Recreating the rule book - Helping a nervous puppy

Late December I picked Arkle up. A 9 week old male Whippet puppy, the last male in the litter.

Arkle came home to live with Marley and Ollie, my 2 senior Whippets.

Arkle was a nervous puppy. Right from the get go. Taking him out to the field 10 mins down the road took almost 3 weeks as he experienced such utter terror at the sight of cars.

Hearing neighbours in their own gardens caused him extreme panic to run inside and hide.

Meeting new dogs caused him to cower and urinate.

Hearing a dog bark caused him such panic he wouldn’t take food and just pulled me to get home.

Arkle is now 7 months old and you wouldn't always assume that he is a bit nervous. He happily helped me out working with a reactive dog this week, and not once was he unsure or anxious.

He tends to be enjoying playing with new dogs and getting better at meeting them.

So what did we do to change Arkle from cautious to confident.

We adapted to Arkle, we recreated the rule book.

Rule 1 - You must walk your puppy/ dog every day

The first rule of dog ownership is to walk your dog everyday right?

Wrong! Walks should be about quality not quantity. If each walk is terrifying or scary, it simply reinforces the idea that walks are scary or whatever they fear is. This also has the potential to build up chronic stress.

Everytime your dog has a stressful encounter they get a rush of stress hormones that can take up to 72 hours to flush. If your dog has a stressful walk each day, each walk is likely to be stressful, and that may also begin to effect behaviours in their home.

We focussed on quality not quantity walks, which weren’t everyday. For a few weeks he only went out a few times a week to reduce stress.

Rule 2 - Socialisation - You should meet all the dogs and all the people!

Socialisation is hugely misunderstood. If I socialised Arkle in the way that many interpret the rules, he should have met every dog or person. However this would have been far too stressful for Arkle initially. He didn’t have the confidence to handle these situations so would have continued to have negative associations. This would have increased his stress and increased his chances of becoming reactive to dogs or people.

Instead I took Arkle to places where he could watch things and them be no big deal. Along with this working on confidence at home! Building up confidence around novelty helps him to handle changes in his environment and build resilience.

Rule 3 - Train lots of “obedience” in your puppy

Arkle was so busy understanding the world, he was not that into training. Sits and stays are no big deal to me. Arkle learning to be confident, enjoy treats as rewards and toys were our priority. We only really started doing alot of “training” at about 5 months old. And even now its not tonnes each day.

Rule 4 - Exercise Your Puppy - Loads

There is an unwritten rule that chasing a ball or lots of exercise will tire a puppy out to reduce poor behaviour choices.

This isn't true at all. Too much exercise can cause problems, particularly if it's over exciting a puppy who hasn't yet learned to regulate going from high arousal to low arousal.

We focused on a sleep routine and calm activities while young. Arthur, my last Whippet, was AWFUL at settling in the house, so this was a priority. A puppy who sleeps well and can cope alone is more likely to make good choices and handle stress well.

He is still only a baby really, so heavy exercise isn’t required. We don’t even walk everyday.

We ditched the rule book and at almost 7 months Arkle is increasing in confidence everyday, his recall improves everyday, he is house trained, doesn’t nip and sees people as a cue for treats from me.

Is he perfect ? Goodness no!! He is a puppy!

But if we had stuck to the traditional rule book?

Well I don’t doubt I would have an anxious, reactive puppy unable to settle.

Instead we are going in the right direction and going from cowardly to confident.

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