I am a new mother! After many years of deliberating, I finally took the plunge and got a canine child, a beautiful and hugely lovable chocolate brown cocker spaniel field spaniel cross. Bertie arrived just over a month ago and in the best possible way has turned my house, life and wardrobe upside down.
Because Bertie is spirited, cheeky and headstrong. And, like all dogs, he needs to know who is boss. But how you go about establishing boundaries and asserting yourself is open to debate. One of the first challenges was to stop him from hurling himself at the sofa every evening, nipping me with his piranha-like milk teeth and ripping the fabric with his sharp little claws. When he knows what’s what, I’ll invite him up to sit beside me on his blanket, but for now, he needs to know that NO means NO.
One doggie expert told me to read What’s Your Dog Telling You? by Martin McKenna. McKenna recommends that you fold your arms, raise your chin, glare down at your pup from the side of your eyes and give a deep, impressive growl. And to be as scary as possible! The thinking behind this is that the mother dog wouldn’t pack her dog into the car and take him to obedience classes; she would give instant feedback. I duly tried this but my growl was deeply unimpressive and totally unconvincing. What’s more my niece videoed me looking totally goofy (I was in my fluffy dressing gown) and we both ended up laughing hysterically. Other puppy owners told me to squeal (again this requires channelling your inner canine) if he bit me – even in play – and that that would deter him. It didn’t. He just came back for more.
Then I contacted a dog trainer and she suggested pushing him down firmly and matching the intensity of my pushes to the intensity of his jumps. Bertie thought this was a tremendous game and it got rougher and rougher until I was wearing thick woollen gloves to protect my hands against his nips. What’s more I didn’t enjoy pushing him down so roughly.
Next, we went to visit the vet to get Bertie vaccinated. She told me to encourage the behaviour I wanted to see with lots of edible treats (she must have given him about 10 in as many minutes) and to simply ignore the bad behaviour. Easier said than done – I couldn’t ignore those teeth and insistent barks when I tried to turn away. So what did I do? Well, finally I relied on my intuition and summoned up my firmest and lowest-voiced (shame I’m more of a soprano) NO and then gently – ever so gently – placed him down in a sit position and either gave him an edible reward or a bit of tlc (which is really what they want). I’m happy to say that I can now watch the television or read a book without having to growl, push, squeal or reach for the band aid. It’s really confusing being a new Mum, but we’re getting there, Mr Berts and I.