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Am I being too hard on my puppy?


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Hi everyone, I'm writing with a little update and a question about Tama. He is, overall, doing extremely well, and I'm very happy with his progress.

Some context: I've been raising Tama by myself for the first month of him being home. My boyfriend just got back and we have some slightly different dog-training views. Generally, he is much more strict with Tama than I am, and corrects every small thing that Tama does wrong with a very loud and harsh-sounding "UH UH". I personally corrected him more gently, never raising my voice at him and just putting him in his crate when he did something really wrong such as nipping at me or chewing on furniture. I didn't correct the little things, such as him jumping up to greet me, or putting his paws on the furniture, partially because I don't mind that much but mostly because I wanted to focus on getting him to behave in the bigger ways first.

My boyfriend's approach is that every little thing that Tama does wrong gets an immediate and vocal correction. Not quite yelling, but a loud and extremely firm correction. He also takes Tama's food away from him in the middle of him eating a meal and has him Stay and make constant eye-contact before putting the food back. If Tama moves a little bit, or breaks eye-contact, he gets the same loud "UH UH". 

The thing is, I'm new to all of this. My boyfriend's approach seems to kind of be working - Tama adores him and acts super submissively around him, and has learned some things that I've put off teaching him for now. But I'm still not sure. I'm a little worried that this approach expects too much of such a little pup (he is only 13 weeks) and is pushing him way too much. Is it reasonable to expect a puppy to act perfectly and correct him like this for every little thing he does wrong? My voice is hoarse from the last few days and I feel very frustrated from constantly correcting every tiny thing. I feel like this is too much for Tama, but then again, this is my first time training a puppy. My boyfriend has raised a border collie before, and has a well-adjusted, friendly, and well-trained dog who only listens to him. 

Advice? Of course, I realize I could have been doing things wrong and am more than willing to change my approach if this is how things are supposed to be done. Like I said, I'm new to this. I'm just wary of this being too much, and am feeling quite confused. I've been so happy with Tama's progress the first month of having him and could feel our bond developing, but now I just feel like things are different and I'm not sure what's best for him anymore. 

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What one person chooses to allow their dog to do and another doesn't is personal preference: so perhaps you could find a level of expectation that you are both happy with rather than it all being the way your boyfriend wants it.  However to me, the relationship between dog and human should be based on trust and respect - I would neither trust nor respect someone who took my food away whilst I was eating and wouldn't expect any dog of mine to either!

Honestly, his approach sounds rather strict to me and entirely based on dominating the pup.  I'd go back to your way....it sounds much better.  

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I agree re the food. I was told that the best way for a dog to not guard food was to actually add a bit of food while the dog is eating it. That’s what we’ve done and so far it’s worked. 

As for two different training methods. Well a dog needs consistency but I also think that our dogs are pretty smart. In our home it’s been hard training the humans to ‘my’ way of training. To be fair they have tried really really hard but we are all human. 

So while we try and be consistent there are some things that we have ended up doing differently and our dog has figured this out. Now this is fine if one person says sit before you have your dinner and the other says lie down or one says ‘no’ and the other says ‘ah ah’ but there still needs to be consistency for behaviour. So it’s unfair if one person is letting a dog on the sofa if the other person then tells it off for doing so. You both need to agree ground rules as to what your dog is or isn’t allowed to do. If he’s giving a firm correction for jumping that doesn’t sound bad. You can give the same correction and the same words without making yourself hoarse. And no I don’t think it’s too much for them to learn these ground rules young. 

Just ensure that if the dog gets over tired from too much, he gets time for a quiet nap to take it all in :) 

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I'm quite strict with my dog, but not harsh. I just have a lot of rules for her, which helped me get to a place where I can take her almost anywhere and she knows what I expect of her.
I want to save harsher voice corrections for when she really does something wrong or dangerous. The correction has to match the age of the dog and "the infraction". 
A puppy still has a lot to learn and won't behave perfectly, but that doesn't mean I allow things I don't want in the future. Train with the end in mind. 

