Beau and I still have a long way to go in our journey but over the past 18 months, we have made amazing progress and I have provided this advice to some success to lots of new Doberman owners. Given the positive feedback, I’ve gotten, I thought I’d share it here as it applies to ANY type of dog. These are tips that may help you build that bond with your puppy and shape desirable behaviors that will set you and your puppy up for success when he is older. NOTE: These also work on adult dogs but may take longer and require some modification.
SHAPING AND LURING
Do lots of engagement work! Get your pup’s attention and when they look at you, tell them how amazing they are. Stuff your pocket with puppy kibble and make high happy noises and call to your puppy in a high, happy tone of voice so he knows that coming to you equals good things. Small actions to show your pup YOU are the most exciting thing on the planet and provider of the best yummies!
Every day start reinforcing desirable behaviors – if he sits, tell him ‘YES!’ and reward with a bite of kibble. Work on all the commands that way, use his incidental puppy actions to build the foundation and gently show him what they mean.
Training never stops so if you walk to the kitchen, see if you can get him to walk in heel position as you go (lure him with a yummy in front of his nose). Another great practice is to ask for a sit and wait before you put his dinner down or give him an appropriate chew toy.
All these things will have such a profound affect on the bond you are building. You have a perfect little piece of clay and, now. the work is on YOU to mold him into a masterpiece.
Understand the difference between socialization and interaction. Socializing is not just taking your puppy around other puppies, it is also exposing him to the human world so that he can learn how to be a good canine citizen. Expose your puppy to daily experiences at home and away.
At home, make a puppy obstacle course where he has to walk over different surfaces (Black trash bags, towels, unopened packs of paper towels, carpet, rubber feeding mats, anything that he can walk over that will get him used to different surfaces) – make it safe and make it fun. Do some simple things like putting on hats and sunglasses and slowly opening and closing an umbrella in sight of your puppy. You can also expose him to different noises (YouTube is great for that) at a quiet volume (at first).
Away from home, take your puppy to places where he can observe people, dogs, cars, and more FROM A DISTANCE. The parking lot of a shopping plaza is great, especially if that plaza has a Petco or PetSmart. Don’t GO IN to the pet places, just roll the window down a bit and let him sniff to his hearts content. If he gets fussy or barks, don’t make a big deal of it, just scatter some kibble or tiny bits of high value treat. The key is to get him comfortable with new sights and sounds.
Engage with him by playing, cuddling, talking to him. Put in the work to building the bond. Build his confidence through slow exposure to different sights, sounds, textures, scents, etc. Take things slowly and enjoy this squishy stage.
All these things work to build his confidence which is HUGE in having a balanced dog.
Now, let’s go over mental exercises. As much as a puppy needs to work his chubby little puppy body, he needs to work his mind, too! Here are my favorite brain games that can be played inside and can help expend some mental energy for your pup. It has been said that, for a dog, 15 minutes of mental stimulation equals 1 hour of physical exercise. If your puppy is way too energetic one evening, give some brain games a try!
1. Muffin Tin Game: Using a regular muffin tin and several tennis balls or similar sized balls, put a few high-value treats in the muffin tin and place the ball on top. When starting out, just put the treats in the tin without covering them. As the dog begins to understand, ”hide” the treats by putting a ball on top. When he gets the hang of it, place balls on empty spaces or switch up which spots have treats and which don’t. Here’s a video if my description is lacking: Dog Enrichment Made Easy: The Muffin Tin Game
2. Treasure Hunt: Put your dog in a down stay somewhere out of sight. Using some extra odiferous (stinky) treats, walk around and place them in semi-visible places around the house. Then, release him and say “find it” and walk around with him to help him get started. If he is superfast, consider hiding the treats in more challenging spots or adding more spots for him to find.
3. Hide and Seek. Start out the same as in number 2, then go somewhere out of sight and call your dog. If you are just starting out, keep some of those smelly treats on you to help him find you. Hide in somewhat easy places, like behind a door (not IN the closet, but in the space behind an open door), or around a wall, just out of sight. Be sure not to hide so well you distress the dog. Keep your voice high and happy when you call him and encourage him as he searches.
