As a “teenager” Fix is fluctuating between being a delight and a major PIA. Yesterday he was being delightful.
Adolescence is a hard stage for any animal, and Fix is unfortunately not an exception. While he believes he is now a “big” dog, he is actually a typical adolescent trying out varying behaviors to see what works and what doesn’t. As trying as this stage is, it would be a lot more difficult had Fix and I not established ground rules and boundaries when I first brought him home. Even though dealing with Fix is more time-consuming than ever, banishing him from the household routine will not teach him that the rules still apply. Consistency is even more critical at this stage than it was before – Fix will deliberately do something that he has previously shown he understands to be verboten and then look at me to see if I will do anything in response. Sadly for Fix, I understand this stage very, very well and am committed to ensuring that I am always able to correct Fix and redirect him to appropriate behaviors.
I have been taking Fix to the office with me on alternate weeks. This week was the week where he went with me on my day up in Albuquerque. He was on his best behavior (which is why he is allowed to spend the day at the office) so I knew that I was in for a rough time the next day. Fix did not disappoint – the next day at home his behavior was such that I lost count of the number of time outs he earned.
A time out does not mean the dog spends hours in a crate. It is a short (5-15) minute break to interrupt a behavior that the dog continues to display after two attempts to redirect.
It is easy to see why so many dog owners who fail to establish rules and boundaries with puppies, either stuff their adolescent dog in a crate for long periods or throw the dog out into the backyard, and then when the dog is between 7 and 9 months of age relinquish the dog to a shelter because it still hasn’t learned how to be a “good” dog.
Having been through this before, I know there is light at the end of the tunnel and by including Fix in the household and being consistent in correcting misbehavior and redirecting to appropriate behaviors, I will eventually reap the rewards of a well-mannered dog.
Flies are part of summer. When there is livestock around, the number of flies is exponentially increased. The past few years I have used fly predators, with the occasional fly-trap, for fly control and it has kept the fly population under control. Last year, however, the fly predators didn’t seem to be doing as good of a job so I investigated other sources for purchasing fly predators and decided to go with another company this year. I increased the number of fly predators I purchased monthly and decreased the number of livestock and yet the fly problem this year has been worse than ever. I also started getting biting flies which has not been a problem in years past. After I spoke with a representative of the company where I purchased the fly predators and learned a few things about different types of flies and fly reproduction that I hadn’t known before, I purchased some traps designed for biting (stable) flies which are not attracted to the usual fly-trap. The traps arrived and I put out two yesterday evening at feeding time. The below photos were taken at feeding time this evening , approximately 24 hours later. As can be seen, the traps work very well though it is somewhat horrifying to know exactly how bad of a fly problem I have. (I also was surprised to see that one trap caught about 8 wasps as I haven’t seen any wasps this year.) These traps are supposed to be reusable so tomorrow morning I will take them down and gently hose the dead flies off and then rehang the traps. I’m hoping that my plans for a new goat set-up will help control the fly problem next year.
Sadly, though I spent time this past week trying to find someone willing to relocate the bees, I was only able to locate one person who agreed to do so but his fee was too stiff for my pocketbook. While some beekeepers are interested in collecting swarms, evidently retrieving bees in a colony is something totally different.
So a week after the cottonwood came down, two friends came over to help kill the bees.
So last night just before dark, when the bees had all returned, one friend suited up and removed the “shelf” and then sprayed a foaming hornet and wasp killer into and around the entrance. He was concerned that starting to spray might result in angry bees flying out, but we saw no signs of activity. This morning when I checked the entrance I saw one solitary bee. This afternoon there were half a dozen bees but this evening I again only saw one. I had planned on re-spraying again tonight, but will wait and check tomorrow.
I regret having to kill the bees but I couldn’t get the rest of the tree cut up and the pipe fence repaired until the bees were gone.
Sometime this weekend, after I’m sure there are no more bees, I’ll clear as much debris out of the corral as I can and then arrange for the rest of the tree to be removed. The horse will be happy to be moved back to her corral.
There is no magic wand available. There are lots of options for “training” equipment – face halters, collars, harnesses, electronic collars, etc. – but no equipment can “train” an animal. It would be more appropriate to categorize all equipment as “management tools” which are more or less useful in the process of applying a training method in order to train a dog. However, if the dog will not reliably respond to a command without some type of equipment being used, the dog cannot be said to be trained. While no training is 100% – remember, dogs are not computers – a trained dog is going to be consistently responsive at a distance and under distraction. Training is about developing a relationship with the dog and relationships, as mentioned before, take time, energy and commitment.
In my first Farm Dog 101 post I stated “ . . . as long as a handler is reasonably consistent with his/her approach to training, almost any type of training will eventually produce results. Training methods are a matter of personal preference.” While every dog is an individual, the basic principles of training are applicable to every dog, regardless of breed. Having said that, training is as much an art as a science and the trainer needs to be able to read their dog and adjust their training program accordingly.
