Tag Archives: Puppy

Puppy progress (Siggy)

Siggy is a black, Golden Doodle, 27 weeks old.      photo: J. Renzoni

Siggy has reached, 6 months,  50#s, has grown up teeth, has had a tussle with Reggie (Jack Russell) and been told off by Jazzie (heeler) and Max (shepherd). Getting to be a big boy. His jumping ability is prodigious, his speed is considerable. He’s visited the horses several times and shows reasonable care about it, although I wasn’t on-board with the last tour. His own efforts at becoming a hunter/gatherer, he’s captured and dispatched a vole and climbed into the compost bin and fetched an orange peel out of it (it’s now more thoroughly covered).

He likes carrying large things … boxes, throw rugs, branches and jumping up on things … gates, raised garden beds and perches of any kind.

photo: J. Renzoni

All of the training we began with has grown, changed, adjusted with his needs and the differences he is showing now. But much of it is just a rule we continue to do each time … like sitting at doorways or at gateways to be released on through. His training is a game of choices … he makes the right choice and gets rewarded – for laying down, heeling, going to crate, fetching, tricks, settling on dog bed, coming … etc. I just counted about 25 cues, plus there’s a bunch of things we’re working on that aren’t named yet. Training comes in layers, in stages – one piece of learning makes it possible for the next piece. And if the foundation isn’t solid, neither are the next steps. Each piece, if played with, approached from many angles becomes better and better understood.  For example: sit … if you teach it at doors, from standing, from you sitting, from lying down, in the middle of tug or before and after, beside you, in all locations … then it becomes a clearly understood cue.

The same thing is important about recalls. With his added speed, confidence and capabilities comes the increased need to practice different levels of recalls … distance recalls on walks, recalls away from other dogs or people and recalls away from fun things he likes. However, if the basic games of coming here when there isn’t distance, when there are hardly any distractions haven’t been done … then now would not be the time to test it and fail.

The recall games begin close, begin with lots of quickly given rewards, begin with fun, but without distraction and without a likelihood of failure.

Photo: J. Renzoni

Now, with Siggy, I know how good his recall is, so I know when to ask and I know when not to ask. We’re getting to the point of a really brilliant recall, at all times. Now, for us, is the time to find out when it will fail, and use that to clarify expectations.

So many things he’s been taught, building on up. Training certainly isn’t done … actually never done, but he’s becoming a great dog.

Photo: J. Renzoni

He’s been my demo puppy for two classes, in a couple of weeks we’ll start the third class he’ll be involved in. He goes as a sidelines pup to agility classes (I use it as training time with active dog distractions going on).

photo: J. Renzoni

One puppy kindergarten class with 6 sessions is just not enough…whatever kind of dog you have. It’s a great beginning, but would you be prepared for life with only the info you got in kindergarten?

This week is Westminster Dog Show, I never went to Westminster, but I did do dog showing back in the 1990s, obedience and conformation. And I know most people don’t even consider doing competition, but one of the things competition teaches is how much effort is needed to get to the level of being able to do things really well as a team (dog/person).

I think we all want to be able to do things with our dogs … in order to set that up there needs to be clarity and understanding on the part of the dog, and the person needs to know the dog’s likes, preferences, fears and strengths and play to those. We can change things for the better, it takes a persistent, fun, building-layers effort.

Don’t stop, when you’ve just begun…


New Puppy – Great Beginings

IMG_6813Three months ago I got a new puppy. I named him Signal, Siggy … Freud … Sig and he’s great! Fast learner. Active. Agile. Motion attraction. Amazing bounce … and likes pretty much everything.

Would he be a good choice for everybody? For sure not, probably too fast a learner, too active, too agile, too likely to chase things and too much bounce.

What kind of criteria do you have for choosing a new pup? How well have you followed it in practice? Do you have certain things you plan on doing with your dog? How have your last dogs been? What didn’t work for you? These are all questions worth answering before getting a new pup.a

Just like in training or planning anything I had my ‘have to haves’ and my ‘likes, but not necessary.’ My needs included a medium large dog (aiming for 50-65#), people and dog social (before I have had more aloof dogs and they suit me, but maybe not my dog training class atmosphere). Excellent conformation, score well on puppy temperament test and I had a handful of breeds that would be likely good choices. The parents should be excellent examples of their breed and consistent with what I was wanting. I preferred a non-black dog … but only because I do photos and videos and black is hard to see details, expressions or even body parts sometimes.

IMG_6834abSo he’s all black. Rich, very black, black. He’s a doodle, which hits the people and dog social, and size range. I’ve known his mom, an AKC registered, 45#, standard poodle named Ruby, since she was a couple of months old.

