We are living in a unique time, one where our normal training patterns might be halted due to the need to stay isolated from one another. It is difficult to have a puppy right now, socialization opportunities are difficult to come by. But, with a bit of creativity and dedication, we can still give our puppies plenty of learning opportunities so that they can grow to be well-balanced adults.
I have a foster puppy right now. Mud is an 11 week old Small Munsterlander that was found on Craigslist along with his brother, Smudge. Their breeder was having difficulty selling the last two puppies and contacted me. Both Mud and Smudge are amazing puppies that have a bright future ahead of them and Smudge’s foster and I are working diligently to ensure that their future stays bright.
So, I decided that I would chronicle everyday of Mud’s life with me. What am I doing with him to make sure that he will be confident when he heads off to his new home? Well, you’ll find out!
It was beautiful outside yesterday (3/26/20). Mud Puppy slept through most of the night, he woke me up around 6:30am to be pottied. That’s progress! He’s struggled with being in his crate and was waking up multiple times through out the night.
In the morning, we worked on a really important foundation behavior for his sport future: playing with a toy despite food (OMG FOOD) being present. There are a few reasons why I chose to teach him this now.
- Learning to switch between reinforcers makes a sport dog much easier to work with for various sports. The ability to reward with food or a toy depending on the exercise gives much more flexibility to the training session.
- I can use those reinforcers to help him learn to move through arousal levels as well. Think of the do that has a high intense drive for toys, one that would run into a tree to chase a ball. If that dog can learn to take food during a game of fetch, he’s learning to move into a more thoughtful state of mind. Arousal mobility is a skill that all sport dogs could benefit from!
- I can shape a “bring to hand” for his fetch game. In the video posted below, you can see that I start to delay when I click so that he’s bringing the ball back just a little bit more each time. Eventually, I can use this game to make sure that he understands the criteria of his toy hand off. This is particularly important if he heads off to a disc dog home!
- I am safe-guarding against him wanting to possess the toy and play “keep away” games. Even though Mud has a really great natural retrieve, that can absolutely change as he gets holder. By having a good reinforcement history with him bringing the toy back, I’m adding even more value to that retrieve by rewarding it with food.
- I’m creating a fun, predictable pattern game that I can use in highly distracting environments later on when he starts playing in new places or around other people.
So there are a ton of benefits to teaching this game! However, the reason I chose to do this game now is because I was trying to use Mud as a demo for a video on how to teach the “hold” behavior. Mud was so crazy about the fact that food was available, he was reluctant to open his mouth to grab the dowel. He was doing great nose touches to it but I was struggling moving him past that point. So, I figured that this toy game was a great way to teach him the concept of offering a behavior with his mouth in relation to an object. I’ll spend a few more sessions on this game and then generalize it to new objects and then go back to the hold after that.
After this, we went off to go for our first hike. Mud and three of the koolies and I headed to a privately owned trail where it would be safe to let him off leash and learn one of the most valuable lessons I think a puppy can learn: that it’s his responsibility to stay with me.
I love this age of puppy, old enough to keep up fairly well, young enough to still have the desire and need to follow. This is the age where you can just keep walking when they get distracted and know that the slight worry they feel about being left behind will be advantageous to you. That slight worry will teach them that it’s better to stay close and that if they don’t pay attention to where their human is, they might just get left behind.
This desire to follow and stay close is a natural phase that all puppies go through and I love to take advantage of it. However, that doesn’t mean that I leave my puppies in an unsafe situation. I always have eyes on them, I am always assessing the emotions they are having and ensuring that while they do have a slight sense of worry, that it never moves into panic.
I praise and pet and make a big fuss when they do catch up to me and occasionally stop and ooh and ahh over them when they are choosing to stay close. In the next few weeks, I’ll add food reinforcement on these hikes and start to add a couple of recall practices to the walk as well.
Mud did great on the hike, he stayed close, explored, ran with his friends and played in the water at the lake. He even chased a ball here and there.
I was thrilled that he was exhausted when we came home! I took advantage of that and let him relax in his crate in the living room with a frozen kong. He’s really been struggling with being confined and so any opportunity I have to have him crated where he’s relaxed and settled, I’m taking advantage of that. Even right now as I type this, he was out romping for a couple of hours and was trying to nap under my feet, so I took that opportunity to put him in his crate and let him nap in there instead.