More than I bargained for…

Socialization is still my top priority for my puppy Tai.  Now that spring has suddenly arrived in the Northeast (I hope permanently), a whole new world is opening up for my youngster who turned 10 weeks old yesterday.   And I’m learning to be ready for anything.  Example: We had a busy day planned this past Thursday.  Walk in the morning with the older dogs, train with friends in the afternoon along with a  little friendly human socialization for Tai and puppy play early evening with a same age puppy.  That was enough but the day turned out to be filled with more than I bargained for including:

– Goofy lab encounter (came out of nowhere on our walk).  He was friendly but the “out of nowhere” part, startled Tai.  He recovered quickly.

– Icy bath. Unexpected opportunity to play with 15 week old golden retriever puppy (a good thing) but the only safe place to play was my friend’s agility field that looked snow covered but in fact the warm weather had created slushy ice-cold puddles under the snow.  So, Tai had his first experience being wrestled down by his puppy playmate into an icy bath.  He stood up, shook off and headed for higher ground.   I quickly decided maybe this wouldn’t be the best experience for him.  We’ll try again another time!  I can also note that my friend lives on a busy road and Tai paid no attention to the traffic going by.

– First encounters with skateboarders,  rollerbladers, bicyclists, teenagers swinging on park benches, puddles to walk through, AstroTurf, pea gravel, a dog screaming and lunging at the end of its owner’s leash, cars moving by us in the parking lot.  All these encounters – which he took completely in stride — happened when I added a 20 minute stop at a local park to our agenda for the day.  Nearly 60 degree weather brings everyone out!

– We also encountered loud squeaking park swings.  Tai startled but was curious enough to investigate.  We turned it into a positive experience when the teenagers on the swings were happy to meet and treat Tai.

The puppy play with the same age puppy “Grace”was great.  Got a few recalls in, rewarding his response with a good game of tug (food isn’t interesting enough). 

I love the way Tai’s confidence is growing as he learns about this crazy world he lives in.  He’s now walking confidently out of the front door of our house and down the driveway, fully recovered from the septic tank experience and as I mentioned above habituating nicely to traffic.    But it helps if I’m ready to speed recovery from uncertainty by turning potentially negative experiences into positives.  This means observing my puppy and having a pocketful of good treats and a toy on my person at all times.

Yesterday I decided to give him some practice on our basement stairs and check on my laundry at the same time.  Tai has been in the basement a few times.  We’ve played in the finished portion and he had a chance to explore the unfinished area once before.  As we walked into the laundry area, he heard the dryer and metallic clicks of zippers, etc hitting the sides of the dryer.  He stopped and then backed up a couple of steps.  I walked calmly to the dryer and squatted down, with my back to the dryer.  After a moment,  he approached as his curiosity kicked in.  I tossed a few treats on the ground to draw him in a little closer which he ate quickly.  A dog that will eat is really not that stressed.  Then I presented a toy to have a game of tug next to the dryer.    He grabbed onto the toy and we played and played.  This whole sequence happened within a couple of minutes.    He would have figured it out on his own eventually but I’m glad I was ready to speed up the process.  Just to be clear, I never reward a puppy for being afraid.  I rewarded his decision to approach the dryer and created a positive association at the same time.

It’s raining today and that will be a first for him too.  It’s a big wide world out there!

Getting to know you…

Tai’s been with us now for 2-1/2 weeks.  It’s been a busy and fun time getting to know him and watch him get to know us and his new home.  We have a pretty good routine going at this point, basic training is going well and the “pack” dynamics are interesting (more on that in a future post).

But my biggest priority at this stage is socializing Tai.   In part, that means creating positive associations with a wide variety of people.  Tai has loved EVERYONE he meets and the variety of people we’ve met in our outings range from babies in strollers to toddlers to teenagers to  “cranky” old men.  I carry a pocketful of treats of course and always ask the new people we meet to give him one or two or three.   I’m not shy.  I go to public places and stop complete strangers to “meet my puppy”.  I’ve only had a couple of people decline (“He’s cute but I’m not into dogs”).   And my dog friends have been very cooperative.  We had a “meet and greet” in the parking lot of a local trial this past weekend and it was a great success.  We’ve gone visiting.  Here is a friend’s son and Tai interacting in their home.  I think you can see that Tai was very appropriate with Ryan who wasn’t totally into petting the puppy.  It also means habituating him to a wide variety places, sights, smells, touch, sounds, motion and even movement under his feet.   He adapted nicely to riding in a crate in the car.  On his first couple of trips, I positioned the crate so I could put my fingers to comfort him.  It only took a couple of trips for him to settle quickly and now he is a “pro”.    This was our first experience together where he was initially a little afraid (as evidenced by a little crying) and then “learned” that riding in the car is really ok.   In other words, he “bounced back” or recovered and that in itself is a huge learning experience.