Five months, the age where most people think … “whew, potty trained, better start doing some other training.” If you’re in that group I do have a dog basic obedience class coming up in January. Sig will be going … he’ll be my demo pup. Reportedly the other pups in his litter are kinda wild. I’m not surprised since active, quick and agile pups tend to get that way if they aren’t handled skillfully. We were visiting the vet clinic yesterday afternoon to put up flyers and practice puppy skills and Sig is the calmest one they’ve seen.

Which is nice to hear about ‘the dog trainer’s pup.’

But, you know, that’s not really true. What’s true is he’s had practice and knows what is expected and so he can be calm. Clarity produces confidence. He’s still very much a puppy. His mask of self-assurance and self-control can crumble if over-faced.

He has been in puppy kindergarten, he goes weekly to agility as a ring-side spectator, we do errand runs to town and practice what he knows in all sorts of parking lots and I do training sessions with him a minimum of three times daily (three meals … three opportunities to train). Yesterday I started the process of going inside dog friendly establishments because the more practice he gets, the better he’ll be. The other reason I was waiting to enter public buildings is he has nervous or submissive urination and I wanted to be sure we had that under control before stressing him.

I’ve come to the conclusion that nervous pee-ers are a lot like scared pups. Oh, body language is very different, but they need less eye contact, less verbal interaction, and no, or minimal, touch from unknown people.

Sig is cute and waggy. He looks very inviting and people want to come up and grab both sides of his face and cuddle. That’s way too much! Even if I tell them just one hand, just brief … they don’t seem able to listen.

So I just say no and block them. I don’t need random strangers creating bad rehearsals for my pup. I want good rehearsals. This temporary problem isn’t going to become a lifelong habit.

Both places we went into yesterday … were great.  Dry floors.  Of course, I did potty breaks before entering (an empty bladder is less likely to leak under stress). And anyone longingly staring, we just moved on and ignored.

Even the best choices of puppy are going to come with issues … I didn’t mention that we’re working on stopping the mouthing, and the jumping and the picking up everything reachable and…IMG_6881


Do these 10 things, become a better trainer

It’s easy to become a better dog trainer, do the following 10 things and you’ll be better than most and your dog will love you for it.

A little tangled up, but good things coming :)
A little tangled up, but good things coming 🙂

1) Hand feed your dog using the food you would have put in his dish as rewards for your dog doing things like sit, down, come, kennel up, hand touch/target, tricks…  This means you will be positively interacting and learning at least twice a day or more.

2) Have rewards with you at all times when you have your dog with you (really good ones if there are lots of distractions). Learn what your dog really likes and use those things to reward him. Rewards are food, games/activities and toys.

3) Avoid punishing – adding punishment will slow training and make your dog not want to learn from you. “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Silence is an excellent training technique – just wait for the chance to praise and celebrate.

4) Small quiet rooms (like your bathroom) work well as a spot to train new things – close the door and have fun with your puppy learning new stuff. For the known cues – get out there and get them generalized to all sorts of locations.

5) Set a timer and train in short segments (3-6 minutes). Shorter is better, have balance breaks doing something else that’s fun!

6) Track your progress. Record your training on video so you can evaluate what and how you are doing. Or at least record on paper or in a computer journal.

7) Give your dog enough exercise and enough rest time – then manage them to prevent problems so you aren’t spending training time fixing what wouldn’t have needed a fix if you’d managed better.

8) Watch videos of good trainers, to see what and how others are training.

9) Set up training ready areas so it’s easy to train even when time is very short. Prepare a training outline, ahead of time. You will accomplish more, easier if you do.

10) Have fun, this is fun stuff, laugh, do things you like to do and be flexible and enjoy the time with your dog.


Do you have other positive training tools or techniques that you thing should be on this list?

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Careless teeth – puppy biting

My puppy kindergarten class members want to know what to do about biting.

Such sweet young faces filled with sharp using teeth.

Cookie Monster aiming for a hand touch, after which she gets a reward.
Cookie Monster aiming for a hand touch, after which she gets a reward.

He bites, she bites, puppies all bite. Some bite harder, some not as much and some seem to go into an upset growling biting frenzy (mostly when they are over-tired or over-excited or scared/anxious if someone has punished them for biting).

Blood letting often happens because those puppy teeth are really sharp and they are careless where they put their teeth. And they put everything in their mouth. It’s normal and usually fades nicely if handled reasonably well.

So first off let’s get the No’s!, the slaps, pinches, tongue pressing, face grabbing, and whatever else that’s nasty off the agenda. These mostly make things worse in one way or another. The shy/escaping puppies quit biting you but haven’t learned bite control – and may bite hard out of fear, and the assertive puppies just get faster, may move on to bite much harder and also don’t trust your hands.

