Santa Barbara Independent
January 19, 2006
By Cathy Murillo
Perfectly Playful – Puppy Training Starts Dogs Early on Being Friendly and Happy
Play periods at the Perfect Puppy Academy are filled with romping, rolling, wriggling, and wrestling. Amid the chaos, an amazing and natural thing happens – the young dogs are socialized, they learn to soften their play biting, and when they are called back to their masters to sit and earn a treat, they become well-mannered pets.
The optimum time to train a dog is between the ages of eight weeks and sixteen weeks, according to Dr. David Chubb, founder of the academy, a veterinarian, and writer for various animal medicine journals. “The puppy’s brain is fully able to learn,” said Dr. Chubb, who offers classes in the Santa Barbara area and Ventura County. “They don’t have all the motor skills, but the brain is all wired to do the learning.”
Early learning gets a dog started on such basics as housetraining, bonding with its owners, and obedience, but it also helps the pet live happily in the human community. Socialization teaches the dog to be comfortable around other dogs and all kinds of people. Dr. Chubb encourages a puppy to be accompanied by the entire family, and the training sessions include an exercise called “Pass the Puppy.” Every family group handles every animal in the twelve-puppy class. Treats are given freely and the dogs have a positive experience.
Owners are taught to touch the puppy’s paws, so that later when the dog’s toenails need to be clipped or muddy feet wiped clean, the dog is accustomed to being handled. The same goes for touching the ears and mouth. Examinations by a veterinarian, especially for dental needs, will be easier for a dog unafraid of human hands.
The dog-to-dog interaction results in one of the most important lessons for a rambunctious pup – bite inhibition. Simply, the puppy learns she cannot bite hard. When two puppies are playing and one of them bites too hard, the other will yelp and stop playing with the overly rough dog. The biter, who wants to play, learns the limits of bite pressure and thereafter softens her bite. Learning to bite softly happens naturally among littermates, but dogs are often taken out of the canine family dynamics. Puppy playtime restores that environment and also takes the fear and wonder out of contact with other dogs. The puppy learns confidence.
Aside from biting, other “natural” tendencies are generally unacceptable and can be addressed through training. They include jumping on people, lunging, barking, digging, and pulling on the leash. But Dr. Chubb reminds people that these behaviors are completely natural to dogs, and it takes a little time and effort to train your pet. Even peeing in the house should be expected. “To a newborn puppy, the whole world is its toilet,” he said.
For some behaviors, the classes offer practical solutions. Dogs love to dig in the dirt, so pick a spot in your backyard where it’s okay for your dog to bury things or dig holes. And there are harnesses designed to reduce a dog’s pull on the leash. As for jumping on people, Dr. Chubb said dogs learn to do that early, because when a cute little puppy puts his paws on someone’s shins looking for attention, the person often obliges and leans over to pet the animal. Furthermore, yelling at the dog and shooing it away are also ways of giving attention – just what the puppy wants. The best response, he said, is for the person to turn his back and stare off in the distance.
Along the same lines, a dog owner should never give attention to a dog who is barking to get attention. That would lead to regular barking. Dogs bark for various reasons, Dr. Chubb said, and a lack of training often leads to the saddest of circumstances. For instance, a dog not properly housebroken will be banished to the yard, but as a pack animal, the dog will bark incessantly, wanting to be inside with the family. And an unsocialized dog will bark at anything and anyone that walks by his house.
The ultimate heartbreak is when a dog with undesirable behavior is rejected by its owner and taken to a shelter. If biting was involved, the dog will be euthanized. It was these kinds of tragedies that inspired Dr. Chub to look into puppy training. While so many advances had been made in veterinary medicine, there were still imperfect and even harmful methods being used to train dogs, he said.
Experts used to believe a puppy had to be at least six months old to undergo training, and that was because the techniques were so harsh and based on punishment. “There was no science behind the training,” Dr. Chubb said. The Perfect Puppy Academy promotes reward-based instruction and follows methods developed by well-known animal behaviorist Dr Ian Dunbar, who studied groups of dogs and how individuals interact. Classes are held indoors as the students are still in the midst of their first vaccinations. And because so many older dogs may need corrective training, the academy has expanded to include dogs who’ve grown out of puppyhood.
Dr. Chubb congratulates people who adopt older dogs, and he credits the shelters and adoption groups in Santa Barbara that train their canine wards before working to place them in appropriate homes. And he’s heartened by the emergence of off-leash dog parks, which, of course, encourage healthy exercise and socialization. It’s a good time to be a dog owner and a good time to be a dog. For people who are ready to take the plunge and raise a puppy, it’s a good time to train you pet to put her best paw forward – early.
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