The Apprentice




I am in training. My mentor, and the expert, is Sarah Hodgson, professional dog trainer and author of, Puppies Raising & Training Diary for Dummies. Her expertise has made a tremendous difference in training our new Brittany puppy, Cooper (Coop). 

Puppies do not perceive the world as we do. Things natural to us encourage unsociable behavior in our pups. It’s been hard for my husband and I to retrain ourselves in order to train Coop. The first, and biggest, error for me was talking to him too much. My voice has a tendency to be higher than my husband’s, which excites Coop. An excited puppy equals a hyperactive puppy, which equals disaster. The ideal is to encourage enthusiasm, not hyper-excited behavior. I have labeled the latter, Psycho Puppy. It ain’t pretty, let me tell you that. 

The other behavior hard to break was using our hands too much in order to redirect his attention. To a puppy, hands are mouths. He equates this with rough and tumble play, which is not acceptable behavior. A puppy’s mouth should never be on human skin. Kisses z(licking) are encouraged, but no mouthing or nipping. 

Sarah suggests using a head collar, which Coop is proudly (if reluctantly at times) modeling for you from his safe place, the closest set of human legs. This collar gives the same correction as his mother, a gentle pressure on the nose and it is safe to use on pups as young as eight weeks. It is designed similar to a halter for a horse. Puppies can still eat, drink, and chew. 

It is amazing how well it curtails bad behavior such as nipping, mouthing, jumping, and general running amok. It requires only a little pull on his lead. No more buying Bitter Apple by the gallon to keep him from chewing on things like the couch, the carpet, or me. Puppies thrive in a home with rules, just like children. And Coop is much happier when not in the Psycho Puppy mode.
Following Sarah’s advice, I’ve shucked my usually reserved, lady-like demeanor for something a little less dignified. In order to introduce Coop to new things, we need to pretend we are his mom (Oddly, my husband has happily left this part of Coop’s training to me. Shrug.)

I have crawled on my hands and knees over to the scary new toy, sniffed, and pawed at it. Coop ran over and did the same, albeit from his safe place between my knees. But it worked. Now the toy is a favorite. 

Next was the little wading pool. I took off my shoes, rolled up my jeans, and got in. I splashed, giggled, and swirled the water with my hands. Coop followed suit and now we have a water puppy, who loves his pool and is unafraid of water. Unhappily, he views mud puddles with the same enthusiasm. Oh well, he’s wash n wear. 

Another big hurdle was the dreaded water monsters, the automatic sprinklers. I ran through them, laughing, whooping, and giggling. Coop followed me in, ran circles, and nipped at the spray. We were both soaked, but with the ninety-degree temperature, neither of us suffered — and we had a lot of fun.  

I have to admit. I love playing with him and exploring new things, even if it means crawling on the floor and acting like a silly kid.

I figure I’ll be a full fledged Puppy Whisperer about the time Coop is fully grown. That’s okay. We will enjoy the result for years to come.

Then it will be time to start my apprenticeship as a Dog Whisperer. I wonder if Sarah has a book on that…

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