Having settled in and with socialisation in full swing last week, we scaled things down a bit this past week. Did you know that dogs go through their primary fear period between aged 8-9weeks? This means that major upheaval during this time is not a great idea and can cause upset at best and lasting damage at worst. It’s during this period that social bonding is done between dog and human, which is one of the reasons it’s recommended that pups are re-homed around 8 weeks of age. After all, most people want their pup to bond with them, not the breeder? Being mindful of his age then, this week Jellybean and I have revisited some social situations he had already experienced, met a few new people in his own home (more relaxed for him) but in general, we haven’t done much this week that’s entirely new to him.
Instead, at home this week, we’ve focused on laying down some foundations for training. At this age, puppies are learning how the world works and how they get feedback from it. Behaviours that are worth their while (resulting in reward) are strengthened and are likely to be repeated. Behaviours which don’t result in benefit to them, are forgotten about or extinguished. So if being a little rough with my cat gets Jellybean a clobber (punishment), he’s less likely to repeat the exercise. If running after my cat results in the thrill of a chase (reward) he’s more likely to repeat this exercise. Puppies are like sponges and generally pick up what WE teach them, or if left to their own devices, what they teach themselves. So now is a good time to start the basics of training.
I’m not a fan of teaching loose leash. I’d rather be running with my puppy in a field and playing tuggy or search, than plodding along a pavement with a leash connecting us. Last week I’d encouraged an off-leash follow and walk my side (as part of bonding), but this week we needed to start dreaded loose leash training.
From the outset, I want putting on Jelly’s harness to be stress free. All too often, by the time the owner realises that puppy hates being handled, each time an owner tries to take puppy for a walk, biting of human hands and grabbing the puppy has become habit. Step 1 then, is, using the clicker/food combination, to teach Jelly to sit, to have his harness put on/taken off. As with all training, the aim is to have a compliant and happy puppy who is actively involved in the training. It should be his choice to play the game. Step 2 is learning that a tight leash won’t gain access to what puppy wants, to learn that pulling doesn’t work. Remember behaviours that aren’t rewarding to Jelly, are less likely to be repeated. Step 3, is to teach Jelly that we only move forward on loose leash and that the food delivery station is by my heel. So it’s worth his while hanging around this area rather than elsewhere. You can follow Jelly’s progress step by step, in this training video.
18months ago I found the most wonderful breeder and put my name down for a puppy. 14 months ago I flew to meet the family, the dam-to-be, the uncle, aunt and half-sister. 3 months ago we found out there were puppies on the way. 7 weeks ago two gorgeous boys were born. One week ago Jellybean finally came home and so far at least, he’s the perfect puppy.
After bringing your puppy home, the first week is about getting to know each other, bonding and settling in. Any consideration for training should be more about life skills and less about sit & stay. Important early lessons can really pave the way for great future training and help make things like recall, self control and house training much easier in the long term.
Here’s what I’ve learnt about Jellybean in the past week:
- Licking my face (cute) turns to biting my face (ouch!) very quickly.
- He can and will pee EVERY SINGLE TIME you bring him out, sometimes as often as every 20mins.
- For him, daylight at 6am means play time.
- Long grass is no challenge for his stumpy legs.
- Food is good but tug is better.
- Nothing phases him (train station, cats, kids, van travel fireworks or even toy robots (yes, robots!).
- 30mins of being awake is usually followed by an hour or so of sleep.
- He’s pretty good at entertaining himself.
From the moment a puppy comes to live with me, every interaction we have says ‘I love that, do more of it’ (click/feed) or ‘I’m not so keen on that, do this instead (distraction and diversion, in Jelly’s case, grab and tug this fast moving object). My only reprimand takes the form of disengagement (so far only needed for biting). The need to correct is lessened considerably by the use of monitored and supervised fun interaction as many times a day as I have time. I couple this with the use of an entertaining puppy pen or settle down crate, for times I need to get on with non-puppy related activities.
With all this in mind, here is what Jellybean has learnt in the past week:
- People of all ages are great fun and are likely to offer toys, food or cuddles.
- Dogs are often around and mostly friendly, but they’re not very interesting.