It is usually OK to yelp, yip, or squeak if your pup bites you – most pups will stop, some seem to think it is interesting or funny and will retry to see if you do it again.  Repeat the yip, if they stop – good, but then if the pup seems energized you know this strategy isn’t a good main one for your puppy.

To pet come from the side instead of above or from the front. Reach below their chin or below their ear on neck or chest.
To pet come from the side instead of above or from the front. Reach below their chin or below their ear on neck or chest.

Think of your ultimate goals. You want a pup who understands how to use his/her mouth around you and others. You want a pup who trusts you to handle his muzzle, mouth, teeth, and face. You want a pup who takes food gently when offered, who carries and gets things for you, who will play games and be aware of what to bite/grab and what not to. You want a pup who interacts with other puppies and dogs well. And if your pup got hurt, you want him to let you help him without biting you. Whatever you do now for this temporary problem shouldn’t interfere or prevent your ultimate goals.

But he’s biting. For the record if your puppy has a piece of your body in his mouth and is not letting go, stop moving whatever he has hold of (this is usually enough to get him to let go), but if he’s in tug mode take a hold of his collar so he can’t tug backwards – so you are holding him in place (this usually is enough to get them to let you go), and if all else has failed or it hurts too much, you may pry his mouth open. Then turn him away from you so he doesn’t re-latch on… and then think about what part of your training needs building up.

Is someone rewarding biting clothing/hands in play? Is someone dodging and weaving with their hands and encouraging ‘shark mouth?’ Is there someone in the family who needs coaching because they are afraid? People who are afraid of animals usually react in all the ways that get them into more trouble. Is someone doing those punishing things I said above – to ‘get off the agenda,’ if so they are likely making the puppy more upset, and faster to get to growl-ly frantic biting (which makes them think they have an aggressive dog in the making), and that they need to be more ‘dominant’ – aka mean. Bummer.

So what to do, my puppy is biting everyone – help!

Puppy play dates with nice playing pups can help. Puppies won't play with pups who bite too hard.
Puppy play dates with nice playing pups can help. Puppies won’t play with pups who bite too hard.

* Be Ready. Have toys, chews, food, to put in his mouth instead of you. Only play with those, and stop playing, get up, leave if he is focused on biting you or your clothes and won’t change over to the toy or chews or food.

* Practice nice mouth. Hand feed and have your puppy do things for the food. This will give him better things to do with you than try to bite you.

*Prevention. Turn his face away from you as you pet him. Make the petting shorter if he can’t tolerate more than one or two seconds without trying to bite you, and quit before he starts biting. Conversely if he starts biting and you have him up in your arms, block him from getting you (by keeping him turned away) and wait for him to settle before you put him down … you don’t want him to learn that biting at you gets you to release him. You want him to learn that kissing you gets him down.

*Practice games. Play tug games, focus him on the moving toy, rope, stick … pups like movement and will grab movement. Stop the game if he bites you, you need to become still. When he settles try again, if he goes for you again, end the game, get up, stand still.

*Over tired means cranky. Many pups don’t get enough sleep and so are over-tired. Give them regular quiet times in their own space. They need to sleep, and if noise or kids or you are often bothering/waking them they will be more likely to get easily over-wrought.

*Bad puppy set-ups. For kids or people who keep pulling their hands up and away because the ‘puppy bites’ – have them feed by pushing the food into the pups muzzle from below the pups chin (usually they go at it from above and the pup tries to reach up or jump up to get to their hands which ends up involving teeth) or if they can’t seem to do that have them toss treats on the ground. Puppies don’t really know how to take things from your hands, they have trouble knowing where the treat is and keeping it in their mouths.

*For petting – pet below the pup’s ear on their neck, not the top of their head (petting from above encourages grabbing).

*Quiet hands. Make your hands still, slow everything down, stop moving and that will stop biting. Running children are perfect biting targets, either teach the kids to stop if puppy is grabbing or remove the puppy from their games (and you can work on short bursts of faster legs, then slow or stop before puppy gets to biting or tackling).

*Tools. Head halters, like the Gentle Leader are good things to train early. Teach the pup to put his nose through the nose loop, teach him to leave the nose loop on his nose and give him treats as long as he lets it hang there. Teach the pup to push into the nose loop to get a treat (so there’s tension on his nose) and finally put the whole thing on – give treat, repeat, repeat, repeat. The handling of his muzzle, the clarity of this game of him putting it on, balancing it on his nose, pushing into it, wearing it … all helps to get him to trust that having his face handled is OK. Then, of course, use it to turn his face from things he needn’t bark at, mouth, be aggressive towards and it works as a go for a walk tool too.

Start from here and get your pup to tolerate more and more movement without trying to put it into their mouths. Keep clarifying what they should mouth, keep increasing the excitement, increasing the touching and rewarding them when they tolerate it well … remember each time they make mistakes it is a lesson for you about your training and what needs practice in the next days and weeks to get your pup to understand how be civilized and bite inhibited.

