It’s getting pretty exciting around here as we are just days away from the launch of Puppy Savvy. I thought I would offer a series of puppy posts to get us in the spirit of things. Starting with the secret formula to being truly puppy savvy:
a) Imagine what you wish your puppy would do.
b) Set up the situation to make that desired behavior likely, and then, when your puppy behaves as you wish,
c) Surprise! Present a reward that matters to your puppy.
The behavior you reward will become a habit.
One of my favorite restaurants, Elmo’s Diner, uses this approach to great effect (with humans, though I am sure they could teach a puppy to do anything). When you ask for a table at Elmo’s, if you have children the friendly host seats you with menus, crayons, and sheets of paper with the Elmo’s cartoon duck to color in. The Elmo’s staff thereby applies the same principles that will yield great results for you and your puppy:
a) They wish young kids would color instead of whine or tear around the restaurant.
b) They make this coloring behavior likelier by, right off the bat, presenting the opportunity to color in a way that makes it a special ritual (the stuff is not just sitting out on the table).
c) Surprise! In the middle of the coloring session, they deliver the pancakes and juice the parents have ordered. The kids are invited to hang their masterpieces on the Duck Wall.
This is powerful stuff. It is so peaceful (and delicious) a dining experience that I even have an Elmo’s t-shirt. But back to your puppy…
Will you let your puppy gallivant through the environment, letting his adventures and the taste of your favorite shoes be his rewards? Will you then unintentionally pile on more rewards in the form of attention, making these undesirable puppy behaviors even stronger by interacting with him (“No!” “Come back!” “Give me that!”)?
Choose a better way. Harness the power of rewards to your advantage and to help your puppy. Use rewards consciously and strategically. Use a baby gate, a crate or x-pen, an indoor leash known as a dragline and an indoor tether to keep your pup out of mischief, and always give him the equivalent of a coloring book to keep him occupied (a game or a stuffed Kong are often good options). Get in the habit of never taking your puppy out of his crate (or off his indoor tether) without first having a specific answer to the question, “What will I give the puppy to do next that will set him up to succeed? What game, project, training session, edible toy or other ‘coloring book’ will I offer right off the bat?”
Have you tried this approach with your puppy? What questions do you have about how to make this work? Let me know! Up next…ideas for keeping your puppy occupied with the right kind of “coloring book.”