Having two puppies at home, a four month old and a twelve month old, has been challenging to say the least. My quiet evenings in front of the television have been shattered as the puppies won’t leave each other alone whenever they are together. I could just have one outside and one inside but what exactly are my puppies learning when I avoid the problem?
Keeping them separated is the obvious quick and easy answer but I want my puppies to learn that there is a time and place for play and there is also a time to be quiet and keep themselves amused when in the house. They aren’t going to learn anything if they are stuck outside all the time and certainly their behaviour will not improve.
You will always be far more successful when training any dog if you replace the behaviour you don’t want with one that you do want. For me, I want to replace the constant playing (whenever the puppies are together in the house) with relaxed puppies that can lie quietly while I’m enjoying some down time in the evenings. Dogs learn much better when the wanted behaviour is clearly defined and specific, so my plan is to teach each of them to sit on a dog bed while quietly munching on a chew toy or treat.
To get started I need two dog beds, two chew toys and a container of treats that my puppies really love. I put one dog bed on either side of me while I’m sitting on the lounge (one of the reasons I love teaching this game to my dogs – having the television on!). Once I’ve put the dog beds down for the first time, I’ll call my puppies over and to initiate the game by throwing a couple of biscuits on one of the beds. When the first puppy jumps on the bed to get the treats I’ll throw treats on the other bed for the other puppy. Before they have time to leave I’ll throw a couple more treats on the beds. Once this has been done a few times the puppies will become very interested in their dog beds.
Initially I’ll keep my “rate of reinforcement” very high. This means I am constantly dropping treats on each of the dog beds, making it worthwhile for my puppies to stay there. This is what gives them value to my puppies. When they find the dog beds valuable, they will want to jump on them as soon as they are available because they begin to associate the beds with good things.
After a few days of building value for the dog beds I start to introduce a chew toy. Although I’ll still provide treats while they are on the beds, the constant reinforcement is replaced by providing them with something to chew on. The four month old particularly benefits from this as she’s still of an age where she wants to chew everything. If she’s not chewing on a chew toy, the dog bed or lounge will be on her list, so to prevent this I simply provide her with something more appropriate.
It is important that intermittent reinforcement (dropping treats on the beds) continues even after the puppies have their chew toys. This will assist with maintaining the value of the beds to the puppies. It is also important to keep the initial sessions short so that the puppies don’t lose interest in the game. This game can also be played with adult dogs who won’t settle.
Karen Phillips is the owner and trainer of Riot, the beautiful border collie that is the Better Pets and Gardens mascot. Karen has had immense experience and success with her border collies as well as little Cassie, the very fast papillon, and is currently involved as a trainer with the Agility Club of WA. Karen is also a regular expert on our Facebook page every Monday night.