Acorn Dog Training

From breeder to the new home

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Joyce Stranger

Research shows that of those dogs sent to centres for re-homing, most are age between ten months and two years. They may be pedigrees or crossbreeds. Breed rescues are often as full as the main centres. Why?

There are a number of reasons. Often because the relationship has gone wrong from the very beginning due to a number of factors. It is not only due to the ignorance of first time owners, and some more experienced, but a bit clueless, but can also be due to the way the pup was brought up in the nest.

For the past ten years I have had some twenty dogs a week, coming singly for private lessons. In that time there must have been almost a thousand different dogs of over sixty different breeds. They come for remedial training. They are referred by vets, by the RSPCA, and also by the other dog clubs who find the dog disruptive to classes.

I start with a questionnaire. The first question is 'where did you buy the puppy?' When I began this, if the owner answered from the breeder, rather than froman advertisement, a pet shop or a dealer, I thought I could relax. Sadly this is not true. I can usually tell, by the behaviour of the pup, why this may not mean that I am presented with a happy confident little dog, adoring people, eager to explore the world, and biddable.

The second question now is, 'where was the puppy raised?' We now know from the latest research that one of the most important periods of a pup's life is between three and sixteen weeks. This is when the maximum development of his brain takes place.

Very few first time buyers of new pups realise just how stressful those early days are when the little animal leaves the nest for a brand new home. Many pups have spent a minimum of seven weeks, that is the whole of their lives, with their mother and litter mates. They have rarely been alone for more than a fewminutes, and many have not been outside the kennel and run.

They may have superb surroundings. They are often the most wonderful healthy looking puppies. But whether in a palatial kennel or a draughty barn, if their brains have been neglected then the owner is in for a difficult time with a pup that might as well have been born down a rabbit hole.

Very often the most successful pups have been born in the kitchen and surrounded by all the family and grown up in the same environment as that to which they will be taken. In one scenario they are isolated from the house and all household noises. They may see no one but the breeder who only appears to give food. They may be wonderful healthy puppies on the outside. But they have nothing to stimulate them, to enable them to learn and develop their minds. Some are never even given a toy to play with. When sold, they are often terrified of everything they meet. The worse case scenario is of course the puppy farm, where bitches are bred every season. Many of these bitches may be having seventh or eighth litters or even more. They are so tired of constant motherhood they hate
their pups, who become the equivalent of battered babies. These pups are very difficult indeed. I know only too well, as I bought one, before I knew better.

I had a terrified wild pup that might as well have been born in a den on them moors and who had to be tamed before I could teach her anything. She did turn into a very good dog after about four miserable years with her, but it took an immense amount of time that could have been spent having much more enjoyable hours together.

Pups from a sheltered environment are taken suddenly into the world by complete strangers, who may never have owned a dog before and do not understand this new acquisition at all. The puppies may never have been away from the litter for even one second. Now they are isolated from all they know. They are overwhelmed by new smells, and new, often frightening, experiences, in a land of giants. They are also taken, in all probability, for a long and terrifying drive and may be car sick. Their small world has suddenly enlarged to astronomical proportions.

This new environment is often noisy, filled with people, and maybe also contain over-excited children who want to pick them up and pull them about, or even chase them. New owners want to show them off and they are never left in peace. There are inexplicable background noises; loud voices; radios and TV; refrigerators and dishwashers. Switches click, lights go on and off, curtains draw, hoovers make an appalling din.

Few breeders provide the new owner with enough advice. There may be a diet sheet but no explanation that as the pup grows he needs more food. That may sound absurd but I have met people feeding a four month pup on his eight week diet amounts, and unaware that the amount of food needs increasing as they grow. Or else they are giving it an adult diet of one huge meal a day because the breeder failed to supply a diet sheet.

A surprising number of breeders fail to provide the necessary papers. If this goes on for too long the Fair Trading Officer will help and that assistance
is free.

In the past few years a number of my owners have come to me for advice on breeding from their bitches. We have devised a system that does its best to ensure that the pups are well socialised from three weeks on, and that the new owners have every chance of being able to settle their new puppy in fast.

