By LeAnn Miller
You just got home with your gorgeous fluff of a pup, and you have grand visions of competing in one or more of the many canine events available. Or maybe you’d like a wonderful housepet who has great manners.
How to get started? Following are some strategies to help you build your relationship with your puppy, while also nurturing his attention, drive, and focus — skills that will help him enjoy and excel at activities you may do together later on.
- Teach him that all good things come through you. Food, toys, belly-rubs—everything that your dog values should come through you.
Please don’t interpret this to mean that the dog never gets to interact with anything without your involvement. That’s simply not true, doable, or desirable. My dogs get plenty of what they want from other people and other dogs. What I mean is that when we’re together, the dog should focus on me to get what he wants.
As an example, I have a very food-motivated dog who has to do a sit and look at me before I release her to her food bowl. I don’t tell her to sit, and I don’t tell her to look at me … she offers these behaviors because they are her defaults when she wants something from me. I do not release her when she’s staring at the bowl and trying to levitate it to her mouth! I want her to include me in the picture of what is good.
- Build his learning toolkit. Teach your puppy that learning is fun and that offering behaviors is rewarded.
Your dog will be learning new things throughout his lifetime — this is the time to teach the fundamentals. Get your clicker out and teach the pup what that means, even if you don’t plan on using it later. Get your pup used to being handled by you and everyone else on the planet.
Socialize your puppy, but manage the environment to build positive associations. Having a bad experience as a puppy can carry through the dog’s entire lifetime and can limit his potential.
- Build drive through play. There are several games that you can play with your pup to build drive — nurturing his energy and enthusiasm for doing activities with you. Some of my favorites include:
• tug games, including “live toy, dead toy” — using two identical toys, play with the pup with one, then switch to the other;
• retrieves combined with recalls — using two identical toys, I throw one toy while restraining the pup until the toy lands, then I release the pup to get the toy. As soon as the pup gets it, I shake the other toy and call him back; and
• the race game — in which I race the pup to the toy I just threw (sometimes I win, sometimes the pup wins!).
- Give what you expect. If you expect a very high level of attention from your pup, be prepared to give that same level of attention. An example is if you are at an event and want the puppy to pay attention to you, you must pay that same level of attention to the puppy.
Remember, this is a partnership. You have to live up to your end of the bargain.
—LeAnn Miller, Kuvasz Club of America (AKC Gazette, July 2013)
Read more articles from the AKC Gazette here, and read about Kuvasz here.
More tips on raising your puppy: Socializing Your Puppy and Supervising Play Sessions and Socialize Your Puppy to Fit Your Lifestyle.