An uh-uh can be just as effective when saying it in a conversational tone. I would not use it for every single thing I don't want the pup to do, I would find that very exhausting and sometimes I don't want to give too much attention to the dog. For instance, if I sat on the couch and the pup put her paws on it I would simply gently push the pup away without saying anything or making eye contact. You might have to do is a couple of times before it sticks, but hey, it's a pup :) 

Another thing that I think is important in training is showing the pup what you do want her to do. At the moment I am training my dog to ignore visitors, because she is obsessed with getting petted by them. I wouldn't mind a dog that would calmly greet my friends, but my dog is relentless and will keep at it all evening whenever I leave the room :) So I am showing her what I want her to do instead: stay in her basket and eat a chew. I tell her to go to her basket in a soft voice when the doorbell rings and when she gets out again I might say it a bit more firmly. No harsh voice necessary at all.

I guess what I am trying to say is: there is nothing wrong with having a lot of rules for a pup and starting training it straightaway. But you can be kind in saying what you want from the dog. Try to find a middle ground and maybe you can talk about establishing an "escalation ladder" where you use softer corrections for certain things and the harsher "uh-uh" for bigger things. This is something we use in teacher training where you make a "ladder" of things you as a teacher do when a student misbehaves. It starts with igoring, saying a students name all the way to sending the student out. It can be useful for dogs as well :) 

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Dogs have excellent hearing.  They can hear our normal voices very well and there is no need to raise one's voice unless the dog is at a distance, or perhaps in an emergency.  Always giving commands, corrections, or praise in a very loud voice teaches the dog that there is no need to respond to a normal voice.  I've seen this at obedience classes, where owners complain that their dogs won't respond unless the owner shouts.  This is usually because the owner has always shouted at the dog.  I've had sensitive rescue dogs that would shut down if you used a loud voice, but responded well to a quiet tone. 

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My biggest concern here is that it sounds as though your pup is becoming more your boyfriend's dog and less your dog. I would not allow this if I were you. I suppose if you are planning to marry your boyfriend, and are reasonably confident this will happen it might be less of a concern, but personally I would still want to make sure he is YOUR dog. I think you should kindly ask your boyfriend to stop being so heavy handed and let you be the boss.

I'm not a professional trainer by any means, but I've trained a few pups and have never made it a practice to take food away from them, and I've always ended up with happy and obedient adult dogs. Not sure what the goal of this is, but to me it seems unnecessary (and not very nice).

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Sometimes people become set on a certain way of training a dog and refuse to consider other ways. For example, they may rely on force based training and refuse to consider clicker training. I've also found that people who do not have much experience or knowledge about dogs or training, but have a dog that behaves (for whatever reason), they tend to believe that they are experts. 

That is a general observation on people.

You have spent more time with your dog. You know more about Tama. You get to choose how Tama is trained. What concerns me is your last sentence: " I've been so happy with Tama's progress the first month of having him and could feel our bond developing, but now I just feel like things are different and I'm not sure what's best for him anymore."

What is best for him? Beyond taking care of his basic needs, what is best for him is that YOU are happy with him. That YOU are happy with his behavior. That YOU have a bond with him. It sounds like your boyfriend is interfering with that. You may have to sit down and have a talk about how you want to approach Tama's training and set some ground rules for how involved you want your boyfriend to be in Tama's training. You get to choose if your boyfriend should be involved at all and if you do want him to be involved, you get to choose how he trains Tama. 

Tama is your dog and it doesn't matter if you are an expert in dog training or not. You get to learn and grow along with Tama.

I would not allow anyone to interfere with my bond with my dog.

My personal opinion (and I'm not an expert) is that dogs respond more to your more gentle style. When your boyfriend corrects him, I doubt Tama understands why he is being corrected. (Moving or breaking eye contact when told to stay? He doesn't know why he got scolded. He just knows he got scolded.) And he's SO young. He's just a baby! Don't expect too much of him. 

By the way, the food "training" like that is usually rooted in the belief that the "alpha" controls the food at all times and by controlling the food you are telling the puppy that you are in charge. I don't think that is necessary. And puppies have poor impulse control just like human babies. Being expected to stay for a long period of time is unrealistic.

Again, just my own personal opinion for what it's worth. 

 

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On 1/25/2019 at 2:48 AM, Flora & Molly said:

I guess what I am trying to say is: there is nothing wrong with having a lot of rules for a pup and starting training it straightaway. But you can be kind in saying what you want from the dog. Try to find a middle ground and maybe you can talk about establishing an "escalation ladder" where you use softer corrections for certain things and the harsher "uh-uh" for bigger things.

