101 REASONS THAT YOU DON’T THINK YOU NEED PUPPY CLASS

 

When people ask me what the most important thing they can do to get started on the right paw with their puppy I tell them to come to puppy class. The sad thing is that I hear 101 reasons why people don’t think they need puppy class.

Housetraining is going pretty well…he only makes mistakes once or twice a day!

He comes when he is called already-I don’t need to take a puppy class!

I have another dog at home-he doesn’t need more friends than that!

None of my other dogs went to puppy class and they were fine!

 

If you have thought it, I have probably heard it in answer to why you aren’t coming to puppy class. Why is it then that I am so insistent that your puppy, and my puppy and every puppy deserves puppy class? I have 101 reasons for you to come to puppy class and here are a few of them.

At one conference I attended, we heard that 80% of the dogs who die before the age of two die of preventable behaviour problems, and hundreds of thousands of dogs die before the age of two each year. You can do some simple things to ensure that your puppy won’t be one of those puppies who die of a preventable behaviour problem by coming to puppy class. Do we prevent 100% of the behaviour problems in puppy class? Of course not, but we have a pretty darned good track record, and puppy class is one of the things that has been shown to prevent a lot of behaviour problems.

Puppies are learning sponges and they are almost preprogrammed to absorb the important lessons that they will need to succeed in your home before they are about twenty weeks of age. Before a puppy is 20 weeks of age, he will learn what surfaces are legal to toilet upon, who he is permitted to greet, how to greet other dogs and people politely, what is legal to chew upon and who is the best bet in the house for fun and games. After twenty weeks, puppies are well prepared to learn to apply what they have learned in their first twenty weeks but they are not as proficient at learning the rules of your home. In puppy class you will get help and support you need to be successful. Could you teach this yourself without the support of a class? Sure, but in class you are going to learn what is new in the world of dog training and a lot of the new stuff will not have trickled down to me if I had not been taking continuing education credits all the way along-take advantage of the work your instructor does to keep current on dog training methods.

I often hear that puppies are going to the dog park to learn to interact with other dogs or that there is an adult dog in the home to teach the puppy what to do when meeting other dogs. There are a few problems with this logic. To start with, the dog park is a free for all where any dog can show up and go off leash. If you don’t have control over who your puppy meets, you have no idea if your pup is meeting the sweet older dog who is calm and confident or the bruiser who is looking to roll your puppy and take the stuffing out of him.

19052276_s
These dogs look like they are having a good time, but they are all large active breed dogs. If you insert your puppy into this play group, your pup could get hurt or become the target of a larger dog. Young puppies learn great play skills and acquire bite inhibition by playing with dogs who are their own age. Copyright: maratr / 123RF Stock Photo

Adult dogs have a lot to teach puppies, but one of the things they cannot do is be a puppy themselves. Normal puppy behaviour develops best when puppies have other puppies to play with. Pups have tiny needle sharp teeth and they use these on one another during play. If one pup bites another puppy too had, the second puppy will let out a big yelp and will stop playing with the first puppy. This process of rough and tumble is an important step in teaching young dogs to modulate their bites and acquire bite inhibition. Good bite inhibition is what allows dogs to grab things with their mouths and not do damage, and that skill is fine tuned between puppies, not between puppies and adults.

Waiting to go to puppy class until after the puppy has started showing problems is a common mistake people make all the time. Before a puppy is 16 weeks of age, he will follow you around almost all the time, and if you call him he will come. This is a normal developmental stage for pups. Sometime between 14 and 20 weeks though, your puppy is going to suddenly become quite a bit more independent and the cute little guy who followed you around will suddenly become a whole lot more active and a whole lot less interested in placidly following your lead. One of the things that you get out of puppy class is a chance to teach your pup to come when called not just when he is doing that because he doesn’t have a lot of confidence to explore yet, but to come when called all the time. The more work you put into that right off the bat, in a more formal setting, the more likely it is that your pup will know what to do when he is approaching puberty and beginning to become more independent.

In puppy class we can help you to trouble shoot too; we can help you to head problems off as they develop. From house soiling to inappropriate chewing to jumping up and manners, we are the ones who can help you to develop the best in your puppy before the problems start or as soon as you see them. If your pup has been doing really well with house training and suddenly starts to have trouble, we can usually tell if this is due to how you are approaching house training or if you should go to the vet, and we are really happy to talk to you about how to tell the difference. The same is true when a puppy suddenly develops a dietary issue or if they suddenly stop sleeping through the night. Often, when a pup comes to class with a sudden change we can figure out if the problem is training, developmental or if the pup needs to see the vet.

