A glimmer of concern
Over the years I have taught a great many dog owners about puppies and their level of concern. "She doesn't even care if I get mad," or "she's just not getting it." Puppies are carefree, happy go lucky, frolicking bunch in perpetual motion. There are overly sensitive puppies or puppies with behavior issues who are not like this but I'm talking about the skipping, daisy picking, head to the wind with ears flapping types (like Elsa). How do you portray a message to these types? It's not easy, even when you deliver a message in anger they often wag and hop away leaving you even more angry.
It takes time and patience but it almost always happens. I'm seeing it happen now; a glimmer of concern and I have to admit that I am loving it. Elsa is an amazing puppy, she is confident, highly intelligent, very energetic and constantly on the move. Now at almost 7 months old she is just starting to care so to speak. Up until now if I got angry at her she would sort of look at me and shrug her shoulders as if to say "whatever," and be on her way. As far as rewarding her with praise it was the same thing; she is far too busy to consider a pat on the chest as enough "pay" for doing something and again she was on her way.
This is very typical for puppies; and like I said there are of course those who are easy right from the start, like my Tilley. So getting through to a puppy can be frustrating at best. As far as error messages or feedback goes, it must be consistent; allowing a behavior because it doesn't seem to be sinking in can be a fatal error. You are the leader, you must lead.
Connection is a huge factor; the act of bonding with your dog is ever important. Once the "connection" begins it all becomes easier; that "whatever" attitude slowly turns to "oh no Mom is mad." A bond is something that is continually growing; the more time you put in the more you will get out. Bonding is give and take and once the puppy starts to give it is pretty amazing. From there we all know what a connected relationship with a dog is like; there is nothing else like it.
In the reward aspect of all of this, food or high value item works with puppies. You want to get a message across when you like a behavior? Where's the money? How many times do you think a puppy will come to you for a pat on the head, maybe two times. Give them a piece of yummy food when they come and they will come forever. There are puppies who are not food motivated and for those you must search for their item of motivation; perhaps a tennis ball, frisbee, tug toy or chew.
Once the glimmer begins it will continually grow as you work on your relationship. The quiet moments where there are no distractions is when you can get some really great bonding in. Just this morning I hauled the not so small Elsa onto my lap as everyone was starting their day. We had a minute of snuggling and whisper discussion about the day ahead; it may seem small but it is some of the fuel that builds a lasting and caring relationship.