“You have to make yourself Disneyland for your puppy…”
Ella is now 14 weeks old. I’m not sure how this happened, as it seems like yesterday that I picked her up from her breeder and brought her home.
So here we are, at the tail end of the optimal socialization time, which will be ending in 2 weeks. That’s not to say that everything halts at that time, of course, it just means that her optimal window for learning, the time when she is most receptive and impressionable is drawing to an end. Socialization with people & dogs of all shapes, sizes and ages will of course continue well into adulthood. Training will also continue and become more challenging and fun for both of us.
From Puppy Primer by Brenda Scidmore & Patricia B. McConnell, PhD:
Puppies need to get three primary things out of their socialization experiences:
1) They need to learn how to play, with other dogs and with people.
2) They need to learn how to cope with change, whether it’s meeting a new dog or moving to a new home.
3) They need to learn how to sort out conflict now, before they get to an age when conflicts can be more serious.
When I look back at my first 6 weeks with Ella, I feel confident that she has been exposed to a lot of different people (at least 100, but probably more like 200-300). She has met and played with a variety of dogs and puppies for 3 hours per week in scheduled puppy play groups. I also feel confident that she has the basic skills needed to resolve conflict with other puppies and adult dogs without going overboard. Ella is confident in play groups now, feels comfortable and actually knows where we are going and looks forward to getting there. (Yes, it will sometimes take us 15 minutes or more to walk into play groups, as we must adhere to the no-pulling rule when walking, requiring many stops, back-ups and re-starts – as Ella is so anxious to get into Petco to play with her friends.)
SKILLS WE HAVE LEARNED
SIT: This came pretty easy for Ella. She now sits for everything – directly in front of me or anyone else she thinks might possibly offer her a treat for such polite behavior. She has now graduated to “atta girl!” with an occasional random treat thrown in to reinforce that I still like that behavior. However, it’s not heavily rewarded anymore – treat wise.
SIT-STAY: This is progressing well. I am able to move about 4-5 feet away from her while she maintains the sit. Next step: To be able to move further away and behind her, eventually being able to circle her while she maintains the sit.
DOWN: Down is my personal nemesis. To date, I have one terrier who will down reliably and that’s Jenny. And it took us 6 years to get it really reliable. I regarded this exercise with serious apprehension when it was given on homework, as my past experiences had been less than successful. Don came home from puppy play group one day and raved about how Kait had Ella doing sits and downs all over the place. I tried it. Nothing. Queer puzzled look of non-comprehension. I sighed and thought, “here we go again!” I tried that week and made very little progress, worked with her going under my bent leg, clicked when her belly was on the ground. (Of note, she eventually decided that it was just easier to lay under my leg and not move, rather than get up and repeat the process of laying down again…smart little pupper that she is.) We did get this, because I learned that what I was missing was patience. I gave up doing the under-the-leg method and I began to set up times when I could wait for Ella to throw the behavior I was looking for, the down. It took a while, but she eventually figured it out and when she did, I was able to click and mark the behavior. Several thousand repetitions later, she has it ‘down’ – luring with food. Next step: Moving from luring to using the hand signal. Oh joy.
DOWN-STAY: This is hand-in-hand with the down and Ella understands stay very well. Once I lure her into the down, she will stay and I am increasing the length of the stay as well as the distance between us. It’s a slow process and requires much repetition, but it is paying off. Next step: Increasing distance between us, increasing duration of stay and eventually walking a circle around her in a down-stay.
RESTRAINT: This is a simple exercise where I am teaching Ella to sit on my lap and be held still, while I check/mess with her paws, face, ears, bum, belly, head, teeth, nose, etc. Ella is pretty good with this when she is in the mood. She is treated for behaving nicely and not squirming or jumping down. Next step: Heavily treat for holding completely still and being relaxed.
HEELING: My second worst nemesis. Terriers pull. They are exuberant, lively and always want to get where we are going and FAST. We are simply keeping Ella in position using treat reinforcement and saying “too fast!” and stopping completely if she runs ahead. This is a source of frustration for her and I sympathize, but I’m not backing down on this one. She is going to learn to not pull and race ahead. There are times that she turns her tiny little head around, grabs the leash in utter frustration and tries to take charge of her walk. Cute now. Not so cute later. I consider this a mini temper tantrum, where her frustration level has peaked and I handle this by completely ignoring her behavior. No reaction from me = no reward for tantrum. I also will completely change direction and go the other way, in an attempt to keep her focus on me. Yes, this is often times 1 step ahead, 2 steps back, but we do eventually get to where we are going. Next step: perfecting this behavior along with adding in random bowls with treats and working on “leave it” while heeling.
