Tai the Party Guy

Tai – just 8 weeks old today-  is a party guy.  He loves everyone he meets, is generous with his puppy kisses and his antics quickly bring smiles and laughs.  We hit the road over the last few days – to take advantage of this critical socialization period.  Tai met new people, visited new places, was around new adult dogs (but didn’t interact with them) walked on new surfaces, experienced dirt in his face, learned he can bury his head in fresh snow, listened to noisy crows, was alone in his crate in a new place, met a worker that came to the house and watched him drill and hammer with interest.  We even found a patch of grass in our yard.  What did he do?  Tried to eat it of course!  He handled all these new experiences relaxed and curious.

Training is progressing nicely.  We’ve done food exchanges, food round robin with all the dogs and he’s learning that it pays to keep a little distance when I’m eating.  He’s comfortably wearing a collar and is learning about leashes (they are not tug/chew toys).  He’s had his nails clipped, his first bath and has lots of full body massages including feet.  He’s a pro at Sit-Tug-Sit. We’ve played the game in different rooms in the house, outside and in a friends training barn.  The clicker is loaded and he is hand targeting.  The light bulb has gone on that his behavior can elicit a reward.   We’ve done lots of recalls to the mama and he’s fallen in love with Dad’s rough housing games.   Oh…I’ve learned something too.  Razor sharp little teeth mean it’s wise to keep LOTS of chew toys handy.

And when the party is over, Tai definitely knows how to relax.

Back to the Basics

One thing I love about raising puppy Tai is how it’s getting me back to the basics but at the same time creating the opportunity to develop, shape and nurture a new life to its full potential, without the expenses of a college education :-).   On the basics of dog training, one example is thinking clearly about criteria and reinforcement including the mechanics of holding a handful of treats, a clicker, clicking at just the right time and delivering one single treat, quickly with perfect placement.

In many ways, Tai is just like my previous sheltie puppies.  In other ways, he’s different.   He’s definitely more inventive and I can see that he is perfectly capable of  creating games to entertain himself – enter Susan Garrett’s relationship building program!  We’ve been shaping a sit with Sit-Tug-Sit and his sits are getting quicker.  I want them to be lightning fast before adding the “Sit” cue.  We did some restrained recalls last night (I wish we had a bigger house or it wasn’t winter!) and I’ve been using opportunities to call him to me from other parts of the house.

Last night he was at one end of the house and I called him to me (“Tai”!!) from the kitchen.  He flew from the family room through the dining room to the kitchen, past me (I wasn’t in his direct line of sight) to the front of the house where Lacey and Breeze were behind a gate I had only propped up.  He barrelled through the gate, knocked it down, realized I wasn’t there, turned back around and ran on top of the gate to find me.  Like I said…a bold puppy.  Meanwhile the older dogs, backed up to stay out of the ruckus and just watched.

Tai is definitely less interested in food than my shelties, but is learning that really tasty treats have value.   So I’ve started “loading the clicker” and conditioned him to his first collar.   Today we’ll add the leash.  And I’m continuing to build value for his crate with good chewies.

There are many good books on how to raise a puppy.  My favorites include Susan Garrett’s Ruff Love for its practical approach,  Jean Donaldson’s Culture Clash for its explanations of the true nature of dogs and our relationship with them and  Susan Garrett’s Shaping Success for its puppy rearing program embedded in a great narrative.  None of these books provide a recipe but have helped me understand more about dogs and animal learning and heavily influence my approach to puppy rearing.

Before Tai arrived home, I wrote this approach in my journal that I’ll share here:

  • First, take care of my puppy’s physical needs.  He’s a small creature – just 7 weeks old when he arrived home.  He needs protection, warmth, nutrition, exercise, elimination opportunity :-), proper vaccinations and medication, etc.
  • Second, take care of my puppy’s social needs.   His first days here were the first without any of his littermates.  He needs attention, physical contact, and positive social interaction with humans and the older dogs.  He needs time to adjust…everything will be new and I do mean everything.  No need for big field trips – a trip to the backyard will be plenty.  From that start, socialize, socialize, socialize.
  • Third, observe the puppy.  What is he like as he explores his world?  What is he attracted to?  What does he find scary?  How much time does he need to adjust to new things?  What food/toys does he like?
  • Fourth, remember the puppy is learning 27 x 7.   Modify behavior using operant and classical conditioning.  See books above!
  • Fifth, be aware of when he may be training me.

After 3 days at home and 7-1/2 weeks old, it’s going great.  Today, we’ll take our first short car ride and make some new human friends.  So far, so good!

Everything is new

Like most puppies, adjectives abound in describing Tai’s personality.  Cute, sweet, brilliant, awkward, curious.  Right now as I drink my coffee and watch him in his puppy pen, goofy is the word that comes to mind.  He is wrestling with a chew toy in his donut bed as though it’s an imaginary puppy.  Of course, he makes me laugh.  We haven’t had a training session this morning because I want him to understand the breakfast comes first and frankly, he’s not finding the puppy kibble that interesting.