It is also, with inexperienced breeders, necessary to emphasise that the birth is not a means of showing children how pups are born, or a peep show for all the neighbours. The bitch needs a quiet place with, at most two people she knows very well with her. Failure to do this may result in uterine inertia, where contractions stop due to stress, to neglected pups or at worst she may attack her pups and kill them.

One bitch was whelped in a caravan with eleven people, six of them children, watching. That litter ended in disaster with nine out of eleven pups dying on their first night, as she neglected them. Sadly I only heard of it too late. But my advice was taken for subsequent litters which all produced a number of bonny pups.

Most of the pups from the breeders I know are either bred in the house, or in a custom built whelping kennel beside the kitchen door. The bitch is introduced to this some time before she is due.

My first GSD came from a kennels where the whelping kennel was beside the house, in the farmyard. The pups from an early age saw horses, cattle, other dogs; they also saw vehicles of all kinds from tractors to milk tankers, from cars and bicycles to motor bikes. Everyone who came into the farmyard went to greet them. They came into the house on a rota basis, each puppy on its own, and learned about the various noises. Even a refrigerator can sound alarming to a tiny animal that has never heard one before. Also their ears are far more sensitive than ours.

When people visited the pups were taken on to a small enclosed lawn and we all played with them. Their breeder would kneel at one end of the lawn and the visitor the other and would call the pups, who raced from one to the other delightedly, being greeted with cuddles.

They were friendly and outgoing when sold, and none of those I kept in contact with has ever been afraid of noises such as fireworks or thunder. One of my earliest pupils, who bought her bitch for training, acquired her as a brood bitch thirteen years ago. Since then the owner has reared eleven litters from five different bitches, four of whom are now retired, being over eight year sold and having each had three litters, one every two years.
I worked out a socialisation plan for her, and now a number of breeders I know well are doing the same as she.

The whelping kennel is just outside the house, connected by a yard where the pups can play when old enough. The house kitchen leads on to this and has a half door so that pups can be watched. There is a very roomy whelping box with a side that can be dropped when the pups begin to explore, and of course a lamp for cold weather.

When the pups are born, there are background noises, such as a radio, on all the time. The whelping kennel is in a large room, which also contains a deep freeze and a washing machine. It also contains a bunk bed, and one or other of the owners sleeps there for several nights when pups are due. This has proved a very good idea, as twice they have had to go to the vet, during the night, for a Caesarian due to major problems. By the time these pups are sold those noises are part of their daily experience. There are lights in the
room so that from the time their eyes open they are used to those being switched on and off.

As they grow each pup in turn has half an hour in the house away from his littermates. The pups play with any humans available and the breeders make sure they are available. Open house is kept for friends to see the pups and interact with them and for supervised children of all ages to come and pet them.

The pups are handled daily, and come and beg to be cuddled. They learn that people are good fun. They are carried by responsible adults to the gate and held safely and securely so that they can watch the world go by. People, cars, big dogs, all become familiar. They are taken out in small groups in the car and carried into the bank, the hairdresser, into any shop that allows them, where they always receive a splendid reception. All this before they are sold

They play out in the garden under trees and get used to wind noises. Nearly all these homes also have cats so puppies have a head start if they go to a place where there is already a resident cat. It is also an advantage if they meet small pets like hamsters and if country dogs can see sheep, horses, cows, and poultry. The pups I know best are Golden
Retrievers living in a home where there is not only a cat but sheep and chickens, which they meet.

It is useful if there are older dogs for them to mix with the pups so long as they are safe with them. These pups meet the other bitches and have several mothers as, all except one, who has a cleft palate, has had litters.

The kennel also has a number of safe toys; an old tyre, rubber quoits, large balls, socks to tug on and soft things they can carry. It is better not to stop them carrying when they come home as this means they may not play ball and bring it back to the owner. I encourage my pups to bring anything they pick up to me.

Mostly that is fine but I have been presented with a dead mouse, a live hedgehog, and a fox dropping. They still get rewarded. Better their unsuitable trophies come to the owner and dont end up inside the dog.

The pups are encouraged to bring anything to the breeder and give it up. Also at each meal they are called to come, which starts the recall very reliably. They have paper outside the box and go to it to eliminate, so making house training easier.

