Today I want to talk about something that over the course of the past few years I’ve coined as parenting styles for dogs. After coaching thousands of puppy parents, things start to become very clear and you find ways to really connect ideas with people. This is one of those ideas.
What kind of puppy parent am I? Do I motivate my dog to want to be with me? I think you're going to like this one.
Puppy Parenting - How to be successful
Hi everyone! Thank you for checking in with me today. I hope you are having a great day and enjoying your dog training experience. One thing I love about our community is we are one another’s support. Whether you are taking what seems like 30 thousand potty trips a day or trying to figure out why your adolescent dog suddenly forgot how to sit, we are all in this together. I know training a dog can have some struggles, but let’s keep in mind, there are PLENTY of good times. Like when Baxter plops his rear end in my lap and wants a belly rub, or watching him run FREE, hair flowing, tongue out, chasing after his favorite toy. What about when my kids get home from school and he turns into a wiggly wiggle butt with a tongue hanging out in excitement? You can’t help but smile your way through life with a dog.
Today I want to talk about something that over the course of the past few years I’ve coined as parenting styles for dogs. After coaching thousands of puppy parents, things start to become very clear and you find ways to really connect ideas with people. This is one of those ideas. I have found the more I relate training a puppy to parenting, those who are parents get it. Don’t get me wrong. I am in no way humanizing our puppies - I know they are dogs and act and think like dogs. But, there are some common things we do as parents that benefit our puppies in training. All dogs for that matter.
First, as we get started, I want to take you back to one of my favorite Disney movies, Finding Nemo. In this movie there are two parent figures I want you to consider. First, Nemo’s dad. What is he like? How does he respond to Nemo’s curiosity? When Nemo seeks adventure, Nemo’s dad responds with overprotectiveness. What does this do for Nemo? Does it draw him back to his dad or further away? In the movie, Nemo sees a boat in the distance. The more he realizes his Dad doesn’t want him to go touch it, the more determined Nemo is to go touch it. In fact, he does, and gets caught by scuba divers, ends up in the fish tank and now we have the plot of the movie.
When raising our dogs, do we ever relate to Nemo’s dad? I know I have felt this same way in regards to puppies I have trained. I also know I’ve heard this from many of my clients. My puppy picked up a leaf. My puppy has a stick in their mouth. My puppy is peeing on cement but I want them to pee on grass. I don’t want my puppy to jump. I don’t want my puppy to bark. I don’t want my puppy to dig. I don’t want my puppy to steal things. I don’t want...and so on. Sound familiar? Don’t go crazy on me. Hear me out. Of course I want your puppy to be safe. Of course I want what is best for them. Of course I want you to be successful with training. But think for just a minute and pause...how fun are you to be around? In Nemo’s case, how fun was his dad to be with? Did Nemo’s dad’s actions and responses help Nemo want to be with him more….or less? Now in terms of your puppy...how fun are you to be around? Do your actions and responses help your puppy want to be with you more, or less? Think recall for a moment. How likely is your dog to come running back to you when they are out in a free space? Is it rewarding to come back to you? Is it a positive experience to come back to you? Is it fun to come back to you? If so, you’ll have a dog with a really strong recall.
Let’s break it down. I really feel like we are all doing the best we know how. Today, I hope to bring awareness and a possibility for all of us to do a little better with our dogs. Let’s say your puppy picks up a stick. What is your first thought? Go! ___________Was it, “Oh no, that’s dangerous?” or, “I’d better get it back.” Possibly panic? It is natural to see our puppy have something and overreact as in the case of Nemo’s dad. That overreaction can spark increased interest in whatever our puppy currently has or is doing and actually add to the danger rather than take it away. Much like Nemo’s dad overreacting about the boat leading to Nemo, to in fact go about the dangerous act and get caught. I’m a realist. I understand it was Nemo’s choice all along and his dad is not responsible for Nemo’s actions. However, Nemo’s dad’s response helped fuel Nemo’s thought which led to Nemo’s action. I propose keeping ourselves calm when our dog gets a stick in their mouth, leads to a greater likelihood of our puppy not caring about sticks.
If you have been listening to my podcast for awhile, you may remember the episode on the Yes and No loops. Nemo’s dad seemed stuck on a No loop. As such, Nemo became frustrated by all the restrictions and lack of adventure in terms of his dad. The frustration led him to act in ways we as parents wished he wouldn’t. Think of your dog’s day. How often are they hearing, “Yes!” and getting a reward? How often are they hearing, “No, stop, leave it, drop it, or uh-uh!?” If your evaluation leads you to a higher number of no’s, let’s take a step back and help you change that. What happens if you start saying way more Yeses? I guarantee your dog’s frustration levels decrease and their motivation to work with you increases.
I hope you are still with me, and taking this all in the right context. I think Nemo’s dad was a very loving father with good intentions. In all fairness, there needs to be balance so yes protectiveness can be a good thing - but not when it is overly done.
Let’s consider a different parenting style for a moment. Can you think of a parent in the movie Finding Nemo who was fun to be around? Someone a little more laid back. He took life in strides or strokes I should say. When Nemo’s dad first met Crush, what was his reaction? Remember the surprise on his face when the little turtle Squirt was in a bit of a jam and Crush said, “Let us see what Squirt does flying solo?” And Squirt’s reaction? “Did you see me dad? Did you see that? I did it!” Crush was there all along to help if needed. He was there to step in if needed. He let Squirt give it a go on his own and offered support. Then Squirt responded with excitement to share his success with his dad. Crush didn’t pressure Squirt or add chaos to his troubles. He calmly supervised in a loving caring way and celebrated Squirt’s success with him.
It is common that a puppy may pick up a stick. Instead of rushing over to take it away, telling our puppy no, drop it or overreacting, try walking away. Then maybe wiggle a really fun squeaky toy or other favorite tug toy, run around a bit, throw a party your puppy will want to join. Be sure not to make it about your puppy or the stick. We are not trying to bribe them over, but really have a good time and they will want to come check out what is so fun over where you are. Crisis averted. Dog drops the stick to come check out what is happening.
When they do come over, be sure to play with them! Don’t drop the tug toy and immediately go for the stick - as tempting as that may be. Play with them! Have a fun time for a few minutes together. Key takeaways here are zero attention was given to the stick and our puppy views us as super fun to be around.
My challenge for you today is this. Take an account of your parenting style. Take note of how often you teach your puppy what to do, rather than telling them no to something. Try to respond like Crush - let us see what my puppy will do - be there to offer support, or step in if needed - but do NOT overreact. Overreacting to behaviors can inadvertently reward the very behavior we want to stop. Think, what do I want my puppy to do, and teach them how.
You guys are amazing. Your puppies are so blessed to have such wonderful caring owners. My team and I absolutely love what we do and are happy to help you succeed in training your dogs. Feel free to reach out to us through The Online Puppy School to help if needed. Have a great week and happy training.