Q: We just adopted a blue heeler/shepherd that is about 3 months old. She has had no training, and where we live, there are no training classes available within 50 miles. As a herding breed, she nips at the children’s pant legs and won’t stop. She has been herding the leaves while she is outside and arranges her toys in geometric patterns then sits back and watches them. Inside, she is rambunctious and destructive in her play. We started using a can with pennies inside to get her attention to redirect her behavior, telling her no, and keeping a leash on her while she is inside so we can stop her if she jumps on the furniture without being invited. After about a week of training, she began barking at the can, the leash and the word “no” as if she is challenging us. We have had some success training her to walk on lead but she doesn’t seem to like it because she can’t do what she wants to. What are we doing wrong?
— J.E.N., Albany, Ky.
A: Heelers, or cattle dogs as they are also known, can be a challenge to train. They are very intelligent, hard-working dogs that require a firm hand. They not only need physical exercise — more than just a walk a day — but strong boundaries and a lot of mental stimulation as well. If not given enough mental stimulation and physical exercise, they will look for ways to “entertain” themselves which often is not in ways acceptable to us.
With all dogs, especially herding dogs, there should be absolutely no running, jumping, screaming around the dog. If the children are getting more physical in their play, the puppy should be put in its crate. Most people want the dog to play with the children, but this can come in time when the dog has been taught more self-control.
Grabbing at clothes, shoes and plants should be addressed with a calm, firm “Wrong!” Then redirect the puppy’s behavior to what it is allowed to chew on or play with.
I have a leash attached to my puppy’s collar and I am teaching him to settle, or lay down and chew on a bone rather than running crazed through the house. When my puppy is in a state of crazed arousal, I calmly get him, tell him it is time to go to bed, get a small piece of cookie and put him in his crate. It is not punishment. It helps the puppy learn how to settle and control himself.
Teaching correct play for a pup is vital. As children do, they explore their environment with their mouths and everything goes into it, including hands and shoes. I strongly encourage people to not use their hands to play with the dog, but to always have something between the dog and the person. Tug ropes, chew ropes are wonderful for this. If a dog gets your hand even by accident, tell him “Wrong!” and give him the toy he is allowed to have. If he does not get the message, end the play.
I personally do not use the can for a correction. The idea behind the can is scaring the dog out of the undesirable behavior. I prefer using “Wrong!,” then redirecting the dog to a positive behavior. It might take longer to achieve the desirable behavior, but it will be worth not scaring the dog, and then having the dog “sassing back” when the scare technique no longer works.
Not too many puppies like walking on a lead. Just like many children, not allowing them to do what they want can result in temper tantrums. Again, being very black and white and staying calm is the key. Have some food and lure the puppy. You want the puppy to begin to learn that hanging out with me is to her benefit, whether it is walking or learning to settle.
Sassing back, again, can be typical behavior. I really do not get too upset with it because I do not want to inadvertently reinforce it. I tell my dogs “Quiet” or “No Bark” and reward them when they are quiet.
Set up black and white boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behavior for your pup, and stick to it. Some things are cute now as a puppy, but will not be when the dog is older. Just like children, puppies need consistent rules to learn to abide within and a lot of patience. The first few months that a new puppy is in the house are the busiest, and require the most of our time. But give them that time and within a few months you will be well on your way to having a well-behaved puppy.
You are doing many things correctly already, just remain steadfast.
— Susan Jenkins, owner of Papp’s Dog Services in Akron and a member of the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors and the International Association of Canine Professionals
Please send questions about your pet to Kathy Antoniotti at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640; or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your full name and address and a daytime phone number where you can be reached. Questions will be forwarded to an expert best suited to address your pet issue. Phoned-in messages will not be taken.