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Alex Chronicles - Week 2

Alex settled into my routine fairly well this week, and yes, the Alligator has emerged!

I find it a bit difficult at times to make forward progress through a room, relying on the plethora of rope toys, LONG Fleece tugs and other toys (often thrown or kicked away from me) to distract her when she’s in her Alligator mode, as well as the occasional crate time with a bully stick when I really need to get something done! It’s not all the time, mostly when she’s tired, that she gets this way, and still the best way to deal with it is to hold still and be boring!

She seems to have 3 modes right now: the first is pleasant and cooperative, this is usually in the morning after breakfast and her initial ‘oh boy we’re all awake again’ period, and this is when we do the bulk of her training, the second is totally zonked out, and that usually happens right after the third mode - wildly unpredictable and bitey, which seems to happen mostly in the late afternoon or if she hasn’t had enough rest/sleep time. I have to keep reminding myself that this small cute cuddly little being is really just a baby and needs LOTS of naps. She seems to work on about a 2 hour on, 2 hour off schedule, which if my schedule were truly flexible would probably translate into a training session just before breakfast, lunch and dinner, with long naps right after meals.

Her ability to learn new things really is remarkable, but I don’t think this is unique to this puppy. I think all puppies at this age have an amazing ability to learn new things, from tricks to proper behavior to bad behavior, the problem is we think of them as too young to learn. In fact, they are learning every minute of every day, perhaps even as they sleep and all the experiences they had while they were awake are being stored in their brain!

For instance, while she wears only a regular buckle collar, Alex has learned that pulling on leash just doesn’t work, primarily because I am uber aware of keeping the leash loose while walking her around, and stopping dead in my tracks as soon as she begins to pull. I know she’s not going to hurt herself, and if I’m aware of the pulling (THAT’S THE REAL TRICK HERE) and I stop, she gives a pull or two and quickly realizes she’s not going anywhere. As soon as she changes her direction (note: I generally let her figure this out on her own) I reinforce with a click and treat, which I present by my left calf – she has to come get it! It is my sincere belief and hope that by being hyper aware of when she is pulling now and working to keep the leash loose at all times, I will create a puppy that, when she feels tension on her collar, KNOWS beyond a doubt that further pulling will produce no forward movement! If I do this now while she’s 18 lbs, it’s my hope that when she reaches 60 lbs I will not be splayed on my belly being dragged through the spring muds!

By the way, my goal is to introduce as many concepts as possible as early as possible, hopefully laying the foundation for future learning. At this point, I am NOT trying to finish any of these behaviors or create fluency, I’m just trying to get her to figure out life is a clicker game and if she tries things she may get reinforced for them. So this week we introduced

Alex to tunnels, obstacle courses, stairs, bridges, ramps, tricks like crawl, shake and rollover, as well as the next step in what I call ‘basic skills’ including watch, touch, sit, down, wait, stay, come and leash walking. I did much of this with food lures, particularly when she got ‘stuck’ and yes, she is a quick study, but she often forgets as quickly as she learns! At the beginning of the week I could successfully lure her into a full roll over, by the end of the week sh

e wouldn’t do it. I’m not worried about it, she’s done it before and whatever mind block she has on it right now will go away, the key is she’s willing to try so many things right now I want to make sure each is reinforced well so she remembers those activities and associates them with good things.

Oh, and just a note here, I am also UBER aware of the behaviors I DON’T want her to develop, like jumping on people or even on the gates in the training center. I have signs up on the gates warning people to not encourage this behavior (or feed her) and for the most part everyone has been great. As a result, she defaults to a sit position, most of the time, when people approach the gate, so far….. Again, not going to take that behavior to the bank, everything is a work in progress and I expect it to get worse at some point.

The same is true for her socialization. We do daily forays into the ‘real’ world, up and down the streets of the Concord and West Concord shopping districts. She gets a fair amount of attention, and for the most part people have been really good about asking to pet her, AND waiting for my answer, which sometimes is ‘no-thank you we’re working on something right now’. As a result she does not ‘beg for attention’ which is a bad habit Winter had, and for the most part she does sit for the attention she gets. I make sure that my foot is on the leash though, especially when she is being greeted by an extra friendly person (‘Oooooo a puppppyyyyyy! Oh, it’s ok if she jumps, I don’t care!). She is going to have to learn that she’s not allowed to jump on those people either, THEY may not care but the next person she greets probably will.

While there are lots of people and dogs coming and going through the training center, for the most part my clients and their dogs largely ignore her, and that’s exactly what she needs! I want her to get used to being ignored while we’re at work as she is NOT going to be the focus of my activity while I’m teaching. In between classes, she gets a fair amount of activity and attention while I set up for the next class and squeeze in a few minutes of reinforcing the behaviors I’m working on with her. In this way she learns when she can expect the attention and when she’s going to have to just ‘chill’.

I guess the take away this week is two-fold. First, understand that even very young puppies are able to learn, in fact they are learning whether you realize it or not! So, be mindful of their interactions and take advantage of their sponge like nature now, reinforce all those behaviors you like and PREVENT the ones you don’t want! Second, understand that even if they seem to have learned something, it’s likely they haven’t really ‘got it’ yet and the desirable behavior will need to be reinforced a LOT OF TIMES before it is fluent – think months, not days!

Next time – I have no clue, we will have to see what happens!

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