As we head off for a mini-vacation with the entire family tomorrow, I've been taking care of everyone but Fate while she and Angela have been off at a training seminar. It's kind of a full time job for one person to take care of 6 dogs, 3 cats, 2 parrots, 2 chickens and a rat, so I eliminated almost all of my daily appointments and non household responsibilities to focus on doing just that. That doesn't mean we didn't have fun and get some good socialization and enrichment in. Here are some highlights:
On the first night, we ordered pizza. Ok, maybe I took empty boxes and filled them with their dinners, but either way, they found it exciting.
Maebe, Royal and I walked a section of a local trail and ended the trip at Dairy Queen where they each got their own bowl of vanilla with biscuits. They each thought the other had the better bowl.
Royal and I headed downtown. He had a series of firsts including first parking garage, first elevator, first greeting of a person with a disability. We did some shopping at a local gift shop. Royal was particularly into greeting people during the trip.
Spark and I went on an outing to a special place with a lot of space and a lot of privacy to swim and fetch.
Maebe and I walked along the railroad tracks to look for a body that someone had found. Just kidding. To the left of the "wall" behind us is a path that leads to one of our favorite trail systems.
This is what it looks like (less Fate's dish) at dinnertime. Normally Angela does this. One of many reasons I'll be glad for her to be back. Actually, it's very rewarding to take care of everyone. I sure have missed Angela and Fate. Looking forward to our "real vacation" starting tomorrow. Stay tuned! - Lowell
I have not been good about keeping up with the blogging about our new puppy, mostly because I have been busy trying to keep up with the puppy. Puppies keep you busy!! So, I am long overdue for an update on Royal.
Royal is continuing to be wonderful. He is now almost four months old, so we have continued to focus our efforts primarily on raising a confident, well-adjusted puppy. Obedience and sports dog training come second right now, as those skills are all much easier to teach if we have a dog that feels comfortable and safe in the world. So, we have continued giving him positive outings, with the focus always being on quality, and ensuring that all interactions are good ones.
Perhaps the most important social relationships for him to develop have been the ones with the rest of our extended multi-species household, especially our other six dogs. We want their relationships to get off to a good start so that we aren't having to undo any damage; therefore, we took our time gradually introducing him. Because Royal was only a little over four pounds when we got him, we also took care to make sure he wasn't injured in any way by a bigger dog.
First introductions with five of the six dogs were done with Royal in an exercise pen. Dogs were brought in over the course of the first day, one by one, and allowed to investigate each other through the pen. Both puppy and adults had a handler with them (Lowell and myself) and we were feeding them great treats as they checked each other out. We then let Royal interact first in the living room with each dog, and then in the yard.
We took care to introduce Royal to dogs in the order that would best build his confidence, starting from the easiest to get along with, to the hardest. First he met 16-year old border collie Django, who really had zero interest in a puppy and ignored him altogether. Next he met our female border collie, Fate. Fate tends to be completely disinterested in most other dogs as well, but she had a litter earlier in life, so interestingly she was a bit taken with Royal and protective of him in early days (puppy license has since worn off a bit!). Maebe, our 11-year old female BC/terrier mix was next. Maebe tends to initially want nothing to do with young puppies, so in the first days we made interactions extremely brief and rewarded her for tolerating his attentions. After that initial phase, Maebe becomes the best "auntie" dog you'd ever want, and she since has been his patient and willing playmate and Royal adores her. Cadence, our male border collie, is likewise quite patient and tolerant, if not quite as playful.
Sparkle, our two-year old Aussie, was second-to-last to meet him. Spark can be unsure during initial meetings, but is generally dog-social once she knows they are OK, and she seemed quite intrigued by this young little thing. Royal has had less off-leash interaction with Spark than the border collies so far, primarily because Spark plays like a brute and doesn't know her own power, so we are careful that she doesn't accidentally hurt him. She has been self-handicapping for the most part, and varies between being willing to play and ignoring him.
The major challenge in full integration was introducing Royal to our other Jack Russell Terrier, Tempo. Tempo came to us being extremely reactive to other dogs, but has made a lot of progress and has been able to make several dog friends. Still, he does need slow, careful introductions. I also didn't want to have Tempo go over threshold and react at Royal, as I didn't want Royal to have any negative dog experiences in his early socialization. So, patience was the key, and this was a several-week process.
We began with me holding Royal in the yard and Tempo on leash, but this was too close still for Tempo. So, in early days, we would take a daily outing to the park on the corner and sit on opposite sides of a field - me playing with Royal, and Lowell heavily reinforcing Tempo for keeping his cool. Each day we gradually got closer.
