Note: All opinions about puppy training are the author’s own and do not replace professional advice.
Chows are often called one of the ‘Top 10 Fiercest Dogs’ on the internet. Aggressive and aloof, they once guarded Chinese emperors, pulled sleighs and hunted wolves, which made them the poster boy for stone statues found in Buddhist temples today.
But to the disgrace of his ancestors, 4-year-old Bibi is an overly friendly bear-dog that trips on his own feet. He has even done meet-and-greet sessions with his Instagram followers. I started his account back in 2015, which garnered over 10,000 followers within a year until I got too busy with my day job.
I can’t be sure if it was due to my excessive babying or his personality that turned him into a walking teddy bear that can’t ‘dog’ properly. He puts his soft toys back, dislikes barking, and once played dead on the grass when a dog tried to bite him.
Some of us assumed he was born with mild autism—a possible answer to questions I’ve received about Bibi’s unusually sweet nature. But through my personal experience, I believe a few simple puppy training techniques encouraged his good behaviour.
When I got Bibi, I was working full-time and needed to train him fast. I read tips about puppy-proofing the house by hiding all wires and valuables, but I thought it was impractical (I was just lazy) in the long-run. So to observe his behaviour, I first confined him in my room and left my usual belongings and cables on the floor with powers switched off.
Thankfully, he was sensible enough to avoid my stuff. If he ever took a nibble, I’d say “no no” and push him away softly to show him what’s mine. But, here’s what went wrong with confining him in my room: getting his 'home' and 'toilet' mixed up. Though he knew how to pee on his tray in my attached bathroom, he often peed on the living room carpet when he roamed free. I figured there were two reasons why: one, he probably mistook those few intervals for him to run around the house as ‘pee time’ (like dogs holding their pees till their owners bring them for walks), and two, he probably mistook carpets for newspapers he grew up peeing on.
To solve this, I let him spend more time in my house than in my room, and only brought him to my bathroom to pee. And it worked! He soon learnt that my bathroom was a place for 'pee time' instead.
1. Establishing two-syllable words (“No No”, “Bi Bi”) with different tones
I once read that dogs respond better to two-syllable words spoken in unique tones. For example, “NO NO” is said more firmly than “Bi Bi”. Perhaps, Bibi doesn’t even know he’s called Bibi, and would respond to me saying “Fi Fi”.
2.Touching his nails/sensitive areas with tools that are switched OFF
Most dogs can get overly protective of their back area, nails, food, toys, etc. Chows, in particular, have a bad rep when it comes to grooming.
I once sent Bibi to a pet salon that only accepted two Chows without a muzzle on after a Chow's bite punctured the groomer’s knee through her jeans. That is why I made extra effort to gain Bibi’s trust from an early age. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life perspiring while using three hairdryers and four towels during baths at home.
So before trimming his fur or nails, I made him sniff every grooming tool I used and then pretended to ‘comb’ his fur using those tools. This frequent habit made him calm down. I also sent him to monthly grooming sessions so he would get comfortable with other handlers. It’s important not to lose that trust, so always be careful when grooming. Dogs have #TrustIssues too.
3. Carrying him to the tray while he’s still peeing
Humans recognise the reason for punishment when you communicate why they’re being punished. But, puppies may not understand why you’re spanking them after they walk away from the crime scene.
When I brought Bibi home, I tailed him closely to wait for him to pee. If he sniffed an area, moved in a circle and bent his hind legs like he was gonna pee, I’d teleport him to his pee tray.
Extra points if you give him a treat right after he’s done a good deed. High-pitched praises are optional.
4. Making him socialise with people of all ages
Bibi has interacted with all kinds of humans since young, even in a room of 50 people with kids caressing him all over. When introducing him to new people, I always remain firm and calm so he would ‘feed’ off my energy. I’d also ask him, “Is that your friend?” He recognises those words because every time I say them, he’d frantically look around to spot anyone he knows.
Nonetheless, it’s important to monitor your dog’s behaviour closely and introduce people slowly. Some dogs are just born a little more picky.
5. Rewarding sparingly without punishing aggressively
Chow Chows do not respond well to the hard approach. Thankfully, I naturally annoy myself with a higher pitched voice when talking to animals. So if I’m angry and lower my tone, they’ll run.
I also reward Bibi sparingly, provided he doesn't get too impatient. To prevent food aggression, I never allow him to beg or think that begging leads to rewards. All rewards have to come from doing good deeds, like standing still when bathing or not tugging on the leash.
6. Ignoring them as punishment
When Bibi was a puppy, his punishment for soiling the carpet was isolation from human contact and attention for 15-20 minutes. I made sure none of my family members spoke or looked at him during then.
And when he did something good, I made everyone praise him.
7. Hugging and talking to him
Every dog needs a healthy state of mind. I’ve hugged Bibi since he was a puppy and told him “mummy loves you”. In reply, he’d grunt loudly. Now, he now walks into anyone’s arms that are extended out and stuffs his big head into armpits.
Extra tip for lazy owners: use sign language as you speak. Bibi responds to ‘sit’ with the back of my palm facing down.
8. Behaving like a bigger dog
Yup, sometimes I growl at my dogs if they don’t listen. Or use my fingers to imitate a ‘bite’ and ‘bite’ back. Or crawl on the floor. How do I put this into words?
Other universal rules to follow:
- Not feeding from the dining table
They will stare. Hard. With puppy eyes. But, do not give in. Dogs need to give respect. By teaching him to control his urges, he will learn to respect himself and others.
- Staying still if they pull on the leash
You walk your dog; your dog doesn’t walk you. If dogs tug on the leash, stand firm so they know you’re only bringing them when and where you want to.
- Using your entire body to push them away
If dogs cross boundaries, don’t brush them away with your hands. Simply use your entire body weight to conquer the space that’s yours like an auntie boarding the train during peak hour.
Most important tip: remaining consistent!
While these tips might not work for everyone, I hope they will benefit new dog owners who gotta start somewhere. For other Q&As about Bibi, read this post.
Cover Image: Shot on iPhone X by Chevonne / Article images by @tippytoess