Do you have particular questions about your pup’s biting? Want to attend a puppy kindergarten? Contact me.

Once upon a time – A pup for a Girl

“In dreams begin responsibilities.”
W.B. Yeats, Responsibilities

Once upon a time there was an adventurous girl and her bouncy, jouncy puppy. It was a lovely day in spring and the birds were singing, the frogs were singing and most of the insects hadn’t even come out yet – yeah!

It had rained hard over night and the ditches were running with water, the grass was bent over with drips and the daffodils were tipped down as if they needed to look closer at the night-crawlers (who had come out to avoid drowning underground).

Summer was 11 years old and it was Saturday morning and almost the end of the school year. Her  golden fuzzy retriever puppy was 10 weeks old, she had named him Max, and it was her job to feed him and walk him and do some training – she couldn’t wait to begin having adventures with him. He had on his new collar (which made him sit down and scratch his neck every few steps), but otherwise he was ready to go places until he felt the pull of the leash. He leaped backwards and started flopping back and forth trying to escape the strangling trap.

Summer rushed back to Max trying to explain, “Ganonkdo, cvahhilke, djnot uoo Max!” Max looked at her and panted, “Ha,haha, ha.” She motioned with her hand and he hopped up and jumped at it and bit it. “Ow, no!” and she swatted him on the nose. He decided to go have fun somewhere else, but as he tried to leave the strangling began again. This time Summer walked forward dragging Max a few feet. He reared up like a bronco, then fell over. “How am I going to walk you Max?”

Just then her mom yelled down the hallway, “You better get that pup walked, you know that was part of your responsibility. And remember to feed him.”

The joy drained out of the day, the sky turning more gray, the birds hushing, the frogs became silent, the insects started to hum … the bouncy, jouncy, adventuresome, furry pup had become a resistive, biting, responsibility. The ground sucked at her feet making every step a trudge and the puppy dragged behind her or charged ahead of her with rasping breath. And then he pooped and she was supposed to clean it up, the smell, the embarrassment of picking up dog poop. Plus the puppy tried to grab the plastic baggy and put his feet in the poop and got some on her new jeans. Ew, disgusting dog. Why did she ever want him anyway?

Zip, zip, rewind. Luckily that day was a do-over kind of day and in the do-over her mom was a good witch, instead of a bad witch and knew something about pups and teaching kids  how to have fun with them, yippie!

The sun was shining and Summer came sleepily out of her bedroom and then got all excited because she remembered she would get to do things with her new puppy today. The kitchen smelled like pancakes and her puppy was playing in an exercise pen on the tile floor. Her mom had already taken the pup out for an early morning potty break since she knew her daughter’s sleep needs. Summer asked if the pup needed to go out right away and her mom said no because he had been already, but lets get ready to take him on a little hiking adventure. Summer was so happy.

Her mom suggested she might want to feed him a little breakfast and showed her how to hand feed the pup for doing sit and down. Summer was delighted with how smart her pup was. After a couple minutes her mom said, you can give him the rest of his food in his dish and after you wash you hands I’ve got the griddle hot and I’ll show you how to make your own pancake.

The sun was still shining in on the breakfast table as Summer finished up her own, that she made herself, pancake topped with peanut butter, strawberries and maple syrup. Her mom smiled and said, “Food tastes better if you make it yourself doesn’t it?” Summer smiled and agreed heartily.

After clearing off her plate and helping straighten up. They started getting ready to go on a hike, filled the treat bag, a couple of toys, some water and put the pup’s crate in their car. “Where are we going Mom?”

“I thought we’d go to Roth’s place, they gave us an open invitation, there’s a nice trail, his dog is good with pups, plus it’s vaccinated. We don’t want to take our pup anyplace where stray dogs might be, even though he has his first shots he’s not as immune as he will be later, so only meeting with vaccinated, pleasant dogs for him. Plus he won’t have to wear a leash all the time, which is a lot easier right now. And they want us to stay for lunch, so our pup will get to meet a bunch of people – remember we’re trying to get in 50 men, 5 women and…”

“50 kids! Yup, I know mom. This will be fun!”PuppyclassMay2011 020

And it was.


dogbasicclassAug272013 030

**clumping or lumping is the unsuccessful addition of steps in a process – you’ve lumped too many things together and the training failed, everybody’s frustrated. You may need to take a break, then go back to the last time you were successful and start a step or two before that.

A huge part of good training is getting the fundamentals solid so the trainee believes they will be successful, ie. persistence in the face of adversity.

*fast tracking is when you’ve skipped steps in the training, but it works anyway. This is usually because the set up was good and prior training was good.

