Puppy Structure and Management

Puppy Structure and Management: I get calls and emails every day from dog owners who are struggling with various behavior issues or contemplating surrendering their pet to a shelter. Most of these issues could have been prevented through many of the tenants we are about to discuss. Dogs thrive on consistent structure and rules – they want to be led. By nature, dogs are pack animals. This means there is one leader in the pack and the rest follow behind. The followers do not worry, make decisions and feel no responsibility because they simply listen. In my opinion, the #1 reason for behavior issues is a distinct lack of consistent structure, rules, and leadership. Not only is this unnatural, but it leads to anxiety, stress, and aggression on the dog’s part. That’s why we are equipping you with the preemptive knowledge and capability to be the leader in your home, who establishes the rules and maintains consistent structure. In doing so, not only will you make your life easier and less stressful, but your dog will feel more relaxed and reassured that they are safe and in good hands.    

Structured Feeding Routine

We never free feed our dogs. Free feeding is when a dog has free access to their food, so they can graze and eat whenever they want. Free feeding is a variable that can hinder housebreaking, but also lead to potential behavior issues later on in life. Puppies typically eat more frequently (3 times per day). Consult with your veterinarian to see how often your dog should eat.

When feeding on a predictable schedule, provide your dog his meal and allow approximately 20 minutes for him to eat. At the end of that time take the food away. He will not eat again until the next scheduled feeding. If he chooses not to eat the meal in that time frame, then he simply missed the meal. More than likely he will eat his next meal. Dogs will not skip more than one or two meals before they understand to eat when the food is available, otherwise it will go away. This is an important tenant for them to learn.  Make sure to always Choose a Healthy Dog Food.

Structured Walks

Provide your puppy at least two structured walks per day, not a walk where your dog is dragging your down the road. A structured walk is not only great exercise for your puppy to relieve their energy, but it is a fundamental leadership tool that most owners are missing out on. Your puppy should NOT be pulling you down the road, choking themselves on their collar, constantly sniffing and marking trees/bushes, barking and lunging at passing people, bikes, dogs, etc. A structured walk is your puppy walking comfortably at your side (the leash is loose, no tension), ignoring passersby, and only stopping to sniff and go to the bathroom when you release them to do so. We want your puppy to be in a calm and relaxed state, so they feel like you are leading the walk and they do not have to assess everything that is going on. It is possible to over exercise a puppy, as their joint and body are still developing. So make sure to keep walks short in duration and low intensity (no running, just walking).

Teaching Impulse Control

Begin teaching your puppy impulse control and the concept that calmness gets rewarded and excitability gets ignored. Have your puppy sit to wait for food, before exiting the home, and entering or exiting their crate. These prime opportunities of excitement are great teachable moments. The simple task of waiting until released teaches impulse control and helps set the tempo of calmness. Having your dog sit at the doorway before going for a walk sets a precedence for how the rest of the walk will be. It signifies that the walk is going to be calm, relaxed, and controlled. Think of how that compares to the way you currently walk your dog. Right now he is probably excited, jumping up and down, and dragging you outside while you barely are able to close the door behind you.

Furniture is for Humans and Dog Beds are for Dogs

Do not allow your dog on the furniture (beds, couches, chairs, etc.). Instead, provide them their own dog bed on the floor. Furniture is a common ground for a lot of struggle and strife for dog owners. Never allowing your puppy on the furniture prevents the difficult issue of training them not to go on it when they are older. You also help to prevent problematic issues that can stem from it (separation anxiety, territorial aggression, etc.). If your puppy tries to jump on furniture, simply say “Off” and use the leash to guide them down so all four paws are on the floor.

Jumping on People

One of the most common calls I get is from owners who want their dog to stop jumping on guests. The best solution is to never let them do this in the first place. This is a terrible behavior that most owners encourage when the dog is a puppy. They think it is cute and fun, but ask yourself, “Is this behavior my dog is displaying now, going to be cute and fun when they are a full size dog?” The answer is always NO. You can’t allow your dog to jump on you when you’re wearing your weekend clothes, and not expect them to jump when you come home from work wearing a suit. Dogs can’t differentiation between the two, and it is unfair to expect them to. Not only is it impolite and not fun to have a dog jump on you as a guest at someone’s home, but it is a huge safety concern (especially when dealing with children and the elderly). In order to be fair to your dog, make things easier for you, and safer for your guests, we are not going to encourage your puppy to jump. If your puppy starts to jump, ignore them, and walk away/take a step back. If he consistently tries to jump, use the leash to guide them off you and back onto the ground (while simultaneously saying “Off”).

Short-Term Management Techniques

The purpose of a management plan is to limit your puppy’s freedom in order to keep them safe and prevent unwanted behaviors. Freedom is not entitled, it is earned. Management tools include: a crate, portable pens, baby gates, short leash for in the house, or containing them in a “safe room” that was puppy proofed.

– We discussed the benefits of the crate earlier on, but when should you crate your puppy? The crate is a management tool used to help keep your dog safe and out of mischief. For this reason, crate your puppy at night, when left home alone, or when you can’t maintain direct supervision.

– Set both you and your puppy up for success by removing items that are on the floor or low to the ground that they can take, chew, consume, etc. When your puppy is out of the crate, it is essential to maintain direct supervision. Keeping your puppy in your direct line of sight enables you to intervene and redirect or discourage poor choices.

– A VERY helpful tool is to have a leash on your dog when they are out of the crate and you have visual eye contact on them. NEVER leave a leash on when they are in the crate or unsupervised. A leash affords you the ability to easily redirect, prevent, and teach your puppy in various situations. Without a leash, you lose that important recourse and may unintentionally reinforce the undesired behavior you want to stop (i.e. grabbing a dog’s collar, pushing a dog back, etc. are all reinforcing to a puppy). I never have an untrained dog off leash in my home (except when they are in the crate or when left unsupervised).As your puppy matures and proves they will not get into trouble, you can then consider giving unsupervised freedom out of the crate.

– Most dogs have a tendency to chew on, play with, or eat the leash. This is something you need to stop right away (we don’t want this behavior to become engrained). You can simply take the leash out of their mouth and redirect them to a suitable chew toy, spray a pet safe deterrent product such as bitter apple on the leash, or purchase a chain leash that the dog will not find enjoyable to chew.

As your puppy matures and proves they will not get into trouble, you can then consider giving unsupervised freedom out of the crate.

Puppy Structure and Management