbor in the mid-80s, and boomeranged back several times until landing permanently in 2008.
For more information or a schedule of events happening at Longsnouts and Mutts of the Mitten, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow them on Facebook.