*FYI puppy kindergarten classes are the strongest predictor of a positive relationship with the pup…dog.

Manage your puppy to make training easy

Feeling guilty about how much time your pup is alone, confined and not out running around playing? April10Obe2013 001a

It’s true your puppy needs you, needs your time and your focus.  She needs to play and exercise and see things and do things. But it’s also true that if she is free to find her own fun, free to play with other dogs, free to chase and explore she will learn things you don’t want her to and she will bond with dogs more rapidly than she will with you. This is especially true if you have one of the smart breeds, the active breeds as opposed to a couch potato breed (but remember there is lots of variation within dog breeds). FYI if you’re not an invested dog person I suggest you avoid the smart/active breeds of dogs, they will not be a good fit for you. Smart does not mean easy, usually just the opposite.

Freedom without you means you will not be that important compared to everything else in the environment that pleases her, which then means a required leash in later life – more freedom now means less freedom in the long run. Instead of best friends you will be upset and a nag and an anchor if you’re not careful. The time to be very careful with supervision is now in these first 9 – 15 months (or much, much longer if you don’t believe in confining puppies). Rule of thumb – wait until 2 years old and reliable while you are there before leaving a young dog alone for long periods unconfined in your house.

In these first months it is more important to build your relationship and do things together, do the socialization together with your pup and not let an older dog or young kids give the fun and socialization without you. Slightly less exercise is an OK trade.

Management and prevention: Set up a potty schedule – one that makes it unlikely accidents will happen (this means frequent potty breaks outside with you to treat successes and no unmonitored household freedom). It means getting someone to give your pup potty breaks if you can’t. Use the crate and an ex-pen or gated puppy-proof room/area – if you are not interacting with the pup then they need to be confined, they do not get whole house liberty or even half-house liberty. Set up household rules – if it’s no dogs on the furniture/bed that means now and if pup is on a lap the lap needs to be sitting on the floor. Food stealing – Toddlers tend to shed food, so keep the pup confined if the toddler is eating to avoid food stealing. Garbage, keep it covered and taken out. Chewing – You don’t want non-chew toys chewed, pick things up and only have chew toys on the floor. Chasing – kids, cats or being too rough with smaller or older dogs needs to be prevented (this is not going to get better with age). Biting – redirect this to chew toys, or stop whatever movement you’re doing/child is doing, game over. Bolting out doorways/gates – doorways don’t open, or they don’t stay open if the pup moves from a sit. Very young pups can easily learn this if you’re patient and wait. Jumping up – obnoxious attention-getting behaviors are ignored, just turn away and only give attention to polite pup (sitting still), the same for attention seeking barking, whining or pawing. If attention seeking behaviors like the aforementioned are rewarded with attention (either good attention or bad attention – yelling, pushing …) they will continue and likely be more and more persistent. Pulling on leash – acclimate them to a Gentle Leader (humane but effective tool) or Easy Walker and do not go forward unless there is no tension on the lead, because no matter what the tool is they can learn to pull despite it.

Managing a puppy is work, fun work, but a lot of work. Although if you don’t manage them it can become a dog’s lifetime of trouble. If you do manage them then the cool things you want to train can be trained, otherwise you end up bogged down and upset in trying to fix the things they like to do that you don’t like them to do.

What about newly adopted adult dogs? I treat them as if they were puppies because it is unlikely they came from a well structured environment, plus I want them to know that all good things come from me. If they have too much freedom to find their own fun they will know they can find it away from and without me, which is not a lesson they need to learn, especially if liberty, advanced learning and a great dog is the goal.

What about your own unruly, poorly managed young adult dogs? Go back and manage and train. Unfortunately it will likely take at least twice as long this time around because they know how the household used to work and you likely will have trouble remembering your own new rules. Positive is not permissive, it takes much planning and thought.

What do you get from puppy kindergarten?

PuppyclassesJuly302013 046Often people are hesitant to start training their puppy … just let him be a baby and have fun, we’ll just clean up the messes, he’s too young, he loves everybody so no need to go out and meet extra people/dogs, or he’s too afraid to go out and meet people, we’re worried about him catching something … Wait a minute – whether you think you’re training or not he’s learning what to do and expect.

Then there are others who expect too much, too soon … want him to quit chewing, biting, be totally house-trained, know all the household rules, greet everyone appropriately, be the kids best friend and be able to have the freedom of the house. Wait a minute – he is a baby and if you expect too much you set up his failure and then where does the relationship go?

Then there’s the long term dog invested handlers who have multiple confinement systems for when they are not doing stuff with the pup (crates, gates, tethers, kennels), have an outside location for pottying and always go outside with their pup, take the vaccinated pup to lots of places to meet people, see other dogs, practice car riding, do grooming regularly at home, practice body handling (feet, ears, mouth), have chew items and prevent non-chew items from teeth damage. They know what to expect and are ready for it, often they come to puppy kindergarten, but really need no instruction. They have a long term plan of training for their puppy and have started thoughtful training from the first time they met their pup.

