SIX WEEKS OLD AND READY TO GO…BACK TO THE BREEDER

Originally published May 2013

With our new puppy program we have been hearing from more and more puppy owners and a surprising number of them are bring home their pups at six weeks of age, often without their first set of shots.  Puppies from pet stores may be older when you meet them, but may have been taken from mom as early as four weeks of age.  Many of the people who are getting these puppies have been told by the people producing them that six weeks is the age at which they have always sent their puppies home.  While this may be true, we have had studies since the 1960’s that show us over and over again that puppies need to stay in their litter just a little longer.

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This bulldog puppy is shown at one day, one week, two weeks, three weeks, and four weeks of age.  Image credit: Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_Cole123RF’>Cole123RF / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Before the studies done by Fuller and Scott in the 60’s at Bar Harbour, almost everyone brought their pups home at six weeks.  Then we started to look at the best time for puppies to come home based on how their behaviours develop.  Puppy development is a fascinating topic that we know a lot more about now than we ever have before.  One of the things we know is that puppies who stay in the litter until they are 7 weeks do better than those who leave before then.  8 weeks is often the standard and is really a better time for most puppies.  What do I mean by “do better”?

Let’s start with bite inhibition.  Puppies who stay with the litter until 8 weeks of age have better bite inhibition.  They are more careful with their mouths, possibly because they have had the chance to learn from their littermates and mom that when they bite hard, they lose the chance to do things they want to do like play.  Bite inhibition training must continue once the puppy gets home, but if you have a puppy who hasn’t learnt from mom to bite gently, your job is going to be much tougher.

Puppies who leave the litter too early are also much more easily frustrated.  When faced with things they want and cannot get they are more prone to temper tantrums, barking, and throwing themselves around.  This in turn is frustrating for the people who have to live with the puppy.  Impulse control, or the ability to disengage from one stimulus and re-engage with another is often difficult for these dogs and that may manifest as frustration too.

Leaving the litter early may also impact your dog’s ability to interact with other dogs.  These pups often did not have the chance to learn about being a dog from their siblings and mom.  We see this in play sessions where the pup who left the litter early may not read the metasignals that the other dogs offer.  When a puppy yelps and asks the other puppy to stop biting, the pup who left the litter early may not recognize this signal and may continue to bite or harass the other puppy.  The result is that the normally developed puppy may behave defensively.  These puppies are often described as the underdog by their families; always being the victim of the other dogs in the dog park.  Often this underdog role is the result of not listening to the more subtle signals that are offered.

Reactivity is an issue for these puppies too; they tend to be more reactive and harder to settle down.  This means that when sudden things happen, they don’t cope as well and they may even be anxious.  Signs of anxiety include things like over grooming, licking things like people and floors, and circling or staring at shadows or reflections.  Anxious puppies can grow up to be anxious dogs.

The biggest issue we see in our puppy classes with these dogs is handling issues.  When pups leave the litter too early, they often have more difficulty with things like veterinary examinations, nail clipping and grooming.  When restrained they are more prone to wiggling and struggling and may bite when you insist on handling them.

These problems are even worse in pups who are brought home even earlier than six weeks.  Possibly the most behaviourally damaged dog I ever met had been pulled off a dump at 2 weeks of age and raised alone.  They could not introduce him to other dogs due to disease risk-they did not know if he was healthy enough to expose.  They did not know if he was carrying something that other dogs could get.  His eyes and ears were not open at all.  He was a very reactive, needy dog, with serious separation anxiety and was dangerously aggressive even to his family.  More and more we are seeing puppies pulled off beaches in the Caribbean, off garbage dumps in the far north in an effort to control local populations, and placed in homes local to us.  The resulting dogs that grow up are not completely normal.

So what should you do if you brought home a puppy before you should have? If the puppy is under six weeks, take it back as soon as you can to mom.  If you cannot do that and you know that the puppy is healthy, try and cross foster it with a litter the same age.  There is nothing we can do that will equal the experience that mom and the rest of a litter can provide.  We can try, but we will never be as good as what nature intended.

If your puppy came home from the breeder at six weeks, and you cannot return him there to stay until he is seven or even better slightly older than seven weeks, then there is a lot you can do, but it isn’t going to be easy.  First, your pup is going to need a tonne of sleep.  Don’t worry if your pup seems to wake up, be really active and then after twenty minutes, crashes into sleep where ever he lands.  He may do this for 20 or more hours a day and that is just fine.

Your puppy is going to need to be fed four times a day.  He should be getting a moist puppy diet because his digestive system cannot handle kibble well.  Consult your veterinarian for information on what the best alternative might be, and make sure his food is soaked so that it is mushy.  At about seven weeks you can start letting it get a little harder, and he should be able to handle kibble by about 9 weeks of age.  You need to feed frequently for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, he has a very short and under developed digestive system, so transport time isn’t very long for him.  This means that he will need to have food more often in order to be able to get the most nutrition out of his diet.  Do not free feed however; mushy food goes bad quickly and if you make up a bunch of mushy food and leave it out once a day you could make your pup sick.

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Very young puppies need to eat soft food more often.  If you have a six week old puppy you will need to feed him soft mushy food, four times a day.  Image credit: laures / 123RF Stock Photo

Next you are going to have to provide the kind of play, feedback and support that mom and his littermates would have supplied, at least four times a day.  This means getting down on the floor with your puppy when he wakes up, and playing with him with your hands.  You can play fairly roughly but any time that your pup grabs you hard with his mouth, you will need to squeak and then stand up, walk away and pretend to do something without him for between 15 and 90 seconds.  Then you have to go right back to playing again.  This feedback is going to help your puppy to learn bite inhibition which is his best bet for growing up to have a safe mouth that won’t hurt people.  Do NOT pin him, grab his mouth or do any other behaviour you think a mother dog might do if he is naughty.  You are not a dog and you will not be able to do it nearly as well as another dog would do it.  If you have an older, proven to be safe with puppies dog who can help you to amuse the puppy, so much the better, but remember that the older dog is not mom and will not have the hormones she would have to help her to modulate her behaviour towards the pups, so always supervise.

Twice a day, you should practice gentle but firm restraint and handling and you should groom your puppy with a soft brush all over his body.  You should look in his ears and open his mouth and check his teeth.  Handle his genital area and look under his tail at his anus every day; you want to teach your young puppy that handling is a normal part of his day and that he has nothing to fear when you do so.  Don’t be surprised if he resists at first; be firm and gentle and teach him that wriggling and squealing won’t end the activity.  If you let go when he is tiny, he will learn that when he is frustrated and squealing, he can get away from you.  Also teach him to wear a muzzle so that if he needs one, it isn’t an unpleasant surprise when he is sick or injured.  You can do this simply by taking a small cup or plastic container and teaching him to take treats out of the bottom of it.

And then there is toilet training.  A six week old puppy will go to the toilet pretty much where ever he is.  He doesn’t have muscular control over his bladder and bowels yet and if he were in the litter mom would be teaching him to take it outside.  The drill of take the puppy out on waking and when he has toileted, play with him works well with eight week olds, but not as well with six week olds because they just don’t have the control over their bodies that older puppies do.  Ideally, you would provide an absorbent organic surface such as a boot tray with wood chips, or a piece of sod for the puppy to use.  They will often choose absorbent surfaces when they can get to them, which means that if you turn a six week old puppy loose in your home, the living room carpet is often a first choice for toileting.  Substrate preference or the understanding of what to pee and poop upon develops before 20 weeks, and really develops even earlier, so you want to avoid providing that Persian Rug as the puppy’s first experience lest he develop a preference to use that over outdoor surfaces.  Chastising a young puppy for toileting on the rug is an exercise in frustration and futility, so just don’t do it.  The only result you will have is a puppy who either pees in fear when you approach or who hides to toilet and then toilet training becomes nearly impossible.

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If a very young puppy toilets in front of you, name the behaviour, and then clean it up.  6 week old puppies don’t have much control over their bladders.  Image credit: alexeys / 123RF Stock Photo

There are many recipes for providing an environment for a six week old puppy to live in and explore but all the good ones have a few things in common.  First, they must be safe for the puppy.  A three metre by three metre area is more than large enough, and can contain everything the puppy needs.  He should have a shallow pan of water available at all times.  Don’t give him a giant water bowl because if a tiny puppy got into it, he might drown.  I like ceramic ramekins such as you might use to bake custard in; they are not deep and if a puppy gets all the way into one, he can get all the way out.  He should as mentioned before have an organic toileting surface available to him.  He should have dozens of toys to play with, and they can be rotated every day.  Ideally he should have two or three mirrors in there so he can see another dog moving around and so that he isn’t surprised the first time he sees a dog he doesn’t know.  These mirrors have to be secured in such a way that they won’t tip and break or break if he crashes into them.  The flooring should be easy to clean and disinfect, but should also incorporate different surfaces in them.  PVC lattice work laid down over a towel can provide an easy to clean obstacle, as can a towel rolled up and covered over with a rubber yoga mat.  Ideally you should have a low platform for the puppy to get onto, and a small dog crate or cat carrier for him to get into.

As a final note, if you have a puppy who is eight weeks old, but who had the misfortune to be very ill shortly after coming home, all of the above advice will help you to help him to be as well socialized as possible.  If you have any specific questions about supporting a young puppy or an older puppy who is ill please post questions to the blog and I will respond to them.  We can make life better for these pups even when they are at a developmental disadvantage.

Raising a younger puppy can be rewarding, but it is a ton of work.  This is part of what you are paying for when you purchase a puppy at eight weeks.  When people sell pups at 6 weeks, a big part of why they sell them at that age is to save themselves the time and the money related to the final two weeks of properly raising a puppy.  If you thought that you were going to save money by buying a younger puppy, you have to understand that the saving is going to cost you somewhere else.  If you want to do it right, keep your puppy with his litter and his dam till he is eight whole weeks old, and either way start puppy class at eight weeks for the maximum benefit as an adult.

SIX WEEKS OLD AND READY TO GO…BACK TO THE BREEDER

OFF LEASH

Originally published November 2013

The pinnacle of my relationship with my dogs is being able to take them off leash and walk with them anytime, anywhere.  Being ABLE to do so is different from choosing to do so when it would not be in their best interest, but being able to do so is magic.  Taking my dogs to a natural area and letting them run free has been one of the greatest relationship building activities I have ever had the pleasure of engaging in.  We are doing different things in the same environment together.  We each explore in our own way, and do different things within the environment that are meaningful for us.