- Biting or nipping means the human disengages and ignore me momentarily.
- I will be given so many opportunities to pee outside, it will mean I never need to pee inside.
- If I squeak overnight, my human makes me feel safe by stroking me until I settle.
- We only go outside for pees overnight if the alarm clock wakes me, not if I wake my human.
- When I’m tired, I’m lifted into my pen/crate for a sleep. My humans usually stay around. I see them, or if they wander off, I hear them. Occasionally, they leave me alone completely but only for a short while.
- I have to stay in my puppy pen and play/eat/snooze, while the house gets on with things around me, even if I squeak in frustration sometimes.
- Sit starts the game.
- Following my human, running to my human, playing with my human are great fun and always worth my while.
- After my mum’s voice, the clicker is the best sound I can ever hear.
- Jumping onto my bed and waiting till I’m told to move, usually means I get food.
Sits and stays are important. Loose leash is vital for enjoyable walks. Emergency downs and reliable recall are crucial for my dogs to enjoy life and be safe off lead. But this first week has been about laying foundations, getting to know my new Jellybean and giving him time to get to know me too. These early lessons in self-control, recall and of course socialisation (life is good) are so much more important to me than whether my pup is doing a 1 minute sit/stay by the age of 4 months. Formal training can wait. What can’t wait is the all-important bonding and learning that life is good! So that’s what we’ve been focusing on. And of course, cuddles. You can never have enough cuddles.
Following my visit to Crufts last month, I thought I’d write a blog about some of the novel or stand-out products which were on show. The first year I visited Crufts, I bought so much stuff, I ended up paying extra baggage on the airline home. Now though, having attended Crufts for the past 15 years, there is rarely a dog related product I can really get excited about. Classed as ‘new’ the products in question tends to be a reinvention of the wheel, when in fact the original wheel was perfectly functional and more often than not, better than its reinvention.
Practically comatosed over dog beds.
The same boring dog beds crop up each year. Everything from Vet bed-functional but ugly to quirky beds-stuffed with cereal husk-which a decent set of nashers could destroy in seconds. This year, for me, one overall winner which (lottery win required) could be set apart from any of the dog beds on sale at Crufts was Tigga Towers. Not so much a dog bed, as a lavishly beautiful piece of furniture, the carefully created-to-order organic wood, sisal & wicker modular design made my heart flutter and my credit card throb with excitement. There is no other word to describe these beds other than beautiful. They don’t claim to be chew proof, hypoallergenic or orthopedic. But my goodness these beds would sit with pride in any modern house and be admired every time you walk into the room. Start saving now. The one which caught my eye was over a thousand pounds.
New toy gets the thumbs up from me and my dogs.
Before I mention this little gem of a toy, I should state once again that any toy is fair game for destruction if you have a dog who chews. Teach a great tuggy & out & remove toys to a safe place once the game is over. This really is the only guaranteed way of ensuring your money doesn’t get chewed up each time you introduce a new toy to your dog. About two years ago I was introduced to the Puller, a nifty foam ring which certainly wasn’t chew proof but which some dogs I worked with seemed to enjoy. It was big and chunky though, both for the dogs & for me which meant less tug ability than I’d like. Plus it was silly expensive, for what is essentially a purple tug ring. By chance, while wandering around the endless stands of dog toys, I came across the Liker Cord ball-on-a-rope. Made from the same lightweight but tough foam material as the Puller, the Liker Cord is soft yet highly durable. This means reluctant soft mouthed dogs like my Border Collie is happy to tug really hard, without hurting his sensitive little mouth. Bought on trial, reasonably priced, this ball on a rope gets all four paws up for design & fun. I’ve just ordered several more to add to the collection.
Practical, functional and sleek design in fun colour range.
The Hatchbag is a custom built boot liner which protects your car from wet, muddy dogs, hair & drool. Fitted carefully using velcro to cover the entire rear area, it is designed to adjust to split seats, dog guards & wheel arches. I really liked the thought which went into the product design, with the added bonus of being available in various fun colours.
An old favourite deserves a mention.