21759176_s
If your puppy’s behaviour suddenly changes, tell us. If we think it is a training issue, we can tell you what to do and if we think there is a medical issue we will send you to your vet! This is something we can help you with in puppy class! Copyright: photodeti / 123RF Stock Photo

We can also help you to see when your puppy’s behaviour is typical of his breeding or if it is something else. When families tell us that their retriever puppy is carrying shoes all over the house or that their terrier puppy is digging in the yard, we can tell you that this is pretty normal behaviour for those dogs. When a family comes in and tells us that the puppy is spinning endlessly until he falls over and then repeating that behaviour we can tell you that this is not normal and that there might be a problem. Puppy class is the chance for you to check in with a professional who can help you to understand more about your individual dog because we see so many puppies.

You may not ever have trouble with your puppy and you may in fact already know how to socialize and train a puppy, and I would still suggest puppy class. Heck, I go to puppy class with my own pups. Why? Because it is fun. Because I will get to meet the puppies who will become my dog’s friends when he is an adult. Because I will meet the people I will walk with when my pup is older. Because for 90 minutes each week, I can turn off my cell phone and just focus on everything puppy and watch my pup learn and change and grow. Because it is the first thing that my puppy and I will do as partners. For the rest of his life, what I do with my puppy before 16 weeks will impact the nature of the relationship we will have together, and it all starts in puppy class.

 

101 REASONS THAT YOU DON’T THINK YOU NEED PUPPY CLASS

DON’T LET HIM DO THAT!

Lately we have had a pile of puppy owners asking us how to prevent their pups from misbehaving. In exasperation, one day John replied “Don’t let him do that!” and the client looked at him completely baffled. One important part of our way of puppy raising is to let the puppies learn through experience what happens if they do certain things. In our house that means that puppies who pick up shoes get put in their crates. Puppies who jump up on me get put in their crates. Puppies who sit nicely get let out of their crates. Puppies who sit and stay get their dinner. Puppies who bark in their crates get to stay right where they are. Puppies who cry in the night get taken outside to pee. The list goes on and on and on as our puppies learn what happens when they do various things. There are some things however that our puppies don’t get the chance to do.

 

When clients ask us how to stop their pups from toileting in the house, we tell them, don’t let him do that! We don’t allow our puppies out of our sight in the house until they have shown us that they won’t toilet indoors over a long period of time. To start with, our puppies don’t get to explore the house unattended. We don’t let them toilet indoors by making sure that they have lots of chances to toilet outdoors, and we control when they eat so that we know when they will need to go. When they are outside of their crates, they are supervised, 100% of the time and if it looks like they need to go, we gently pick them up and take them out to toilet where we want them to go. We just don’t let them toilet indoors.

 

7254308_s
This puppy is doing a few things I would prefer he didn’t. If this was my puppy, and he was meeting this lady for the first time, I would not let him hold his leash or climb the lady and the lady wouldn’t be allowed to get this close until my pup was calmer and ready to behave the way I want him to when meeting a new person. In short I wouldn’t let him grab his leash or climb the lady! Copyright: dusanzidar / 123RF Stock Photo

When we are asked how to stop puppies from jumping up on guests, we don’t let them do that either; when guests come to the house, we prepare by having our pups in their crates as the guests arrive, and then we bring them to the guests on leash. We know that pups need to learn what to do when meeting a guest, so we don’t just let our pups meet guests and hope for the best; we don’t let them do that. For clarity, what we usually do is to allow the guest in, and then get them seated. Then we bring the puppy in on leash and we work with the puppy, clicking and treating behaviours that he already knows. When he is calm and engaged with someone he knows then we introduce him to the guest, again using the clicker to mark behaviours we like, such as sitting for attention. And we don’t let the guest do our training for us either! We don’t ask our guests to treat the puppy for good behaviour; we know what we want the pup to learn and we don’t leave that to chance.