Eventually we were able to come back into the yard, with Royal in an exercise pen, and Tempo able to approach and sniff. Tempo could tolerate this for very short intervals, but needed frequent breaks. After a few more weeks, we let Tempo approach Royal in his living room ex-pen, and were pleased to see Tempo could now acknowledge him, but go about his business and ignore him too.
Finally, we very carefully let them off leash together for short intervals. This video shows one of their first encounters, and the body language I find very interesting to watch. They aren't 100% sure about each other, so the play is a continual dialogue that I translate as each one asking "Is this OK?" Note the frequent pauses - play usually only takes place for a couple seconds at a time before they stop, look away, back up, play bow, etc. before resuming again. They are doing a nice job of managing their own arousal (not Tempo's strong suit previously!). Since this is such progress on Tempo's part, we keep the sessions short, so we don't risk him getting overwhelmed and getting tempted to tell the puppy off. For his part, Royal is doing a nice job skillfully engaging with his older brother who, admittedly, isn't the best at this.
No doubt, a happy integration, especially into a complicated household with lots of members with differing personalities, is a LOT of work. Until Tempo got to this point, it meant a lot of careful management and rotating access to different parts of the house for a while. Putting work in up front though is a lot easier than repairing damage from hasty intros gone poorly. I also would not have brought a puppy into this house if Tempo's behavioral issues had not gotten so much better this year - I had twice already refused a puppy because the timing would have been bad during Tempo's struggles last year.
When bringing a puppy into a multi-dog household, take your time and set both dogs up for success. Have a plan for how introductions will happen, and have a management strategy to keep all animals comfortable until they are fully safe and at ease in each other's presence. Don't rush or force things. If either animal is getting stressed, take a break and use crates, ex pens, and baby gates to give each animal their own zone when needed. And make interactions positive ones! Good things should happen in each other's presence.
Of course, dogs are only one of the species living in our house. In future posts, we can discuss bringing a puppy into a home with cats, chickens, parrots, and a rat! For now, nap time is probably about over, so I'm off to entertain a puppy!
In our puppy classes, we spend our last week playing "puppy agility" - basically having the puppies walk on and through various surfaces. Not only is this usually a lot of fun, but I believe it is good for pups in a couple ways. First, it helps them build confidence on different surfaces, things that move or are unsteady, and things that might make noise. Second, it starts to build body awareness and coordination. We hope Royal will grow up to be a performance dog in agility and other sports, so it is important for those sports that he knows how to use his body. But even if your puppy isn't planning on a dog sports future, coordination, confidence, and an awareness of all four feet is an important skill to develop. We have had numerous owners approach us with dogs that are afraid to walk on the wood or linoleum floors in their new house, or simply can not figure out how to negotiate a flight of stairs. The confidence to do these types of tasks comes from knowing how to use their body, and that is a skill we can teach.
We daily try to have Royal practice walking in or on something new, starting with a somewhat unsteady surface with a novel texture:
Building up to more unsteady surfaces, that also make noise:
And challenges to build his body awareness and confidence. In this exercise, you notice that Royal has to figure out this challenge and it isn't always easy for him. He is allowed to stop and can choose to start over without pressure. Letting him problem solve at his pace and work through something new helps him be resilient, and the next time around he aces the prior problem spot.
Because he is growing and his muscles and bones are developing, we are careful not to do high impact activities or to have him jumping higher than his elbows right now. We don't ask for numerous repetitions of the same thing, but let him mostly self-direct his own exercise.
Because I like having dogs that enjoy to swim - it is good fitness, a good way to cool down on a hot run, and I find it fun to play around in the water with them - we are also working daily on getting Royal to enjoy water. We first rewarded him for getting in and out of an empty wading pool, until he loved charging in there to make good treats happen. Then every day we began adding a bit more water. He makes the choice to get in, but since we have built a lot of value for the pool by associating it with good things, he hops in and out multiple times a day. He currently is getting in and out of water about elbow deep.
Outings this week included going into town, hanging out at a cafe and a winery, visiting dog friendly stores, meeting his "grandparents," and meeting lots of new strangers. He continues to take all his new adventures in stride!
We are two weeks in with puppy Royal today, and are having a blast with him! This little guy is so fun and happy, and just loves to learn and play and interact with us. We are spending a lot of time just hanging out and playing and keeping that desire to interact strong.
