Puppy Learning -- Taking Risks and Exploring Boundaries
Puppy brains are like sponges; they absorb everything! From the moment puppies take their first breath, they learn how to react to their needs and how to respond to their environment. They are risk takers and experiment with a variety of behaviors. Puppies are natural problem solvers and behaviors which benefit them are learned. Those behaviors which are not rewarded are extinguished.
For the first few weeks puppy brains are preoccupied with food. They smell their way to their mother and find nourishment. They wrestle with their siblings and learn just how far they can push their littermates before receiving puppy growls and nips. When they develop sharp puppy teeth, their mother is no longer willing to nurse them. The puppies then need to search for other sources of food. They experiment with pebbles, or smelly socks, or garbage. They ingest almost anything which they think is edible.
Puppy teeth emerge and their gums become sore. They begin to feel the urge to chew. Table legs, telephone lines, human fingers and toes become objects to satisfy their craving to chew.
As puppy owners how do we deal with this exploration? Do we let them experiment without interference? Do we extinguish their urge to problem solve? The most effective strategy is to use their natural curiosity to establish positive behaviors.
Imagine, you are in your living room and your puppy runs over and grabs your slipper. Use this opportunity to your advantage. With a cheerful, encouraging tone call the puppy to you. Create excitement by clapping your hands and saying, "bring, bring". When the puppy comes to you, exchange the slipper for a dog treat. Very quickly the puppy will love to bring whatever it has in its mouth to you. You are getting your slipper back and you are laying a foundation for your dog to willingly bring things to you.
If your puppy grabs something it shouldn't like an electrical wire, a telephone cord, or your toes, you want it to stop immediately. In a clear firm voice say, "no chew" and take the object from the puppy's mouth. Give the puppy calm praise for releasing and give them an "approved" object like a toy or a tug.
Catch you puppy "being good" and praise them. If they are lying down beside you say, "Good down" and stroke them. When they come, say, "Good come" and give them a treat. Set clear expectations and tell your puppy when you are pleased with their behaviour. Be a good leader. Be firm, fair and consistent!