 

Often people will ask what to do about pulling on leash and again, we point out that we don’t let puppies pull on leash. Sometimes in training we have to do what is called a work around. In the case of pulling on leash, the work around we use is called the magic collar system; we have one collar that is magic; we only use it for training loose leash behaviour. The rest of the time we use a different collar, harness or head halter to differentiate what we are working on and we teach the pup that the rules are looser in that situation. We work around puppies pulling by teaching that one collar is magic and allows pulling and the other collar is a different kind of magic and doesn’t allow pulling!

 

How about getting into the garbage? Again, we just don’t let puppies do that! We keep garbage behind gates and doors so that pups cannot get into things. The same is true for almost everything that we do. Getting in the front seat of a moving vehicle? Don’t let your puppy do that by putting him in a crate in the vehicle when travelling. Harassing the older dog in the home? Keep them separate except for training time. Chewing up personal items? Put things away pre-emptively. The key is to think ahead about what behaviours you want your puppy to engage in and what behaviours you don’t want your puppy to engage in, and then preventing your pup from having the chance to do things you don’t want him to do.

 

The thing to remember about young dogs is that they come without experience. If you are going to expect a young dog to interact with something new in his life, and you don’t structure that interaction to begin with, you are training him to guess and often, being a young animal with an exuberant temperament, he is going to make the wrong choice. When your pup makes the wrong choice, you can do one of any number of things. You can be harsh and punitive and unpleasant and hope he doesn’t repeat the error. Not a good idea but something to think about. You can be gentle but interrupt the puppy; a better alternative, but still not ideal. You can remove the pup and allow him to try again; still better than the last alternative, but still not the best kind of training you can do for a puppy. The gold standard in training is to set your pup up to succeed in the first place by preventing the undesired behaviour from happening.

 

Perhaps the most confusing to students but common situation is what to do on the street when the puppy meets new people. Our clients usually don’t want their young puppies to learn to jump up to greet, but they also don’t want to not introduce their new addition to the neighbourhood. In this case, we can prevent our dogs from doing things we don’t want by controlling distance. When you are approaching a friend, regardless of if they have another dog or not, there is going to be a point at which your dog begins to get excited. That point, or threshold, is where you need to stop approaching and take a break. Doing this teaches young dogs that they cannot bounce around and be silly when they are meeting and greeting people. By only moving forward when your pup is calm, he learns that self control gets him what he wants.

 

The biggest error we see at puppy school is the puppy owner who gets a young dog and then allows her to roam free through the house from the first day on. Often things go well at first; for the first few days, while the puppy is novel, family members attend to the puppy and notice when he is getting into things and they intervene. Over time however, the puppy begins to become familiar with the home, and wanders away from supervision. When this happens, you cannot prevent problems and then you have to solve them; not an ideal situation. Next, the family wants to take the puppy out in the neighbourhood, and they start to run into even bigger problems because they don’t have any plans to avoid problems. The puppy learns to pull on leash, jump on people and grab trash and dropped items to play with or eat. In medicine, it is common to say that prevention is the best cure, and this is true of training as well. We need to prevent these problems from starting and start by teaching our pups what we want them to do. The best way to do that involves planning and supervision. It really isn’t difficult but it does mean being aware of what you are doing.

 

31149486_s
When you teach your dog what to do and how to behave when he is a youngster, then when he grows up he will be the kind of dog you can trust to be kind to a child. This is what a mannerly dog looks like! Copyright: yuliang11 / 123RF Stock Photo

Good planning and supervision means that you know what you want your pup to learn and you set up situations where he can learn what we want him to learn, and then you supervise what is happening to make that happen. One of the best things you can do to make planning and supervision work for you is to join a good puppy class. In class you will likely get a list of behaviours to work on and that can serve as a good guideline to help you to determine what your pup should be doing and at what age. It also provides you with a support group to help you to make your plan work. We even take our own pups to puppy class!

 

DON’T LET HIM DO THAT!

WHEN NOT TO SOCIALIZE!

Originally posted May of 2013

I own horses.  I also own an electric fence.  The idea is that the horses won’t leave and people and animals won’t come in and harass them.  Sounds like a good idea in theory, but it doesn’t always work out.  People come to the fence to “visit” the horses.  And sometimes, they bring their dogs.  Recently I lamented this fact on my Facebook page and a long discussion ensued.  One of the posters talked about how she would use animals behind fences to socialize her puppy when she had the opportunity.  Well meaning, this person just didn’t understand the whole issue.