Right now our training is focused on building cooperation in the things we will have to ask of him throughout life (getting his harness on, being crated, being picked up, grooming, etc.). The most important thing we can do for our puppies at this age is prepare them for "life with humans" and all the weird things that entails. As much as possible, we want his active participation and choice in these things. In times when I have to take choice away, such as picking him up when necessary (he's a tiny thing with developing joints so sometimes it is a fact of life for him right now), we give him fair warning with a cue telling him what to expect (we use "Coming Up" to tell him he will be lifted). This way life still is predictable for him, and therefore still feels safe.
One of the first foundations skills we have been working on is shaping him to put his head into a harness. Our first session is below, and while I have sloppy mechanics and even put the harness on upside down at one point, he is engaged and not shying away. I am presenting the harness for him to put his head through, not coming into his space and shoving it over his head.
We also have been working on shaping Royal to enter the crate on his own, and building good associations with being in it. Here Lowell is marking any time Royal orients or moves towards the crate in any way. He places the reward closer to and then inside of the crate AFTER Royal has made some effort to move towards it, even if slight at first. Royal receives reinforcement for remaining in the crate. He is free to leave if he wants, but then quickly chooses to move back towards the crate where good stuff happens. Getting him to love that crate and actively wanting to be in it makes building duration in it easy work.
The first skill that Royal is learning is hand targeting. This training started on his first day home, and is such an easy and useful behavior. I tell all my students that this is one of the most important thing I train. Hand targeting allows me to ask Royal to move or change position without the need of physical prompting or force. This can be a foundation for teaching a recall, loose leash walking, or position changes. I use this behavior frequently at the vet clinic and when grooming, and if I ever need to smoothly move my dog out of a situation.
This guy is so fun to train, and has already figured out that offering behaviors can result in good stuff. He has great stamina for such a young guy, and loves to learn!
Royal's new experiences this week included visiting a pet supply store and strip mall, meeting more new people, seeing different moving objects such as shopping carts, walkers, and kick scooters, passing dogs of different breeds and meeting two friendly Elkhounds owned by a friend, visiting a friend's house, and hearing shotgun fire. We have also been playing tug games while playing a variety of sounds using the Sound Proof Puppy app on our phone, in order to build good associations with obnoxious noises.
This week looks to be a hot one, so we'll be looking for cool ways to socialize the pup, plus it looks like we might have the chance to do some conditioning with actual thunderstorms in the next few days. Visiting family will give even more opportunity for meeting friendly people as well. These early weeks are lots of work, but so precious and fleeting - we are enjoying every moment of them and not taking it for granted!
Here at Harmony Dog Training we are excited to announce a new addition to our canine family. After having "puppy fever" for the last year and a half, on Monday, May 29, Lowell and I happily picked up a new youngster! Royal is a male Jack Russell terrier born on March 26, and we are so excited to start our adventures with him. It has been almost exactly eight years since we last had a puppy in the house, so we have decided to document our puppy raising on the blog, to show the types of things we do to prepare our pup for his life with us. We hope you will enjoy reading along with this new adventure!
The priority for week one was to integrate him into the household, start developing good habits with housetraining and crate training, begin teaching some foundation skills, but - most importantly - giving him good, safe exposure to a variety of people, places, animals, and experiences. Royal is in the midst of his critical socialization phase right now where he will be making his first impressions about what is safe and unsafe, and what he likes and doesn't like. It is our priority right now to make sure those early impressions are good ones.
I always stress the importance of quality even over quantity when talking about socialization, so the key to all his new outings and interactions is that they are always feeling fun and safe for him. At nine weeks, Royal is also in an age range known as a "fear period" where he may be more cautious than normal, and bad experiences at this time could have a very lasting impact that would be hard to undo into adulthood. So, we want to be especially careful during this next week to make sure all experiences are good ones.
Socialization is not just meeting people and dogs, but being exposed to all types of sights, sounds, surfaces, and experiences. In our first week together, here are a few of the things Royal has experienced:
-Rest areas on the way home with trucks, cars, people, and dogs.
-A "healthy puppy" check up at his regular vet. Royal was not yet due for a booster vaccine, so we took advantage of the opportunity to have a needle-free experience with nothing but love from the staff, treats, and tug toy games in the exam room.
-A couple trips to the park on the corner, getting used to walking on a leash and harness for short distances.
-Walking on grass, concrete, asphalt, wood mulch, gravel, dirt, boardwalk, carpet, tile, linoleum, and epoxied cement flooring.
-Standing on a dock over water, an elevated wooden stage, climbing onto metal bleachers, climbing on wooden steps on playground equipment, balancing on inflatable exercise equipment.
-Borrowing from Kathy Sdao's concept of "take out meals," he ate dinner at the local canoe livery and watched boats and tubers come and go.
-Watching an aid station get set up at a 5K race. Seeing balloons.
