Farm Dog 101: Five months

Yesterday Fix turned five months old so I thought I’d chronicle his day. Since I leave the door open at night for the adult dogs to come and go as they please, Fix is still crated at night so he can’t get himself into trouble outside. When I got up in the morning, Fix was let out of the crate (waiting for his release word “free” even after the door was opened) and he made his usual check of the dog dishes to see if 1) one of the other dogs had not finished their dinner; or 2) if food had magically appeared in the dish overnight before dashing outside to pee. When Fix was smaller I used to go out with him, first on a leash and then later just to supervise, but he has been going out unsupervised for a few weeks now. I put the water on for coffee and washed dishes and Fix dashed back in to see if the dog dishes have re-filled themselves. After I finished my coffee, Fix was fed breakfast. (Again, waiting patiently in a sit until given his release word to eat.) Chores were next. After we did chores I went back to work on digging out gates. Fix hung around a bit and then went off to explore. He found a piece of horse hoof and played with it for awhile – throwing it up in the air, then pouncing on it when it hit the ground and then running laps with it in his mouth before starting all over again.

The Pounce

Running Laps

We played a little fetch with a stick he brought me and then he wandered off again. When it got too hot for me to continue, I took a shower while Fix hung out. I needed to run into town for groceries so I crated Fix since I was going to leave the door open for the other dogs to come and go. When I got back I spent a little time on the computer while Fix just hung out and then we took a nap in the hammock. At some point Fix jumped off the hammock and just laid down on the bedroom floor. After our nap, I did a little work using the computer and Fix alternated between lying next to me and going outside to explore. We did evening chores and he did a little more exploring while I was pulling more T-posts. He did come back to help me do a little more digging around the gate post. Then it was time for dinner and more time just chilling out in the house before bed. Not a real exciting way to turn 5 months old. . . I’ll have to come up with something special for his six month birthday next month.

 

Farm Dog 101: Fetch and Tug as training games

At not quite five months of age Fix is starting to help out with chores. I’ve allowed him to put up the sheep at night a couple of times. While in reality, the sheep will usually put themselves up once I bring them out of the pasture, as far as Fix is concerned, behind them and dragging a line, he is moving the sheep on his own. This morning after I filled a hay net with hay, Fix moved the hay net to the cart. He did this on his own, without any prompting by me.

I play games with my puppies – primarily fetch and tug – as a way to encourage team work (and to teach self-control). Fetch because later I will train a reliable retrieve to hand and tug because sometimes the dog will have to exert some force to bring me something – a filled hay net is one example.

Many years ago a fellow trainer told me a story that I’ve never forgotten. He trained bird dogs so his puppies were taught to fetch from day one. He also never corrected a puppy for picking up and carrying something inappropriate but encouraged the pup to bring the item to him. One day he had a young pup with him in a building where unbeknownst to him someone had put out rat poison. He noticed the pup with something in his mouth and called the pup to him. The pup came running with a box of rat poison. Had he been in the practice of punishing or correcting his pup for picking up things, it is likely that 1) the pup would not have come to him carrying the rat poison; and 2) the pup would have tried swallowing the poison before he was able to remove it from the pup’s mouth. I have taken that lesson to heart and I also never correct a puppy for carrying something in its mouth.

Fix really likes carrying my shoes. He learned very early on not to chew on shoes by simple redirection. However, every time I saw him carrying a shoe, I called him to me, praised and then removed the shoe from his mouth and gave him something else. Fix has also taken to carrying empty metal food dishes if I leave them on the ground. Again, I encourage him to bring those to me and reward him for that. In the past I’ve had to train dogs to carry metal objects so I’m very pleased to see Fix has no issues carrying metal dishes. Of course it means I have to watch where I put the wire cutters in the barn because I’ve caught Fix carrying the wire cutters a few times.

Finally, fetch and tug are useful games to use in training. The following is a brief introduction to TUG OF WAR.

The rules of tug are:

  • You start all games of tug (the toy should be put up away from the dog between games).
  • If the dog’s mouth touches your hand or arm at any time during the game, the game ends immediately.
  • You end all games of tug. The dog must release the tug toy on command.

Start all games of tug with the dog in a sit. Some dogs will be uncomfortable holding onto a toy if they feel you want it. If your dog is hesitant to hold on to the toy when you tug, start with just holding one end of the object and praising your dog for holding on. The next progression is very gentle pressure on the object while praising the dog for holding onto the toy. It may take several days before your dog is willing to hold on to the toy when you pull.

