Nick Jones MA – Dog Behaviourist and Dog Witness Expert
Nick Jones is an experienced, qualified and full-time dog behaviourist who specialises in dog behaviour problems and dog expert witness work. He is passionate about creating an understanding and rewarding bond between dog and owner. Here he answers Companion Life’s questions about puppy training…
Could you give a few details about how you got into dog training?
I took on my first dog over 20 years ago and she was a Wire Haired Vizsla. Amber taught me a great deal about dog training and was a wonderful way to get into the world of working tests in the gundog field. At this same time, I was a stay at home dad with our daughter and when she started school at the age of five, I was looking to start my own business and it seemed natural to take the dog training route after Amber and I won our first working test together when she was 9 months old. I am today with 20 years of practice under my belt working full-time as a dog behaviourist, as well as acting as a dog expert witness for cases that fall (most commonly) under the Dangerous Dogs Act.
How important is it for new pet owners to train their puppies from day one?
Day one for most new puppy owners would ideally be at the age of 8 weeks. It is perfectly possible to start to think about very simple routines in the home that gently introduce a little control and making an effort to request (for example) very short sits and waits prior to feeding times, being petted, being released outside for toilet breaks…pretty much anything that you can find to request a little sit and a two second wait is a very good place to start. I do this by placing a soft collar on the dog and to place the dog in the sit position and hold its body there for a few seconds before using the ‘Okay!’ release word.
We have little Ruby that we took on at 8 weeks and although she is as bright as a button, she was carrying out these little sits and then waits within a few days of being with us. There’s no magic, just calm consistency from the outset. Food driven puppies can be easily lured into the sit and then down position for small flakes of chicken and then once they are following the hand and food nicely, we can then introduce the word we want to use alongside the luring. This very simple, basic training sets the owner up for a positive relationship whereby the dog accepts from the outset that it needs to keep its eyes and ears open ready for owner input that is interesting and beneficial to the dog. I suspect that many owners don’t look at these basic elements until three or four months of age, when in fact, the puppy could be largely trained by that age already, if they had done a little and often as I suggest above.
What dog behavior problems are the most common you see that can be avoided through training?
Whilst I look at all dog behaviour problems across a wide range of breeds of all agesand sizes, those that relate to a lack of socialisation are seen on a regular basis. These would be behaviours such as aggression to other dogs or animals, nervousness and anxiety. This brings me back to why it is essential that a puppy is taken on at 8 weeks of age and that a gradual and thorough exposure to the world that the dog is likely to encounter as an adult is provided. Many puppies are just hitting public life at 12 weeks plus, when the ‘golden window’ of social exposure closes at 14-16 weeks.
How should new pet owners approach puppy training?
The key is to start from the very beginning and it’s not just about what commands the puppy understands, but also a schooling in good manners and politeness. Start as you mean to continue and don’t allow the puppy to get away with things that would be unacceptable as an adult dog. Naturally, you will need to take into account a very young dog’s short-term memory and its need to burn off energy, but stay on track with your basic behaviour and training approach and all will be well. Look upon training and manners as a long-term thing, that isn’t only in the first few months, but goes well into years 1, 2 and 3 and then you move into adult maintenance mode.
What research should new owners do before they choose their new dog?
There are many different breeds that would potentially suit a new owner, rescues included, so take your time and think it over long and hard. Avoid looking at litters unless you’re really quite certain you are ready to choose one! I see a large number of owners that have what may be unsuitable breeds in the home, because they openly admit that they fell in love with the breed and just had to have one.
When looking at different dogs, ask your self:
- Do I have the time and energy for this breed in terms of its exercise needs?
- Can I afford to feed it a quality diet?
- Do I have experience with a dog of this outlook and intelligence (some dogs make better starter dogs than others)?
- Is the size of my home appropriate for this breed?
- Do I already have other animals that would accept this dog?
- Does this dog already have behavioural issues that I will be able to address?
This is just the beginning and a book alone could be written just on this question!
What are your top 3 training tips that new puppy owners should take on board?
- A little and often goes a long way.
- Keep any formal training sessions short, sweet and finish on a good note for yours and the puppy’s sake.
- Look to weave little training moments into the day, so that it is less about training sessions and more about keeping the puppy tuned into you at key moments in the day as touched upon in Q.1.