With so many of you welcoming a new whippet pup into their homes I thought it a good time to have a chat about training.
Now, I’m an experienced owner but I’m not a professional trainer, which is why I called upon Gretta from The Pitter Patter of Tiny Paws to help me with this post. She is a behaviour expert who shares my belief that by setting your pup up for success you will have a happier and better relationship in the long run.
With so many topics to cover for new owners but we have decided to have a chat about three important ones that can be issues at this age: Separation Issues, Socialising with other dogs and Chewing.
Gretta’s top Tips:
- The key here is to build confidence about being left alone. That is not achieved by being repeatedly left alone in a miserable state – even if you think you are increasing the time periods in small increments. You need to go at your dog’s pace so that they practise being left and it all being ok (from their point of view). You will need to use a camera to monitor your dog’s response so that you know how they are getting on rather than making any assumptions. I would recommend working with a specialist (ABTC Registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist) for support. There are also some good (and free) resources here: https://www.subthresholdtraining.com/
- Often (but not always) dogs do better when given more freedom and choice about where to spend their time when left alone. Being confined (eg. crated) can lead to an increased panic response and/ or frustration. Allowing your dog to choose where to settle (especially if they have access to somewhere that smells of you and that they associate with relaxing in your company) can be reassuring for many dogs. Of course, this has to be balanced against the risk of them destroying your stuff and toileting in the house! However, confining your dog to prevent those things, without addressing the underlying issue is not the answer!
We have had two dogs with separation issues, both came to us as re-homers, Frankie and Winnie. Both were 9 months and both had been left for long periods of time alone, so it was no surprise that they hated being left. With Frankie, it was hard. She would HOWL when we left even though Bruno was with her. So, we practised every day, first just going out of the front door, and returning before she thought she had been left. We built the time up to half hour or so, and eventually as she settled in with us she was more than happy to be left for short periods of time as she was always with Bruno for company.
At first Winnie could not be left for even a few minutes without being destructive. We learnt that she needed to be able to see out of the windows at the front of the house. I learnt this because one time I closed the doors to the front rooms and she got so stressed that she scratched and rearranged our door surrounds on the front door and bedroom door. So, giving them freedom to choose where they want to be can enable them settle. With puppies I have taught them in the house, with the use of a stair gate, that being somewhere else, away from you, is OK, at first so they can see you, then in places they can’t. It might seem obvious, but dogs do need to learn that quiet time alone is good. (you can read more about this here)
Socialising with other dogs
Gretta’s top tips:
- Whilst it is important to allow your dog to have interactions with other dogs and learn social skills, you should make sure that you also practice NOT meeting or playing with every dog that they see! This is important to teach from early puppyhood, or it can lead to frustration issues in adolescence and beyond. In the same way, you should also practise calling your dog away from an interaction, rewarding them and then allowing them to go back to engage again (if both dogs want to and it is appropriate to do so).
- If an interaction with another dog seems tense, don’t just ‘leave them to sort it out’. In my experience, this goes badly more often than it goes well and could lead to long-standing and significant behavioural issues, especially if this happens repeatedly. It’s your job to step in and provide support when they need guidance and to protect your dog from being harassed by other dogs in ways that worry them. If it doesn’t feel right, call your dog away and move on, regardless of how ‘friendly’ the other owner says that their dog is. Not all dogs are a good match and we all have an off-day sometimes.
I don’t have much to add, but Gretta’s tip about calling them away, treat and allowing them to engage is very much our strategy. Frankie was a very bouncy 9 month old and this was not appreciated by all who met her, and to make it harder, was not treat motivated, but we persevered and managed, often popping her back on the lead and moving away from other dogs, especially if she showed signs of fear. Mainly this was in places she couldn’t run away, foot paths were our nemesis, but we got there in the end.
Winnie had a fear of big fluffy dogs that I discovered the first time she met one when she ran at 30mph back to the car, with George and I on her trail as quick as I could, fearing where she would stop. This fear came with her and I suspect from a bad experience with a large fluffy dog. I quickly learnt that it was best to be cautious. Luckily she loves treats, and games so keeping her close to us was made easier, but, as Gretta says, ‘not all dogs are a good match’ , I learnt that I needed to do more proximity training when Winnie was bitten by a dog on an extendable lead because she approached it. Be cautious, keep it controlled, whippets are a friendly breed but not all dogs they meet will be and if you can avoid that bad experience, you will be more in control and likely avoid a distressing altercation and a large vet bill.
Gretta’s Top Tips:
- The simplest way to prevent your dog from chewing things that they shouldn’t have (such as your shoes) is by ensuring that they don’t have access to those things! It doesn’t have to be forever in most cases but keeping such things out of reach or safely tucked away in a cupboard is a good habit to get into nonetheless. It’s very easy for ‘stealing’ and ‘chewing’ to become attention-seeking behaviours if every time your puppy grabs a shoe (or chews on your sofa cushion) then everyone starts chasing them around the room to get it from them.
- Dogs have a need to chew (some even more than others) so be sure to give your dog access to things that can meet this need safely and appropriately. Consider the textures that your dog prefers and provide them with multiple options which they can access at any time. If they want to chew on your wooden chair legs, you could try giving a chew root or olive wood chew as a safer (but still woody!) alternative.
By now you will know that whippet puppies are mischievous and at 6 months old they are taller and can steal items that you think are out of reach! We’ve all lapsed on the odd occasion and found pup chewing your favourite shoe or the remote control but you need to LEARN from this quickly! Learn to put things away, make it a habit, avoiding the temptation!
We’ve never had too many chewing issues, but maybe I learnt when Bruno chewed the toe of my favourite shoes many years ago. By the time we got George, there were so many more great natural chews on the market, Olive wood chews, Antler chews, rubber chews, venison bones, all of these were given to George so I don’t think he saw the need to chew our furniture, but it didn’t stop him chomping on the toe of my UGG boot, maybe I didn’t learn, or maybe I just had a lapse in attention, or maybe he grabbed it off the shelf.
I would say also, don’t get angry with your pup, they are so sensitive and if you come in the room to find they have chewed something, getting angry won’t achieve anything, they probably won’t know what they’ve done wrong and it risks damaging your bond, which if you can make it strong you will be rewarded for years and years which will matter so much more than the item they chewed that can usually be replaced.
I hope you have found this useful – you will find so many helpful tips on Gretta’s social media @thepitterpatteroftinypaws on Instagram, and you can sign up for one of her brilliant courses on her website thepitterpatteroftinypaws.co.uk - I really wish Greta had been around when I first brought Bruno home, I knew so little about his needs and we could have got off to a much better start if I had not been given outdated advice.