At 4 months of age, despite his opinion to the contrary, Fix is not mature enough to be expected to handle a lot of pressure. While Fix has been accompanying me on chores from day one and has been “helping” move sheep for the past three weeks, he is not ready to start formal stock dog training. I need to be careful to push him enough where he is progressing but not so much that he can’t handle the pressure. It is my job to make sure he isn’t over-faced in any situation, so while we wait for him to get a little bigger and older, I am now prepared to ramp up his obedience training. Since I want a working dog, as well as a companion, I have a fine line to walk initially. If I stress obedience too soon, I run the risk of a dog who won’t work independently and who looks at livestock as another distraction to ignore. If I don’t start obedience before introducing my dog to livestock I run the risk of an out of control dog running my livestock into fences.
As Fix continues to mature, we will continue with daily chores while becoming more serious about obedience training. My goal is that, assuming Fix is ready, we will start stock dog training sometime in the fall. In the meantime, in progressing from teaching (i.e., associating the command with the required action) to training, I will start focusing on the first two of the 4 D’s of training (duration and distance). While the third and fourth of the 4 D’s (distractions and difficulty) will be introduced, these won’t be emphasized in my training plan until after Fix has started training on stock.
Fix is 16 weeks (4 months) old today. While physically he is, to be truthful, not the most attractive of puppies right now, his emotional maturity is quite amazing for his age. The combination of genetics with the environment in which the litter was raised resulted in a super nice pup with just the right balance of independence and biddability.
I brought Fix home at about 8.5 weeks so he has been here almost two months. In that period of time Fix has learned quite a bit. He has a good grounding in manners and self-control and has been introduced to (very) basic obedience. We have worked on restraint and handling and he accepts being groomed and having his nails trimmed. He is crate trained and about 98% house trained (I would have said 100% but this afternoon he peed under the table while I was at the computer. This was my fault because I had just taken him out with me while I was doing some chores and failed to ensure he peed before he came back in with me.) I rarely have to correct Fix for chewing on an inappropriate item and he is no longer mouthing on me. Fix rides well in the car – hooked into the seat belt assembly on the front passenger seat – and has traveled to southeastern New Mexico and to northern New Mexico to pick up goats and has gone up to the office with me several times. He has met children and adults, both male and female, and has met a few adult dogs belonging to friends. Fix has learned that he has to be respectful of older dogs and how to interact with them, both when engaging in play and when the other dog tells him to go away.
During this period of time, Fix has been introduced to the rules of the household and has been consistently redirected away from undesirable behavior and shown the appropriate behaviors expected of him. While most people understand “training” in the context of obedience training, in actuality all of the experiences Fix has had have been “training” him. Without the discipline and structure I provided, what Fix learned may have been “training” him to be a pushy dog intolerant of restraint or handling or an insecure dog likely to be afraid of many things in its environment. However, I have spent the last few weeks teaching Fix that he can trust me to ensure his needs are met and that I will keep him safe and that rules will be fairly and consistently enforced. Training is all about developing a relationship with an animal. Dogs are not computers which can be programmed and then ignored. Relationships take time, energy and commitment. (While the benefits are huge, there is a downside to having a relationship with a dog as opposed to “owning” one and it is rare for anyone who has never had a relationship with a dog to truly understand the loss and grief when that relationship ends.)
Good training involves discipline as well as teaching responsibility, accountability and reliability. Good trainers understand that this is a two way street – both the handler and the dog have to work together as partners for the relationship to succeed. Respect is a huge component of training. The dog must respect the handler and, in turn, the handler must respect the dog. Respect does not develop out of fear but from the knowledge that there is fairness and consistency in expectations and that the handler will not put the dog into situations where the dog may be injured or is not prepared to handle.
I have neither the time nor inclination to micromanage my dogs. My expectations are that a dog learns to be responsible for its actions and make good choices about its behavior. However, to achieve that goal, it is my responsibility to ensure that the dog is set up to be successful. These past few weeks have laid the foundation for Fix to be successful in his role as a companion and working dog.
Now that Fix is of an age to believe that the established rules and boundaries no longer apply to him – he is, after all, in his opinion a “big dog” and no longer a puppy, my responsibilities have increased. It is no longer sufficient for me to simply teach manners, self-control and all the other things I have worked on. I now need to start teaching Fix responsibility, accountability and reliability. To achieve this I will need to start focusing on obedience training while still continuing with his basic education.
Last night’s thunderstorm dropped about 2 inches of rain in less than an hour. It was also accompanied by high winds. While the dogs and I took shelter in the house, I heard the familiar crack of what I thought was a branch coming down. It was raining hard enough that I couldn’t see more than 6 inches in front of me. After the rain let up and I could see, it was an unpleasant shock to see that the cottonwood that had been off the side of the horse corral had snapped at the base and fallen onto the pipe fence and into the corral. The canopy completely covered the corral and it wasn’t possible to see the horse. I dashed out to see if the horse had been hit by the tree and found her in a small 4×4 spot in the corner of the corral furthest from the tree, luckily unharmed.