When you have a puppy, you can say with fair certainty that he is going to be unpredictable.  He is going to do things you wish he would not.  He barks at the most inopportune moments.  He pulls on his leash and sometimes he dashes forward only to backpedal vigorously.  In short, the reaction a puppy gives is not always going to be constant or predictable.  Ideally, you would set up multiple socialization opportunities for your dog to learn about the world around him in a safe way.  And that is where my electric fence comes in.

Horses and other livestock are very different from dogs.  First off, they are herd animals.  They don’t like to be separated from their herd members.  We have three horses so I will use them as examples.  We use a highly visible, white rope that contains stainless steel wires to conduct electrical current to keep them in our pasture.  We don’t have a lot of pasture so at this time of year, we rig up temporary paddocks around the house.  The house is about 20 metres from the road and across the road is a hill.  At the top of the hill is a public park.  There is a tree line between us and the park and over the years we have had occasional visitors from the park to our property.  Most folks recognize that this is private property and don’t come into our farm, but once in a while, we see people coming over to our land.

We had one very aggressive dog off leash on our land and his person said to us that they were taking as much care as they could because they were walking their dog where they didn’t expect to meet other dogs.  I pointed out that I live here with a large van that says that I am a dog trainer and that meant that there would likely be dogs here.  It is endlessly frustrating to have other people’s dogs on your property and worse still when owners feel entitled to run their dogs at large on your property.

Now that we have the fences up and the horses are out, it seems like we have created a magnet for every person who passes by to come up to our fence.  People have been approaching my fence all week to look at the horses, and by and large the people who approach the horses know little or nothing about the horses or what they are doing.  I feel a little bit like I have become a public museum for the travelling public; come, see the horses behind the fence.  Put your arms through the electric fence ropes and touch them.

I have very friendly horses.  They are very tolerant of poor handling, mistakes by people and my dogs.  The thing is, they are still horses.  They are still herd animals.  And they don’t like strange dogs.  When you are socializing your puppy, and you see horses behind a fence, do not use them as an opportunity to socialize your dog to horses.  First and foremost, you don’t know my horses.  You don’t know if my horses are friendly.  And if you don’t know horses you don’t have the skills to recognize when they are nervous or stressed.

As herd animals, groups of horses behave in ways that may appear friendly to the uninitiated.  In the case of my three mares, if there is a stranger at the fence, two of them will graze and one of them will approach the fence and stand there with her head up.  Many people interpret this as friendly behaviour.  It is not!  It is the horse guarding the herd.  If the stranger becomes dangerous, the guarding mare will bolt and the other horses will cease grazing and follow her lead.  Often the guarding horse will go right up to the fence and she may even extend her nose to sniff the people.  She is attempting to find out if she knows you; horses have a terrific sense of smell and often they will identify people by smell if they are not sure.

 20130514_194227
This is Kayak guarding the herd.  Ten minutes before I took this picture, I watched as the whole herd spooked when a truck rumbled by.  They came back and Kayak stood guard between the source of danger and the other horses.  Without the information that I just gave you, she might appear to be a friendly horse, standing close to the fence.

If you bring a puppy to my fence and my mare approaches your pup and sniffs him, and if he does something unpleasant to her, there is a pretty good chance that she will behave defensively; it looks like a good greeting, but there are some big problems.  The first is that the horses are unknown to the dog handler.  This means that the dog’s handler has no idea if the horses are friendly or not, or if they have had exposure to dogs or not, or if they are dangerous or not.  The second is that there is no one handling the horse.  This means that you are depending on an animal you don’t know to be friendly.  And then there is the whole issue of the electric fence between you and the horse.  You are hoping your puppy will learn to tolerate horses.  If he ducks his head under the fence, and then raises it, he is going to get hit by that fence, and that fence really, really hurts.  He will scream and bolt and your effort at teaching him about horses will result in a dog who is afraid not comfortable around horses.

Furthermore, if you spook the horses you contribute to the horses being more difficult to handle.  Let’s just suppose for a moment that the horse you are attempting to meet is a spooky timid horse.  She looks friendly, but she is in fact guarding the herd.  Your dog gets hit by the fence and squeals and bolts.  Twenty minutes later, the rider, unsuspecting that the horse had a bad experience comes out to the field to catch her horse.  The horse is difficult to handle and the rider is thrown.  Cause and effect can be a tricky thing.  You would likely never choose to cause a horse to throw its rider, but if you spook a horse then that is the effect you may have put into play, and it is an effect that really is not fair to the horse or rider.