-Seeing all manner of vehicle traffic, from garbage trucks to police cars to bicycles. Watching pedestrians including walkers, runners, and dogs being walked.
-Safe introductions to multiple humans of different ages (including one closely supervised toddler), genders, and races.
-Introductions to friendly, appropriate dogs owned by us or our friends. Interactions may include play, but he also practices walking calmly among other dogs, and being able to focus and learn in their presence.
-Hearing sounds of trains, garbage trucks, sirens, and a helicopter overhead.
-Sharing space with other species including parrots, cats, and chickens.
-Having someone else (who he had met) come to the house and take him out to play for a mid-morning break.
With all of these experiences, I am being careful to let Royal make the choice of when and whether to interact, investigate, or take in information. When people greet him, I ask them to pause and wait for Royal to come to them (he happily does), and I make sure he has the freedom to move away again if he wanted to. Teaching Royal that he has a choice, and that he will not be forced into scary interactions, will help preserve his confidence and help him continue to be a social dog. I do not lure him onto new surfaces or into interactions, but will reward him with play, treats, and/or letting him know what a super brave wonderful puppy he is. Right now, Royal does genuinely find us fussing over him to be highly reinforcing, but I also know that some situations will and do necessitate higher level rewards, and will not be stingy with them in this important learning phase.
It is interesting to see the world through the eyes of a puppy again, and to think about all the things we encounter each day that are brand new experiences for him. Royal is proving to be a confident, thoughtful puppy. If he observes something new that he doesn't yet know how to process, he might pause and take in information for a moment, and then bounds forward enthusiastically. I've been delighted with how he is adapting to this big new world of his.
Stay tuned for future posts about Royal's early learning! We are excited to document this exciting time with our little guy!
The best laid schemes of mice and men go often askew... - Robert Burns
Sparkle and I have returned from a trip that was epic, but not quite as planned. She was an amazing trail warrior for conditions that were significantly harder than we had imagined due to cold, wet weather and beaver activity that created lots of flooding.
Still, we accomplished much, completing about 3/4 of the mileage, starting out in Wanakena, traveling counter-clockwise, making it as far as Brandy Brook. On our final day, we covered about 20 miles so that I could get us close to an exit point if need be.
A turn in the weather from cold to colder and wetter when we were already soaked meant an early end. I was prepared for that possibility and was able to call in help when needed. The body handling work that I did came in handy as I did have to move her around to position her under an emergency blanket and then into the back of a ranger's ATV for our trip out.
Highlights of the trip included surviving a narrow, wobbly, 50 foot log crossing over hip deep water, making camp in a lean-to with some aging hippies while Sparkle dug holes and played with a tennis ball she found, and spending an entire day in a motel room afterwards sleeping (each in our own beds), recovering before the trip back home. Unfortunately, all of our pictures were lost during our evacuation, but we're happy to be safe.
As a result of the training process and the trip, Sparkle and I have a stronger relationship. She is better at being handled and at traveling. She is more physically fit. She was able to warm up to strangers on the trail after initial caution and even played fetch with one! I now have a plan of the next things to work on, which are around helping her respond to sudden environmental changes. Hopefully, I have given people food for thought about some of the things involved in a trip like this and that you have enjoyed following our journey, however short it ended up being. Thank you. - Lowell and Sparkle
“Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”
― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America
Friends, the time has come. Bags are packed and our adventure is about to begin. See you in about a week. - Lowell and Sparkle
"Your problem is to bridge the gap which exists between where you are now and the goal you intend to reach." - Earl Nightengale
I was glad I had taught her directional cues (she'll go left when i say "left", etc.), as there were a number of sharp turns or spots where there was more than one way over the rocks, but some preferable to others. I'll have to show how I trained that as I hadn't thought about how handy that would be as I had taught that skill more for canicross, which is essentially running with your dog with them attached to you and pulling.
It was the first time that I could not find the summit marker upon reaching the top of a mountain, but according to my altimeter, we did make it.
The trail widens past an antenna and structure and we could have gone many miles (to Georgia, in fact), but we had to get to Stamford by afternoon, so after a mile or so further, we headed back.
On the way back we took a left from a split in the trail and went down the fire road that runs more or less parallel to the AT. It is an easier grade, but you miss out on some views. Right before we got back the trailhead, we took a left at a side trail that leads to Table Rock and past that to a steep descent to the far side of Lake Lenape before taking you back to the parking lot for the trailhead.