A friend came by at 6:30 this morning with a chain saw and in an hour and a half we had cleared most of the corral. Unfortunately, this cottonwood hosted a beehive so as soon as the bees became active we had to stop work.
Once I deal with the bees, we will finish clearing the tree out of the corral and off the pipe fence and then I will have to find someone to repair the fence. In the meantime, the horse is now in what used to be the sheep pen on the other side of the goats.
Kip and Fix playing this morning
If a “breeder” tries to sell you more than one puppy, saying that they can keep each other company, run far, far away. Even experienced trainers avoid rearing two puppies at the same time. As mentioned before, puppies do not learn good dog-dog social skills (or pretty much anything else positive) from other puppies after a certain age. If a puppy has been raised to 8 or 9 weeks with its litter-mates, it has learned what it needs to learn and is ready to learn how to form a bond with a human. Raising two puppies – correctly – at the same time involves a huge investment of time and even then, provides a less than optimal environment for both puppies.
However, many dog owners bring new puppies into households with a dog (or more) in residence already. As stated before, I do not own pets. Each of my dogs are companions or, in the case of Fix, being raised to become a companion. This means that I cannot leave raising the puppy to the adult dogs but rather have to invest the time and energy into raising Fix myself. It is certainly easier just to throw the puppy in with the big dogs but it won’t create the relationship I want to develop. Puppies that spend most of their time with other dogs end up, not surprisingly, forming bonds with the other dogs and become what is called “dog-bonded.” I want, however, a dog that is more bonded to me and which prefers my company over that of the other dogs.
I currently have three adult dogs in my household. SLT (Sleet) is probably about 14 years of age at this time. She is a failed foster (a dog I was fostering for Australian Shepherd rescue who was not placable in a pet home, and therefore remained with me.) SLT is very deaf and spends quite a bit of her time currently sleeping. She also has a “kick me” sign firmly in place. She is very (read, overly) tolerant of other dogs’ bad behavior and even when she attempts to correct Fix it is not effective and therefore SLT is not a great adult dog to be teaching manners to a young puppy.
Tuck, who just turned ten, is my working English Shepherd (and also the grand-uncle of Fix). Tuck prefers to pretend that Fix does not exist most of the time. He will correct Fix if necessary but otherwise just walks away when Fix tries to engage him.
Kip is probably about 9 years old. She is an English Shepherd who I fostered (and ultimately kept) for National English Shepherd Rescue (www.nesr.info) a few years ago when the Yellowstone Sheriff’s Department seized about 200 dogs from a very bad situation in Montana. Those dogs all spent several months in custody before the case wound through the courts and the dogs were released to NESR. Kip, like many of the ONB dogs, has some significant orthopedic problems. In Kip’s case she has a spinal stenosis in her lower back which affects her mobility. Despite this handicap, Kip has undertaken to take over Fix’s dog education. First thing in the morning, Kip and Fix will usually play wrestling and chase games. The chase aspect is usually Fix zooming around while Kip waits for him to fly past where she can roll him. After the initial morning games though, Kip will generally correct Fix for bothering her as the day progresses.
I monitor Fix’s interactions with SLT because she is not capable of teaching him good manners. Tuck is capable (and willing) to limit Fix’s interactions with him as is Kip so at this stage all of the dogs are generally out together (where I can monitor Fix with SLT). However, when Fix was first brought into the household, his interactions with all of the dogs were more limited. He was allowed approximately ten or fifteen minutes every couple of hours with the other dogs and the remainder of the time was spent interacting with me. He was never allowed access to the other dogs unsupervised.
Back when I was training professionally I saw a lot of students/clients who were inadvertently creating problems by “protecting” the new puppy from the older dog. Everytime the older dog tried to correct the puppy for inappropriate behavior, the owners got upset and corrected the older dog which fostered the belief in the puppy that it could do anything it wanted, including hassling the older dog, without fear of consequences. Eventually, when the pup was older and has lost its puppy license, the older dog had had enough and the ensuing altercation caused a lot of consternation in the household. There is a reason there are so many Craigslist ads where people are trying to give away or sell an older dog because it “doesn’t get along with the new puppy.” If the older dog has good dog-dog social skills it needs to be allowed to correct the puppy and to teach the puppy appropriate behavior around other dogs. In the case of a dog like SLT, who is incapable of effectively teaching this lesson, I simply monitor the interactions and prevent Fix from developing bad habits. This means that sometimes he ends up in a time-out (spending a short time in his crate) away from SLT.
So Fix has spent (and will continue to spend) most of his time interacting with me (or simply sleeping at my feet which he is doing now). Initially his interactions with the other dogs were limited and even now when all of the dogs are out together, Fix is still monitored and supervised. I allow the adult dogs to correct him as they see fit and will undertake to correct Fix myself if he doesn’t respect SLT’s attempts to warn him off. In this way Fix is learning 1) that I am the most important being in his life; and 2) how to appropriately interact with other dogs and respect their space.