 5163231_s
This is exactly the sort of interaction that can go badly wrong for the horse, and sometimes for the dog too.  This dog is not relaxed about the horse and if he suddenly lunges (notice the prong collar?  This tells me that the handler knows that something might go wrong!) the horse might spook or he could even strike or bite the dog.  Image credit: kyolshin / 123RF Stock Photo

Too often I hear people talking about farms and farming and farm animals in a way that is very different from the reality I experience.  Just last week a client of mine asked me if I thought there might be a farmer who would take her very reactive, aggressive, under socialized dog who grew up in the city.  I wonder what she thinks farmers DO all day.  Let me clue you in.  A farm is a business.  Its business is to grow crops and animals for the use of people.  I have yet to hear anyone hope that some machine shop owner would be willing to take their problem dog, but there is a perception that a farmer will.  As a farmer, I don’t have time to rehab your dog.  I am not here to provide your dog with socialization opportunities.  I have two horses of my own and a horse who lives here and contributes to some of the costs of maintaining the farm.  If that third horse is spooked by your puppy and gets hurt bolting away, then I will have to take time out of my busy day to nurse that horse back to health.  That will mean less time for me to ride my own horse and less time to do chores around my farm.  My farm, small as it is, is a business and I don’t have time to add fixing the problems that the public creates and still make a viable living off it.

If you really want to socialize your dog to the sight of horses I have no problem with you standing at a significant distance and classically conditioning your dog to my horses.  That is fine.  But don’t approach the fence.  If it is really important to you that your dog meets a horse, you need to arrange that with a horse owner who can control the horse so that you and your puppy are safe and that the horse is safe too.  The same goes for other livestock.  By all means teach your dog to not bark at horses, sheep, cattle and goats from a distance, but don’t enter a herd or a flock that is not yours. When you do this, you interfere with those animals’ ability to graze peacefully and safely, and you interfere with the farmer’s ability to make a living.

Socialization of puppies is crucial for their success.  We know that if a puppy hasn’t seen something by the time it is 20 weeks old, there is a risk that they won’t tolerate that something terribly well as an adult.  What isn’t fair is socializing them to animals or children that are unattended and who don’t have a guardian to ensure their safety during the activity.  Doing this is unfair to the animal you are trying to socialize but also the target of your socialization, and that defeats the purpose.

WHEN NOT TO SOCIALIZE!

PLAN B

Originally posted July 2013

When we get a puppy, we are happy and looking forward.  We look forward to the times we will spend in the company of our adult dog, and all things we will do and all the fun we will do together.  We realize that there will be work along the way, including taking the dog to the vet, training and cleaning up after him, not to mention the dust bunnies and other household reminders he will leave in his wake.  What we often don’t think about is Plan B.

Plan B is what we intend to do in the event of an unexpected tragedy.  How will we deal with an unexpected surgery?  How about when the gate gets left open, and the dog gets out?  What about your own health; who is going to feed, walk and water your dog when you are ill?  What if you die?  When we get a puppy, it is a good idea to have a Plan B for all the things we can think about that the dog might encounter through his life that we wish he didn’t.

I encourage everyone to spend some time planning for medical emergencies, and who will care for your dog in the event that you are incapacitated or if you pass away.  Everyone should think about who will take care of your animals in the event that you cannot.  Our animals cannot care for themselves without our help and if they are presented with a situation where they cannot get the care they need, they could end up in a rescue or at the humane society.  Beyond your animals’ basic care though, there are a lot of things that we can do to help our pets to be successful and not get into trouble.

 4334533_s
Teaching your dog to sit when the door opens could save his life.  Just keep in mind that if you are depending on prompting your dog, then it will only work when you are there to prompt him.  I would encourage this person to use putting his hand on the door as the cue to sit instead of his pointed finger!  Image credit: alexeys / 123RF Stock Photo

Let’s start with sitting at the door.  If your dog is accustomed to sitting before going out of your house then if the door is accidentally thrown open, your dog isn’t going to bolt out and into the street.  Making sitting at the door a priority also prevents your dog from bolting out in the event that you have to bring things into the house or a guest inadvertently opens the door for you.  On the flip side, don’t make your dog sit to come in.  Make coming in the house a really rewarding and valuable experience.  I had a dog who used to enjoy jumping our back fence.  To keep that dog safe, I taught him to come to the front door if he escaped the back yard.  He thought this was a great game.  Once he understood to come to the front door if he escaped the fence, then I dog proofed the fence and made it very difficult for him to jump the fence.  Why did I not just fix the fence to begin with?  Simply because that might fail and I wanted a set of behavioural suspenders to go with the belt that fixing the fence was.  I wanted my dog to have a Plan B should he ever get out again.