When I was a child, I was fortunate enough to live in an area where I had access to wilderness trails anytime I had time to explore them.  I was also fortunate enough to have a dog to share those adventures with.  I never went for a hike; I always described it as going exploring.  We had fields and woods and swamps to explore and rarely did I encounter other people there.  It was a peaceful oasis for me in an otherwise chaotic life.  Thurber, my dog, would come with me and help me to break trail in the winter snow and find new places in the spring, summer and fall.  Watching Thurber is part of what led me into the field of dog behaviour.  She told me all sorts of things, just by her body language.

I could always tell when people were around, by what she did.  If she knew them, she would orient on them and wag her tail, low and slow and then run towards them when they got close.  If she didn’t know them, she would orient on them but stand really still.  By observing my dog, I got to see many more things out in the wild land that surrounded my home.  She would tell me when other dogs were close by, when wildlife was near and when there was fire, all through her behaviour.

When I grew up, I moved to Guelph and got a dog.  We spent countless hours walking through the bush, often at night.  A whole new world opened up to me.  The woods in the dark is a beautiful and mysterious place and because I was accustomed to using my dog to signal what was around me, I could easily avoid things I didn’t want to engage with, such as teens out drinking or wild life.

Over the years, I have shared hours and days and weeks of time out in the natural world with my dogs.  By observing my dogs closely and preparing for the activities, I have been rewarded with breath taking events, great laughs and some sadness too.  All of these activities have been enhanced by sharing my time and experiences with my dogs.

When puppies are really young, the key to success is to get them off leash as early as possible.  The first day home, I take my puppies out onto our farm and let them off leash.  Young pups don’t tend to go far.  If I have a breed of puppy who I think might be a problem, such as a terrier or a hound, I will put a light leash on the puppy to drag along for the first few times, but getting the puppies out of doors and off leash as soon as possible is a very high priority for me.  I keep treats with me so that when the puppy comes bolting BACK to me, I have something to give him that he wants.  Most pups want to keep the familiar person in sight at 8 weeks of age.

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At eight weeks of age, puppies aren’t able to get away from you; they don’t want to be alone, and they aren’t very fast.  This is the right age to start off leash activities.

I try and mix up the places I take my pups so that they are not always familiar with the terrain.  This teaches them to look to me for information.  The more new places I can go, the better in my opinion, but I have to keep a bunch of things in mind.  I don’t want to run into other dogs, especially dogs I don’t know.  That could expose my puppy to diseases I don’t want him to catch, or to behaviours I don’t want him to experience.  I also don’t want to run into the stools of unknown dogs because I want to protect my young pup from worms.

I don’t want to run into predators either.  Hawks and owls can easily take a young small puppy.  Coyotes, wolves and bears are also a concern in some parts of Canada.  Even foxes can be a problem and will take a small dog if they stumble across it.  Water can be another natural hazard to be aware of.  About four years ago in Guelph, a young pup was playing on the ice and fell in and drowned.  Fast water, deep water, ice and hidden water are all things I keep in mind when I am taking my puppies out for their first excursions into the natural world.

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Introducing puppies to water should be done in shallow safe areas where you can get in and help if they run into trouble.  Ideally, pups should start to learn about water before they are 16 weeks old.

As puppies get older, they start to get a little more independent, and we start seeing pups bolting at about 12 to 16 weeks.  When this starts to happen, I quietly follow the puppies and step out of sight when they realize they cannot see me.  Most puppies start looking for me right away, and that starts them on the road to a million dollar recall; they learn that their job is to keep an eye on me lest I disappear on them.  I don’t want to frighten a pup, but I do want to make sure they know that if they are not paying attention to me, they may lose me.  When they find me, I make a big deal about how clever they are and how much I value them finding me.  I always bring treats with me so that I have something to give the puppy when he finds me.

At about 16 weeks of age, I start bringing multiple dogs on walks with me.  I use my older dogs to teach my youngsters that the aim of the game is to walk as a group and that although they are welcome to go and explore things or find surface water to cool off in or drink, they need to stick with the group.  The older dogs are usually faster at coming back when called and the puppies learn to come quickly by following their older peers.  I also start to leash up during the walks at this age.  Half way through the walk, I will call, catch and treat the puppy, perhaps do a bit of training and then let him go back to exploring and playing.  Whenever I am on the trail, even if I don’t intend to use my leash, I always have one with me and I always have collars on my dogs.  If we are traveling through particularly dense bush, I also put a bear bell on my dog so that I can find him should he stray.

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I like to take adolescent dogs out in the company of older trained dogs to help them to learn important lessons such as coming when called.

Around about 20 weeks, I can start to see something I call the recall sweet spot.  This is the point at which the dog is still willing to come when called.  If he gets out beyond the sweet spot, he is much harder to get to come back.  The problem I see most often in my client sis that they allow the dog to range much too far away before they call them back and the dog is out of the sweet spot and into the danger zone.  At this point, I will often stop going out in the bush and go to safe, enclosed sports fields instead, and work mostly on coming when called and lying down at a distance.  The down at the distance is the brakes on my dog; if I don’t have a good set of brakes I don’t trust that my dog will stop if I need him to do so.  If he bolts across a road, and a car is coming, I don’t want to trust that he will just stay on his side of the road; I train him to lie down and stay at a distance for his own safety.

Working with my puppies off leash early and often allows me to do much more advanced work than I could do if I never let them off leash.  There is an idea I keep coming across that says that the dog must earn the right to get off leash by proving himself to be trustworthy in his recall.  This turns into a chicken and egg scenario; you cannot trust the dog off leash because he hasn’t earned it and he hasn’t earned it because you don’t trust him off leash.  By taking advantage of the early time in his life when he is reliable about staying close by due to his developmental stage, then we can teach him what we want to do.  I think also that this attitude of earning off leash privileges conveys an interesting attitude of distrust about our dogs; we are assuming that the dog wants to leave us.  Very few dogs actually want to leave us.  Some of them want to have more time to do their own thing or to explore but few dogs are actually invested in escaping.  Most dogs like their people and like their life, and don’t want to be left behind.

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This is the goal.  Adult dogs who are willing to stay with me, and explore the world around us.  Off leash work is all about doing the similar things together and sharing the wonder of the natural world.

As a closing note, I want to point out that when I take a dog out to enjoy the natural world, I do this with planning and intent.  I don’t just go out and take off the leash and hope for the best.  Even when I am hiking with friends, if I have a dog with me, there is always a small part of my attention devoted to where the dog is, at all times.  I am always aware of my dog’s sweet spot, and what might happen if I allowed him to roam beyond the safe distance that I know he will readily come within.  I always make it worth my dog’s while if I call him back to me; calling just to prove that I can is grandstanding and disrespectful.  If my dog is engaged with something, I try and be aware of it and go and have a look for myself.  This pays big dividends in many ways.  As a child, I learned to use my dog’s behaviour as information, and honing that skill as an adult has allowed me to see turtles and snakes hatching, nests of ground dwelling birds and the droppings of a great horned owl.  By following my dog’s lead in some of these exploration activities, I am able to connect with my dog on a deep and meaningful level.  When I call, he assumes I will have something equally interesting to share with him, be that a treat, a chance to work, or the opportunity to see something that I notice and find interesting.

OFF LEASH

GENETICS, MISS MANNERS AND THE WAR ZONE

Originally posted April 2013

Probably the toughest question you get as a dog behaviour consultant is “why does my dog have this problem”.  Regardless of the problem, aggression, anxiety, fears and phobias, separation anxiety, everyone wants to know why THEIR dog has a behaviour problem.  This is important to people for a variety of reasons including but not limited to the genetics of the dog, how he was raised and where he lives now.

When I saw Dr. Ian Dunbar speaking in Guelph several years ago, he made the point that the only time we can prevent a genetic problem from coming up is before the puppy is bred.  Once mom and dad have done their thing, whatever they pass along is expressed in the puppies.  This implies a very big responsibility on the part of the breeder, but also on the part of the puppy buyer.  In every class we take a moment to ask people about their choice of puppy and the responses are interesting.  They range from the serious dog enthusiast, like us who spends years meeting dogs they like, and visiting shows and breeders to select the best possible parents for the puppy and then selecting the offspring of those puppies, through the asinine.  Our most unusual rational behind getting a puppy involved a lady who went into a store looking for a potted plant for her sun room and came out with a Belgian Tervuren.  Not a terrifically easy Terv either.

If you are going to take the time to add a dog to your home, consider meeting at least mom first.  Meeting mom and dad should happen when mom is not being bred and there is an important and poorly kept secret about best practices in breeding.  If mom AND dad are on sight, it is unlikely they are a great match as breeding partners.  Sometimes, but not usually.  Usually, if you own a breeding bitch, you select a male or dog from someone else’s kennel to augment your breeding program.  If you are breeding dogs on purpose, you should have a goal in mind and once you have bred your brood bitch once, if she whelped or “threw” what you were looking for, you would keep one of the pups back to breed in a couple of years.  Often a reputable breeder will have a mom and a daughter on site, or even a granddaughter.  Normally the breeder might be breeding one of these dog in a year, but it is not common that a breeder would be breeding these dogs repeatedly.  There are exceptions; service dog organizations might be producing multiple litters, or kennels that provide dogs to the police and military might produce many litters, but in general, people who are serious about their breeding keep mom on site and take her to dad for breeding.

You don’t want to meet mom when she is in heat because she will be hormonally all over the map.  For the first while she will be very cuddly.  Then she will be somewhat stand offish.  Then she will be flirty, but not receptive to attention.  And finally she will only be interested in breeding the closest male.  When you do meet the bitch, you should be looking at her in terms of how she behaves.  Is she polite?  Is she nervous?  If she is behaving aggressively will she call off when the owner asks her to mind her manners?  Is she timid?  Is she a dog you could live with?  If she isn’t a dog you could live with, tomorrow, without any other training, then do you really want to live with the puppy she produces and teaches for the first eight weeks?

You don’t want to meet the sire of your litter on site either.  You should be visiting him separately from the bitch and you should be able to approach him and handle him.  If the stud is not a gentleman, do you really want one of his pups?  Probably not.  Once you have met the bitch and the sire, recognize that breeding is not like mixing paint; if you breed a tall dog to a short dog, you will not necessarily get a medium sized dog.  You probably won’t get any dogs who are as tall as their tallest parent and you also probably won’t get any dogs who are as small as their smallest parent, but you also are unlikely to get a litter of dogs all exactly the same size and all exactly mid way between the parents’ heights.