I ask myself what do I think Tai learned yesterday – his first full day home?  He learned that the Mama has good treats, will play tug and will be happy to give him a full body rub, it’s ok to be alone for a little while, that Dad will take care of him when the Mama isn’t home, there are sticks to chew, that the garden statue of a rabbit will not respond no matter how many times he barks and attacks it (his first wildlife encounter), that jumping on Lacey’s head is not a good idea, that raw chicken wings are quite tasty (no skins), that shelties bark, outdoor noises include birds, trains, trucks and teenagers laughing and a collar round his neck means tasty treats.  Not a bad first day.  He also experimented with stalking the Mama to get her to play.  Hmmm….

Today, we’ll continue with collar conditioning, build value for a crate, possibly go for a short car ride to visit a friend,  continue shaping a sit and hand targeting.  And appropriately for a such a young guy…7 weeks and 3 days old…lots of rest and relaxation.  I think Tai has that down just fine.

First day home and name games

Split’s (still just a working name :-)) first day home in one word…busy.   The car ride home in a new crate, exploring every nook and cranny of the house that was accessible to him, figuring out how to negotiate the snow covered stairs on the deck (there are only 2 short steps), engaging Lacey (who was very good), meeting friends, plenty of play sessions with the new Mama, and experimenting with chewing or tugging everything he could get his mouth on.

Probably the biggest change for Split – was being totally alone for even a few minutes.  He grew up with 7 litter mates and until now slept in a pile of fur and had ready access to playmates at all times.    I put a small crate with no door in his puppy pen and a dog bed that he seemed to find comforting.  He now has to get used to sleeping without that body warmth and trusting that being alone is ok and just temporary.  When I was out of sight and the crying began,  I chose to simply go about my business – appearing often as it would happen naturally since his puppy pen is in a central part of the house.   I’m sure that will extinguish over the next couple of days.  He slept in a crate by my bed and maybe due to pure exhaustion, slept through until almost 6am.

If I had any concerns about his adaptability they are gone!  He is quite a bold puppy.  My friend Mary Ann suggested I may want to consider “Zen” as his name since his head markings look like the Chinese symbol for Yin and Yang and the name Zen might remind me to stay calm in the face of the energy that is sure to be coming.  I’m game to explore ideas so I revisited the Yin-Yang concept today, using of course Wikipedia :-).

“Yin yang are complementary opposites within a greater whole. Everything has both yin and yang aspects, although yin or yang elements may manifest more strongly …at different times. Yin yang constantly interacts, never existing in absolute stasis. There is a common misperception (especially in the West) that yin and yang correspond to good and evil. However, Taoist philosophy generally discounts good/bad distinctions as superficial labels, preferring to focus on the idea of balance.”

I love this concept as an approach to dog training.  It supports the concept of acceptance, the practice of assessment rather than judgment and striving for balance.

I may have found my new puppy’s  name “Tai” as a short form of Taijitu, the symbol of Yin and Yang  “Tai” would be pronounced as “tie”).   It symbolic, short and easy to say and a constant reminder of what I am striving to be as a dog trainer.

Friends and readers…what do you think?

Puppy Prep

My new border collie puppy will come home tomorrow.  His arrival signals the next chapter in my dog training adventures as he becomes a new member of the family.  While I’m deeply involved and passionate about dog agility, the puppy’s early life will be all about becoming a well mannered member of our family who is welcome at family get-togethers (the true test).  What luck that these same traits will form a great foundation for what he will also become someday in the future – a great agility dog.

This puppy is only my 4th dog and it’s been 5 yrs since I’ve raised a puppy.  So getting my mind around puppy training was the first step.  It means going back to these two principles.  1) The puppy is not human, he is hard-wired to be a dog.  2) The laws of animal learning apply, 24 x 7.

After living for years with two well behaved adult dogs it can be easy to forget the first principle.  After all, I communicate as well with 10 yr old Lacey and 6 yr old Breeze with words, looks and voice as I do most humans I know, sometimes better. They (mostly) fit seamlessly into the patterns and boundaries of our human life while still maintaining their unique personalities.

Puppies — on the other hand – remind us in big flashing lights that dogs are social predators.  Their innate (unmodified) behaviors include sniffing, chasing, scent marking, biting, resource guarding, playing and chewing.  As long as the puppy isn’t sniffing your house guest’s crotch, chasing the neighborhood children, marking the door post, biting your butt, resource guarding your bed, using your new couch as a launching pad and chewing your favorite shoes, we are good to go!  It’s so easy to forget how much we ask of a well-behaved dog.

That brings me to principle #2.   Most of puppy training involves modifying these innate behaviors to fit within the boundaries of our human lives.  We are wise to remember and understand the principles of operant and classical conditioning that are so powerful.  In addition, we must always keep in mind that we are animals too and our puppies are perfectly capable of modifying our behavior :-).

Puppy “Split” (working name) comes home tomorrow.  I’ve got the puppy pen and crate set to go, have acquired chew toys, puppy food and rounded up the puppy tug toys.  I’ve planned out the introduction to our older dogs.   Let the journey begin!