Another very important behaviour is for your dog to really enjoy having his collar grabbed, by anyone, anytime.  There is a dog who has been missing in Guelph for over a month now, and I regularly get emails and Facebook notes that a dog is missing and has been sighted.  Often these posters come with a note about not grabbing the dog because he is timid.  The best favour you can do for your dog if he is lost is to teach him that being caught and grabbed is a great and exciting thing to do.  It is really easy to do this.  Walk up to your dog with a treat, grab his collar and give him a treat.  Let go and repeat.  Get everyone in the house to do this.  If your dog is timid, work slowly and gently until you can grab any part of his body without warning and make it fun for your dog.  The fact is that if your dog is timid and gets loose, then someone is going to try and grab him, and probably by whatever is the closest body part.

Teach your dog to automatically leave things that they find.  Having a leave it on cue is not as important a behaviour as being able to walk past something that your dog wants and having him just automatically leave it alone.  Consider what might happen for instance if your dog is alone at home and you have left a grocery bag on the floor with a box of baker’s chocolate inside.  Would your dog automatically leave it, or would he only leave it if you had identified that the bag was off limits?  At Dogs in the Park, we teach the dogs that nothing is theirs unless we identify it to them.  The broader implication of this is that if my dog walks down the street and there is something that he should not have on the ground, I don’t have to be on alert to notice it first.  This has so many applications.  One of my colleagues’ mother came to visit once.  Her mom takes a very heavy duty medication and dropped a pill in the house.  Her older dog didn’t eat the pill, but her young puppy did and was very sick because of that.  I cannot count how often I have dropped my own medications, and my dogs all look up not down when that happens.

 20130509_155501_3
Here a dog learns to come over a pile of toys and treats.  This prepares him to be able to cope with things that don’t belong to him falling in front of him, and he won’t touch them even if he wants them.  Asking first is a great tool for teaching dogs to leave things that don’t belong to them.  Photo Credit:  Sue Alexander

Teach your dog that it is safe to come when called to whomever calls.  Playing lots of recall games helps a lot with keeping dogs safe in the event that they ever get away from you.  Playing games with your dog in fact builds trust and bonds and helps dogs to understand that they are able to come when called no matter who calls them.  Periodically, I have a client who wants to teach their dog cues in a different language.  I do this for Schutzhund, where we do most of our cues in German.  My dogs also know the common English equivalent.  I want to make sure that if something happened and someone else needed to help my dog, he could come when called.

All my dogs learn to wear muzzles when they are puppies and we practice periodically throughout their lives.  My dogs don’t live in boxes; they do stuff.  They will likely get hurt.  They will need veterinary attention, and using a muzzle keeps them and the vet safe while the vet does things that hurt.  Muzzles are perhaps the best tool invented to keep people safe and we need to keep in mind that if your dog needs to wear one, that is not a slight against your dog.  That is the veterinarian taking reasonable steps to keep everyone safe.  When your dog is in pain, he is not likely going to behave the way that he might when he is not in pain.  There is no glory in having a dog who doesn’t need a muzzle and there is a lot of glory in keeping your vet safe.

 Cambridge-20110501-00244
D’fer had a very serious cut pad that needed medical attention including some surgery to clean it out and stitch it up.  You can see that he is relaxed and concerned when the vet is looking at his foot.  Why should we muzzle a dog who is tolerating this?  Because we want to keep the veterinarian safe and even though D’fer is a real gentleman of a dog who has never ever tried to bite anyone, we don’t feel the need to take any risks with our veterinarian.  Photo Credit:  Sue Alexander

Perhaps the most important thing I can do to help my dog have a good Plan B is to make sure that he is well socialized to begin with.  If I am working with an adult dog who is timid it is a very high priority to teach him that he can trust people not to harm him.  This is sometimes difficult when you are working with a dog who was not properly socialized or who has been traumatized, but if something goes wrong, I want my dog to know that he is not going to come to harm if someone tries to help him.  If I am ever in a car accident with my dogs on board, or if I am injured on the trail and a search party is trying to find me, I want my dog to accept that help, no matter what the person looks like or what they are wearing or doing.

