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.


Addendum to Goat Pens

I haven’t even starting building pens yet and have already had to make adjustments in my plans.

In formulating my plans to build new pens, I decided I would take the small gate off the post which had been sunk into the ground in the former sheep pen.The gate was to a smaller pen built in the corner which will be dismantled. I planned on putting the small gate at the east end of the 4 foot alley I was creating in front of the kidding jugs. I was then going to rebuild the former sheep pen only to the post – making the pen about 8 feet shorter. However, while I was able to remove the nuts, I wasn’t able to get the bolts to slide back through the tie. So my next bright idea was to just dig up the post and move it – and the gate – to the new location. My problem now is that I don’t remember how deep we buried the bottom of the post. I – with help from Fix – have dug down about 10 inches and can’t dig any deeper until the T-post next to the post is removed and I can’t remove the T-post until I have another pair of hands. As helpful as Fix is trying to be, he just isn’t up to the task of holding the cattle panel away from the T-post so I can use the T-post puller.

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.

My Weekend

This weekend was spent taking down the working pen, cleaning out the lambing jugs where the bucklings currently reside, building a second compost pile with the old bedding, left over hay, and of course goat manure, and re-configuring the former quarantine pen for the sheep to give them more room. (The sheep got moved out of their pen to accommodate the horse when a tree fell into her corral.) I still don’t know if the two new does are bred, but one is starting to look as though she may be bagging up. If I have kids this fall I will need to have the lambing jugs available so my goal is to build three new goat pens plus two new shelters by the end of this month.

As usual Tuck and Fix were with me while I worked. It really is too bad Tuck doesn’t have opposable thumbs, but since he isn’t able to help with removing T-posts he elected to find a shady spot to lie down. Fix has decided that he needs to emulate his great-uncle and when I looked around to see what mischief Fix was into, I discovered he was quietly laying next to Tuck, just observing. When the temperatures started to climb I decided to quit until evening. However, later in the afternoon it started to lightly rain and I figured it was a good time to finish putting up the new, temporary sheep pen. I headed back out, accompanied by the dogs. Again, Tuck and Fix found a good spot to observe while being out of the way. Shortly thereafter the rain stopped – and the humidity soared – but I wanted to finish up so I kept working. It then started to rain heavier than before but still something I could work in. I looked over to see both Tuck and Fix hightailing it back to the house. I told them they were both wimps and kept pounding a T-post in. As soon as the T-post was set, the heavens opened and the rain started coming down in buckets. I ran towards the house – and nearly killed myself tripping over Fix who had come back to find out why I was still out in the rain. Fix is starting to act more like an adult dog and less like a puppy. . . I’m going to miss my puppy but am ready for the next stage in starting Fix as a stockdog.

Random Puppy Photos No. 5

As a “teenager” Fix is fluctuating between being a delight and a major PIA. Yesterday he was being delightful.

18 weeks – supposed to be napping in the hammock

Today he is all “You said what?”

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.

Random Puppy Photos No. 4

Fix turned 17 weeks old on Saturday and I weighed him just out of curiosity. He is lanky – all legs and nose – so I was expecting him to come in at around 25 lbs. I was surprised to find that while he may not look very substantial, he weighed a hefty 32 lbs.

All legs and nose (and tail)

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.