When you are meeting the parents of the litter you are interested in, the best thing you can do is to ask the breeder and the owner of the stud what they are aiming to produce in their litter.  They should be able to give you some really good information about what they are aiming for and why they think that these dogs will produce that.  if you don’t think you could live with either of the parents, most likely you are not going to be able to live with the offspring and the only time you get to make a genetic decision about a puppy is before he is bred.  Once mom and dad have bred, the genetic potential is set.  As a consumer, you get to make another choice though and that is to not purchase any puppy whose parents temperaments you don’t like.  For more information about choosing a good set of parents you can visit my blog called “Good Breeders Few and Far Between?” at http://tinyurl.com/bzulzj

Once you have chosen great parents and a fantastic breeder, the next place you can directly influence behaviour problems is when the puppies are born.  This is what I call the “Miss Manners” stage.  It is everything that happens from the time the puppies are born until they are about 6 months of age when all the major social milestones have passed.

Ideally, puppies should have the opportunity for Early Neurological Stimulation in the litter before their eyes and ears open.  You can find out more about ENS at http://tinyurl.com/d8a25dsEarly Neurological Stimulation gives your puppy the best chance at having great bounce back at avoiding anxiety issues and at overall better health.  If you are visiting breeders, take a copy of Dr. Battaglia’s work with you and ask them if they know about it and if they are doing it.  If they are doing “our own version” and are not willing to talk about concrete data and results, then they are not doing ENS; they may be giving the pups a lot of advantages, but then again they may not.

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Here is a great puppy den.  Look at all the surfaces and textures and toys, and everything is very clean.  This is what your puppy’s nest should look like when he is creeping and crawling from about four weeks till about 6 weeks when the litter can move onto bigger and better things.

When the pups begin to creep and crawl, they should have wonderful opportunities to climb, carry things around with them, explore and find things and generally develop the best brains possible.  If a breeder is sending out litter pictures and there are no images of toys and the pups are housed on flat newspaper, then they are going to have much more trouble as they develop learning about things like carrying items and climbing.  The person who does this the best in North America in my opinion is Suzanne Clothier.  Duckhill Kennels in the US does a fantastic job getting their little guys ready to go home and they do incredible stuff with their older dogs too; their Youtube video is well worth the watch if you want to know how to really do it in style;  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuE1iGc-IZ0   Developing confident out going pups who are happy and eager to work is a lot of fun and is the least that a puppy deserves.

Then the puppy goes home and it is up to whomever had your pup between 8 and 16 weeks to introduce him safely to everything and everyone he will meet in the world.  If every puppy were carefully socialized during this period of time, there would be far fewer problem dogs in the world.  You can fix a lot of problems from the genetics department if you know what you are doing at this stage.  Not every genetic problem is fixable, but many of them are.  This means a great puppy school, and a great family who will help that pup to get where he needs to go and feel safe about doing it.

Before your pup hits 6 months, he also needs to learn things like not to jump up when greeting and not to drag you down the street to meet people, and not to snarf food off the table.  In short he needs to learn to be mannerly and to ask politely for the things he wants.  If you do your homework diligently at this age, before he gets huge, before he is able to knock you over, and before he is an adolescent, then adulthood is much easier.  If you have put everything into place before this stage, and he has good genetics, then you are ready for what might happen in the event that your puppy encounters a War Zone.

War Zones are what I call the horrific situations that dogs end up in that we wish they would not.  A car crash can set a nice dog seriously back if he is not resilient enough to incorporate that into his experience and look at it as something that happened just once.  Living in complete chaos is another kind of war zone that many dogs experience, and those resilient dogs are those who do just fine, even though they don’t live in an optimal situation.  It is also important to understand that what might be normal for one dog, may be unreasonable for another to cope with.  Labrador retrievers should not worry when guns go off suddenly and unexpectedly.  A working herding dog such as an Australian Shepherd should not be frightened by gunfire, but also should be concerned for the flock if he is hearing a lot of it.  When a dog goes through a War Zone, his ability to cope is going to depend on his genetics, which cannot be changed once he is conceived, and what happened between birth and six months, the “Miss Manners” stage.

There are four conditions here to consider.  There is the dog who as great genetics and who had a wonderful puppyhood.  This pup may be frightened but is likely going to bounce back and cope once the crisis is over.  These are the dogs who experience bad things and take the experience in stride.  These are also the dogs who sometimes seem not to worry about anything, no matter how crazy the situation is that you put them in.  These dogs also cope with unpleasant experiences by changing their behaviour, not by having a meltdown.

Then there are the dogs who have really, really sound genetics, and but didn’t get a great start in life.  Often these dogs cope just fine with war zones, but they may not always respond as predictably as we would like for them to respond.  They may behave quite outrageously or with a lack of inhibition.  They may be explosive in their responses.  Their bounce back from crises is not as fine tuned as their cohorts who got what they needed from birth onward.

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D’fer as a puppy.  He has terrific genetics and had as perfect a puppyhood as I have ever seen.

Then there are dogs who got rolled the crummy genetic dice, but who had great puppy hoods.  These dogs may learn to cope with war zones, but they are never as good at it as those pups who got great genes.  These pups really ought to be in the hands of people who recognize problems early and who know what to do about it.  The sad fact is that these pups often end up in the hands of beginners and without a lot of support and luck, they end up in difficulty.

Next we have the dogs with decent genetics, but a really crummy puppyhood.  This was probably the situation that best describes how I ended up as a behaviour consultant; I had a dog who was genetically okay, but not fabulous, but she had a very difficult puppyhood.  We didn’t know as much as we do now, and I flooded her with all the things that frightened her believing that I was socializing her.  I was told to take her to the market, and the park and to let children give her treats.  I tried really, really hard, and looking back I can see that I frightened her.  Puppy classes were not available at that time and I did what I thought best.  I introduced my pup to people and when she showed that she was afraid by hiding behind me, I would put her in front of me and when she wouldn’t take treats, I would get frustrated and sometimes angry.  She was moderately fragile in her ability to cope to begin with and when I overwhelmed her as much as I did, she finally figured out that biting would make the scary thing go away.  The way that I over socialized this pup left her without good coping strategies as an adult.  This is the most difficult situation of all for the people, because when we look back, we feel overwhelming responsibility.  Looking back, I can see all the errors I made and when she became aggressive towards strangers, I eventually had to euthanize her.  Rest in peace Newtie; never again.  Now I help people to understand why this strategy is a bad idea.

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D’fer has great genetics, and we were aware of the potential for overwhelming him.  Here he is in the bathtub for the first time.  You can tell he is not confident or happy because his brow is furrowed, his ears are dropped back and his eyes are quite large.  Realizing he was uncomfortable, I got in with him!

Finally we have the dog with both crummy genetics and a crummy puppy hood.  These dogs are fragile and don’t have any coping skills.  These dogs are the ones who present as frightened and withdrawn and overwhelmed or as over confident and defensively aggressive.  A lot of these dogs have a great deal of bravado but when faced with someone who comes back at them will back down and sometimes flee.  In an acute war zone, such as a home invasion or a car crash these dogs are extremely frightened and cannot escape their fears.  These dogs will often exhibit all sorts of behaviours that demonstrate their anxiety.  When they live with people who recognize the signs of their anxiety and can protect them from frightening stimuli, they can sometimes cope, but when they live with people who don’t recognize their anxiety, they really struggle.  When these dogs live in chaotic situations where stress is a part of day to day life, these dogs are often very overwhelmed and their people even if they are well meaning may not recognize that they are over threshold because these dogs don’t act out.

If you are looking for a stable pet, you need to start with good genetics.  Once you have found the genetic picture you want to live with, then make sure that your pup is raised to the standards of Miss Manners. He will need a great puppy class where the instructors are able to help you to recognize when your pup might be approaching threshold and help you to address that, while gently expanding your pup’s horizons.  Finally, avoid war zones with your pups.  If you have a herding dog, recognize that traffic may be over stimulating for them.  On the other hand, if you share your life with a retriever, getting upset that he is picking up everything that is within reach is just frustrating for both of you.  Choose carefully, expose to society with care, and avoid placing your dog in crises.

If you have a dog with serious behaviour issues, there are really three major sources of problems.  The genetics may be a problem.  He may not have had all the advantages of Miss Manner’s upbringing.  Or he may live in his equivalent of a war zone. Most likely though, there are elements of all three issues.

GENETICS, MISS MANNERS AND THE WAR ZONE

HOW DO I LOVE THEE? LET ME COUNT THE WAYS!

Reinforcers and rewards can be powerful tools, but get them wrong and you can get very tangled up. I see a lot of newer trainers want to use only one type of treat, or only bring a tiny amount of good stuff and expect their dog to work for the lowest value items. This is what I think of as the cardboard fallacy. Suppose for a minute that you could get paid for your job in one of two ways. Either we will give you your pay this week in gold, or in cardboard. As of this writing, baled cardboard goes for between $10 USD and $162 USD per ton. Gold on the other hand is about $40 USD per gram. Now, one gram of gold is going to occupy 0.05 cubic cm and one ton of cardboard is going to occupy 9 cubic yards. Setting aside that these items are sold in units that are on completely different measuring systems, I could pay you $700/week in gold that would sit nicely in the palm of your hand. Or I could fill your front yard several times over in cardboard to give you the same value payment. The biggest thing here is that if both a handful of gold and your entire front lawn full of cardboard are worth the same thing, why is it that you want one thing more than another? Especially if it is raining. There is a huge disadvantage to $700 worth of wet cardboard sitting on your lawn.

Would you be willing to have this delivered to your front lawn in return for the work you do each week?  Or would a handful of gold be a better choice?  Offering a dog cardboard will decrease his performance and it is up to us as trainers to figure out what is cardboard and what is gold for each of our dogs.  Copyright : Huguette Roe
Would you be willing to have this delivered to your front lawn in return for the work you do each week? Or would a handful of gold be a better choice? Offering a dog cardboard will decrease his performance and it is up to us as trainers to figure out what is cardboard and what is gold for each of our dogs. Copyright : Huguette Roe

If you are going to give a gift, if you want it to be well received, you need to know your recipient well enough to figure out if they are going to appreciate $700 worth of cardboard, or if they need to get paid in gold. I look at rewards for dogs like gifts; if it is going to be a good reward, I need to know my recipient at least a little bit. To begin with, I need to know my recipient on the species level. This means that I need to know a little bit about what dogs like to do.