Plan B is something we don’t talk enough about.  Years ago, we didn’t talk about fire drills either, but we know they save lives.  The best thing we can do to help our dogs live long healthy and safe lives is to think about Plan B long before we need it.

PLAN B

YOU HAVE EIGHT WEEKS AND THEN YOU DON’T!

Originally published May 2013

I just got an email from a lady who described her 4 year old dog as a puppy, and she wondered if he was old enough to start coming to school because he was driving her crazy.  The problem is that her dog is not a puppy.  The term puppy is roughly equivalent to the human term infant or baby.  Puppyhood is one of the most interesting periods of development of a dog.  A puppy, technically speaking is a dog under about 16 to 20 weeks.  After that he is a young adolescent.

 IMG00434-20110218-1701
This is NOT a puppy.  This is an adult dog and it is too late to do puppy classes or puppy socialization.

The neonatal stage is when puppies are just born and lasts until they are about 13 days of age.  From 1 to 3 days, you can start dramatically improve a puppy’s chance to be a stable, resilient adult dog with a great immune system, but it must start in the earliest days.  The process for doing this takes the first couple of weeks and is called Early Neurological Stimulation.  If you are going to invest in a puppy, make sure whomever whelped the litter you are interested in is doing this because we know that this will improve the likelihood of your puppy having a successful adult life.  If your breeder has no idea what you are talking about, you can direct them to http://tinyurl.com/a8clbhwI am willing to pay more for a puppy who has had the benefit of this procedure because the science on this is very clear; it develops brains that are as much as ten percent larger and immune systems that are significantly healthier, as well as better resilience.  Better resilience means that your pup will tolerate handling better, will tolerate frightening situations better and will come back to baseline faster when frightened.  They also learn more effectively in my experience.

At about thirteen days to twenty days, the puppies are in a stage called the transitional stage.  At this stage, they start opening their eyes and ears and they start to be able to learn about their world.  Pups at this age need lots of different footing, and objects to investigate but they really aren’t doing things yet.  They don’t walk, although they do begin to creep and crawl in a more organized way.  At this stage the breeder should be handling them a lot; several times a day, the breeder can get into the litter box and cuddle and tickle the pups and restrain them.  Doing this prepares them to be handled when they are older.  Quiet visitors can come in provided they are wearing clean clothes.  If you are buying a puppy, you should be able to begin meeting the litter towards the end of this stage.  You won’t be choosing a puppy though; you are helping to raise a confident happy adult dog by helping the breeder to gently handle those pups.

Around about 21 to 23 days is a really interesting “blip” in development where the pups have a sudden sensory development period.  This stage is called the awareness period and it is during this period that the puppies start to waddle around a lot more and begin forming social relationships with the other pups and their dam.  Puppies in pairs can start to be introduced to different rooms in the house, and a variety of different surfaces.

The canine socialization period occurs between three and seven weeks of age; this is the age where pups learn the most about being a dog.  They learn that if they bite too hard, their littermates will squeal and mom may interrupt them and make them stop playing.  Mom has a very important role to play in this stage and if she is removed from the puppies at this age, they may always have a little bit of trouble with dog to dog interactions.  This is perhaps the most important time for bite inhibition and lays the foundations for pups to learn about how to use their mouths appropriately.  When pups are separated from their littermates and mom during this stage, big problems can evolve.  We have recently been seeing rescues that remove pups from litters of feral dogs in this window and we often see these dogs develop significant problems later on.  If you are considering a puppy from a rescue, ensure that the rescue has kept the litter together until at least seven weeks.

The next big stage that comes along is the human socialization period from seven to twelve weeks.  In my experience the advantage of the breeder keeping the puppies for a week into this stage is that the puppies have a solid start with a knowledgeable handler and you can use that week between seven and 8 weeks to visit the litter and get to know the pups.  At seven weeks, your puppy can come home, and there is going to be little harm in doing so, but in my opinion and experience that extra week with the breeder can really help.