We hiked about 6 miles that morning. It was a nice break from the 550 miles of driving we had done the day before. Up to this point, I think my training has been paying off. Sparkle was the most relaxed she's been on a long car ride. She did well in the cabin and on the trails. The pack fit Sparkle well and she didn't seem to mind carrying it. She didn't chafe and her paws held out, even though it was pretty rocky. We didn't see any people or any dogs the entire 3 hours on the trail, so we really felt like we had what I understand to be a busy trail to ourselves.
I feel like I achieved my goal of seeing where we were with taking a long road trip, how she'll settle down for the night in a strange place, how she'll handle the pack, and how she'll hold up on the trail. Feeling good about tackling the CL50 in just a few short weeks. Here's a video compilation of the trip. Enjoy!
"Practice is the best of all instructors." - Publilius Syrus
View of Mt Minsi and the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware Water Gap from the Red Dot trail. Photo from nps.gov
Our First Road Trip
In a few weeks, Sparkle and I head to Clicker Expo in Stamford, CT. This is one of the premiere animal training conferences in the nation and one of the few that allow you to bring your dogs. Usually the whole family goes, but the stars didn't line up this year for that to happen. Fortunately, the two of us are able to go, though.
The timing is serendipitous as it will be about a month before our Cranberry Lake 50 attempt. There are many elements of that trip and our preparations that I'll be able to test and if necessary, adjust. These include:
CRATE WORK FOR ON THE ROAD
We've spent time working on transferring our crate work to the car. She's now at a point where she is remaining calm when I open the door and stays in the crate until I release her.
Sparkle is now accepting a fully loaded pack.
Take a spring adventure with your pup. Check out this article for some ideas.
Health must not be sacrificed to learning. A strong body makes the mind strong. - Thomas Jefferson
Training the Body
I've been writing a lot about addressing behaviors and associations that will support the success of our trip, but if we're going to hike 15 or so miles a day for a few days and carrying a good percentage of our body weight, we're going to have to work up to it.
I'm no stranger to endurance efforts, having a background in triathlon, marathons, and ultra distance, topping off at 50 miles.
The triple secrets of being able to complete any kind of endurance event are:
1. Taking the time to prepare your body through gradual increases of duration and intensity with periodic breaks in throughout.
2. Proper mental attitude, meaning both the confidence that you will be successful and having a plan of how you will handle things when they go wrong.
3. Proper nutrition and hydration. Too few calories at too much effort and your body makes you stop. And of course, we need water, even more than food.
This post will focus on preparing our bodies for the task at hand. Here's the general training strategy:
1. Weekly mileage increases should, on average, be around 10%, working towards a target of a single hike equal to the anticipated longest day of hiking (about 16 miles) and a longest run of a bit more than half of that (actually, I have a 10 mile run planned for late March near the Delaware Water Gap that should be pretty exciting for the two of us). Our final pre-trip hike is scheduled on a 16+ loop from Hell (well, actually around Hell, MI).
2. Amount of weight carried will be added by about 25% at a time, reaching 100% within 4 weeks of the trip.
3. Physical activities will include hiking with equipment, running, body awareness exercises, and strengthening.
Obviously getting hiking miles in with our actual equipment is the best kind of preparation, so we've been building our miles.
I don't have the time to hike as many miles as I would like, so I'm choosing to up our activity level doing something that is more efficient and that Sparkle and I both enjoy: running! We're starting out with a couple of one hour runs a week, throwing in as many hills as we can, which is a challenge where we live. Delaware Water Gap 10 mile prep run I have planned (because it's on the way to a training conference), the hills will matter because there is a lot more elevation change there as opposed to the CL50, which is good, because it should make the actual CL50 not seem quite so hard.
I'm using the Omnijore by Ruffwear to connect Sparkle to myself. I like it because it keeps her safe, is comfortable for both dog and human, and is designed to distribute weight evenly across her body. The leash stretches, so there is there is no chance of her pulling and then coming to a jarring stop. There is also an emergency release system so that if I need to quickly disconnect her, I can do it almost instantly, and with one hand. It also allows me to carry a phone, keys, poop bags, and water for us.
This is the route we took on a recent training run. Despite the small elevation gain, the hills that we did climb were quite steep and the trail was quite muddy, thus slowing our progress.
Body Awareness and Strenghtening
I've started doing the 7 minute workout 3 times a week and highly recommend it. Do yourself a favor and make time for it! I've also been getting Sparkle both on various natural objects such as downed trees to build body awareness and confidence as well as on exercise balls.
Work on building your dog's own fitness. One easy way to get started is to use the information associated with Dog Scouts of America's K9 Fitness Merit Badge, which was developed by Harmony Dog Training!
Angela and Lowell, your friendly Harmony Dog Trainers!