Would-be owners are encouraged to come, if possible, several times, and play with the puppy they have chosen. There is rarely a problem in selling them, as there is always a waiting list for pups reared like this. They turn into wonderful adults.

Buyers are asked to bring a personal possession, like an old sock or glove (unwashed). I suggest they have it in their bed all night before they give it to the puppy, and let all the members of the household handle it. If they cannot visit, then send it by post a few days before they collect their pup. Then the pup knows the new owners' scent.

Also old blankets are cut up into smaller pieces. Each pup has a blanket piece that he sleeps on, with his littermates, on his last night. That blanket becomes his comforter, something familiar to take to his new home. It often makes those first nights much quieter.

A puppy pack is given with each pup. This contains the pedigree and all the necessary papers, such as the transfer of ownership, and the insurance which lasts up to twelve weeks. Also the puppy's blanket piece and a special soft toy he has had for a week before being collected.

There is a comprehensive diet sheet, covering amounts needed for his first year and when to drop the feeds from four to two. Many vets today recommend two feeds a day, to lessen the chances of a torsion or bloat.

There are guidelines on exercise as many owners take their pup for walks that are far too long before it is able to cope with them. It then develops hard muscles on soft bones and that leads to trouble.

There are suggestions on training, the names of classes in the pup's new area, from the APDT Directory, ( Association of Pet Dog Trainers) and one of my booklets, A Puppy in the Home, which saves a lot of mishandling due to lack of knowledge.

There is enough dog food for three weeks as sometimes foods are area specific and the owner may not be able to buy the one the pup was reared on. It also states whether the pup has been drinking cow's milk, goat's milk or 'Whelpi' as a change may cause an upset tummy. One kennel gained a reputation for selling pups with tummy upsets till it was realised the pups had been reared on goats' milk and the new owners changed them to cows' milk.

Each pup has his photo taken the day he or she is born, with the mother and the litter, and again the day before the pup is sold. This is put in the pack together with a photograph of the sire.

Information is given on worming, how often it has been done and when it should be done again; on the control of fleas and ticks and lice. Advice is also given on hazards such as chewed electric wires and the necessity to be very tidy or property may well be used for teething.

All the pups from the breeders I know are puppy tested by me. So each has a profile from which I can give advice on handling. A timid pup needs to be brought out of itself gently; a cocky one gently put in his place; one needs a lot of encouragement to retrieve, another will be a natural retriever. Brash pups are not suitable for a recently bereaved elderly lady. Boss pups need to go to experienced owners.

Pups treated this way before selling are almost always a great success when they go to their new owners, but we do give warning that at seven months or so they start the hooligan phase and may behave like rebellious teenagers. This can come as a shock to folk who don't know dogs; I have lost count of the number of times someone left off having lessons who thought the puppy knew all there was to know. They ring in panic.

'I don't know what's happened to my puppy. He's gone mad!' He hasn't. He's hit the hormone blaze and is now testing his boundaries; he doesn't drink or swear or take drugs but he does do the dog equivalent. He is suddenly aware of bitches and the bitches become aware of dogs. However, with the training they have had from the day they went home as well as that before they were sold, they are usually far easier to cope with than with a pup that has not had the benefit of such teaching.

Breeders who tell people not to train before six months do their dogs a great disservice. From eight weeks old the pup can be taught to sit, to lie down, to stand; to concentrate, which is especially necessary for showing in Breed. They can be deterred from jumping up, learn to go to their beds if told, and taught not to pull on the lead, not by severe methods, but by gentle coaxing and encouragement.

At this age it is not training but a wonderful game the puppy can play with the new owner.

So many people are cheated of the dogs they might have had. It is well worth asking around to see who does take immense care with their puppy rearing. The owners of these pups often stay in touch with their breeders, come back again for another, recommend them to their friends, and say that the profiles have helped enormously to bring the dog up and overcome any possible fault that might have otherwise developed.

But if these pups are unlucky enough to go to the wrong owner who neglects the care that is needed, they too may well end up as an unhappy statistic. For the right owner a pup reared this is the dog we all dream about, a companion that is a joy to own, as well as often excelling for those who want to do competition.