Remember pups that are teething have sensitive mouths – don’t jerk objects out of their mouths. Also, keep the object level and don’t tug up where the dog has to flex his neck.

Frequently during the game, tell your dog to sit or down and give. While tug should be a fun game, you don’t want the dog to become so aroused he no longer is under control.

Finish the game by having your dog sit or down and giving you the toy. The toy should then be put up away from the dog until the next game.

If you are having problems with your dog giving up the toy, with your dog in a sit or down, simply put your free hand under his muzzle and press his lower lip over a lower tooth. Praise when he opens his mouth slightly and remove the toy.

Farm Dog 101: Teenage Stage

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.

Yet another time out

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.

Farm Dog 101: Training

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.

Dog Equivalent of Running with Scissors

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.

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.

Farm Dog 101: Raising a Puppy with Other Dogs

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.

Farm Dog 101: Teething and Chewing

The first puppy teeth to emerge are the canines, followed by the incisors and then premolars. Puppies have 28 deciduous (puppy) teeth which will be lost and replaced by 42 teeth in the adult dog starting at about 12 to 16 weeks. By 16 to 20 weeks, the deciduous premolars have been replaced and by 20 to 24 weeks, the permanent molars have started to erupt. What many people do not realize is that chewing actually increases (and becomes more destructive) from about six to twelve months, until the molars have completely erupted.

Fix, like many young puppies who have been raised with their litter to at least 8 weeks of age, has a soft mouth. His litter-mates (and the adult dogs in his household) taught him that biting down too hard during play was not acceptable. While some puppies “unlearn” this lesson after being removed from the litter (or if removed from the litter prior to 8 weeks, never learn this lesson), there are several good reasons why it is important to continue to teach bite inhibition as opposed to a prohibition on putting teeth on a person at all. IMO, it is critical that a young dog learn how much pressure to use with its mouth and how to regulate that pressure because if a pup does not learn this by 4 months of age, it cannot be taught. In those instances one has to simply rely upon teaching a “no teeth” rule and then hope that the dog is never put into a situation where it bites. The likelihood of a serious bite occurring if the dog has learned to inhibit its bite is much less than if the dog has simply been taught not to put teeth on a person.

Fix has been allowed to continue gentle mouthing while being taught bite inhibition. However, now that he is teething, that pressure has increased in an attempt to decrease the uncomfortable feeling. Given the needle sharpness of his puppy teeth, it is now time to start teaching him that teeth do not belong on human flesh.

In addition to teaching puppies bite inhibition, it is critical to also teach puppies what is, and is not, acceptable as a chew. Without the use of hands to manipulate objects, puppies use their mouths to investigate and learn about their world. All too often, owners provide lots and lots of toys and chews and then wonder why the pup is more inclined to chew on that table leg, wailing that the pup has plenty of toys to chew on. In reality, the more toys and chews laying about, the greater the likelihood that the puppy is actually learning that everything is his to chew on. It is far easier to teach a puppy what are appropriate chew items if the number of acceptable items is limited. I try to provide three different types of chews – something fabric, something of hard rubber (such as a Kong®) and a real (not processed) bone. If I notice that Fix seems to be attracted to a particular thing, I try to provide a suitable substitute made of a similar material.

Teething is one of the most trying stages in a young puppy’s development and requires considerable supervision and redirection. But by being consistent in how this stage is handled, both Fix and I will emerge without me losing anything of value and with Fix having learned to moderate the use of his mouth.

Farm Dog 101: Starting more Formal Training

Fix turned 12 weeks old yesterday. He has a good start on basic manners and is exhibiting more self-control every day. He is still learning about his world and how to interact with it. Fix is a little precocious and many of his stages seem to be a couple of weeks ahead of what would be considered “normal” for a puppy. Generally, I would expect a puppy to start exhibiting the type of independence I am seeing in Fix at about 16 weeks of age. Right now, Fix is starting to become more serious about testing his boundaries. Consistency is the key word here. If a behavior was undesirable yesterday, it will be undesirable today and tomorrow and I am still setting the stage where I can make doing the right thing easy for Fix and doing the wrong thing harder.

As noted before, Fix is now wearing a collar and dragging a line while we are out doing chores. The line enables me to, if necessary, enforce a come and to prevent undesirable behaviors by being able to control those and re-direct Fix to more appropriate behaviors. The last few days, instead of crating Fix while Tuck and I move the remaining six sheep to pasture in the morning and back again in the evening, Fix has been accompanying us. I restrain his impetuous behaviors of wanting to “chase” after the sheep and encourage him to quietly follow behind the sheep whilst they are moving. (In this case, he is ahead of me and pulling at the end of the leash, but I’m allowing that at this time. He is not barking and he is learning he can’t charge madly forward.)

