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!
Angela and Lowell, your friendly Harmony Dog Trainers!