How to train a puppy- do Beagles make good pets?
So my little best friend is called Nugget and he's just turned four and a half years old. He is a full blood Beagle and is one of the most beautiful, friendly and character-filled animals I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.
If you haven't seen it already, Nugget has his own Network Ten series called Animal Extra- where he lets me co-host with him. It's a glossy Sunday morning show which is aimed at grown ups and free from over excited zoo rangers jumping around with lizards. He's even got his own Facebook and Instagram pages- ridiculous.
But it hasn't all been plain sailing owning a dog.
When I first got him he was as cute as a button, a little 14 week old pup, skinny as a rake with long dangly legs and ears which dragged along the ground. I arrived home with him in a cardboard box and for the first hour it was great fun. But- as all humans do, I just wanted a little sit down with a cuppa and some TV time. It's then I realised I'd never have a minute to myself ever again. Ever. My first sit-down coffee on the couch an hour into dog ownership was ruined by a puppy jumping from the couch onto my chest and knocking the coffee all over. Having only had cats before, I promptly looked for his off-switch and realised there wasn't one.
For the first week he would howl, cry and scratch at the door all night, every night. He would sit and stare at me whilst I was on the toilet. He would be under my feet in the kitchen or pulling at my socks on the couch! Whilst the snuggle times were totally amazing- I started having regret over buying a clingy animal. Then the destruction started.
Cables. Cables were his thing. Not just the cheap cables but the expensive HDMI cables- chewing the ends off them all. The dog trainer said put chilli or lemon juice on them so that they taste horrendous. He just licked them even more!
Then came the cushions. I think every single cushion on the couch was torn apart and the stuffing spread around every single square cm of apartment. Is this sounding familiar?
Yes he was getting exercise.. he was being walked twice a day until I had to carry him and yes he had toys and stimulation.. and YES he had cage time and alone time- I did everything right according to the thousands of differing instructions and opinions.
Six months in and honestly, I loved this little dog to pieces but there were a few weeks where I seriously wondered if I'd done the right thing getting a puppy. SO MUCH WORK.
My best friend Abby Gee had to talk me down off the cliff so to speak and stop me from looking into adopting him out. It was Abby who made me realise that I took this dog on- I'm his father and I need to sort out the problems, man up and give this little guy a shot at life with me. She also opened my eyes to the world of what happens to pups who can't get new homes, puppy farms, adopting, struggling shelters and abused animals.
I had a turning point one morning where I had to leave the house again and do a few hours work and leave him alone, in the house. After lunch I made my way back home- with the nervous energy in my stomach and my heart racing, I opened the door and got ready to count the destruction. I walked in the house- it was deathly quiet. I gingerly walked down through the kitchen and not a thing out of place. I tip-toed into the lounge and up popped a sleepy little head from under the pillows on the couch. His tail wagging a thousand miles an hour, he jumped up and raced over to me literally squeaking with excitement. Not a single thing out of place, not a bin pulled over. Perfection!
With that one act of trust, the bond took a turning point. He knew I loved him unconditionally and the feeling was mutual. It just got better week after week. Of course, there were still lots of little miss-haps but the feeling was different. I was in love. And I've never looked back.
I became quite the expert (self awarded of course) when it comes to training puppies, so much so I found myself shaking my head in disbelief at some puppy owners. The things I learned quickly made a massive difference. Here are some basic things which changed my puppy's behaviour literally overnight
1) Always do everything first. Walking through a door, eating, greeting somebody at your door. Make your puppy wait, stand behind you and stay quiet until you decide. This helps stop them jumping up at visitors, pulling on the leash and harassing you for food.
2) Regularly walk up to it and take away their food whilst they're eating. If they go stiff, curl their lips or growl- do NOT tolerate it. I pushed Nugget onto his side, pinned him down and yelled NO. Took away his food and ignored him for a few minutes. You are the top dog.
Edited 30th July- PPGA dog trainers don't agree with the above comment. In some cases this could be dangerous and lead to a bite- and then your dog may be classed as a 'bite risk'. This can have disastrous consequences, including euthanasia. See footnote.
3) Be consistent and follow through. No means no. Don't say get off the couch, try a half-arsed push and then say, oh alright then stay there. They need to understand that you mean your word. Follow through with every instruction. If you say sit... and they sit for .5 of a second then stand... follow through and make them sit until YOU decide they are free.
4) Random instruction. Break the cycle- dogs learn habits and schedules. I found it really useful to just sometimes lay down an order. For example when watching TV I'd interrupt his relaxing and make him stand, sit, lay down, roll over and stay. Then he could continue his napping. Little things like this remind them that any point you may ask something of them and that you are the leader.
5) Love them. Rules, instructions and discipline aside- I found that love, warmth and a good heart makes a wonderful dog. If your dog sees you showing love to other animals, to people and to them, they learn from it. How often have you seen angry, negative and awful people and then met their dog- they're pretty much the same! You imprint into your animal, they imitate you and your energy and therefore you reap what you sow.
These days, Nugget is a kind, gentle and well mannered Beagle who I can walk off-leash anywhere we go. I can't tell you how sick I get of hearing people say 'Oh a Beagle, once they get a scent they'll take off. They escape and they're arrogant'. I call bullshit mate! It's one of the most uneducated things someone can say. All dogs are great if you train them. Even pitbulls, rotties, staffies who get a bad wrap... remember you reap what you sow. More often than not it's the owner not the dog.
Each year in Australia over 250,000 animals are euthanised because of ill-management, cruelty, abandonment or irresponsible breeding. It's really important to adopt your animals from shelters and don't buy from pet shops. Thousands of little faces need new homes and rescue shelters go around picking up the pieces- helping our furry friends have a second chance at life. I respect and love the work of people like Oscars Law and regularly lend a hand if they need it. These guys are heroes. I've had amazing chats with Second Chance Animal Rescue too, each have helped give animals a voice and for their work- I'm eternally grateful.
Thank you Nugget for all you've taught me about animals, instinct and more importantly what you taught me about myself. Love you little man!
Edited 30th July- Speak to the professionals. I'm not a dog trainer. These things work for me and is a guide to what I learned on my journey.
The Pet Professional Guild Australia take a completely different approach to training animals and whilst I may not agree with some of their philosophy as much as they don't agree with some of mine- it's well worth a look at their site where you can search for qualified dog trainers! They stand for: Understand Force-Free to mean: No Shock, No Pain, No Choke, No Fear, No Physical Force, No physical Molding, No Compulsion Based Methods are employed to train or care for a pet.