I agree with this. Your boyfriend sounds way too harsh to me. The fact that your dog acts so submissive toward him shows that he is being more hard on her than he needs to be. A really good basic rule for how much correction to use is this: use the absolute least bit of correction that works. I would strongly suggest that your boyfriend change to a much quieter and softer voice while still using his "uh'uh" I would bet that your dog responds to him immediately.

Keep in mind that border collies are very sensitive dogs. They do not need loud voices. If you are too hard on them they can become fearful and anxious. Because it worked well for him with one dog doesn't mean it is a good way to handle all dogs.

If Tama is your dog, and doesn't belong to the both of you, then you have the right to say how she is trained and you need to put your foot down and insist that your boyfriend do as you want it done and nothing else. I highly recommend that you do this, especially in this case.

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Thank you all for your replies - I've found them extremely helpful. The last few days have been much better. We've had many conversations and I've set some clear boundaries with regards to how he should be trained. I insisted that we go back to using the crate for time-outs, and that we completely remove any sort of yelling or physical corrections. I've also said no more interrupting him while he eats.

I guess the first few days were tough with the transition of adding someone back into mine and Tama's day-to-day life. My boyfriend is much gentler now and we both agree that consistency is the most important thing with training him, so we're correcting him in the way we both feel comfortable with. I really want Tama to know that I'm his person, though, and at times it still seems like he prefers my boyfriend. Although I'm really happy that they're bonding, it makes me sad to think that Tama might like him better. This is probably an overreaction on my end, though... :rolleyes: Although we both play with, train, and feed Tama, I'm more of the primary caretaker and I'm hoping this means that Tama will bond to me as his "human" over time. 

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Suggestion: Only you feed him, not your boyfriend. Only you do specific training sessions with him, as in teaching him tricks and such, apart from general manners and walking nicely on a leash. You be the main person who plays games with him most of the time. You be the person who takes him for walks the majority of the time.  Make sure that you call him to you often and reward him. It is possible that you are overreacting, but if you think your dog is getting more close to another person than to you, I think it's a good idea to take steps to make sure that doesn't happen.

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Thank you for the suggestions! I am the one feeding him from now on, and during the day I'm really the only one who takes care of him. I train him, play with him, feed him, take him outside... My boyfriend spends at MOST one hour a day with him, playing with him/teaching him to play fetch.

Tama definitely loves me... he is happy to see me, plays with me, and responds well to me when we train. BUT, there are some things he does which makes me worry that he sees my boyfriend as his "master". Every time my boyfriend comes into the room, Tama runs to him in a submissive, overjoyed kind of way. He wags his tail, pins his ears back, and sits directly in front of him, looking up at him all while wagging his tail like crazy, super happy but also very submissive. He doesn't do this to me. He is much more concerned with playing with me than he is behaving with me. One little "ah" from my boyfriend stops Tama in his tracks, whereas with me he doesn't listen as well. The other day, he also sat in my boyfriend's lap sleepily, just quietly sitting there. He's never done this with me. 

Does this mean that Tama has "picked" my boyfriend? Overtime, do you think I can still become his person? This is so important to me... the thought of my dog being bonded more with someone else DESPITE me being the one who cares for him and trains him most of the time makes me quite sad. Am I just not dominant enough? Simply in terms of personality, my boyfriend is much more outgoing and dominant than I am. Should I work on being more firm? 

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I think you are doing really well. I too am the one in our household who looks after our 8 month Harry old during the day. What he eats is down to me, his toys, grooming and welling being is also down to me, although my husband feeds him his first meal, as he mostly gets up with him at 6 am. Harry goes mad when my husband comes home and really gets excited when my two adult sons come home as they play and run around with him. But it is me that he seems to look to for guidance or reassurance. When one of the family say, walkies, he looks at me as if to say, “it that all right mum” and if they try to get him to come in from the garden, they say go to mummy and he always comes bounding in. We all argue about who he loves the most in our household, but we have agreed that he loves us all. With regards to being strict, we are quite relaxed and over the past month, Harry is becoming a wonderful dog who rarely needs telling off.

Mandy and Harry.

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2 hours ago, tamapup said:

Thank you for the suggestions! I am the one feeding him from now on, and during the day I'm really the only one who takes care of him. I train him, play with him, feed him, take him outside... My boyfriend spends at MOST one hour a day with him, playing with him/teaching him to play fetch.

