Give that Dog Some Skills

Puppies are learning all the time – moment to moment.  If we don’t intervene and actively participate in this process, our puppies learn what the environment teaches them.  These are often not desirable lessons, especially for fearful animals or those with low emotional thresholds.

Dogs need skills to cope with the world, too.  Socialization to all people, other quadrupeds, new situations, new places, and noises – to name a few – are part of puppy raising and building a bond with a rescued dog.  Training provides many tools to this end, and as with any process, yields the best results when done in a gradual way.  Large doses of patience and observations of your dog’s signals are in order!  The dog will always tell you when he is in an unproductive mental place.  We must recognize the signals and respect them.


When we expect a puppy or young dog to have good leash walking skills or simply “hang out” in the backyard, it’s a bit like expecting a 5-year-old child to read Shakespeare.  Puppies are good for about 5 minutes of constructive play before they become distracted.  Many quiet time breaks are called for.  Leash walking is a skill that requires practice multiple times every day for weeks or months.  Pulling is never a way to reach a place where the dog wants to go.  A mental connection between handler and dog must be established and maintained.  This bond takes time to develop as does any relationship where the parties value each other. 

Transitions are Tough

Dogs don’t like change, but it happens often within short time frames.  Changes are environmental, social, and cognitive, among others.  The most obvious social transition that quickly arouses puppies/dogs is someone’s entrance into or exit from a space.  Another glaring example is the dog’s behavior at the sight of another dog.  In the absence of trained in skills, the over arousal state of the dog defines his behavior.  Learning to sit and accept petting from a friendly stranger is a skill that takes time and practice to train in.  For life-long results, this training begins around 3-4 months of age and continues through adolescence into adulthood at age 2-3 years.   

Training vs. Management

Some owners chose to manage their dogs’ behaviors.  One example is placing an over aroused dog who jumps on everyone in a different room.  This can work, even though it teaches the dog no social skills for appropriately greeting guests.  Everywhere, we all see dogs pulling like Iditarod racers.  This walking habit may be managed with certain types of equipment, but it will never change without developing a sustained mental connection and teaching leash walking skills

There is a place for management.  Any behavior change training program must include ways to prevent continued practice of former, undesirable behaviors in the meantime. It is important to understand, however, that management doesn’t actually teach your dog any skills to cope with life.

Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel   CPDT-KA, 2019 all rights reserved

Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC