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28
Jul

Jellybean Week 4 Training Foundations for Eye Contact

I am an unapologetic user of food when it comes to training my dogs. Jellybean was chosen for his equal love of toys and food. Motivating a dog to work for you by using toys and food as rewards, is one of the simplest ways to teach behaviours we like. However, somewhere in the process of getting to know your new puppy, they need to learn to work for you, just you, not because you’re a treat dispensary. When you un-clip the leash in public and give them the ultimate reward of running free, the only thing you’ll really have to rely on to keep them with you, is your mutual emotional connection.

It’s imperative to me that my dogs know I’m happy with them. At the minute the ONLY time Jellybean has seen me less than pleased, has been when he is rough with my cats. I’m incredibly selective about correction. What I want is for puppy to think I’m amazing, fun, snugly, silly and most of all, that I’m totally and utterly in love with him. Eye contact says ‘I love you’ it says ‘I think you’re the best dog in the whole world and there is nowhere I’d rather be, than here with you. And believe it or not, dogs have evolved to read the emotion in our faces, to connect with us, to stare into our eyes and know we love them. Over time, the feeling becomes mutual. Did you know that feel good chemicals are released when we stare into the eyes of the ones we love? This happens with parents and babies, human partners and dogs and owners also.

But there’s more. One sure way to know if your dog is paying attention to you, is to have him look at you. But it’s not enough-especially when those teenage months kick in-to have eye contact on command. Indeed, for many years now, I’ve not taught the command ‘watch me’ at all. Instead I focus on training voluntary eye contact by setting up situations where the dog gradually learns that ignoring distraction and focusing on me instead, reaps huge rewards for him. So voluntarily checking in is worth his while and at the same time, his focus shifts from other dogs/squirrels/bikes etc.back onto me.

That’s several pretty of good reason to train eye contact as part of your puppy’s interaction with you. It’s simple and it’s fun and it’s mutually beneficial to you both, as all good training should be.

18
Jul

Jellybean Week 3. Training Foundation for Sit & Down Stay.

During his second week home, I started basic sit and down positions with Jellybean using a clicker and tasty food. Over the past week, I’ve gradually withdrawn the lure (food in my hand) and changed to a hand signal. I’ve also introduced the concept of ‘selling the position’ as worthwhile (foundation for stay training), by offering high levels of feedback for holding position, then gradually reducing the feedback over time. For the first time, because I like to try new ideas, instead of the click meaning ‘you’re done’ as I have always taught in the past, my click (or clicker word ‘ok’) now means keep going! I’ve taught Jellybean from the outset, the ‘break’ signal says ‘you’re finished’.

The sit and down positions are invaluable for my dog’s entire lives. I personally prefer the ‘down’ position as it’s more settled and more comfy for the dog to hold longer. I will have to focus on ‘stand’ also. Being mindful of the fact this is my first pedigree dog, I may dip my toes into the show world with him. But for now, it’s never too early to start sit and down. Though not in the video, to avoid it being even longer than it is, after approx. 5 reps, we always have a game of tug. Play, train, play, train means the dog is keen to work, focused on the task at hand and anticipating the fun game to come, which helps a lot when we start to phase out the food reward more over the coming weeks.

A common question is “when do I start to say ‘Sit’ and ‘Down’?  I’m never in a rush to add verbal cues for several reasons. The first is that dogs are more swayed towards visual learning. Rather than listening to what we’re saying, they mostly watch what we’re doing. So to avoid wasting my breath, I’d rather they were very clear on what I wanted them to do using a hand signal, before I start to change to a verbal cue (it’s very easy to change, more on this in a later video). The second reason is it’s very easy to start repeating verbal cues, teaching the dog that they only need to respond when I’ve said sit multiple times. A bad habit to start. Finally, I’m at risk of teaching the dog sit doesn’t mean sit, if I start saying the word while the dog is still trying to work out what it is I want them to do. For example, if I’m saying the word ‘sit’ but puppy is pawing, bouncing or ignoring me, as seen several times in the video, then I risk teaching him that sit doesn’t mean sit at all.

6
Jul

Jellybean Week 2. Training Foundations for Loose Leash Walking.

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.

30
Jun

Jellybean Week 1. Getting to know you! Bonding & Settling in.

Jelly 7 weeks

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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.

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21
Apr

What’s New in Dog Products?

 

Whats-New

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.