Off the top of my head I can honestly say that most dogs like food. There are a few rare exceptions, but for the most part, dogs like food, unless they are extremely distressed. As a group, they have preferences for meat, fish and other high protein sources, and for fats. This means that beef liver is likely going to be a high value item for them, and dried toast will still be valuable, but less valued than is beef liver. Orange slices MIGHT be of interest, but they are likely going to be less valued than is meat. There may be a few dogs who are exceptions to this, but most dogs are going to like beef liver better than dried bread and dried bread better than orange slices. Orange slices are the cardboard of the dog currency world. Yes, some folks would be delighted to have up to 630cubic yards of cardboard as a gift, but these folks are the exception not the rule. Most people are going to prefer a small amount of gold over the same amount of cardboard, and most dogs will prefer a tiny piece of liver over a large slice of orange.

Most dogs will beg for food.  Knowing what your dog prefers will help you to be more effective if you know exactly what food your dog will like.  Copyright: quasarphoto / 123RF Stock Photo
Most dogs will beg for food. Knowing what your dog prefers will help you to be more effective if you know exactly what food your dog will like. Copyright: quasarphoto / 123RF Stock Photo

The next level I need to know a little bit about is the breed level. Within the species “dog” there are many different types of dogs and they are generally grouped into 7 different groups; the sporting dogs, the hounds, the terriers, the herding dogs, the toy breeds, the working dogs and the miscellaneous group. Each of these groups have some commonalities. The sporting dogs are those dogs used for hunting, usually birds. Most of them really like to fetch, so offering them a game that involves bringing back a toy is a natural reward for them. Hounds on the other hand are used for hunting by sight or scent and most of those dogs don’t want to fetch but they DO like to search. Terriers love to dig and tear things up, and they like searching but many of them aren’t as interested in fetching. Herding dogs like chasing and gathering things up, but they are generally less interested in digging. The working breeds include the guarding dogs and the livestock guardians and they have some interesting traits. Guarding dogs love games like tug where they can pretend to take down the bad guy, but livestock guardians don’t like tug at all; they are often hard to motivate because they descended from dogs bred to follow the flocks and get between the flock and a predator. Toy breeds and dogs in the miscellaneous group like things related to the groups that the dogs originated in.

What do the groups have to do with what rewards your dog will like? Ask the next Basset Hound you meet how he would feel about herding sheep as a reward and you can see quickly that knowing something about the general preferences of the groups of dogs can really help to inform you about what to try first as a reward. If instead I offered my Chesapeake Bay Retriever the chance to swim if he did something I liked, I would be more on track than if I offered a Basset Hound the chance to herd sheep. Now you may be thinking to yourself that you have met oodles of Border Collies and German Shepherds who love to play frisbee or swim, and you would be right, but that brings us to two points; herding dogs tend to be pretty flexible in what they like to do, and the individual can give us a better picture of what they actually like to do as an individual.

When you get a puppy, you will find that he is fairly flexible in what he likes and doesn’t like to do. I have seen young retrievers who will spend a whole day fascinated by a herd of sheep that would not attract an adult retriever in the least. Herding dog puppies will often learn to chase and grab things easily and that is easy enough to translate into a number of interesting and rewarding behaviours such as tug, fetch or search. You can often teach a young terrier or guarding dog to fetch in a similar way. Doing this at a young age is quite straight forward, but trying to get it started with an older dog is much more difficult. This is where knowing your individual is important.

Young animals are very flexible in their learning and this gives us an opportunity to teach them to enjoy games that they might not learn to like if they first tried them as adults.  This beagle will play fetch with his ball and doing so often will help him to learn that it is a fun game.  Later you can use fetch as a reinforcer for him.  Copyright: lunja / 123RF Stock Photo
Young animals are very flexible in their learning and this gives us an opportunity to teach them to enjoy games that they might not learn to like if they first tried them as adults. This beagle will play fetch with his ball and doing so often will help him to learn that it is a fun game. Later you can use fetch as a reinforcer for him. Copyright: lunja / 123RF Stock Photo

My dog Eco really, really likes biting bad guys. We did protection work when he was younger and he is really good at it. Eco’s pinnacle reward is biting bad guys. Bad guys are gold to Eco. It is not practical to carry around a guy in an agitator’s suit to reward him on a regular basis, but that is his top reward. We started when he was about 9 weeks old, teaching him to “worry” a rag and then to tug and then to tug big and then to get a good bite on a bad guy. The most valuable behaviour to me is self control. This means that I had a perfect situation to use in order to reward Eco for self control. As a youngster, the best way for him to get a chance to bite a bad guy was to show self control and follow my cues. If he didn’t show self control in training, he didn’t get his turn to bite the bad guy. In this situation, knowing my dog and knowing what I had taught him to do this worked brilliantly.

Friday could care less about biting bad guys. If I offered her the chance to do so, she would just stand back, looking confused because that isn’t what we taught her as a youngster. What she does love though is frisbee. John took the time to teach Friday to chase and fetch back a frisbee and when they are working on obedience behaviours, this is her gold reward. Heeling and coming when called are always faster and sharper if she thinks she is getting a frisbee at the end. Again, this is not a reward John can use all the time, but in a training set up, it works really, really well.

John made a mistake when Friday was a puppy. He used only her kibble for rewards for many months. At first, she liked her kibble well enough, but later, she got tired of it and eventually, it became a cardboard reinforcer. I remember one memorable class where she gently took the kibble out of John’s hand, and then panted with it stuck to her tongue! While this was funny, it did nicely to illustrate what happens when you use cardboard to reward a dog; she humoured him for a bit, but she really, really did not want kibble as a reward.

Our first Chesapeake Bay Retriever was named Bear and Bear had a few things he loved to do. One thing he really enjoyed was swimming. He loved to swim so much that we had to teach him to get out of the water when we told him to do so. What might have enticed him enough to come out of the water? The opportunity to swim again! Bear would get out of the water in order to get the chance to go back in again. Getting into the water was Bear’s gold reward. While it was really difficult to carry a river in our pocket, we did an awful lot of training around open water to take advantage of this great reward.

In class we can use some play and some life rewards (the rewards that your dog just loves to have and that just happen to happen along the way) but for the most part we are going to use food. There are a lot of reasons to use food. To begin with it is fast. I don’t have to take it away from the dog after he is done with it. I can use it in gradations to pay really great behaviours with really favourite foods, and really easy behaviours with so-so foods. This means though that you have to know a little bit about what your dog likes and doesn’t like.

This dog wants to go through the door and this makes for a great life reward!  You can ask your dog to do something he knows how to do in order to get you to open the door.  This is not a cardboard reward, nor is it a gold reward, but it is a highly available reward and it would be a shame to waste that.  Copyright: whitetag / 123RF Stock Photo
This dog wants to go through the door and this makes for a great life reward! You can ask your dog to do something he knows how to do in order to get you to open the door. This is not a cardboard reward, nor is it a gold reward, but it is a highly available reward and it would be a shame to waste that. Copyright: whitetag / 123RF Stock Photo

There is an easy game to play to help dogs to tell us which foods are gold rewards and which foods are cardboard rewards. Take two different foods; say kibble and sausage. Give the dog a piece of kibble. Give the dog a piece of sausage. Now, offer kibble in one hand, sausage in the other. Which does he choose? Kibble? You would be surprised the number of dogs who choose kibble over sausage. Now take your kibble and cheese and repeat. Let’s say that the dog chose kibble over sausage, but cheese over kibble. Now you have a hierarchy of treats. You know more now about what your individual dog likes; this particular dog likes sausage, prefers kibble, but really gets excited about cheese.

Observe your dog carefully and be aware of what drives their behaviour. I have seen dogs who will do nearly anything to get to roll in mud. One of my dogs particularly likes to go out to the barn and smell the horses (they are less enthusiastic about the activity). I had one dog in class who would do nearly anything for the chance to heel on leash; he loved heeling! There are many dogs who love to scavenge and will do a lot in order to get the chance to sniff around for treats. Don’t dismiss these reinforcers just because they are infrequent or unusual or because you don’t like them; you don’t have to like the gift you are giving; what matters is if the recipient likes it.

Unless you are a recycled cardboard dealer, you would probably prefer to be paid in gold than cardboard.  This is about how much gold would be needed to purchase all of the cardboard in the first image of this blog.  Copyright: gillespaire / 123RF Stock Photo
Unless you are a recycled cardboard dealer, you would probably prefer to be paid in gold than cardboard. This is about how much gold would be needed to purchase all of the cardboard in the first image of this blog. Copyright: gillespaire / 123RF Stock Photo

Once you have a good long list of things your dog likes, you can pair them with what your dog is doing. If your dog is learning something really difficult, choose something he likes a lot but doesn’t lose his mind over. It is no good using a bad guy to teach Eco to fetch for instance because he would be so very excited that he would throw the item at me in his enthusiasm to bite bad guys. I might choose a lesser and more convenient reward for bringing a toy back to me such as the opportunity to chase and get another toy! If I am working on quiet work, such as holding an item while sitting, I might use a medium value food treat so that Eco wouldn’t get too excited, AND so that he would still know that he was on the right track. Once the behaviour is well established for a medium value reward, then I might set up a situation where he could have his gold reward, but he would need to be very well trained on a behaviour before I would reward it with the chance to bite a bad guy.

The end of this story is simply that good training often requires that you have a variety of reinforcers available to use under differing circumstances. There are thousands of great things your dog can have as reinforcement; food, toys, the chance to greet a friend, time off leash, time to himself, time with you. I even let one of my dogs fetch a lawn chair as a reinforcement once! Be creative. Don’t pay only in cardboard and know what is gold to your dog. And remember to bring at least three different types of reinforcers to class each time so that you have a good chance of reinforcing your dog if he changes his mind about what he likes today.

HOW DO I LOVE THEE? LET ME COUNT THE WAYS!

9 THINGS YOU CAN DO TO HELP YOUR PUPPY GROW INTO A SUCCESSFUL ADULT DOG

Originally posted on October 22, 2013

I have been thinking a lot lately about the things I do that allow my dogs to grow up to be successful as adults.  I have been thinking about what my dogs do that the dogs in my behaviour program often don’t do.  My dogs are fairly easy to live with, and it starts from the first day that they come home.  I always plan on putting the finishing touches on this at about 18 months of age.  By teaching my dog what I want from the start, I don’t have to go back and rehab later.  Here are my top 9 things to teach a puppy to ensure he will be successful regardless of what might happen later on.

