Friday 20 September 2019

Puppy power: As a veteran dog owner, Andrea has some advice for newcomers

If you leave things like shoes, phone chargers and TV remotes in a room with a bored dog, there's every danger you'll come back to find them chewed up. This is entirely your own fault so don't blame the dog and take it out on them. Equally, don't give them an old slipper to chew on and expect them to know the difference between chomping on it and the Louboutins you carelessly kicked off after you rolled in the night before.

Unless you catch your dog in the act of doing something naughty, there's no point in scolding them. A frustrated owner who suddenly finds a puddle or chewed piece of furniture may be tempted to yell at the dog in anger, but it's cruel and upsetting to do that as your pet genuinely hasn't got a clue as to why you're mad. Studies clearly demonstrate that dogs don't feel or display guilt or contrition, but have learned to show appeasement-like behaviour in the hope of calming an angry owner down. They will never in a million years understand that your annoyed reaction relates to the shoe they chewed up an hour earlier.

Positive training based on a reward system for good behaviour and ignoring bad behaviour works far better than training through the fear-based methods of old. While I'm sure my neighbours think I'm mad when they overhear my fulsome praise for any dog who pees in the back garden, mine respond brilliantly to praise and petting and loving embraces. Every dog wants to please its owner and will respond well to positive reinforcement.

When Noah first arrived, he kept jumping up on me, and I would calmly grasp his front paws and place them on the floor again. Then I happened to meet dog trainer Nanci Creedon at The Today Show in Cork, and she explained that the best way to handle that situation is to turn your back as he jumps up and say nothing, because even a negative reaction is a "reward." I tried it and the jumping up stopped within two days.

Similarly, I don't do the big 'meet and greet' as I arrive in the door or I'd be literally bowled over by seven excited dogs.

Once the initial hysteria is over and they've been let out to do their business, I sit on the sofa, greeting each one in turn and giving them all a cuddle. They know the routine by now and it makes for a much calmer and more manageable greeting.

Remember we have all sorts of things going on in our lives but they only have us. We're the centre of their world, so don't let them down by not giving them the time and attention they deserve.

Irish Independent

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