Just weeks after getting his new adorable standard poodle puppy, Dave found himself facing divorce and moving out of his home and into an apartment. I had met the puppy a couple of times to get him up to date on his vaccines and dewormings, and found him to be very shy, sweet, and a little insecure.
Dave called one day to say that he had had an unnerving experience last night where, when he was out walking with the now adolescent dog, he gently kicked a ball across a field, and the action so startled the pup that he cried out in fear, tore the leash out of Dave’s hand, bolted across a busy parking lot, and was only contained when the leash caught on a car tire.
I asked about other behavior concerns, and Dave explained that the pup would sometimes also behave similarly, but not as severe, to some strange dogs, but not all.
Dave asked a local dog trainer about the behavior, and she advised him that the puppy was expressing his dominance over the other dogs.
I disagree, although I also have the luxury of knowing them personally through their vet visits. I feel there are two key players at work here:
- The puppy has not yet been castrated and at about 6 months old is beginning to have some significant hormonal changes
- The puppy is very insecure and far from dominant. Shortly after being separated from his mother, he was just beginning to integrate into a new family, and then was removed yet again from a house with a yard into an apartment with his primary caregiver himself feeling highly distraught and abandoned.
I advised Dave to
- Schedule castration surgery as soon as possible
- Address the safety concern of eliminating the puppy being able to run away (SAFETY FIRST)
- Begin to work daily on confidence building exercises (ANIMALS DON’T LIE, HE IS REALLY AFRAID), all the while avoiding giving the puppy as little negative feedback as possible and focusing on all positive interactions with new situations and dogs
- Obtain and use on a daily basis the Bach’s Remedy for anxiety and oversensitivity Agrimony and Aspen.
Castrating him will eliminate the hormonal part of the equation and help balance his personality (think insecure adolescent boy). For the bolting I recommend he be walked on a 20’ training lead, secured with a snap to Dave’s waist, so that when they are out Dave’s hands can be free for training and rewards, but the puppy is secure if something should startle him. This will also be confidence building in itself because the puppy will feel like he is loose land will encourage him to think more and make his own decisions, without risk of danger. For confidence building, I recommend teaching the puppy and practicing something new for 10-20 minutes once or twice a day. This can be obedience such as sit-down-come-stay-stand, or tricks (whatever cute thing he already does, just pair it consistently with a name “sit pretty!” and a reward), and/or exercise activities like fetch, agility, Frisbee, or fly ball. On those times when the puppy meets and greets a new dog calmly, make a big fuss over him. For flower essence remedies, I always give suggestions but recommend the primary caregiver choose the final remedy based on what they feel is right as they know the animal best.
Remember to set him up for success, and reward him for doing the right things. With consistency and praise, the puppy will grow strong, confident, and secure in himself, and all the other negative behaviors will just disappear. That which is not reinforced will tend to fade away, while that which is focused on will be repeated!