Puppies as patience practice

The moment I’ve been waiting for has arrived!  Casey has now been with me for 2 weeks and has decided this really is his home.  What does this mean?  It’s time to test his puppy boundaries!  So, as expected, this amazingly well behaved puppy of the last 2 weeks has started become a little tester – can I get by with …?  At 10 months old, he’s decided that being a calm dog is just plain boring.  And he’s right, of course.  The impulse control training focus of the first week, especially, is really all about teaching him how to be calm and ok with boredom.  Now that we’ve reached the testing phase, this is where I get to practice even more patience, consistency, and being very very clear with what is and is not allowed.

beagle chewing shoeSo, what kind of testing is he doing?  What boundary questions is he asking? Here’s a partial list:

  • If I start yipping when I want something, will I get what I want?  Answer = no.
  • Since this is my toy box, is the box next to it with vacuum cleaner parts available, too?  Answer = no
  • Can I sneak up on the bed when no one is in the room?  Answer = no
  • When I’m feeling playful, can I nip just a little bit?  Answer = no
  • How about if I start yipping to demand play time?  Answer = no
  • If I can’t get on the sofa, can I at least put my front feet on it or on a footstool?  Answer = no
  • Can I sneak a tissue out of the waste basket?  Answer = no
  • and so on

In other words, it’s getting to the stage where he’s no longer needing to be under foot every moment.  What this means is that I have to pay very close attention when it suddenly gets quiet.  He might just be checking things out, but …

My patience practice is in having to quietly and frequently let him know what is and is not allowed – for example, these things are your toys and these other things are not.  And, at times, this is literally happening every 2-3 minutes.  To me, this is one of the many great gifts of dogs – it reminds me to be constantly aware of what’s going on while staying calm and not getting frustrated.

Casey in a calm moment

Casey in a calm moment

As I often say, dogs can teach us so much if we let them!

As I wrote that last sentence, he came out of a bedroom dragging a headset….  And so it continues.

Advertisements

Casey Puppy Training Week 2

In one short week, Casey has come an amazing distance.  The dog training plan is coming along nicely. Focusing on creating a calm dog and on name recognition this past week has made all the difference in the world.  He’s much better about not leash pulling, and he’s reached a point where he is responding to his name and returning to me when called.  So, now that I have his attention more reliably, what’s the next step?

This week’s dog training plan will focus on refining what he already knows and on hand targeting and the basic commands of sit, stay, down, and leave it.

You may be asking what dog hand targeting is.  Dogs are the only beings other than humans (found so far, anyway) that understand a human gesture. They instinctively watch our hand and arm motions and respond to them much as people do.  Hand targeting is a way of telling your dog where you want them to be without having to say anything.  You need this whenever your dog is off leash – whether he’s in a different room in your house or off leash outside somewhere.

Here is a video that demonstrates the first steps in training your dog in hand targeting. While she is a clicker trainer, you don’t need to use a clicker to make this work.  Every time the dog touches your hand, you can quietly say “good” or make a clucking sound – whatever works for you.  You just need a quiet sound that indicates approval made the instant your dog’s face touches your hand. Enjoy!

Casey Puppy Training Week 1

If you read my previous post about my new puppy Casey, you’ll know that he is starting from ground zero in terms of knowing anything.  So, where do you start?  From my perspective, he can’t learn anything at all until he learns to relax instead of instantly reacting to something new, and begins to focus on me when asked.  Dogs needs to be calm before they can learn anything. That’s where we’re starting with him.  And adding in tiny introductions to a bit of this and a bit of that as we go along.

jumping dogSo how do you begin to teach an excited 10-month old high energy dog to calm down, relax, and focus on you when their entire world is brand new and exciting?  How do you even begin to get their attention?  Casey does exactly what the dog in this picture does when he sees a person, a bird, a squirrel, or anything that moves.  It’s an instantaneous leap straight into the air with squeals of delight.

It’s easier to demonstrate than explain, but here’s how I’m doing it with Casey.

  • stroking beagleHe’s on an adjustable 4-6 foot leash with a martingale collar. We start with the 4 foot length so he’s within easy reach.
  • He can’t get out of the car until he’s calm. We just stand there with him in the car until he relaxes. Doing this sets him up to be less instantly reactive when he sees that next new thing
  • We start walking slowly.
  • The instant he starts to pull, I get his attention and bring him close, and then slowly and calmly stroke his chest, ears, chin, or back with slow strokes until he relaxes. I repeat the word “settle” to him so that he begins to learn that settle means relax. Eventually, I’ll be able to just say “settle” to him and he’ll calm down.
  • Then we move again and repeat as needed (which is very, very often at first)

It can take a long time to go for a walk doing it this way for the first few days, but it’s important to take the time right out of the gate.  Already, in two days, there is far less leash pulling and we can go a little bit farther every walk before something triggers for him.

Black-dog-on-loose-green-leashTo illustrate how well this works, consider this:  He knew nothing about being on a leash, has never been in an urban environment, and is puppy excited about everything new.  On the first day, he was lunging, leaping, running in circles, and had the attention span of a flea.  By today, a mere 3 days later, he is much calmer, less reactive, and is spending less time frustrated because he can’t go explore that shiny new thing. He is slowly learning to calmly observe something without the need to race towards it.

We’re a long way from where he needs to be, but he has already come a long way.