Those first few weeks are the most important in the dog's life and if the puppy is not civilised then time is spent taming him that might well have been spent making good progress and having enormous fun.

My ideal owner is starting to come with her puppy soon. She rang me to say she was buying one. She hasn't got her yet as the pups are only six weeks old. This one will change homes at eight weeks, which is just right. He already has one of her old gloves. By the time the pup comes to her new home she will have learned how to interact with other dogs. At six weeks they don't know this and may well be aggressive with other dogs when finally taken out, which is probably far too late, due to isolation till vaccinated.

This owner has already had one lesson and has a copy of my book 'How to Own a Sensible Dog' as well as 'A Puppy in the Home' and 'How to bring a Puppy and avoid aggression.' The puppy wont be a centre of attention, overwhelmed by people she has never met before coming to see her and pick her up and scare her.

The owner is taking two weeks off work to get the pup used to her home and lives next door to her parents who will be there during the day. This pup won't be thrust into the chilly, windy and possibly wet garden on her own and expected to know why. Her owner will be there with her, to re-assure her in this big new place, and praise her when she does the right thing in the right place and ignore her if she makes a mistake. The pup has been brought up by the breeder, in the house where there are children who respect dogs.

She will be taken out and about. Good places to take a well balanced pup are big car parks, car boot sales, markets. Here they see busy places, travel in the car and learn not to fear it, and there are people, baby buggies, wheelchairs, and children.

The more experiences a young dog can have, the more relaxed he will be in new situations. This ensures that your pup will become a great companion and not be as one owner put it, 'a headache on four legs.'

So much can be done in those early days but the weeks fly past and the time will never come again

Anglesey UK

All have been written after years of teaching first time owners.

These are available direct.
Add 50p per book for p&p.

A Puppy in the Home. £3.00
ISBN 0-9513357-2-3
Dogs dont think the way we do. This is how your puppy thinks. It
may surprise you.

I'm Nobody's Dog. Can I be Your Dog?
(Coping with rescued dogs.)
ISBN 0-9513357-3-1
Rescued dogs have their own needs and often come with their own baggage trailing behind them. There are ways of making it far easier for your waif to fit into his new surroundings. Everything is strnage and people may have hurt him. He needs understanding and TLC.

Have Fun with Your Dog. ( Teaching without Tears.)
ISBN 0-9513357-4X
Training should be fun., not a chore to be got through somehow. your dog will learn far more easily if you make it fun for you both.

So You Want Your Bitch to Have Puppies.
ISBN 0-9513357-5-8
Few realise how much work is involved. The bitch only feeds them ful time for three weeks, For the next five weks they have to be given daily food, cleaned up every hour or so as pups make an awful mess and cant be left in it. They need to meet people and see the world safely, or they will grown into dogs that are afraid of a butterfly and dont like
people or other dogs. If you dont want to unleash a nmber of anti social and nasty dogs on people, then read this. That first few weeeks is the most important part of pup's life and will shape the adult.

A Dog's Guide to Buying Humans.
( Cartoons. Useful for children and for Xmas presents.)
ISBN 0-9513357-1-5
The cartons are very funny. This is an adult dog's advice to a puppy friend on the way to live with those very unpredictable creatures that think they buy dogs and are unaware that dogs buy them.

Who's the Boss Then?
(Living in harmony with your dog.)
ISBN 0-9513357-6-6

It is easy when you know how. Just a few subtle cues can change the whole way you and your dog react together, and show him in the nicest possible way that he doesn't call the tune.

Puppy Rearing to Avoid Aggression.
(And how to cope if unlucky).
ISBN 0-9513357-7-4

The pup from his first day with you needs to go out and about even if only in the car; to see the world, see other dogs and people and to meet lots of people, or he will be afraid of everything. This is how to reverse that if you are unlucky. Dogs that go nowhere and see nobody can turn out very unpleasant companions, ready to attack anything they fear.
It cant just be left to chance. It doesn't work that way.

How to Own a Sensible Dog £6.95
ISBN 0-95-13357-0-7
Answering all the questions people ask that one never finds answers to in any book read. Also very useful to give those thinking of buying a dog before they plunge so that they can see what is involved. It has now sold 10,000 copies and Wafcol dogfood bought 1000 last year.




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