1. Your crate is a wonderful place to be.  I feed all meals in crates, and my dogs travel in the car in crates and when they go to the vet they are in crates and when we stay at friend’s houses they are in crates.  My rational is simple.  When my dog is eating he should be able to do that in a safe place where he won’t be disturbed by other dogs, the phone ringing, me, other people and so on.  My dogs will also eat outside of their crates, and from time to time I will feed a dog outside of his crate, but in general, I want to make sure that my dog’s dining experience is a relaxed and comfortable one.  In the car, the safest place for a dog to be is in his crate.  In the event of a sudden stop or an accident, a crate will give my dog the greatest chance of surviving AND he won’t fly around the inside of the car, potentially injuring someone.  Finally, if my dog stays at the vet’s office or at a friend’s house, being able to crate my dog means that he has a safe and comfortable place to be and I know he won’t be getting into trouble when I cannot supervise.  Just teaching my dogs that they can go into their crates and be calm and comfortable makes them easier to live with.

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D’fer at about ten weeks, relaxing in his crate with a legal chew item.  When you cannot directly supervise a puppy in your house, then a crate allows them to rest in safety and to not make any training mistakes.
  1. You can trust me to touch any part of your body any time at all.  Let’s face it, in an active busy life, your dog is going to get burrs in his fur, get cuts and scrapes and may even get a sprain, strain or a fracture.  The ability to touch my dog all over, without stress has made vet visits easier, has made baths easier, has made everything easier.  Start out gently and offer treats while you restrain your dog, but DO spend the time teaching him that you can touch anywhere.  Then when your dog is comfortable being restrained by you, get other people to do the same thing.  Get your vet or their tech to show you how they restrain your dog; turn being restrained into a game where your dog can earn treats by allowing you to look in their mouth, in their ears, between their toes and under their tail.  Don’t forget to teach them to allow you to look at and touch their genitals; the vet will and it shouldn’t be a surprise for your dog.  As part of this handling training, I also teach all my dogs to wear a muzzle.  They don’t have to like it, but I don’t want them to be upset by it.  I do this by getting out a coffee mug and putting peanut butter, soft cheese or liverwurst in the bottom.  I teach my pups to lick out the bottom of a coffee cup and when they are comfortable with that, I switch to a grooming muzzle with the treats smeared on my hand; I want my dog to be happy to put his nose into the muzzle and I pay well when he does.  This way, when I need to go to the vet, if the vet is concerned, we can muzzle him easily and without distress.  Dogs in pain or who are frightened might bite and it is my responsibility to keep the vet safe.  I am paying for his medical knowledge, not for his ability to dodge getting bitten.

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Get your dog accustomed to all sorts of weird handling; here we are holding this lab’s head in a fairly awkward and uncomfortable way, similar to how a vet might hold him if they wanted to feel his lymph nodes (no it isn’t exactly right,  but if the dog will accept this, he will accept whatever the vet is doing!).
  1. Keep your paws to yourself.  If you like your dog to jump up on you, put it on cue and ask them to do it when it is convenient, but don’t teach your dog, even your small dog to jump up on people for treats or attention; most people don’t want to be jumped on even if the dog is tiny.  If your dog is already jumping up, consult a trainer about how to stop this behaviour.  If you have a puppy, let them jump up, but pretend they are invisible until they have four feet on the ground; by providing contrast to a puppy between the attention that you get from jumping up and keeping four on the floor, she will learn to keep her paws to herself.

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Four on the floor greetings are always considered appropriate!

5. Dog toys are for dogs; ask before you touch anything else.  I keep a large collection of dog legal toys and I store them in plain sight amongst the shoes, boots, and other detritus near the main door of my house.  If a dog touches something that isn’t a dog toy, I call out too bad, and put them in their crate for a short period of time.  Touching things other than dog toys becomes a polite request from the dog to be put in his crate.  Dogs learn outcomes very quickly.  They learn that touching something they ought not touch results in an outcome they can predict and they stop touching things so that they don’t have that undesired outcome.  I also teach my dogs an automatic sit for treats and doors and leashes and they all learn that when they want something other than a dog toy they can ask by sitting and looking at what they want.  Sometimes I even give it to them.

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In puppy class, we provide oodles of puppy toys to play with, and we have a few items in there that they are not permitted to touch; the croc shoe for instance.  If a puppy grabs the shoe, we catch the puppy and restrain him for a moment.  This way he learns that picking up shoes results in an outcome he doesn’t like.  He can easily avoid the outcome by not touching the shoe!

6.  Say please.  Expanding on “only touch your stuff and leave my stuff alone” is asking for things nicely.  There is nothing worse than visiting someone’s home to have their dog harass you for whatever you are eating.  I DO share my food with my dogs, but only if they say please and only if I feel like it.  As mentioned above, I teach my dogs to observe what is happening in the environment and then to ask for what they want.  If they see me pick up a leash, then I wait till they offer me a sit to put it on.  This is SO easy with puppies, because they will often sit when they want something from an older dog; holding the leash and waiting for a little bit results in a sitting puppy.  Walking up to the door and only opening the door if the puppy sits produces more sitting at the door.  Holding a human sugar cookie in my hand in the presence of a puppy who has learned to sit for the leash and the door, his dinner and a toy to be thrown results in a puppy who figures out how to say please by sitting.  Yes, I teach dogs to beg!  And when they are really good at it, when they say please I will sometimes say sorry, “not this time”, or “if you go lie on your bed first.”  Dogs extend the courtesy very easily if you stop asking and nagging for a behaviour, and just wait for sit; it becomes the default and then when a dog wants something, instead of harassing you to get it, you have given him a way to communicate that he wants something.

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This puppy has figured out that if you approach people and sit, you get treats, touch and toys.  He is learning to say please!
  1. Keep calm and carry on.  I work hard to teach my dogs that calm behaviour is desirable.  I teach them down stays and the automatic leave it and I reward my dogs when they stay calm through exciting events.  By teaching them to keep calm even when things get exciting, they are easier to live with in general.  One of the most important things that I teach my dogs is to work in the face of excitement.  This means that I intentionally take my dogs places where they will see exciting things (other dogs, livestock, people doing fun and active things) and I work on calm behaviours like looking at me, lying down and staying and simple tricks like shake a paw and touch my hand with your nose.

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When D’fer and I travelled, he had to cope with all sorts of difficult environments.  Here we are in the subway station in Manhatten.  All of our calm training over the years has prepared him for being able to cope with this environment and still keep his leash loose, never greet anyone he doesn’t know or hasn’t been introduced to, and to do his job of taking care of me while I travel.  What this picture doesn’t show you is the noise and the echos that we had to move through; this was a very difficult environment, but because I have taught him to be calm everywhere, he can do his job!
  1. Only go to the toilet in the appropriate place.  For heaven’s sake, toilet train your dog.  If there is one behaviour that gets adult dogs into trouble it is a lack of toilet training.  One study showed that the number one reason dogs were surrendered to shelters was due to a lack of house training.  If you are having trouble housetraining your dog, ask a trainer for help.  With puppies it is generally very easy; when they wake up, take them outside.  If they toilet within five minutes, bring them in and feed them.  If they don’t, put them back in their crates for a half an hour and then try again.  Don’t walk around when you are teaching a dog to toilet in the most appropriate place; don’t need to walk to toilet.  Give them a set amount of time and if they produce do the next interesting thing.  If they don’t put them back in their crates.  After a puppy has eaten, repeat the process, and if they go, give them twenty to thirty minutes to play.  Then take them out and give them five minutes to toilet.  The rule is very simple; if they go they get to play or eat.  If they don’t, they get to have another quiet time in their crate.  A toilet trained dog is welcome, and an untrained dog is not.

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In 8 years of travelling together, D’fer has never ever made a toiletting mistake at a hotel.  I wouldn’t want him to toilet at the area where people are picked up and dropped off, but he will toilet when and where I tell him to.  This makes him a pleasure to travel with and a dog I can trust when I am visiting friends and staying in their homes.
  1. Share your food and chew items.  Perhaps the biggest problem that gets adult dogs in trouble after toilet training would be resource guarding.  This is the dog who has a bone or food and gets snarly, growly or aggressive when you come close.  This behaviour is so easy to address that it is laughable.  Simply start out by training your dog to be calm before his food bowl is set down.  Don’t do the sit, stay and then run as fast as you can to your bowl drill; this is a recipe to make a dog more not less likely to protect his food because he is always going to his bowl in a state of very high arousal.  Instead, prepare half of your dog’s meal and if he is calm, set it down.  If he starts to rush the bowl, pick it up.  Repeat until he can go quietly and calmly to his bowl.  When he has finished half his meal, either repeat with the second half of the meal or use the second half of the meal for training.  Rawhide, raw bones and bully sticks are all common items that dogs may chew upon for pleasure and may guard.  Instead of waiting till there is a problem, teach your dog that you are the source of these items and that you will give them treats while they are sharing your item.  I start out with pups on my lap and offer them the item to chew.  Not knowing what the item is, the pup will often need to be enticed to start to chew.  As soon as the puppy is convinced that this is a “good thing” then I start offering really good stuff; liver bits, cheese and hotdog at the same time; I don’t try and take the item away but rather I stuff extra bits into the dog’s mouth as he is chewing.  If he spits it out, I just offer him treats and then switch back to the chew item.  I keep practicing like this until I can put the chew OR the treat into my pup’s mouth.  Over time, the pup learns to spit out the chew item as my hand approaches with the good stuff.  At that point, I teach my pups to chew on special chewies on their mats, and I come by often to add treats to the mix.  I work on this all through my dog’s lives so that I and others can take things they ought not have away from them.

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Puzzle toys are great for environmental enrichment but they are also good for helping puppies and dogs to learn to let you handle their stuff and not guard items from you.  They have to let you touch the items so that you can refill them, otherwise the toy is not very interesting to the dog.

9.  Go to puppy class and learn manners in the presence of other dogs.  Honestly, if there is one place that your pup can learn to mind his manners in the presence of other dogs, it is at a puppy class.  A good puppy class will be run by an experienced trainer who has many years of helping dogs to get along with one another.  Ideally there will be places for small dogs to avoid large dogs, and there will be lots of people coming through the class of various ages and types.  You will see tall people and short people, young people and old people and if you are lucky, you will see people wearing hats and coats and capes and costumes and all sorts of things.  Often puppy classes will have wheelchairs and walkers and canes and crutches and the puppies will learn to cope with everything.  In a good puppy class your pup will learn that not only are other dogs usually nice and safe to play with, but that people are nice too.  Your pup should be learning that being caught is a great and safe thing to have happen.  Lots of different people will all be working on the same goal as you are; to raise the best adult dog they can.

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Where else will you meet people who have dogs a similar age to your pup?  Puppy class is lots of fun and sometimes we even get special guests to come and visit!