PLACE/OFF: This was a new one for me and I really like it. Basically, we are teaching Ella to go to a raised bed and get on it. Eventually, this will lead into a long-distance stay and eventually a “place” for her to go when company arrives or the doorbell rings. Nifty & useful. At the same time, I am teaching “off” to get off the bed. “Off” is my go-to for everything like putting their feet up on me, getting on furniture uninvited, climbing up on anything, jumping on children, etc. These two go hand-in-hand. Next step: Upping distractions, distance and duration.
OUT: Some call this drop-it, as I have in the past, but I am sticking with out for now. I’m not sure if this will become confusing as I also say “out” for them to go outside…hmmmm…Maybe I should go back to “drop it”. UGH. Wish I had thought of that earlier. Ella is very good at this, as when she spits something out of her mouth, she gets a tasty treat.
RECALLS: Ella has an excellent recall at this point in time. She will RACE to me when I call her, because she anticipates a treat. (It’s so nice to have a pup who is so food motivated.) I expect that this will go through phases and we will have times where she will not come, but for now, we are right on track. I do use lots of bubbles (“pup pup pup”) to encourage her and praise heavily and jackpot treats heavily for recalls right now. Again – “Make yourself Disneyland for your puppy” – YOU have to be better, more fun, more tasty, more everything than the distraction the pup is faced with. Admittedly, both of my trainers want us to do this ONLY on leash at this time, but I will admit to having cheated and tried recalls off leash. Ella did come to me, but I don’t press my luck with this a lot. I am trying to stick to their lesson plans and not get ahead of myself. Next step: Increase the distance out to a 20-foot lead length for recalls, jackpot heavily for really fast, really prompt returns.
WATCH ME: This is pretty simple, but still one we practice daily. “Watch me!” means I want eye contact with you. Ella is very good about this as well and still gets a treat for focusing her attention on me fast. Next step: Up the distractions and practice in more public settings, especially around other dogs.
WAIT: This is just a politeness cue. I use this when walking through doorways, to calm down and reinforce Ella being in control of herself when moving into exciting areas. Teaches patience. For the most part, Ella is pretty good about this. Next step: Up the distractions.
LEAVE IT: This means “turn your attention away from the object.” Holding a treat in one hand, I have waited for Ella to turn away from the treat, click, praise, offer treat from the other hand. This will come in handy with a lot of things, but for now is teaching her that when I ask her to leave something alone, I will give her something better in return.
FIND ME: This is a fun game. Someone must hold Ella back while one of us ducks out of sight somewhere in the house. When that person is in position, they say “Ella, find me!” and she is released. She is heavily rewarded for “finding” the person in question. Next steps: Add in names, i.e. “Find mom!”, “Find Dad!”
WHERE IS IT?: This is a neat game, where we hide food treats in a room and let Ella find them. This teaches her that fun, good things happen when we are around, helping our bonding.
NAME RECOGNITION: Ella has learned her name. This may seem simple, but many dogs can be confused by being called “puppy” or a variety of nicknames. We have been using her name as consistently as we can, so she learned that Ella was her name. I have read articles about how dogs can become confused by saying things such as “Come Rex!” instead of “Rex, Come!”, so we are making sure that her name is said BEFORE the cue. What would be worse than your puppy thinking it’s name is “Come” – Lordy!
HOUSE TRAINING: Ella is 100% reliably housetrained. She was always very good about this to begin with and we have no issues when she is given ample opportunity to go outside to do her business.
CRATE TRAINING: Ella is crate trained. She eats in her crate, naps in her crate and sleeps in her crate at night. She was never one to whine or fuss about going in it anyway. Every now and then she will have a spell where she doesn’t want to be in it and will cry a bit, usually during the day when she doesn’t want to nap and wants to play. However, these are few and far between.
Overall, I think we have made excellent progress with Ella and we couldn’t be happier with her. So proud of our wee one!