A few nights ago I swapped out the small wire crate Fix slept in for a larger one. Yesterday I retrieved a grooming top from the dog room and put it on top of Fix’ new crate. When possible, when working with puppies, I prefer to introduce new things with the puppy elevated. (It is also easier on my back as I age.) Fix and I did two short training sessions yesterday. The first session I molded the behaviors I was seeking: a sit, stand and down. After three repetitions we were done and Fix was placed back on the floor. Last night during the second session I used small pieces broken off of a salmon dog treat to lure Fix into those behaviors: sit, stand and down. I will continue to alternate between molding and luring for a couple of more days before eliminating the treats.

Fix already has a basis for “come” and has learned to wait for a release around food and so on so the foundation for a “stay” is in place. Both of those commands will start to be formalized this coming week.

Note: In the previous Farm Dog 101 post I mentioned a series of articles on socialization I had written, and I provided the link to the for interested readers. I also wrote a later series on training. These articles are archived in issues of the Shepherd’s Call and are only available to members of the English Shepherd Club. For those interested, if you contact me and provide an e-mail address I will send a pdf containing the six articles. These articles are copyrighted – please respect my copyright. While not required, a donation to National English Shepherd Rescue (www.nesr.info) would be appreciated.

Farm Dog 101: Important Puppy Lessons

A friend asked me the other day about puppy classes. I explained to her that I was less than impressed with how most puppy classes were designed and run and that a bad puppy class could have a very negative impact upon a puppy that lasted its entire lifetime. Dogs do not learn good dog-dog social skills from dogs that do not have good social skills so I don’t understand why people believe it is a good idea to throw a lot of puppies into a setting where, instead of good dog-dog social skills, they are most likely learning a lot of inappropriate behaviors. From my viewpoint, puppy classes which have “free play” are simply arenas in which puppies either are bullied or learn to be bullies. A good puppy class, in my opinion, should be more about educating the owners about how to address mouthing, chewing, housetraining and so on and how to set the stage for developing a good relationship with the puppy as it grows. I also like to see a puppy class that, while not focusing on obedience, begins to lay the groundwork for later obedience training.

To me, one of the most important things a puppy needs to learn is how to accept handling and restraint. All dogs, regardless of coat type, need to be groomed regularly, which includes nail trimming. Frequent inspections are necessary to ensure the puppy or dog is free of external parasites such as ticks and fleas, and where foxtails are a problem, daily checks should be done.

Daily handling of Fix has demonstrated more clearly than anything else how rapidly his behaviors change from day to day. One day he will lie quietly on his back in my arms, with only very gentle mouthing, and the next, he will almost immediately begin protesting when I cradle him in this fashion. As I only release him and put him on the ground when he is being quiet and complacent, some of these handling sessions can be much less fun than others. Fix is getting big enough (he now weighs 19 lbs from the 11.1 lbs he weighed the day before he flew home) that very soon, these sessions will occur with me sitting on the floor and Fix on his back between my outstretched legs (this is how I currently trim his nails.)

While I am a fervent proponent of obedience training, the simple fact is that many dog owners are not going to invest the time and energy into training their dog for off-leash reliability. Simply teaching a dog self-control, basic manners and to accept restraint and handling, greatly increases the likelihood that dog will stay in its original home.

Note: several years ago I wrote a series of articles on socialization for the English Shepherd Club Newsletter (Shepherd’s Call). As part of its mandate for education, the English Shepherd Club has developed a website for breeders, prospective puppy buyers and dog owners. While, not surprisingly, many of the articles reference English Shepherds, the information on the website is valuable to any breeder, puppy buyer and dog owner. For those interested in reading about socialization, the four articles I wrote can be found at http://www.escbreederinfo.com/. Two articles (Puppy Socialization Factors and The Secondary Socialization Period: six to twelve weeks) can be found under the tab Delivery/Raising and the last two articles (Habituation: 12 to 20 weeks and Adolescence) are under the tab labeled New Owners.

Farm Dog 101: Self-Control and Manners

Wednesday Fix accompanied me to the office again. Overall he was quiet and well-behaved, though his behavior is changing daily at this point and it is unlikely I will bring him back to the office until he is older and has some basic training. Puppies go through developmental stages quite rapidly from about 3 weeks through adolescence. This is especially apparent in a working bred puppy like Fix. The first week Fix was home, he stayed close at heel while we were doing chores. However, at almost 11 weeks, now that he has been in this environment for a couple of weeks, he is more comfortable with his surroundings and starting to range further away from me. He is no longer as concerned when I am out of sight and more willing to entertain himself – and not necessarily in ways that I want to encourage.