Many new encounters evoke very little reaction other than curiosity and in my observation, this includes most things in the “natural” world.  So encounters with sticks, grass, dirt, mud, snow, creeks, birds, insects, flying and honking geese, fighting crows, puddles, creeks, horses, manure, etc have all been taken in stride.

It’s the “built” environment that poses the biggest challenge for our puppies.  In the house…hair dryers, vacuum cleaners, microwaves, radio, tv, flushing toilets have generated no reaction at all, probably because his earliest days were spent in the middle of a house.  Since I live in a suburban neighborhood Tai has been exposed to plenty of human generated noises just from our backyard including distant traffic noise, trains and even drills and hammers.   If I’ve noticed any reaction, it’s has been to listen or watch, take it in and then go about his business.

One encounter though was particularly unpleasant for Tai.  Last week we walked out of the front door together to take a short walk in the neighborhood.  I noticed an idling truck in the driveway of my neighbor’s house directly across the street.  It didn’t seem to me to be particularly noisy so I barely noticed and was surprised when Tai’s began bucking at the end of his leash, wanting to get away…Then it hit me…the smell that is.  My neighbor was having his septic tank emptied.  YUCK YUCK YUCK!   I gave him a few moments and then decided to retreat to the house as he wasn’t quickly recovering.  Can you imagine how overwhelming that smell must have been to him?  The next time we walked out of the house later that day and long after the truck was gone, the negative association with the driveway and street in front of our house had been formed.  He wanted nothing to do with it and  had to be carried to the car but settled immediately and calmly into the security of his crate.

So, what to do?  I was completely confident that he would get over this eventually as many good things – like walks! – were going to begin in our driveway.  So, over the next few days, I simply spent a few minutes with him a couple times a day, letting him explore the front of our house…letting him decide how far down toward the street he wanted to go (not far at first).  As I suspected, curiosity is getting the better of him, along with the scent of our neighbor’s cats and that negative association is surely being replaced with positive associations.  He’ll now walk to the car on leash.  Yesterday I fed him his lunch in the car parked in the driveway with the back open and we added playing some games in the street.

The other “built” environment encounter he’s still habituating to is moving cars. Quite sensible actually to feel a little vulnerable to that much noise and motion.  His reaction is to sit and watch and if the car is quite close to want to move away.  Like I said…quite sensible.    So, he came with me to the doctor’s office yesterday where I spent a few minutes with the hatch up sitting with him watching cars go by from the security of his crate.  A few cookies may have been dropped in as well :-).

Today’s schedule includes his first vet visit and a puppy play date.  The sun is shining and we’re sure to get rid of more of this snow.  A good day.

It’s all been about food

I haven’t posted in the last week because frankly…it’s all been about food!  A growing puppy, a natural diet and new kitchen appliances pretty much “consumed” the week.   The rate of puppy growth is amazing – growth charts and our own eyes, give evidence to how quickly puppies put on pounds.  When I brought Tai home, his appetite wasn’t that great when offered kibble and I was worried he wasn’t getting enough to eat.  However, a raw chicken wing (skin removed) hit the spot! It got me thinking once again how processed dog foods are well…processed.  And the monotony of eating the same thing day after day is kind of well…boring.  I’ve used prepared raw food diets in the past but found them a little unsatisfying and a BARF diet somewhat unappealing and frankly a lot of trouble.     After talking to knowledgeable friends and my vet, I decided to look into Dr. Pitcairn’s natural diet, as outlined in his book Complete Guide to Natural Health for Cats and Dogs.   After reading through the chapters on why and how to feed a natural diet, I was sold.  I had the information I needed to create a balanced diet from everyday ingredients (with some supplements).  It gave me the confidence to create a high quality nutritional diet for the puppy (and my others dogs).   Not only that, I have a new refrigerator and stove to work with!   And finally, I reasoned, I had raised two children to healthy adulthood on a natural diet.  As evidence, here’s my daughter with 8 week old Tai.  She made a special visit home to see the puppy.  Hey, whatever works to get a visit from a busy 2o-something!  I’ve included the link to Dr. Pitcairn’s web site below.

One measure of how fast Tai is growing is ability (or not) to fit under the couch.  He loves to wiggle under and poke his head back out.  To drag his toys under and wrestle with an empty water bottle.  Well, those days are just about over.  Last night nine-week old Tai managed to get under the couch but struggled to get out and I had to lift the couch to free the little beast! So, Tai is growing and growing – both physically and mentally. He’s gaining confidence in all the new things he’s being exposed to (more about that soon).  His curiosity knows no bounds when it comes to the world we live in – even extending to the other end of the food cycle. 

http://www.drpitcairn.com/nutrition/nutrition_index.html

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!

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