It actually took me a while to understand that most other people (despite them having had dogs throughout their lives) didn’t know about the critical times in development of the dog. Didn’t know that socialization and training done early makes the most difference and can alleviate shyness, anxiety, aggression with the least work by the handler or if handled badly can cement issues of fear (like sound shyness – for example; taking an 8-10 week old hunting dog to a shooting range or to the fireworks on July 4th and letting that be their first overwhelming experience of gun fire/explosions) and make them much, much harder to influence/resolve in later life.

Those critical weeks come right during the time you first get the pup from the breeder (8 – 14 weeks old). And yes, I too worry about the possibility of parvo or distemper or any of the vaccinated for diseases, but after two vaccinations the pup is reasonably safe, especially in areas where the other dogs are vaccinated. The only way they would be ‘totally’ safe is to wait until after the critical socialization period is done – but then the critical socialization period is done.

Puppy kindergarten is a positive training experience and a socialization venue. The pup gets to have regular rides in the car, gets to practice on leash walking, gets to meet different people and pups, learns to concentrate on his person despite the presence of new sights and new smells and new sounds. It is one of the best ways to prevent excessive shyness or aggression in the future.

Things that are introduced include basic obedience cues and puppy obstacles for confidence building. Reward based training is used to improve relationships. The experience is a good one and will have lasting positive effects.

But it is only a beginning of what needs to be a long learning relationship. AldoleopoldtrailOct1922012 017

How many dogs do you have?

How many dogs do you have and what are you training them now?

I asked this question of a group recently when I was doing a people training session. And you know what, nobody had less than two.  Several years ago I did a job explanation to students program for high school and asked a similar question and most of their families had three or more dogs.

I got to thinking about this after the program was done. Mostly everything is written as if you only have one dog, but maybe that isn’t the case. Personally that isn’t the case, we have three dogs and a cat in the house. Sometimes it’s hectic, especially since adding the new (8 yr old) Jack Russell.

On the what are you training them now question. Most people were working on sit and lie down for their young dogs, some mentioned coming, not jumping up or staying off of things and teaching the pup its name. The old dogs? Well they mostly weren’t getting any learning or maybe a little sit and down. Nobody mentioned any games and the only hunting was mentioned as something the older dogs had already been trained to do.

Here’s what I’m thinking (this is from my own experience especially when I was a “traditional method” dog trainer and from observing others):

  1. Get a new dog or puppy and it’s novel, funny, cute, and a new thing to play with, so there’s a bunch of initial attention.
  2. New dog/puppy and all these wild, uncivilized behaviors demand a response, so there’s initial focus on ‘don’t do that’ training, which, if done the usual way, reduces the dog’s desire for more training and adds some toxicity to the relationship on both sides.
  3. Time goes by (whoopee) and the puppy/dog becomes less novel, funny, cute and many of things he does get suppressed or the habit of managing him becomes ingrained. We love him but adjust our expectations downward or disappointment sets in about the abilities or temperament of this dog, or somehow the puppy-hood phase is fondly remembered and so another puppy joins in. Or the current dog is so wild that a buddy is the proposed solution to exercise and doggy entertainment. Or one person in the family wants their own puppy, not just a share of the family dog. Or someone tells us of their plight and we agree to take in another dog.
  4. Now there’s two dogs and they magnify each other, especially the barking, running, chasing, and protection aspects. Two is more than one plus one in this case. But competition can be used (carefully) to get higher levels of good behavior and faster games. I think, the more dogs you have the more they need to know how to be calm and controlled and there’s a couple of ways to do it – the most common is to get them suppressed, fat and lazy so they don’t have much capability, the other is do quite a bit of positive training, games and socializing that is fun for all involved.

Here’s a little of what I do with my three, plus one feline, 8 yrs, (morning training can take as little as 30 minutes or upward to an hour). Morning is all dogs out at once to potty and a quick run around the large country yard.Reggieandhydrangeassept202013 011 Then Reggie gets confined to eat a small amount while I play Frisbee games with Jazz and Max. Max gets done first (he’s a shepherd who is 10+) and he gets some brief training on different cues – sit, down, back, twirl, spin, get the dog dish, catch,  paw, pretty or whatever before he gets to eat all the food in his dish. Jazzie, 5 yrs, gets extra Frisbee runs with more control added – wait before release, go around, figure 8, directionals  then she gets the majority of her food in the game Cube so she needs to work to get it delivered. I do extra stuff with her, later.april13fencedogsroad2013-009.jpg

Then it’s Reggie’s turn. He has trouble releasing fetched items, so we’ve rewarded for release. Now he’s starting to drop the item early, so its back to encouraging holding it with a re-up of the tug game and then release. I shortened the toss and added a run-away on my part. He’s getting a lot better at catching the Frisbee in mid-air, he’s learned to go around me without trying to steal the Frisbee and mostly he’s not stopping to play push-the-Frisbee-around games with himself.

