How to Raise a Puppy

Part of being a benevolent leader is learning the characteristics of good training: patience, fairness, consistency, attentiveness, and intelligence.  good trainers might occasionally feel impatience with a dog, but they always do their best to avoid showing it.  They take a long view of the training process and don’t try to do too much too quickly, building methodically one step at a time.  They keep their anger in check when things aren’t going as planned and realize that a calm and quiet approach vis-a-vis their pup is more helpful.  With that sort of self-possession a trainer can be flexible, responding to what the dog needs rather than reacting to mistakes.

Let us be clear here: this doesn’t mean being lax.  In training, letting the dog ignore known commands or get away with unacceptable behavior is always a formula for future problems. Take the time necessary to be fair and consistent.  If you give a command, make sure to enforce it, and use only commands that you know the dog understands and that you can impose.  For example, don’t try recalling a puppy without some sort of light leash or tether to guide the pup’s response. A pup who learns that she doesn’t have to come every time you call will return only when she feels like it, which will lead to much frustration and consternation.

You can do this, but first you must be aware of how dogs do and do not learn, how they communicate, and which of your own attitudes draw out the best qualities in your dog.

We remember one client who came to us for advice regarding his four-month-old rottweiler puppy, who was starting to grown at strangers. When we went to meet the client ahd his dog, they were sitting on a bench in our front yard.  As we approached, the pup started to growl in a low, threatening ton, and the owner quickly tried to rassure him with a soothing voice, saying, “It’s ok, boy, it’s oookay. Goood boy, goooood boy, eeeasy.” gently rubbing him on his side as he did so. Naturally, the growling only grew worse, and the man looked up helplessly, wondering what to do.  Fortunately, we were able to settle the puppy down by taking a short walk with him, and after several minutes he became very accepting and friendly.  The owner then complained, “I don’t understand it.  He’s such a good pup, and yet he has this thing about growling.”  We explained to the baffled owner that the pup was merely doing what he was told.  Reviewing with him his reactions during the incident, we showed him that he was unintentionally rewarding the puppy’s growling by his soft praise and petting.  The only message the puppy was receiving was “This is the way to act.”

We cannot say that this pup was “disobedient.”  Instead, we can see that the owner misunderstood what he was communicating and was ignorant of how to show his true intent in a clear, authoritative way.

To Obey is to Hear

In dog training, most people understand obedience as something the dog does in response to his handler: the dog is the one who is obedient or not.  This is only half true.  Obedience comes from the Latin word oboedire, which in turn is cognate to obaudire, meaning “to listen, to hear” — by extension, this implies acting on what is heard.  Contrary to popular thought, obedience is as much your responsibility as it is your dog’s — even more so, since you are accountable for shaping your pup’s behavior to fit your living circumstances.  the problem with many owners is that they fail to listen and to respond to the real needs of their dogs; unknowingly, the owners are disobedient.

To be a good companion to your dog, you must be obedient – that is, fully alert and focused on your pup, flexible enough to adapt your approach instantly to his needs.  As odd as it may sound, your dog does not know what is best for him; you do, but only by being truly obedient to him.

Brother thomas, who was the driving force behind the training program here at New Skete until he died in a tragic automobile accident in 1973, had this insight into obedience:

Learning the value of silence is learning to listen to, instead of screaming at, reality: opening your mind enough to find what the end of someone else’s sentence sounds like, or listening to a dog until you discover what is needed instead of imposing yourself in the name of training.

This kind of obedience comes only with time, patience, and study, by learning different techniques and methods of training and using them in different circumstances and, if possible, with different types of dogs.  Because dogs are individuals, not all respond in the same way to particular training methods, Remember Anka’s litter: were we to train Yola in the same way as Sunny, we would probably only compound her submissive, shy personality.  In education, teachers discover from working with different children that they must be flexible adapting a variety of teaching methods to individual students.  A rigorous, highly structured program that is effective with one child may be disastrous with another.  The same is true in dog training.  Part of training means that you become a student of your dog and employ an approach that brings out the best in him.

In discussing training, we will not present you with one absolute method of teaching your pup.  We will try instead to point out some general principles that are important cornerstones for all good training and then show you how there can be applied to different dogs.  This will help you understand and deal with the particular requirements of your own puppy.  Working with dogs of all sizes breeds, temperaments, and personalities, we have learned that limiting yourself to a singular method of training is a serious mistake.  Trainers who insist that only one kind of training works (their own) betray their own ignorance and pride, and close themselves off from a real understanding of dogs.

-The Art of Raising a Puppy, pp166-168. by the Monks of New Skete, copyright 2011

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