Puppy Diary: Raising a working dog

Date published: 24 February 2014

At 13 weeks of age Kato has had all his inoculations and so now he is safe to mix with other dogs. This part of his socialisation has to be done very carefully as even though he lives with four resident dogs this does not mean he will automatically respond to strange dogs in a calm, confident manner.

When Kato is out walking he is going to meet other dogs, most of whom we have never met before so we can’t know how the strange dog will react. I want Kato to see the dog and dismiss it as not something to worry about and not something he is going to jump on and try to play with. I don’t allow a puppy to pull me towards a strange dog, instead I teach the puppy to turn its attention towards me as soon as it sees the dog to get a food reward. This creates a positive experience when meeting strange dogs and prevents the puppy from ever learning to lunge towards another dog.

The best way to teach puppies calm behaviour around a strange dog is to enlist the help of a friend or family member with an adult, calm, friendly dog. In the photograph I am taking Kato a walk with my friend’s 10 year-old bitch. This dog is very good with puppies; she is friendly but does not want to play. Kato very quickly learns that this is not a play mate and walks happily alongside her or stands calmly whilst my friend and I have a chat.

After meeting quite a few dogs in this manner it is time for Kato to meet strange dogs. This week we took him to an obedience show where there were many dogs all under control and well behaved. Kato walked amongst the dogs and even did some training exercises with strange dogs in close proximity. Kato loved doing his exercises and was able to ignore the distractions all around.

There are times when I do allow Kato to play with another dog but I do not allow the play to become too arousing and every now and then I call him away from the other dog to get a piece of meat, then I give him a cue to go back to his play. In this way I always have control and can interrupt the play at any time. The dogs he plays with are carefully selected. They are dogs that play in a gentle, friendly manner but will not tolerate any hard biting. They will discipline firmly without frightening or hurting a puppy.

Occasional play is good to give dogs an opportunity to practice their ability to read the complex and varied canine visual signals and respond appropriately. However, not all dogs play well and some dogs can quickly become too aroused leading to frustration and even aggression.

I never allow more than two dogs playing at a time, especially with those breeds of dogs that could become predatory - look out for dogs which grab at their partners when playing chase games. Some dogs naturally play rough with shoulder barging and full on body slams. This kind of rough play can easily frighten and injure a puppy. My advice would be to limit play to those dogs you know and trust to have a gentle play style. Going for a walk with a calm friendly dog is a much better way of teaching your puppy how to behave in the company of other dogs. 

Every day there are new things for Kato to encounter and most novel things he takes in his stride. However, you will find that every now and then your puppy will find something new a little scary. At the weekend Kato saw some horses and at first he trotted over to them to investigate further. When he got quite close he suddenly stopped and stared. At this point my husband sprinkled some food on the floor near where the horses were standing. Without drawing attention to the horses Kato was directed to searching for treats. He was soon happily eating treats in close proximity to the horses, no longer paying them much attention.

Throughout Kato’s first year I will be careful to move him away from dogs that could scare him. If there is an inanimate object that appears scary I will allow him time to build his confidence, possibly throwing a few treats near the object, so that he goes and investigates quietly on his own. Never force a young dog to go close to something he is frightened of otherwise he will lose his trust in you when scary things are around.

Cath Phillips
On Track Dog Training School

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