Several rounds and then off to feed the horses. Reggie found some half-grown rodents in the hay, so he’s thrilled there might be more. Back to the house, depending on weather two dogs might stay outside in kennel runs for a while or come in with Reggie (they end up confined inside while the Reggie education continues). I hand feed him the rest of his meal for doing stuff – we always play some crate games, we’re working on distance cues (about 6 feet away at this point), always rewarding seeing the cat and not chasing him. After our games he’s confined to his crate for a couple of hours and the other dogs are free to lounge near me while I work on other things.

He'll jump through the hoop or over a dog.
He’ll jump through the hoop or over a dog.

(FYI the cat gets to do some cat tricks for treats every morning, usually while I’m making my breakfast). Key training for Max – scent gamesSnowydayMay22013 005 and for Jazz I want to be able to interrupt her chase runs (ball, Frisbee…) for a sit or down – we’re still at the near me phase of that. (Breakthrough today, I threw the black ball w/tail, sent her to get it, three-fourths there I called her back and presented Frisbee to tug … very fast response – of course the Frisbee is much preferred over the black ball w/tail).

So it’s a combination of some group time where I check my ability to recall each dog and the group from a distance or from close interesting things (I have treats and tug in my pockets) and separate training for each, depending on what I notice they need most at the current time or what we’re preparing for, i.e., Monday night agility classes. What happens is that each dog remains novel and interesting for their whole life. They don’t hit a mid-life, fat and lazy slump of dullness. The draw of puppy newness is still a back-of-the-mind thought, just because puppies are puppies and a new, almost blank slate of possibilities.

If this is so, why do I have three? Well the two extra ones seemed to need me, I wasn’t actually looking to add.

Why do you have extra dogs?

Second-hand dogs vs puppies – training time

Does it take longer to train a puppy or an older dog?

A client of mine asked this question and it made me stop and ponder and say well … it depends.

Puppies generally are pretty clean slates and so anything being taught can just be taught without having to un-train some habituated unwanted behavior, but they’re puppies and so are very creative and inquisitive and so can grow and try things and if you aren’t paying good attention or if you unintentionally reward behaviors you don’t really want they will come around to doing unwanted things.

That first couple of years is real important in the management and training department.  If you do your homework and know about stages in puppy development, training and management is intensive, but pretty cool and fruitful.

People who have started with puppies have that historical cute, cuddly and comparatively lovable picture to go back to when the going gets rough. They also expect the puppy to be puppy-ish. They know, if they have done their homework, what the pup’s parents are like, their pedigree and their accomplishments.

People who start with a second-hand dog may not have fond memories to draw from, but they have the idea of saving a life and the goal of getting a new friend and they know what the adult will look like because there he/she is.

Most of the dogs I see in the shelter are in the 6-months to 2-years zone and they are pretty rowdy and have little understanding of polite puppy manners, but many are house-trained. Someone started with them as puppies and wasn’t too successful or just let them do whatever, whenever without guidance, or just reprimanded when they saw them doing something ‘wrong’ and created an anxious, reactive, confused canine. There are also ones there that were just unlucky – find one of those and it may be easy-peasy.

Second-hand dogs – we’ve got three of them now. They all came with baggage that needed long-term management and concurrent training, but mostly they were already reasonably house-trained (not that they got free reign in the house when they arrived or for several months afterword). I picked dogs that were likely to do well with our lifestyle – we exercise and play with dogs multiple times daily and have things set up to work well with dogs, aren’t real worried about fur or dirt and have all the management pieces already in place and available.

If you’ve read some of my other posts you’ll notice that mostly the second-handers didn’t know how to be comfortable in crates, kennels or on leashes and so that training is a big part of the process of getting them to do well in this household. But it’s balanced by lots of play and activity and games that train the things I want and need them to know.

So some parts of the training lasted longer and were louder to get into place but maybe was less intensive than those first four weeks of puppy ownership when it’s like having a baby (they are a baby) and so the work with them is interfering with sleep.

Older dogs are quicker (very fast movement) and they have worries and habituated reactivity that many pups don’t. Many people who adopt like to have the sympathy factor, using whatever real or imaginary history to use to excuse the adopted dog’s behavior. And sure there is a very real possibility that they were abused. However, it doesn’t actually matter whether they inherited or environmentally got their fears or aggression. In order to have a good, happy life fears need to be minimized … it’s no good to be always afraid and excuses don’t minimize fears.