Tama definitely loves me... he is happy to see me, plays with me, and responds well to me when we train. BUT, there are some things he does which makes me worry that he sees my boyfriend as his "master". Every time my boyfriend comes into the room, Tama runs to him in a submissive, overjoyed kind of way. He wags his tail, pins his ears back, and sits directly in front of him, looking up at him all while wagging his tail like crazy, super happy but also very submissive. He doesn't do this to me. He is much more concerned with playing with me than he is behaving with me. One little "ah" from my boyfriend stops Tama in his tracks, whereas with me he doesn't listen as well. The other day, he also sat in my boyfriend's lap sleepily, just quietly sitting there. He's never done this with me. 

Does this mean that Tama has "picked" my boyfriend? Overtime, do you think I can still become his person? This is so important to me... the thought of my dog being bonded more with someone else DESPITE me being the one who cares for him and trains him most of the time makes me quite sad. Am I just not dominant enough? Simply in terms of personality, my boyfriend is much more outgoing and dominant than I am. Should I work on being more firm? 

You keep talking about how submissive Tama is with your boyfriend as though it's a good thing. Why would you want to be dominant over your (dog) partner and companion? You sound really insecure, are you worried that your boyfriend is going to ruin this special thing you have? I am sure Tama loves you very much and feels safe and secure with you, but when someone else walks in who is only there for short periods of time they are going to be interesting and exciting, and if he's been harsh in the past maybe Tama feels he has to work hard to keep this person happy by being submissive and doing whatever it takes to avoid the reprimands.

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I don't think the submissive act with your boyfriend is a good thing at all. It tells me that he was way too hard on the pup. Personally, the last thing I would want from my dog is to run to me with ears pulled back and sit in front of me in a submissive posture. This isn't love, it's fear, and it's not the kind of relationship I would want with my dog. 

It sounds to me as if you may not have had quite a firm enough approach with Tama. Now, that doesn't mean raising your voice or being hard on him the way your boyfriend was. It means having within you the attitude that you are the boss with the final say. Just that in itself makes a difference. I once trained a border collie with someone who had never been able to get her to behave on a leash even once, despite having tried the usual and mostly effective things, including my personal technique.  I took her out without her owner and used the technique I recommend for not pulling on the leash and the dog walked nicely right away. Her owner came out and was utterly amazed. further work with this person showed me that she was a generally submissive person and while she had done the right things technically she had always done them in a tentative way. You can be firm without being harsh or loud or punitive in your manner.  You can be firm and impersonal or cheerful and friendly at the same time. This is how I work.

Other than that bit of advice, I would only say that you are probably worrying too much. It sounds as though your pup loves you and if you can avoid feeling anxious about this it may help the situation on more than one level.

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29 minutes ago, D'Elle said:

I don't think the submissive act with your boyfriend is a good thing at all. It tells me that he was way too hard on the pup. Personally, the last thing I would want from my dog is to run to me with ears pulled back and sit in front of me in a submissive posture. This isn't love, it's fear, and it's not the kind of relationship I would want with my dog. 

It sounds to me as if you may not have had quite a firm enough approach with Tama. Now, that doesn't mean raising your voice or being hard on him the way your boyfriend was. It means having within you the attitude that you are the boss with the final say. Just that in itself makes a difference. I once trained a border collie with someone who had never been able to get her to behave on a leash even once, despite having tried the usual and mostly effective things, including my personal technique.  I took her out without her owner and used the technique I recommend for not pulling on the leash and the dog walked nicely right away. Her owner came out and was utterly amazed. further work with this person showed me that she was a generally submissive person and while she had done the right things technically she had always done them in a tentative way. You can be firm without being harsh or loud or punitive in your manner.  You can be firm and impersonal or cheerful and friendly at the same time. This is how I work.

Other than that bit of advice, I would only say that you are probably worrying too much. It sounds as though your pup loves you and if you can avoid feeling anxious about this it may help the situation on more than one level.

couldn't agree more - great advice

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On 1/29/2019 at 2:07 AM, jami74 said:

I am sure Tama loves you very much and feels safe and secure with you, but when someone else walks in who is only there for short periods of time they are going to be interesting and exciting, 

Great point. My Mancer does this as well. When my friends come over for Sunday football she goes bonkers, loving on them, playing with them, etc. Agree that you are probably over worried about this, as I was temporarily as well. I think any good dog owner who loves and cares about their dog always over worries about things at some point. :)

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