These nine things are all things that will accomplish two goals.  The first is, you will raise a pup who is a great companion for your family.  The dog who has mastered all of the above is easy to live with and a joy to take places.  The second thing you will achieve is that if something happens to you or your family and your dog needs to live with someone other than you, your dog will make that transition easily.  If by chance your dog ends up in a rescue or a shelter, he will be easy to adopt because he will pass all the behaviour tests with flying colours.

9 THINGS YOU CAN DO TO HELP YOUR PUPPY GROW INTO A SUCCESSFUL ADULT DOG

GETTING AN OLDER PUPPY

Originally posted July 16, 2013

 

We have recently seen a spate of puppies who have been coming home at 13, 14, and 15 weeks of age.  People have a variety of reasons for holding off on getting their pups, and most often we hear that they don’t want to go through the early puppy training.  They wait a little longer in the hopes of getting a puppy who is less needy than a young pup or who might be toilet trained.  There are some issues though, including diminished socialization and substrate preference.

 

We know that the bulk of socialization for a puppy is finished by the time the puppy is 16 weeks.  We like our puppies to meet between 200 and 400 people and between 100 and 200 hundred dogs.  Is that overkill?  Yes, but If your puppy has trouble with meeting people, this will ensure that you have your bases covered.  The easiest way to do this is to count out 600 kibbles, and put 200 of them in one bagggie and four hundred in another.  Every time your puppy sees, interacts with or plays with another puppy or dog, feed him one kibble from the bag of 200.  When you have used up all your kibbles you know your pup has met enough dogs.  Do the same with people using the 400 kibble baggie and when you are finished that, you know you have connected with enough people to ensure that your puppy is well socialized.

 

 

 

The name of the game is to get rid of all your kibbles before your pup reaches 16 weeks.  If you get your puppy at 16 weeks, then you cannot do this preventive exercise because you have run out of time.  If you get your puppy when he is 15 weeks, then you have a week to get rid of all 600 kibbles.  That is a lot of work.  If you get your pup at 14 weeks, you have two weeks to get rid of 600 kibbles or 300 greetings in two weeks.  13 weeks translates to 200 hundred greetings a week, 12 weeks translates into 150 greetings a week, and 11 weeks translates into 125 greetings a week.  Ten weeks means 100 greetings a week, 9 weeks means about 75 greetings a week and 8 weeks means 50 greetings a week.  Fifty greetings a week, means about seven greetings a day.  7 greetings a day is a whole lot easier than 90 greetings a day which is how many you would need to do if you got your puppy at fifteen weeks.

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Even though everyone likes a puppy, they are not going to all line up at your door step when you get your older pup home.  The closer to eight weeks that your puppy comes home, the more likely it is that you will be able to get all these friendly folks to come and gently visit your puppy!  Image credit: logoboom / 123RF Stock Photo

 

 

Aside from the number of people and pups your dog will need to meet, there is also all of the handling, grooming and veterinary procedures you will have to practice.  When the puppy is young, it is very easy to gently introduce handling to them.  You can work with them when they are tired and they will often accept handling readily.  By twelve weeks though, your pup will be a lot more active, and wiggly and may not accept handling and grooming very readily.  If the puppy hasn’t been handled much at the breeder’s, you may have your work cut out for you.  The more that the pups have been handled before 12 weeks the easier this will be, but we are seeing more and more pups who have never really been handled before going home and these puppies may be very difficult to restrain, groom, pat and take to the vet.  Ideally, puppies are handled daily at the breeder’s from the day they are born, and by an increasing number of people as the time to go home approaches, and then by as many people as you can get to handle the pup before he is 16 weeks.  Getting a cheap stethoscope and playing veterinarian with everyone the puppy meets can pay big dividends later on when you go to the vet.  If you are trying to squeeze that activity in between weeks 12 and 16 along with the dozens of people you need your pup to meet each day, you are going to have a tonne more work to do each day than you would if you were going to spread these tasks over more time.

 

Between 8 and 12 weeks pups do a lot of resting.  At about twelve weeks, puppies often “wake up” and become significantly more active.  This means that instead of a puppy who konks out after twenty or thirty minutes, you have a puppy who will regularly stay awake for two to four hours at a time.  The advantage to having a pup when they are younger is that you can set boundaries and rules while the puppy is awake, and then when he is naughty you can put him down for a nap and take a break.  Older pups are generally awake and active for longer periods of time, so they have more chance to make mistakes and then you have to have a plan to get them to do something else.

 

The final big thing that happens with older pups is that they are often sent home before they are toilet trained.  If your pup was at the breeder and not getting out to socialize with new people, or handled, the chances are pretty good he also didn’t get the advantage of early toilet training.  Toilet training in dogs is somewhat like toilet training in people.  If you have never seen a toilet before you are about three or four years of age, you may have difficulty using the standard equipment; not because you cannot, but because you have learned that something other than a standard toilet is the place to go.  Dogs are just like us, except they need to learn what is a toilet before they are twenty weeks.  If your puppy was in a kennel until he was 13 weeks, all of his experience will be on cement.  If he has been in a home, but hasn’t been taught to go outside, he is going to think that carpets, tile and hardwood is the right place to go.  You have time to fix this, but you will have to put in the work to get your dog to understand that outside is the right place to toilet.  Due to his age, he is going to be awake for longer periods of time, and have a longer digest tract to fill up and empty.  A longer digestive tract means that you can go outside with him and he may not go when you want him to.  If you are pressed for time and you bring him in, you may end up with a puppy who still needs to go but who doesn’t need to go urgently.  My general rule for older pups is that if they don’t perform outside, they get to go back to their crates and try again in a half hour until they go.  Once they have gone to the toilet where I want them to, THEN they get breakfast, to play in the house or to go on a walk.  If they haven’t gone in a timely manner, then they go back to their crate for a half hour and try again.  Every time your older puppy has an accident indoors, you are setting him up to think that toileting indoors is just fine.  If you have lots of mistakes, then by twenty weeks, your dog will happily toilet in the house whenever he needs to go.

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Older pups should be at least on their way to being toilet trained.  If they are not, the breeder has not done their job.

 

 

There are reasons that a breeder might hold a puppy back.  To start with, the pup may be immature in some way or another.  If this is the case, then a good breeder will be doing everything that you would do with an 8 week old puppy.  The pup would get to go for car rides and to meet new people and would have supervised house time to learn what is permitted and what is not.  He would get toilet training and meet lots of people and other dogs in different contexts, with someone who is experienced enough to know when her pup is overwhelmed and needs more time or space.  Some breeders will keep several pups till they are 16 weeks old so they can get a better idea of which pups will be worth breeding before she sends her next breeding dog away.  Again, this breeder will be putting in the work to make sure that the pup gets everything he or she needs.  Sometimes not every pup in the litter gets sold in a timely manner.  The breeder should still be doing the work that will turn out an exemplary puppy.

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A breeder may choose to keep a puppy back if she thinks he might grow up to be a good breeding prospect or if she thinks he might have potential in dog sport.  If she does this, and then at 12, 13, or 14 weeks, she should be selling a puppy who is well socialized, has had a good amount of handling, who may have been to a dog show or two, and who is already toilet trained.  If a breeder keeps a puppy back for any reason and he is coming home without the basics, you should be prepared for lots more work than it would have been had you purchased your puppy when he was eight weeks of age.  Image credit: reddogs / 123RF Stock Photo

 

 

If you are purchasing an older puppy, you need to know about what has been done with the puppy from birth to eight weeks ( see “How Much Is That Puppy In the Window?” at http://dogsinthepark-suenestnature.blogspot.ca/2013/07/how-much-is-that-puppy-in-window.html), and also what has been done between 8 weeks and when you got your puppy.  Raising a puppy properly takes time, effort and excellence, so if you want to skip that, you need to make sure that the older puppy you get has had everything you want them to have.  Your puppy deserves the very best, not just of what you can give him, but what the breeder gives him too.

GETTING AN OLDER PUPPY

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU ARE EXPECTING A PUPPY

Originally published June 1, 2013

Puppies change dramatically between 8 weeks when we get them, and 10 weeks when we start taking them into the wider world and 12 weeks when they are most like what people think a puppy will be like.

7 WEEKS

Puppies can come home at 7 weeks without serious behavioural consequences, but they are very young babies. Make sure they get lots of crib time in their crates, and make sure that they are warm enough and have the chance to eat moistened food four times a day.

We chose Friday just before he 8 week birthday and brought her home at 8 weeks. Here she is just after her puppy testing.

8 WEEKS

Ideally, puppies should come home within a day or two of their eight week birthday. Before your puppy comes home have a crate set up for him at home and another in the car you are travelling within. When you arrive home, put your puppy down on the ground to potty. Choose a word to tell him what to do and say it while he is going. Watch carefully; tiny little puppies can sometimes go when you don’t notice. Once he has gone to the toilet, carry him into the house and help him to explore the room his crate is going to be in. When he appears to be sleepy, put him down for a nap. Follow your pup’s nap/wake cycle as closely as you can until about an hour before your bedtime. Get your puppy up and out to pee and spend some time playing with him for the hour before you go to bed. Put him in his crate to go to bed for the night and then set an alarm for two hours after you go to sleep. Get up, take your puppy out and then put him right back to bed again.

Our recommended schedule for 8 week old puppies is as follows:

Evening: Keep your puppy busy for one to two hours before bed time. Take him out and put him in his crate for the night.

Bedtime: Set an alarm for 3 to 4 hours after you go to sleep, get your puppy up and take him out to toilet. Put him back to bed. If he wakes you in the night, take him out to toilet. If he goes, then he can sleep in his crate in your room. If he does not, move his crate to another room where he will not disturb anyone through the night so that you can get back to sleep.

Morning: When your alarm goes off, get your puppy out of his crate and carry him to his toilet area and cue him to pee. As soon as your puppy goes to the toilet, he can come in and have his breakfast and hang out with you. Watch him carefully though; you must be in the same room! If your puppy is doing something naughty, just say “that’s enough” and if he continues, say “too bad” and put him in his crate or a safe room for 30 seconds to 3 minutes. If he starts to look like he needs to go to the toilet, carry him out to your toilet area and ask him to go. If he goes he gets to spend more time out. If he does not, then put him in his crate for half an hour and try again. Puppies usually need to urinate or defecate every thirty minutes or so. Your puppy will need a long nap in the morning in his crate where he can rest without being disturbed after your puppy has had an early morning play.

Late Morning to Early Afternoon: Repeat your morning routine with your puppy.

Late Afternoon to Early Evening: Repeat your morning routine with your puppy.