On fear (or fear-based aggression) it is easier to start earlier, which isn’t the option with an adopted dog, but confidence can still be built it just may not be as much as could have been. On the other hand, if I were presented with one or a litter of 7- or 8-week old pups who showed excessive fear of normal kinds of sound, people, objects I wouldn’t buy one as this would likely be an inherited and strong trait and unlikely to be grown/trained out.

I don’t want a stunted relationship with a dog, so choosing a dog that matches my lifestyle and expectations is really important, whether they are a pup or a second-hand pooch. And time to train is just that, there is no magic amount – it is what it is. If you want that canine companion of your (reality-based) dreams it takes as long as it takes.

My dogs, my friends and teachers – training new ways

Spicy beagle taught me to let a scent hound hunt and find me. It was the turning point in our relationship; the time when I finally quit trying to find her and reprimand her, and she quit thinking I always would. I was 13 and she was the first dog I trained myself. I had tried the aversive stuff my dad said to do and it hadn’t worked, so I got creative and thought of what she would like.

Fleet GSD taught me about loyalty and increased my understanding of how fearful some people were of dogs. She was unafraid, friendly and absolutely a guardian willing to barricade entries if she thought someone was uninvited. She enlightened my thoughts about others in relationship to my dog.

My first two dogs were very different from each other, charming, irritating, and inspiring. They started a lifelong compulsion for learning, training, playing and relationships with dogs. I was taught in the 4H dog training traditional, jerk ’em, push ’em method and it makes me upset that the science on behavior and learning was available back then and wasn’t listened to 40 years ago. Maybe the time just wasn’t right, or maybe too many weren’t brave enough to show the way.

Monday evening, on a very humid, Wisconsin summer day, was the last class (number six) for puppy kindergarten and dog (older puppy) obedience classes.  I have small classes so that it’s almost individual training. The next classes start next week and the most common question asked is, ‘What do you teach in puppy kindergarten?’

I know what I try to teach. Teaching is such an interactive thing and in this case there are, at least, three participants (me, you and the pup)…and anyone else who influences me, you and the pup.

My key goals are: 1) to explain in a simple clear way behavior theory and how to use rewards as a key way to train. 2) to name the risks of using punishment so my students understand what they are doing if they decide to use something aversive.

What do I teach? All the standard cues (sit, down, come, heel, stay, stand, back) are demonstrated and practiced using rewards – luring, shaping and capturing. Other items include; name game, touch/target, greeting – dogs/people practice – which includes aggressive behavior and how to socialize, tug, beginning scent work, puppy obstacles, tricks – paw/shake, spin/twirl, play dead, roll over, sit pretty, barrier games – can you sit behind a gate, and picnic politeness. And, of course, we talk about problem solving, prevention and management. I want students to have a lot of tools and ideas to continue with on their training journey.

What are the results?  Since this is an overview, try this, kind of class with a different kind of approach than many people think of as dog training the humans struggle to get the new mindset. The biggest barriers are humans wanting to criticize and make the puppy do stuff instead of letting the pup discover what will get rewarded. The younger the pup, the shorter the relationship and the less prior training in traditional methods, the easier it is for the people to learn and do. The humans like this method of training, but have a hard time remembering it, as it is not intuitive for most.

I urge people to hand-feed their dog and use that time to play training games for the food they are offering. Some people feel that they don’t want to do that. There is an odd aversion in our society to using rewards and also an acceptance of using punishment. This kind of culture makes understanding reward based, proactive training more difficult than it would be if the preconception weren’t there. Despite my urging to use the primary rewards often people free-feed, which denies them the consideration and gratitude that would be forthcoming if the dog actually knew where the food came from.

Often I suggest to humans who have difficulty keeping disappointment, ‘no no’, other criticism out of their training to just use hand signals/body language and silence. But our education system and our parents have told us that criticism is a form of loving care, so we continue to want to use it despite evidence that it slows learning.

The pups like the reward based training even if it is only partially applied and are very enthusiastic about coming to class and the things they tend to do best at are the obstacles as both the dogs and the people are very interested in these – since neither has earlier experience with them the outlook is fresh and uncluttered.

What is the meaning I make of all this? I think it is worth it to keep on trying to get the breakthroughs in understanding. Even partially applied it’s better than the traditional methods. I hope this model will keep gaining traction, I fear that, as with so many good ideas, there may be a backlash because of poor implementation and also because the aversive system has more potential profit with e-collars, training tools and techno systems and product marketing will push for their use.

When was the last time your concept of how to do something had to change radically? Were you able to keep up the ah ha? Were there great ideas that vanished even though they worked well if they were understood?

Who has been your favorite teacher? And why?