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Puppies mimic older dogs, learn correct behavior

Original Publication Date: March 21, 2016
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

Training a puppy is a big challenge.

There are so many behaviors a pup needs to learn and master. House training, how to climb stairs, come, sit, and perhaps use a doggy door are just a few of the tasks a pup must accomplish. Studies show that pups learn faster when they have an older, well-behaved dog to mimic.

You can train a pup yourself by setting a desired behavior as a goal and being consistent in your actions and expectations. House training a pup is an important task that may take a while.

Within 20 minutes after every meal and at two-hour intervals in between, you must get him outside. A pup will follow the lead of an older dog that has an established routine and will learn much faster.

Pups are often hesitant to use stairs or a doggy door.

You can bait a pup with treats to teach him these activities, but he will pick up on them more readily by watching and following a dog that has these behaviors mastered. The same goes for teaching a pup to come, sit and stay. Learning by mimicking is much quicker than tried and true training with rewards.

Apparently dogs can learn much more complex behaviors than these. The St. Bernard rescue dogs of Switzerland are a prime example.

In 1050, St. Bernard founded a hospice on the road from Italy to Switzerland that was known for inclement weather perhaps 10 months of the year.

The monks made it their mission to rescue stranded travelers and took their guard dogs with them as they worked.

Puppies mimic older dogs, learn correct behavior Puppies mimic older dogs, learn correct behavior
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The monks soon found that the dogs learned from watching them perform rescues and had an amazing ability to brave the fierce snow storms and find endangered travelers. Teams of two or three dogs would leave the hospice, find lost travelers and dig them out of the snow.

One dog went to the hospice for help while the others snuggled the wayfarer's body to warm him.

Pups from new litters followed established rescue dogs on their missions and learned from them. Newbies chose their own destiny to be a warming dog or a savior who returned to the hospice for help. Stanley Coren, Ph.D., well known dog behavior expert, states that such training is difficult if not impossible for humans to explain.

Puppies and older dogs, too, can learn by watching and imitating other dogs and people. You are very fortunate if you have an older well-behaved dog in your home when you get a puppy.

Your more mature friend will take much of the work out of training a pup simply by going about his normal routine and allowing the pup to follow along. Dogs are great mimics of the behavior of others. Just make sure the behavior they mimic is a good one.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at