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Your Dog’s Learning Does Not End At Puppy Class

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Your dog is a learning machine! No, seriously, they are constantly learning. The good, the bad, and the ugly!

That includes the time you chased them to retrieve the sock they stole. And the time you allowed them to ignore recall and go play with the dog two fields away.

These might be one off incidents that occurred. Usually we find it cute or funny. Maybe take a photo, or laugh at puppy’s behaviour. However, your dog just had an important lesson.

Maybe it was that mum chases me when I steal a sock, and that’s a whole lot of fun!

Or maybe it was that dad ignores me on a walk, so I can go play with the dog over there.

Whatever the lesson was, if it ended in a positive experience for your dog, then they are more likely to attempt a repeat of the behavior. Before we know it, it becomes ingrained and difficult to change.

Please note: we do not get to decide what is rewarding for a dog.

What happens if we stop rewarding?

This is a question that I get asked an awful lot!

And my answer is – they might stop doing the behaviour. It really depends how much drive your dog has, if they enjoy the work.

Rio (cocker spaniel), loves doing tricks. He will spin and do pretty for no reason at all. No reward is needed, but he does often get fuss and attention for doing it.

However, recall away from scents needs a lot of rewards. He loves sniffing, so if I need his attention, I really need to be more interesting than a scent.

Luckily for me, he also loves chasing food. Any reward that he receives for coming away from scent and focusing on me, is usually thrown for him to chase multiple times.

If I just let him sniff, and never reinforced returning to me, I would become completely irrelevant on walks, and I definitely don’t want that!

Dogs under 2 years old are at greatest risk of being rehomed

As some of you may know, our puppy trainer Nelly volunteers for Spaniel Aid, compiling all of the rehoming statistics. The latest stats for this one small charity, for half of the year, showed that just over half of the dogs surrendered were under 2 years old. Sadly, that one charity alone has received an average of 3 surrender requests per day. You can see more of the stats here.

A large portion of this is because dog training stopped after puppy classes. Cues stopped being reinforced, or asked of. The other portion is due to the dogs body language being ignored.

We become busy with life now that puppy is becoming adult, and we settle into a routine.

Unwanted behaviours creep in unexpectedly, and before you know it, it becomes a problem.

Here is our best advice:

  1. Continue training. Continue learning about your dog, continue asking for better cues. It is always advantageous to go back to basics.
  2. Advanced training is just the basics done well! Can your dog sit in any situation? Will they always come back when called? Is the lead always loose? If no, then more training is needed!
  3. Watch their body language. A dog will never, ever, ever, go straight to a bite. There are always warning signs before it happens. If your dog is growling, seek help now!
  4. Ask your self, do I want my dog to do this when they are fully grown? If the answer is no, then do not allow them to do it now. They rarely grow out of learned behaviour.
  5. Be consistent. You cannot let bad behaviour slide just because you are in a rush to get to work.
  6. If you have an issue, or are concerned that an issue is developing, then seek help immediately. Do not wait. Trust me, it will be cheaper and faster in the long run to deal with it now!
  7. Talk to us. We do not want to see dogs rehomed. And we will do whatever we can to help both you and your dogs. We pride ourselves on not being judgmental. We really have seen and heard it all.
  8. Remember, your dog will continue learning for the rest of their lives!