Tried and tested, with numerous lesser quality mats attempted over the years, the Turtle Mat really is the best doorstep mat out there for catching muddy paw prints & saving your flooring from ruin. This year I bought two more for the front & back doors, the last two having been washed to death in the machine over the past 5 years. Mr.Mats UK is the cheapest provider I’ve come across & you can order direct on 08007720985.
One last thing….Genius!
If you’re a fan of the classic Kong (who isn’t?) but you’re tired of food bits sticking to the inside, never to be removed again, this Toy Cleaning Brush has recently been used on my household’s 9 Kongs, with great relief. The medium & cleverly hidden (in the handle) small Kong cleaning brush is super strong & does a great job. I’ve even bought this as a present for several doggy friends.
Guinness kindly helped out with a little video project this week, to show my current class attendees how a simple hand target can help with training more skills. It’s such an easy thing to teach, and great fun for the dog to be rewarded for such a simple task, but it’s versatile so can be applied to many other training skills also.
Signing up to a dog training class can be daunting. On night one, people and dogs can suffer nerves. Last year I had a lady tell me that for the first 2 weeks of the course, she felt physically sick before class she was so worried about what might happen. My aim to make everyone feel comfortable, to enjoy training their dogs and to want to do more with them. One customer told me ‘class night is the best night of the week for me and my boy’. That made me so happy, though did make his wife wonder if maybe they should get out more.
I’m going to mention the recent Kennel Club Good Citizen Bronze group and give all the dogs & owners credit, regardless what happened on assessment night. Individually, they all worked extremely hard to make progress. The group started as 7 but dwindled to 3 on the final night due to circumstances beyond owner’s control. Sometimes, life gets in the way of even the best intentions when it comes to training our dogs.
My first shout out is to rescue dog Mario, one of the sweetest ESS I’ve come across and his new mum Lynn, who he adores. Despite having just re-homed him a few days before the course started, he made fabulous progress with loose leash training & his confidence grew week by week. Next terrier X Titch & owner Dan deserve a mention as they have so much potential. I know it took a lot of preparation for Dan to come along to a group session.
Huge credit needs to go to rescue BC Monty’s owner, who has worked consistently over the past 6 months to get to know her new 6 year old dog and learn how to bring out the best in him (a great achievement for any dog owner). Here he is on a walk with my boys a few weeks ago, running free & waiting for his ball-his of 2 favourite things on life.
Despite how keen an owner is, and how ready a dog is to take the test, occasionally something happens to get in the way. Lagotto Romagnolo, Tosca came into season towards the end of the course and so had to miss the assessment. Her owners have worked so hard to get this far and I’ve no doubt they will get their Bronze soon and go all the way to Gold in the near future.
And so on assessment night, we were down from 7 to 3 dogs. Rescue dog Paws, all the way from Ireland via the wonderful Black Retriever X rescue, did a super job of showing off the hard work his owner had put in, having rehomed him a year ago with little or no training. This sweet boy overcame some teething problems with his confidence to allow his true personality to shine through.
Alfie pug is a comic and has such a happy outlook on life. He is keen, willing (food obsession helps) and more than able to go all the way to Gold level and what a brilliant achievement that would be! The first pug to reach Muttamorphosis Goldies Club status? On assessment night, with the help of his ever-calm owner, he strutted his stuff & breezed through his Bronze award in less than 20 minutes.
From the first time I met him 5 months ago, German Shorthaired Pointer Monty has done nothing but confirm my delight in the breed and assessment night was no exception. Despite not being in the mood for his stay exercise (what 7 month old gundog is?), he is a joy to be around and his wonderful owner has taken on board everything she’s learnt.
Dog trainers are people trainers first and foremost and my love of training should, I hope, be passed on to the people I work with. I need to make sure owners take away with them, not just how to get a dog to sit and stay, but how to enjoy every minute of the process and ensure their dogs do too. Assessment night is one night only. The love of spending time with their dogs will hopefully last for years to come. This recent Bronze group showed me that, in this instance at least, they all walked away having learnt this lesson and I’m certain their dogs will thank them for it.
My thanks, as always to the wonderful Muriel Coates, who assesses my Bronze and Silver Awards.