You puppy might need to sleep as much as 20 hours a day when he first comes home. Allowing him to rest undisturbed with predictable activities of play and training in between will help him to grow a brain that is good at learning, that is good at bouncing back after being startled and that accepts new things. Sleep is important for young puppies. Exercise is not. If your puppy is zooming around like a maniac, he needs a nap, not a walk.

Short at home puppy visits are better than walks for 8 week old puppies. Notice that we have several important elements in the room; an adult to supervise, two crates to nap in or have time outs in, and lots of legal toys. Photo Credit: Sue Alexander

10 WEEKS

Now that you have a good sleep wake cycle established with your puppy, you can begin adding in extra time, making sure your pup gets out to pee every half an hour when he is awake. If he toilets right away, he can have more time out. Work with your puppy’s natural rhythms as much as possible. At ten weeks, your puppy is ready for some short off leash walks in a safe environment and puppy play dates on a daily basis. Your puppy should not be visiting the dog parks at this age as he could be bullied or harassed. At ten weeks you can stop setting your alarm for two hours after you go to sleep, and only get up if your puppy wakes you. Remember to use the rule that if he wakes you to toilet, and he actually toilets, he can continue to spend the night with you. If he wakes you to play, you can move his crate to another room so that you can get a good night’s sleep. If your puppy is having over night accidents, go back to waking up through the night and taking him out.

When your puppy is out of his crate, he must be in the same room as you for his own safety. You can give him about as much time unattended as a two year old child; this means that if you need to use the bathroom, you must take him with you, or put him in his crate for safety’s sake. Continue to use “that’s enough/too bad” to teach him what behaviours you want him to do when he is out of his crate and what behaviours you want him to not do.

12 WEEKS

By now, you should have a great schedule with your puppy, based on what you started above. Your puppy should begin to sleep through the night on a regular basis now. Your puppy should not need to sleep as much anymore and can spend more time out of his crate with the family. Anytime you cannot directly supervise, put him in his crate where he is safe from chewing on dangerous items such as electrical cords or getting into your plants or causing mayhem. Allow your puppy about as much unsupervised time as you would allow a three year old.

Your puppy can begin to have daily regular off leash exercise. 12 weeks is the ideal time to start teaching leash manners, but only work on this for five to ten minutes at a time, twice a day. Your puppy can now tolerate up to half an hour of off leash hiking with you. Please build up your puppy’s endurance slowly, working up to an hour off leash at about 8 months of age.

Off leash walks are a blast for people and dogs! Start at about 12 weeks of age and you can work up to longer hikes by the time your dog is 8 or nine months old. Photo Credit: John Alexander

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU ARE EXPECTING A PUPPY

EVERY PUPPY DESERVES PUPPY CLASS

Originally Published April 13, 2013

 

 

What a week.  For the past several months at Dogs in the Park we have been working behind the scenes to develop a program that will serve our community.  John and I have strong feelings about being a part of a community and one of the things that we hold very close to our hearts is contributing to the community.  It is even better when we can contribute to the community in a way that also makes us happy!  What we came up with was a comprehensive puppy program that is free to members of the Guelph and surrounding area dog community.

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Maple came to Puppy Class.  Now your puppy can come out too!

 

In our EVERY PUPPY DESERVES PUPPY CLASS, John ,The Puppy Guy will guide you through our three information packed weeks of puppy class FOR FREE.  Week one is all about the first weeks at home and can be taken the week before you get your puppy. We will teach you all about what you need to get, what you can expect, and how to bring home your latest best friend.  It looks like we will be also getting some coupons and samples from some local business’ to help you get started.  In weeks two and three, we will help you to learn how to get your puppy to toilet on cue, to accept veterinary handling, to leave anything that is not his and much, much more!

 

We know that our dog parks are a great resource for meeting other dogs and puppies, but they are not suited to puppies under 14 weeks.  For this reason, we are going to start offering a free Puppy Play Group for any puppy under 14 weeks.  We sanitize the puppy room before each play group so that your puppy can meet puppies his own age in a safe controlled environment.  You will learn to recognize safe and dangerous puppy play, and what to do if your puppy encounters dangerous situations out in the world.  You get to be your puppy’s hero!  We also teach you how to teach your puppy that people are safe even if they sometimes look funny or different.

We hope that by providing this FREE service, we will be able to decrease the number of dogs who are surrendered to shelters.  Dogs who go to a puppy class and have great play skills are less likely to run into behaviour problems later on.  This is our contribution to preventing dogs from ending up in the shelter.  It is that simple.  As professional dog trainers, we feel that puppy class is so important that we take time off teaching to take our own puppies to puppy class.  It makes a big difference, because puppy class isn’t just about how to teach a puppy to sit or leave a toy or a treat when we don’t want them to touch it.  It is about taking the first steps in a lifelong relationship and establishing good solid manners in group settings.  We want you and your puppy to have the happily ever after that we have with our own dogs, and we can show you how we do it.  Free.

We know this is going to change the landscape for dog training locally, and we are looking forward to meeting everyone and their new canine family members.  If you are in the area, please let us know and you are welcome to come and visit!

 

 

EVERY PUPPY DESERVES PUPPY CLASS

IMAGINE LIVING IN A WORLD WITHOUT INFORMATION

Originally posted June 28, 2013

 

 

Imagine you woke up tomorrow morning and you had no way to communicate with the people you lived with.  You had no idea where you were or what was going on.  Imagine for a minute what your day might be like if some really kind, well intentioned people tried to take care of you, but they couldn’t really tell you what to do or how to do it or why it was happening.  What might that look like?

 

 

A colleague and I were talking about her recent trip to the vet with her dog.  The vet needed to do a procedure on the dog’s mouth to make sure that his teeth were in good order.  She wanted to closely examine the dog’s teeth and put a light in his mouth to make sure that he had healthy teeth.  While not painful this was unfamiliar to the dog, and he was somewhat concerned.  By taking a bit of time, and handling him carefully, and being gentle and using cues and treats, my colleague and the vet were able to look deep in the dog’s mouth and get a good look right into the back teeth that needed checking.  “Wouldn’t it be nice if all my patients allowed me to do this!” exclaimed the vet.  With a trained dog, we can do these things, because we start explaining the process to the dog in early puppyhood by making handling exercises rewarding to the dog.  We make things progressively more difficult without making them painful or frightening.  We work with the puppy to help him to understand that sometimes we are going to do things that are mildly uncomfortable or painful but that he won’t get badly hurt.

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We want this puppy to grow up to learn to trust his vet.  This is his first time, on his way home from the breeder’s and we can see that he isn’t completely comfortable.  Lots of gentle handling and careful teaching and training will help him to learn to accept new things.  Photo Credit:  Sue Alexander

 

 

Coming back to what it might be like to live in a world without information, come back to waking up in the morning just like I described.  The nice people you are with put down food for you on the kitchen table.  It is unusual food though.  It is a spicy soup, a piece of hard bread and a small piece of cheese.  There is a bright green fruit drink that tastes unfamiliar, but isn’t terribly unpleasant.  You eat, get dressed and then you are led to a waiting vehicle.  The nice people take you for a drive to the local sewage treatment facility and tour you around.  Lots of people are speaking a language you don’t understand and they keep pointing out “important” things for you to look at.  They encourage you to touch things that look dirty or dangerous to you.  While standing next to an open pit of composting sewage, someone comes along and hands you a bowl of ice cream.  They make motions indicating that you should eat it.  When you wrinkle up your nose, they take away the ice cream and bring you a piece of chocolate cake.  When you turn that down too, they become ever more insistent that you eat.  They insist.  Disgusted, you don’t want to eat in an environment that you would consider to be unclean or germy.  You finally take a bite and vow never to eat chocolate cake again.

 

 

Have you ever taken a nervous dog somewhere and had them refuse food?  Have you ever had a dog who was reluctant to get into a vehicle?  Who wouldn’t go with a particular person?  The world from the dog’s point of view must be pretty frightening sometimes.  Consider what it must be like if you are a young puppy who has just come home from the breeder.  Everything you learned to expect is different.  Everything.  Your litter mates and mother are gone.  The breeder is not there.  The food is often different.  When you get your puppy up in the morning, he has no way to know what you are going to do and where you are going to go.  Peeing on the floor is not merely a sign that he is not toilet trained; it is a sign that he doesn’t know what is happening.

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On the first day home, keeping things simple and predictable helps the pup to be successful.  Photo Credit:  Sue Alexander

 

 

When bringing a puppy home, the ultimate goal is that you will be able to take your adult dog everywhere and be able to rely on him being able to mind his manners everywhere.  How do you get from a strange puppy in a very strange land, to a confident adult dog who copes with every crazy thing that we throw at them?  Puppy class is a good starting point for sure.

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This dog copes with everything he has ever been exposed to; this is the New York City Subway system, the first time he ever went there.  He is calm and relaxed because he had a good foundation as a puppy.  Photo Credit:  John Alexander

 

 

There is a funny disconnect between dog trainers and puppy owners.  Dog trainers offer puppy classes because we know that the simplest way for us to keep dogs in their first homes is to socialize them properly to begin with.  We want puppies to learn bite inhibition, handling, trading and solid acceptance of people and dogs.  Puppy owners are concerned about coming when called, sit, down, stay and walking on leash.  As dog trainers, we know that the puppy can develop skills at almost any time in his life, but the BEST time for him to learn about his world is before he is 16 weeks old.

 

When getting ready for your pup, being aware that he may find your life to be chaotic and confusing, and that you may ask him to do things that don’t make any sense to him informs how you bring him home.  Sending a blanket and a suitable toy to the breeder ahead of time for your puppy to have in the litter box allows your pup to bring home things that are familiar and comforting to him.  Arranging to have familiar food on hand when he arrives home allows your puppy to come home and have a meal without upsetting his tummy.  Timing your pick up and travel time with your pup so that he isn’t really hungry or just fed can make the trip easier on him.  Asking yourself what it might be like to be a helpless animal who cannot advocate for himself can go a long way to helping you to understand what you can do to help your new addition to understand his world.

 

Keeping things low key the first day home is very helpful.  The idea of the birthday or Christmas puppy means that an animal who really doesn’t understand his world very well is going to be faced with a very difficult first few days amidst the commotion of a holiday.  Likewise, getting a puppy when you are going to go away on vacation is also a bad idea.  Asking your puppy to come home, go travelling and then come back home again sets him up to think that his world is as unpredictable as the world I described you waking up within earlier.

