by Mandy Pigott

I am one of those very fortunate people who gets to live out their passion and play with dogs and call it “work”. I say play, because I believe that is precisely what puppy training; or rather ALL dog training should represent to the animal, regardless of the discipline.

The sky is the limit to what we can teach a puppy and how much fun we can have with them, but the one thing that people tend to forget is how fragile their little joints are. As the guardians or owners, we need to protect our puppy’s joints until they have finished growing.

They grow up so quickly. Before we know it, our puppy is an adult. Yet, true to human nature, we want to rush things and want them to do everything NOW, IMMEDIATELY, from day one.

Some of the most common and chilling statements I hear from baby puppy owners are:-

“I’ve already taught him how to jump in and out of the car”. “She can’t jump on the bed but does a Superman impression leaping off”.

“I take him with me for a run every day, I’m only letting him do 5km for now, and he loves it!”. “Zoomies are the funniest… down the passage like a mad thing skids on the tiles and smack into the wall at the end. Like watching cartoons!”. “Her best game is jumping up to catch the ball”.

MISTAKE, MISTAKE, MISTAKE, B I G MISTAKE!!!!

No matter the breed, puppies, are all susceptible to injury very easily. Often we are not even aware of it. We seriously need to protect their joints, provide the correct exercise and nourishment during their puppy developmental stages, or they may one day pay the price.

I don’t think enough emphasis is put on the importance of playing in general and none on safe playing when it comes to dogs, period. It always saddens me when you ask new owners to just play with their puppies, and they seem quite lost as to what that means or how to go about it. To most playing is throwing a ball as far as they can, pup racing to get it and then the owner chasing the pup to get it back, this is repeated until both collapse. Others will jump up and down and depending on the breed, get the same response nipping at anything it can latch those baby teeth onto, some merely wander off not even realising their human is trying to impress them. 

Then…. you have those special little guys that just stare at their human with that look of “HUH”? There is very seldom that real connection between the two, like nothing else in the world, matters – that joyful interaction that makes you smile. To me, this is the very foundation we need to build first in order to learn and work as a team, and this should start the minute we bring our puppy home and continue throughout the dog’s life. We have to build a relationship and bond, and then learning together is a joy, not a constant struggle.

Making learning a huge game encourages the puppy to stay focused on the owner and the behaviour being taught because it’s enjoyable for the dog!

I guess our puppy classes are different to most. We don’t focus solely on regular puppy obedience. However, we do incorporate the basics of obedience; we like to spice it up and give handler and puppy a broader experience.

During the puppy courses, we add things that help them learn about and strengthen their bodies and stretch their minds. Some examples are backing up or reverse, gentle twists, giving paws on slightly raised surfaces, pivots, touches, bows, exposure to a lot of various surfaces and textures, getting into or onto very low obstacles and walking through water. We don’t allow puppies to jump on, off or over anything higher than its pastern as we don’t want to put strain on any of the little growth plates. Walking up and down slightly raised surfaces, go over or balancing on slightly unstable surfaces. We help to nurse those joints and build the little muscles, in-between learning obedience and self-control.  

There are also tons of tricks (which I think are seriously underrated) that teach focus, are hugely enjoyable for dogs and work not only the mind but the little bodies too. I have a thing about waits, recalls and what I call Jack-in-the-box behaviours. So those are very much part of our program.

Making small changes to the customarily taught behaviours and how we teach them creates not only body awareness but also more balanced and confident dogs as they grow up. They will know, how to deal with different surfaces, strange obstacles or noises that they may one day encounter in their lives and this can prevent an unnecessary injury, fearfulness or nervousness but classes are a ton more fun for everyone involved.

Don’t rush your puppy into doing what you dream of one day doing together. Treasure the journey and never forget, to make a great team, both need to experience the same joy.

Happy training

Mandy Pigott

Canine Sports Centre

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