Fix at Office – 10 1/2 weeks

As mentioned earlier, with a young puppy (or with any dog new to my household) I am initially most interested in the puppy learning rules and boundaries and manners through self-control. I will most likely not start any formal obedience training with Fix until he is 12 weeks old, though I judge the readiness to start training based on the individual dog and not on a specific time table.

It is important to me that dogs in my household learn to internalize acceptable behavior. To achieve this goal requires that I am willing to invest the time and energy into providing an optimum environment for the puppy (or dog) to grow. I do not puppy proof my house, per se. I will block off all the rooms except for the immediate area in which I am working, and I will initially crate the puppy at night while I am sleeping or on occasions when I cannot safely supervise (like last evening when I was spraying weeds outside.) At all other times, if I am home, I am supervising Fix and monitoring his behavior. It is not my goal to prevent behaviors except in cases where there is a serious danger to the health and well-being of the puppy. If Fix is never allowed to do the “wrong” thing he will never learn to discriminate between what is and is not acceptable. As a general rule, I don’t provide a negative consequence for actions I find undesirable until the dog has learned the appropriate behavior and has chosen to continue an undesirable behavior. For example, I don’t pick up my shoes as I want Fix to learn to not chew on them as opposed to training myself to never leave shoes on the floor. Quite frankly, it is a much easier task to teach Fix not to chew on my shoes than it is to try and re-train myself not to just kick my shoes off when I come in the house. If Fix starts chewing on a shoe, or other inappropriate object, I simply interrupt the behavior with a verbal “aah” and redirect him to a behavior I would prefer. If I simply stopped the behavior, Fix would find something else to do and the chances are good I wouldn’t like that behavior any better. By choosing the behaviors I want from Fix and redirecting him to those behaviors, both Fix and I are less frustrated and I have a better behaved puppy who is learning what is and is not acceptable.

Basically, teaching manners is no more than teaching self-control. Impulsivity and immediate gratification are hallmarks of young children (or young dogs). However, living in a social structure successfully requires that one learn self-control and how to defer pay-outs. This is a challenge for young animals, mainly because their brains are still developing and the synapses are not fully formed. For this reason though, creating those pathways at a young age, means that the behaviors are more firmly established as dog (or child) matures. At this age, Fix has a short attention span so I expect to have to repeat certain lessons. Consistency and repetition, regardless of training method, is the key to successful training. Perfection is not the goal when the pup is young – what is important is that the pup is developing the ability to learn and to self-impose limitations.

Fix with new toy

Fix will exhibit a behavior one day and then it will disappear only to re-emerge a few days later. All of the pups were pulling on pant legs when I was visiting. That behavior stopped when Fix came home but has reared its head again in the past few days. While Fix quickly learned the crate door would not open unless he was quiet, in the last two days he has started barking at me when he wants out of the crate. Needless to say, the behavior is not producing the results he desires. He is automatically sitting while I prepare his meals (he eats a raw food diet) and when he gets fed from a dish (usually in the mornings when he gets organ meats, yogurt, egg and a vegetable), he is now exhibiting a sit until released (about 45 seconds right now). He sits when I am putting on his collar and is learning to sit rather than jump on me when he wants attention. None of these behaviors have been taught other than to open the crate door, put the food dish down and leave it down, etc. when Fix is exhibiting self-control.

As Fix is now at the age where he is no longer following me closely when outside, it is now time for Fix to start wearing a collar and to drag a line when he is out. It is my responsibility to set the stage where it is easy for Fix to be ‘right’ and harder for him to be ‘wrong.’ Dragging a line gives me the necessary tool to ensure that I can help Fix be right when necessary and prevent him from practicing behaviors that I don’t want. Since I want my dogs (at least initially) to be within ten to fifteen feet of me when outside, I use a fifteen foot line which I can step on when the dog starts to range further. The dog will check itself and almost always will look back at me. That allows me to either verbally acknowledge the dog or to call him to me and praise for coming (even if I have to use the line to ensure compliance.) How long Fix drags a line will depend on several factors and it may be that there are periods where he is not dragging a line interspersed with periods where the line is used again. In addition to ensuring that the dog remains close to me when outside, the line also enables me to tether the dog if I am doing something where the proximity of the dog will either hinder my activity or potentially be dangerous for the dog but where I want the dog to learn that part of the ‘job’ is to stay out of my way and be quiet at times.

Fix dragging longe line