 

Making your pup’s life initially predictable with some side trips helps you to develop a solid relationship.  Avoiding making your puppy’s life unpredictable teaches him that he can rely upon you.  Protecting your puppy from being overwhelmed helps him to develop confidence, resilience and a solid relationship with the family.  Protection is the flipside of exposure and exposure is part of what we need to do in order to help dogs to develop the facility with our human society and environment.  Exposure is something that should be started from a point of confidence and security.

 

Coming back to what it might be like to wake up one morning without the ability to communicate with the people you live with, imagine what it might have been like if the people you were with had slowed down a bit.  Imagine if they had brought you down to the kitchen and showed you where the food was and what you could choose to eat.  Imagine if the people had taken the time to show you what they wanted to do, instead of taking you on a crazy field trip that culminated in the opportunity to eat in a situation that you might otherwise find disgusting to eat within.  By taking time, and slowly sharing their world with you, the result would be a much higher quality of relationship between you and your caregivers.

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Going to the vet in the company of a family member can make things easier for your puppy.  Also, don’t add going to a friend’s house on the same day that you go to the vet; that is too much!  Photo Credit:  Sue Alexander

 

 

Going slowly, sharing information carefully and providing a secure, safe environment for your puppy builds a foundation that he can rely upon to build from.  I use a rule I call the 10% rule.  I want to change things 10% at a time.  If I have a young puppy, I give them a very structured environment to live within, with lots of enrichment and opportunities to engage in learning and exploration.  Each day, I change 10% of the dog’s life.  If I got to the vet one day, then I don’t go to puppy class too if I can avoid it.  If I take the puppy to my friend’s house, then that is a day that I won’t choose to visit a pet food store.  When my puppy has integrated a daily schedule into his life, and has visited a number of places, then the puppy learns that he is always coming back to a safe and secure home environment.

 

By going to puppy class with my pups, I develop two things at once.  A systematic program of careful exposure to animals and people and places, and a common language of training to help the puppy understand cued behaviours so that I can communicate with him what I want him to do in new places and situations.  I build a careful relationship with my pup and then I teach him behaviours and then I help him to understand new places through the use of the behaviours I have taught.  When I have finished puppy class with my pup, then I have skills to help my pup to move forward into the wider world if I continue to help my puppy to understand the world that he lives within.

 

From my perspective, continuing classes allows me to have a greater common language with my dog, which allows me to take my dog to more places and do more things.  I take my dogs to classes for the majority of their lives.  Once we have the first steps, we can start doing things that are meaningful to both of us.  We can participate in activities both recreationally and for work that become meaningful for us both.  And that is why I continue to work with my dogs in training classes; because it provides us with the platform that allows us to communicate and share information.

 

Dogs are really savvy about our behaviour.  They learn by watching us what activities are coming up.  We only wear certain shoes for instance when we go to work; when we put those shoes on, our dogs go lie down because our activity never involves them when those shoes are involved.  They know when we are going to training classes, or walks or to visit friends.  The challenge is to reach the point with my dogs, where not only can I tell my dog what I want him to do, but I can hear when he has needs or wants.  Over time, I can learn about when my dog is uncertain or uncomfortable.  I can learn about what he prefers and what he would like to avoid.  I can learn to listen, and in a fashion, I can talk to my dog, because I don’t need to make my dog live in a world without information.

 

 

IMAGINE LIVING IN A WORLD WITHOUT INFORMATION

GETTING AN OLDER PUPPY

Originally posted July 2013

 

We have recently seen a spate of puppies who have been coming home at 13, 14, and 15 weeks of age.  People have a variety of reasons for holding off on getting their pups, and most often we hear that they don’t want to go through the early puppy training.  They wait a little longer in the hopes of getting a puppy who is less needy than a young pup or who might be toilet trained.  There are some issues though, including diminished socialization and substrate preference.

 

We know that the bulk of socialization for a puppy is finished by the time the puppy is 16 weeks.  We like our puppies to meet between 200 and 400 people and between 100 and 200 hundred dogs.  Is that overkill?  Yes, but If your puppy has trouble with meeting people, this will ensure that you have your bases covered.  The easiest way to do this is to count out 600 kibbles, and put 200 of them in one bagggie and four hundred in another.  Every time your puppy sees, interacts with or plays with another puppy or dog, feed him one kibble from the bag of 200.  When you have used up all your kibbles you know your pup has met enough dogs.  Do the same with people using the 400 kibble baggie and when you are finished that, you know you have connected with enough people to ensure that your puppy is well socialized.  

 

 

 

The name of the game is to get rid of all your kibbles before your pup reaches 16 weeks.  If you get your puppy at 16 weeks, then you cannot do this preventive exercise because you have run out of time.  If you get your puppy when he is 15 weeks, then you have a week to get rid of all 600 kibbles.  That is a lot of work.  If you get your pup at 14 weeks, you have two weeks to get rid of 600 kibbles or 300 greetings in two weeks.  13 weeks translates to 200 hundred greetings a week, 12 weeks translates into 150 greetings a week, and 11 weeks translates into 125 greetings a week.  Ten weeks means 100 greetings a week, 9 weeks means about 75 greetings a week and 8 weeks means 50 greetings a week.  Fifty greetings a week, means about seven greetings a day.  7 greetings a day is a whole lot easier than 90 greetings a day which is how many you would need to do if you got your puppy at fifteen weeks.  

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Even though everyone likes a puppy, they are not going to all line up at your door step when you get your older pup home.  The closer to eight weeks that your puppy comes home, the more likely it is that you will be able to get all these friendly folks to come and gently visit your puppy!  Image credit: logoboom / 123RF Stock Photo

 

 

Aside from the number of people and pups your dog will need to meet, there is also all of the handling, grooming and veterinary procedures you will have to practice.  When the puppy is young, it is very easy to gently introduce handling to them.  You can work with them when they are tired and they will often accept handling readily.  By twelve weeks though, your pup will be a lot more active, and wiggly and may not accept handling and grooming very readily.  If the puppy hasn’t been handled much at the breeder’s, you may have your work cut out for you.  The more that the pups have been handled before 12 weeks the easier this will be, but we are seeing more and more pups who have never really been handled before going home and these puppies may be very difficult to restrain, groom, pat and take to the vet.  Ideally, puppies are handled daily at the breeder’s from the day they are born, and by an increasing number of people as the time to go home approaches, and then by as many people as you can get to handle the pup before he is 16 weeks.  Getting a cheap stethoscope and playing veterinarian with everyone the puppy meets can pay big dividends later on when you go to the vet.  If you are trying to squeeze that activity in between weeks 12 and 16 along with the dozens of people you need your pup to meet each day, you are going to have a tonne more work to do each day than you would if you were going to spread these tasks over more time.

 

Between 8 and 12 weeks pups do a lot of resting.  At about twelve weeks, puppies often “wake up” and become significantly more active.  This means that instead of a puppy who konks out after twenty or thirty minutes, you have a puppy who will regularly stay awake for two to four hours at a time.  The advantage to having a pup when they are younger is that you can set boundaries and rules while the puppy is awake, and then when he is naughty you can put him down for a nap and take a break.  Older pups are generally awake and active for longer periods of time, so they have more chance to make mistakes and then you have to have a plan to get them to do something else.

 

The final big thing that happens with older pups is that they are often sent home before they are toilet trained.  If your pup was at the breeder and not getting out to socialize with new people, or handled, the chances are pretty good he also didn’t get the advantage of early toilet training.  Toilet training in dogs is somewhat like toilet training in people.  If you have never seen a toilet before you are about three or four years of age, you may have difficulty using the standard equipment; not because you cannot, but because you have learned that something other than a standard toilet is the place to go.  Dogs are just like us, except they need to learn what is a toilet before they are twenty weeks.  If your puppy was in a kennel until he was 13 weeks, all of his experience will be on cement.  If he has been in a home, but hasn’t been taught to go outside, he is going to think that carpets, tile and hardwood is the right place to go.  You have time to fix this, but you will have to put in the work to get your dog to understand that outside is the right place to toilet.  Due to his age, he is going to be awake for longer periods of time, and have a longer digest tract to fill up and empty.  A longer digestive tract means that you can go outside with him and he may not go when you want him to.  If you are pressed for time and you bring him in, you may end up with a puppy who still needs to go but who doesn’t need to go urgently.  My general rule for older pups is that if they don’t perform outside, they get to go back to their crates and try again in a half hour until they go.  Once they have gone to the toilet where I want them to, THEN they get breakfast, to play in the house or to go on a walk.  If they haven’t gone in a timely manner, then they go back to their crate for a half hour and try again.  Every time your older puppy has an accident indoors, you are setting him up to think that toileting indoors is just fine.  If you have lots of mistakes, then by twenty weeks, your dog will happily toilet in the house whenever he needs to go.

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Older pups should be at least on their way to being toilet trained.  If they are not, the breeder has not done their job.

 

 

There are reasons that a breeder might hold a puppy back.  To start with, the pup may be immature in some way or another.  If this is the case, then a good breeder will be doing everything that you would do with an 8 week old puppy.  The pup would get to go for car rides and to meet new people and would have supervised house time to learn what is permitted and what is not.  He would get toilet training and meet lots of people and other dogs in different contexts, with someone who is experienced enough to know when her pup is overwhelmed and needs more time or space.  Some breeders will keep several pups till they are 16 weeks old so they can get a better idea of which pups will be worth breeding before she sends her next breeding dog away.  Again, this breeder will be putting in the work to make sure that the pup gets everything he or she needs.  Sometimes not every pup in the litter gets sold in a timely manner.  The breeder should still be doing the work that will turn out an exemplary puppy.

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A breeder may choose to keep a puppy back if she thinks he might grow up to be a good breeding prospect or if she thinks he might have potential in dog sport.  If she does this, and then at 12, 13, or 14 weeks, she should be selling a puppy who is well socialized, has had a good amount of handling, who may have been to a dog show or two, and who is already toilet trained.  If a breeder keeps a puppy back for any reason and he is coming home without the basics, you should be prepared for lots more work than it would have been had you purchased your puppy when he was eight weeks of age.  Image credit: reddogs / 123RF Stock Photo

 

 

If you are purchasing an older puppy, you need to know about what has been done with the puppy from birth to eight weeks ( see “How Much Is That Puppy In the Window?” at http://dogsinthepark-suenestnature.blogspot.ca/2013/07/how-much-is-that-puppy-in-window.html), and also what has been done between 8 weeks and when you got your puppy.  Raising a puppy properly takes time, effort and excellence, so if you want to skip that, you need to make sure that the older puppy you get has had everything you want them to have.  Your puppy deserves the very best, not just of what you can give him, but what the breeder gives him too.

GETTING AN OLDER PUPPY