Adult Dogs are Great Puppy Teachers

I haven’t raised a puppy by myself since I brought home my first dog years ago.

Ever since then, each puppy joined a household which already included at least one adult dog. Ursa helped me raise Riker; Riker helped me raise Bashir; Bashir helped me raise Archer, Sisko, and Bones; Bones is now helping me raise Hero.

Since all of these dogs were (or are) treasured companions, I take pleasure in thinking that some of the lessons Riker taught are still being passed along today. Selfishly, I enjoy the fact that younger dogs can learn from older dogs; thereby making my job easier.

Early Lessons

Unlike some creatures that are able to survive on their own right away (like sea turtles hatching and heading into the ocean), puppies need to be nurtured and taught by their mother. She will teach the puppies when they are biting too hard, and will growl and interrupt any other unwanted behaviors. This teaches the puppy to accept discipline and to understand things don’t always go his way; vital lessons for his future life. The mother dog is also nurturing, affectionate and comforting, which teaches the puppy how to love and accept affection.

Littermates also teach each other lessons. The puppies learn how to interact with each other. For example, if littermates don’t yelp, cry, growl, or otherwise react when one puppy plays too hard, the rough puppy doesn’t learn to change his actions and life will be extremely hard for him. The littermates play individually and as a group, learn social and play skills, and provide warmth and comfort for each other.

When the puppy leaves mom and the littermates, those lessons will need to be continued at the puppy’s new home. The humans the puppy will be living with become the teachers, as well as any other pets in the household.

Puppies Naturally Follow Adults

When I brought Hero home at ten weeks of age, he naturally followed Bones. This is instinctive as a puppy who follows an adult is going to be safer than one who wanders off on his own. Puppies start by following momma dog but will also follow other adults dogs.

This makes house training much easier. With Hero following Bones to the backyard, seeing and smelling what Bones does out there, and where he does it, the puppy would then copy him and do the same thing. I always followed both to continue Hero’s lessons, including teaching him a word for relieving himself and praising him when he did.

The instinct to follow an adult can help a puppy learn to walk on a leash, too. The puppy should be on his own leash and walking side by side with an adult, leashed dog. When the adult dog walks nicely on the leash and is calm throughout the process, the puppy is apt to copy those behaviors.

©istockphoto/Yurikr

Mimicking Comes Naturally Too

When a puppy walks nicely on leash alongside of an adult dog, that uses both the puppy’s instinct to follow as well as the ability to mimic behaviors. Because mimicking comes so naturally to dogs, this can be used to help the puppy learn other lessons too. When socializing a puppy, for example, I’ll often use an adult dog as a model. If I want the puppy to walk on a different surface, I’ll ask the adult to do it first and encourage the puppy to do the same thing. With my help and praise, and seeing the adult dog do it, the lesson is much easier.

This can happen in many different aspects of the puppy’s life. He may sit when treats are handed out because he sees the adult dog sit and get a treat. Then when he gets a treat, too, the lesson is reinforced. When the older dog is called to come and does, where he’s praised and rewarded, the puppy is apt to do the same thing.

Learning Must be in Close Proximity

Puppies can learn from an adult dog, but the best lessons are when the puppy is in close proximity to the adult. If the puppy is a distance from the adult dog, inside of the house looking out, for example, then the puppy’s ability to copy will be significantly lessened.

If the puppy is distracted by something else or is trying to escape to chase the adult dog, then much of the lesson will be lost. The puppy’s age, focus, ability to comprehend what’s going on, and willingness to learn at that moment will all affect the process.

When Things Don’t Go Optimally

It’s not unusual for the adult dog to have opinions on the puppy’s learning processes. If the puppy is disrespectful, perhaps trying to steal the dog’s reward, the adult dog may growl, bark, nip or otherwise chastise the puppy. The puppy may cry, back away, or roll over to bare his belly. If the dog teaches a lesson without causing trauma, then all is fine.

There is a downside to the puppy’s ability to follow, mimic and learn from an adult dog. What happens when your adult dog’s behavior or training is not as good as you’d like? If your adult dog jumps on people, dashes out the front door, or barks at everyone walking past your house, you’ll soon find that your puppy is going to do that, too. Puppies will mimic all kinds of behaviors, including those you may not want to continue from one generation to another.

The best way to prevent this is to spend some time training your adult dog prior to bringing home a puppy. When he is well behaved, he’ll be a better role model for your new family member. If the puppy is already in your household, then enroll both in dog training. Teach the older dog new manners while the puppy is also learning.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, and the co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in Vista, CA. Liz is also an award-winning author and writer specializing in pets. She writes about cats, cat behavior and health, dogs, dog behavior and health, living with pets, and pet nutrition. Liz’s works have been recognized with many awards, but her most recent book, “Idiot’s Guides: Dog Training” (Penguin Books, 2014) recently won the Best Nonfiction book category in the San Diego Book Writing competition. Liz shares her home with two dogs; Bashir, an Australian Shepherd, and Bones, an English Shepherd. Three cats, Spock, Scottie, and Kirk, provide motivation for her articles about cats. And yes, she is a Star Trek fan. For more information go to www.kindredspiritsk9.com.

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