Speed learning

Posted Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Learning to be calm and self assured can be more important than training.

When I first started out as a dog trainer/behaviourist about 12 years ago, I could pretty much guarantee that most dogs I saw were behaving "badly" because they were bored. Things have changed a lot since then and now I have seen a swing so far across, that I am seeing problem behaviours as a result of TOO MUCH training. I hear a sharp intake of breath as you read this. Surely not, how can I train too much?

Well, lots of puppy owners are now trying to train their dogs many things by a very early age. By 10 weeks old some have been teaching paw, sit, lie down, fetch, toileting on cue and are having intensive daily socialisation and play sessions. If you have read many of my Blogs or articles you will already know my thoughts about intensive socialisation, so I will keep my mouth shut on this matter. Instead, I want to talk about the importance of rest or if you prefer,  "mindfulness" training. 

By training your new puppy so many different things you can make it hard for your puppy to process what he has learnt. When we sleep, our brain is processing our day and filing information. If we train too many different things when a puppy is very young, we can confuse them. Also, if we do not allow the pup time to rest, we prevent them from effectively processing and filing this information in the brain. 

Another problem is that new owners are trying to prevent their puppy becoming bored, so they keep the puppy entertained all day and play high activity games to tire them out. What the puppy is learning is that the only fun to be had is when the owner is there. They are also learning not to use their imagination, but to rely on the owner for their entertainment. This prevents puppies from both resting, and becoming a little self sufficient. It can also keep them in a state of high adrenaline, making it difficult for the puppy to switch off. Self sufficiency is important as it helps build security as well so that when you are out, your puppy doesn't feel that his world has fallen apart because you are not there. 

Yes, training can be important, but do not do this excessively. Allow your puppy to really learn what you mean before increasing training criteria. Allow your puppy to develop his own personality and let him have time to figure out what fun can be had without you (within reason, of course) and what other behaviours are deserving of your praise, attention, affection etc.  Let your puppy have plenty of rest so that his brain can file what experiences he has been having. When training your puppy, makes sure you are also teaching him that he can relax and be calm. We do not want to create adrenaline fuelled play monsters who have to be constantly interacted with. If we do that, we will produce a really demanding, over stimulated dog who constantly pesters you to do things for him and struggles to retain what you are teaching.

We live in a society in which people now expect things to happen quickly. With living creatures, you need to take your time to gently nurture the behaviours you want to see. If you rush when training dogs, you will miss out important steps, and if you move on to a higher standard before your puppy is secure at the current level, you will find that he loses confidence and your work will be undone. If you allow your puppy to learn to feel secure and feel the pleasure of being calm and relaxed, then you will have excellent foundations on which to build your training. So, spending the first weeks intensively playing with and training your puppy will not create a well trained dog. It could create a dog that is dependent on you at all times for everything and will also lead to a dog that cannot mentally switch off. The result of this is that you could find yourself living with a dog that simply cannot switch off and suffers from anxiety/frustration when left alone. We need to always work with some balance between teaching and letting the dog learn things for himself.

In summary, dogs take time to learn and you cannot rush this process. Allow dogs to learn that it is fine to be self occupied and just spend some short sessions playing with and training your puppy. But don't try to train everything at once or your puppy may become confused. Furthermore, they need lots of sleep so that they can grow, repair and retain information that they have been learning. If you do not give your puppy enough rest time, your pup is likely to struggle to retain what you are teaching. You do not want to burn out your puppy. Like children, allow them time to free play safely in your home/garden with some safe objects/toys and discover the world without relying on you too excessively. This way you should find your puppy grows to be a secure, confident and smart dog capable of retaining what he has been learning and confident to explore new behaviours. If you have been intensively training with your puppy and playing high activity adrenaline fuelled games and now have a puppy that is harassing you for attention, excessively play biting and apparently not learning what you are trying to teach, perhaps you should try to sit back a little bit and enjoy your puppy more, it really shouldn't be such hard work rearing a puppy.