Geekiness and life on the third coast

What to do with your shy, timid mastiff (or other) puppy

mastiff puppy

Mastiffs are often referred to as ‘gentle giants’, I’ve found them more to be like the cowardly lion in ‘The Wizard of Oz’. They are my favorite of all the dog breeds. Nothing stops a scary person at your door like a dog that weighs twice what you do. And you don’t have to worry about him eating the paperboy.

Some mastiffs are more timid than others, the puppy above, my current, is the most fearful of all the ones I’ve had. The cat pulling the ninja routine as soon as I brought him home didn’t help. But he was clearly shy when I picked him up.

At first we let things be and made small progress. But it occurred to me that all the time spent studying neuroscience and artificial intelligence ought to be put to good use here. Everything I found online was vague. So here are some specific things you can try that I’ve learned from some text books and through trial and error.

1. Do not reward your puppy for being shy, no coddling, no coaxing, reward him for being brave. If your puppy is scared of something, say your front door or ninja cat, put yourself between the puppy and that which scares him. As the puppy gains confidence move yourself out of the way when he encounters these scary things.

2. Food works wonders. A puppy’s belly will over rule his brain every time. If it’s not doing so, find a better treat. ( Barbecue ribs and cut up hot dogs make excellent treats. Do remember puppy’s bellies are delicate, a little treat goes a long way. A previous mastiff loved bread, a lab loved oreo cookies and ice cream sandwiches )

3. Mastiffs like to hang out near you. They love people. Place the food and water bowl at the opposite end of the house from where you spend most of your time. This forces the puppy to leave your side and wander the house if even for a short time.

4. Training classes are a great way to expose your puppy in a controlled environment to other people and puppies. Dog parks are too wild until your puppy gets braver.

5. Walking in places with lots of people and dogs helps. If your puppy wants to remain at a distance from them that’s ok. The more exposure he gets the more he’ll feel comfortable approaching people and dogs. But don’t let him hide. Have him sit or stand beside you.

6. Shy puppies are like autistic children, routine is everything. Try to keep the walks, food, everything in a routine till puppy gets braver.

7. Treats win. When exposing the puppy to new things place a treat on or near the new item. Then let him approach it in his own time. Repeat as needed.

8. Ignore the puppy, make him come to you for attention, to be let out or walked and treats. A constantly watched and hovered over puppy gets paranoid.

9. State a command ( sit, stay, come ) once, then wait a few minutes before repeating it if you need to do so. Don’t coax and chatter or the puppy will just block you out.

10. Do not give your puppy a treat every time, once he’s accomplished a task a few times then randomly giving your puppy treats trains him faster. I find 1 out of 3 times works best to start. Eventually you’ll want to cut that back until no treats are necessary.

11. Crates are good. Make it a place the puppy wants to go, never put him in the crate as a punishment. Never force him out of the crate. He’ll get hungry and come out for food or for a walk eventually. ( At first we had the food and water in sight about 3′ away from the crate, now it’s over the opposite end of the house )

You want him to have a safe place to retreat to when frightened. It also makes house training a whole lot easier. First leave him in the crate when you leave the house for more than a half hour or go to bed. As he gets better trained, then just lock him in at night. When he is fully house broken leave the crate open for him to come and go.

12. Puppies live in the here and now. If you tell him to come so you can scold him for something, he only registers you scolding him for coming. Whatever he did before coming to you left his mind before he reached you.

13. Scolding should be very rare, praise frequent.

14. Everything the puppy wants make him perform some simple task for you.

Required learning:
1. No going to the bathroom in the house.
2. Drop it ( the neighbors get really upset when your dog retrieves their cat )
3. Come
4. Leave it, take it ( not everything the puppy wants to put in his mouth is safe )
5. Sit, lie down, stay
6. Kennel up ( prepping the crate with treats beforehand helps )
7. Look ( get the puppy’s attention, random movement helps draw their attention when training)
8. Walking on a lease with out pulling. If you have trouble, use a pincher collar, it’s power steering for dogs.

Other useful commands:
1. Let’s go in/out
2. Let’s go for a walk/ride
3. Up ( mastiffs can squash things like ninja cats, your favorite hat etc )
4. Fetch ( not one of our mastiffs has gotten this one )

We’ve also found leaving an iPod with a book or podcast running helps puppies to sleep at night. They love to hear the voices.

With a crate and taking the puppy out every 3-4 hours house training is usually effortless. Taking him to the same spot outside each time helps him learn and contains the mess. If he finds a spot inside he likes to use, clean it well then block it off, or place his food and water there.

Laying out a trail of treats helps get the puppy past scary things like doors, or leads him to the new location of food and water when you move it.