Our family’s always had dogs, why is this one so difficult?

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“Archie just goes mad,” said Anne.

“He’s so full of energy he doesn’t know what to do with himself. He’s always stealing things, getting on the chairs, he knows just how to wind me up  …

And then, when we go out, he’s not at all friendly with other dogs. Some children were rushing past on their scooters the other day - I thought he was going to grab them!

We’ve always had dogs - but I’ve never had one like this before! 

What’s wrong with him?”

This is a shame. Anne was very pleasant, well-meaning, and obviously devoted to the naughty Archie. When I visited her I saw the life that Archie lived and found the root of the problem fairly quickly.

Anne was indeed experienced with dogs. For forty years there had always been a family dog. 

Now she had the dog … but no family!

Her previous dogs had been brought up in the rough and tumble of family life. From morning till night (and sometimes during the night) there had always been activity. The electric energy children bring to a home was ever-present.

There would be visiting children, bikes to chase after, tears and jam to be licked off cheeks, shrieking, dropped food to be cleaned up, toys, gadgets, running and racing, tree houses to climb up into, a sick child to cuddle up with …

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Housekeeping in a busy family was basic maintenance, not perfection.

And then there were the school runs, walks to the shops, family holidays on the beach.

Archie’s predecessors had had a very different upbringing!

And Archie had missed out on all of this. 


What Archie had missed

• He hadn’t learned to cope with children (Anne never walked to the shops these days and there were as yet no visiting grandchildren.)

• He did not encounter many dogs in the rural area Anne had retired to 

• The house was painfully quiet - and spotless. Anne was very, very houseproud. 

• He’d never been to puppy class (“The other dogs had never needed it,” said Anne, “so I didn’t bother.”)

• He didn’t know how to use up his energy in the day 

• He had plenty of long country walks which made him stronger, but his mind was never tired

• This was all exacerbated by the fact that Archie was a high-energy dog, bred to work till he dropped

So while Anne thought she was rearing her young dog the same way as her previous family dogs, in fact she was missing a huge chunk of his essential upbringing!

 "I'm bored! If something doesn't happen soon, I'll have to make it happen!"

"I'm bored! If something doesn't happen soon, I'll have to make it happen!"

In this case we started a program of belated socialisation and habituation, Archie came to class and was very quick to learn the games and tricks I teach there, and Anne learnt that mental stimulation is infinitely more tiring than physical exercise!

You cannot “socialise” an older dog. This is something that can only happen in the dog’s brain up to the age of 15-16 weeks. What you can do is get him out and about, having new experiences, and enjoying them! If he’s not enjoying - for instance another dog walking towards him - then about turn and withdraw to a safe distance where he can observe the dog passing while you pop treats into his mouth. The distance will vary, but could be at least 50 yards. 

Anne didn’t need to take Archie on ever longer walks, building his stamina so that his energy was boosted - just spend a few minutes here and there during the day when she could play some of the games and tricks he’d learnt in class, and mind games to satisfy his busy brain. Here's a great book to get you started.

As a working dog, Archie quickly took to the games which involved his amazing powers of scent. Hide and Seek, in the house and the garden, became very popular! We even taught Archie some useful tricks: fetching Anne’s indoor shoes when they arrived back from a walk was very popular all round. It gave Archie a job to do straight away, and Anne was able to dry his feet when he brought her shoes, before he’d started running all over the house. 

Family Dog but no family?

 Children go so well with puppies!

Children go so well with puppies!

So if you're like Anne - you want to get another family dog but don’t have the family at home any more, here are a few things to consider:

• Early socialisation to everything in our world is vital. This includes towns, shops, countryside, schools, fairs, horses, bikes, trains, dogs, children, etc. “Early” means from the day after your puppy arrives, at 8 weeks.

• A first-rate force-free Puppy Class will give you lots of tools and experience

• Mental stimulation is more tiring and satisfying than physical exercise alone. This was a big surprise to Anne!

• Playing with your dog is much more fun than telling him off

• Care less about the spotlessness of your home - you have a dog!

• Choose a breed that was not designed to run over moor and mountain for eight hours a day

• Worry less about what your dog is doing, and more about what you are doing

Most of all, enjoy your puppy!

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All text and images © Copyright 2018 Beverley Courtney