From 8 to 12 weeks more or less is the time when puppies learn about people and how to live with them.  Everything you do during that time frame will impact how your pup sees and meets people in adulthood.  If you overwhelm and frighten your puppy while meeting someone during this time, he will store that information for future reference, so you need to make certain that puppies have a lot of really positive, happy experiences with a wide variety of people.  Concurrent with this phase, puppies may go through a period where they are suddenly afraid of things they may have encountered in the past.  Often called a fear period, this developmental phase is about learning about things that are dangerous.  It might be better to call this a sensitive period, when the puppy is sensitive to new experiences.  This works really well for things like understanding that jumping off a cliff or throwing yourself into a raging river might be dangerous, but it works less well for a puppy living in a relatively safe environment in our homes.  Puppies can develop weird fears such as the fear of their water bowl, or fear of the blender in the kitchen.  If you notice your puppy suddenly afraid of normal things in his world, don’t worry; this is very normal; you just need to expose your puppy to these things slowly and carefully to ensure that they learn what is actually safe, and what is actually dangerous.

 IMG_5201
These puppies are learning about being handled by strangers in puppy class.  When they are 24 weeks, the socialization window will be completely closed and you will never again be able to access the flexibility of acceptance that they have at this stage in their lives.

At about twelve weeks, your socialization window starts to close, and by the time your puppy is 16 weeks, it is mostly shut.  Occasionally that window will remain open as late at 20 weeks, but the lions share of the work of exposing your puppy to people, places and things must be completed by the time that your pup is 16 weeks of age.  If you got your puppy at 8 weeks, that means that you have 8 more weeks to do great socialization.  Once that socialization period is over, it is over.  At 16 weeks, when the window closes, you are finished.  You have 8 weeks, and then, you are done.

More and more often we are seeing puppies coming home later than 8 weeks; some dogs are being advertized by breeders and rescues as puppies as late as 24 weeks, well into early adolescence.  These young dogs can no longer be easily socialized to things that are new, and if the puppy’s breeder or rescue hasn’t done the things they should have done to help the dog to learn about the world around him, then you are behind the eight ball and the longer you delay addressing the problem, the more difficult your job will be.

The socialization window doesn’t slam shut at 16 weeks, so you CAN insert some experiences in and still have an effect, but the longer you delay, the more difficult it will be to help your dog to integrate the experiences in a positive effective way, and sadly your dog is well past the time when you can benefit from going to puppy class.  This is why most puppy classes ensure that dogs must register in time for puppies to complete puppy class by the time they have reached 24 weeks, when that window is really closed tight.

Another issue we are seeing more and more of in puppy classes is families who come to puppy class for the first few weeks, and then skip a few weeks and then return when the puppy is smack dab in the middle of their sensitive or fear period.  Then the puppy owner wonders why their pup is not succeeding in puppy class.  That eight week period that immediately follows coming home is the most important time in your relationship with your dog.

Families are busy people and often they have other things they need to do.  Kids play hockey and soccer, and parents are involved with choirs and volunteer as youth leaders and coaches.  Families want to add dogs to their lives in the hopes of improving their lives.  Motivations for getting a family pet vary from family to family, but very few people get a dog in the hope of having an animal who lunges and barks at strangers and who is afraid of the garbage truck and the mailman.  If your goal is to have a great pet, then you have to take that eight week period seriously.  During the eight weeks after your dog arrives home, putting the time into his training should be a big priority.

Some families try and shoehorn in their puppy’s needs and skip puppy classes when other commitments get in the way.  On the other hand, we have had families develop very sophisticated schedules in order to meet their puppy’s needs for class and for out of class socialization.  We have seen families arrange for the kids to get car pool rides to lessons and then join the class part way through.  We have seen families who have put commitments to choirs and volunteer work on hold for the eight weeks that they are involved in puppy class.  We don’t want families to completely shut down their lives during their puppy’s socialization period, but we do hope they will understand that this eight week period is special, and if you miss it, it is gone.

The take home message here is that puppyhood is important and it only happens once.  If you don’t have time to socialize and do the early training that you want your pup to have as an adult, if you cannot carve out the opportunities to carefully and thoughtfully expose your puppy to the things that you want him to cope with as an adult, you may want to hold out on getting your pup until you have the time.

YOU HAVE EIGHT WEEKS AND THEN YOU DON’T!

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.

 9382652_s
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.

 8468362_s
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.

 6719250_s
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.

 F024
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.

 IMG_1334
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.

 Eco 012
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.

 DSCF0056
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