4. The Mother Lode. Take an empty cardboard box (be sure to remove any packing tape or labels he could eat and ALL the packaging materials unless it is plain brown packing paper) and put in a few squeaky toys, a stuffed toy, a few hand towels, a handful of his regular kibble, and a few really high-value treats like freeze-dried beef chunks, cheese cubes, or chicken breast. Then fold the flaps together to keep the top closed. Give a few gentle shakes to let your dog know there are amazing goodies inside. Put the box on the ground and encourage him to “get it!” and watch him tear up the box. If he gets stuck, help him by encouraging words and maybe opening one of the flaps.
5. Snuffle Mat. This is a fabric mat that has lots of fabric ”fingers” creating a sort of shaggy rug.You can make one or buy one. Then take half his kibble and scatter it in the mat, making sure to evenly distribute it into the fingers. Encourage him to explore the mat and enjoy searching for his dinner. If he is slow to start add a couple of freeze-dried treats or something else he enjoys.
Don’t worry if your puppy can’t stay perfectly, you can still play these.
NOTE: Never leave your puppy unattended for any of the above activities!
Many people struggle with crating. If you are one of them, here are the times I used to get my boy comfortable in the crate. Remember, all puppies are different and some will take to crating in a day and others may take 6 months.
- Start feeding every dinner in the crate WITH the door open or doing a kibble scatter in the crate with a portion of the pup’s daily amount of food.
- Several times a day, play “go crate”. Take some high-value treats and toss a couple into the back of the crate. Let your puppy go in to get the treat. WAIT until he does this. It may take awhile but if the treat is good enough (I’m talking hot dogs or chicken breast or cheese) the puppy will get it. Toss it and say “go crate!” Or “kennel up!” in a high, happy voice.
- When the puppy comes back out, toss another treat and repeat the command and praise when the puppy gets the treat. If you do this enough, your puppy will begin to go into the crate on his own because he will associate the action with something fun.
- In the meantime, as you teach that, make the crate comfortable and safe. Try it covered, try it uncovered. Place the crate is somewhere near the action but on the periphery so the pup has comfort of you being there but the family traffic isn’t such that there is a lot of action with people passing back and forth, children playing, or loud reactions to a sports game, etc.
- When you put the pup into the crate, be calm and gentle but don’t coddle the pup, just be matter of fact. There should be a durable puppy safe toy to chew as chewing generates self-soothing. Close the door and leave. Put in ear plugs, if you have to. Living in a condo building built in 1938 I didn’t have that luxury as sounds carries in the strangest ways. So what I did was to get an app on the iPad and iPhone which sets up a baby monitor situation. When my pup would start to scream, I could engage the microphone and speak to him. That helped a lot.
- If all else fails and your puppy is really distressed, and never calms down in the crate, speak to your vet about medication. I can’t speak to that but I do know some folks whose puppies were self-harming because they were so distressed in a crate.
In addition to working with your dog, reading about dog training theory and tactics can be helpful. I recommend you read as many books on dog training as you can and advise the following:
- How to Speak Dog by Dr. Stanley Coren (my favorite)
- When Pigs Fly by Jane Killion
- The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell
- How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves by Sophia Yin
- And keep reading!
At the end of the day, it is your responsibility to care for your puppy and help him learn the ways of these strange aliens, known as humans. You need to set him up for success. It won’t always be easy to keep your patience and train everyday, but if you can do that, you will have a wonderful companion that will enrich your life in ways you can never imagine!
Please keep in mind that this is only my experience and I am just a dog owner with 25 years of experience with working breeds. I am not a dog trainer per se nor I am not an animal behaviorist, so I can’t guarantee this will work for you. That noted, any time you invest significant time in training and engaging with your dog will result in a deeper bond and easier training of other skills. Good luck and I hope this helps a bit.