Farm Dog 101: Relationships

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.

4 months old today

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.

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