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Alex Chronicles - Week 4 Long Lines and Supervision

OK, so living with a puppy is now starting to feel normal. It’s not like living with an adult dog, certainly not anything remotely like living with an elderly adult dog. I am constantly on alert as to where Alex is and hopefully what she’s doing. I plan my day around getting her outside to do her business, I’m not nearly as productive as I was 5 weeks ago, but I know this is all relatively short lived. She’s already asking to go out in certain circumstances, in another month or two she will reliably be asking to go out instead of me making sure she’s “on empty” before I let her into certain rooms or let my guard down. In a month or two after that I won’t be having to substitute a bully stick for my desk, chairs, dining room table leg, body parts or whatever else she decides to gnaw on.

Maybe I will be able to take my plants out from behind their protective barrier, although I suspect that may take a bit longer. The spider plant I have is not long for the world, it was in pretty bad shape to start with, but one by one she has

plucked each leaf until it is but a shredded, snipped shadow of its former self. Perhaps I will have mercy on it and put it up higher, but it’s never been my favorite – always has been infested with plant mites and had to be sprayed and sequestered, maybe it’s time to just let it go.

Things I’ve found Alex chewing on in the last 48 hours: a twist tie, a wood screw, a broken piece of plastic of unknown origin, a rubber band and a paper clip. I promise, I do keep my home clean and picked up, but this dog has a way of finding all manner of ‘stuff’ laying around! I have begun having treats at the ready in every room, this means having little bowls of treats on my desk in my office, on the mantle in the living room, on the counter in the kitchen, and in every other room of the house, this is a recommendation I give often and now I know it works. I keep the treats handy, so when I see her chewing on some suspicious object (usually that just means I see her chewing and can’t see ANY OBJECT), I grab a treat hold it out and say, ‘Hey Alex, Whatcha got?’. She’s pretty tuned in now, and as soon as I say that she comes trotting toward me and ‘trades’ whatever it is she’s found for a goody. With Winter it used to be socks, but our household has matured past that, not to mention all the dirty laundry hampers have lids, thanks to Winter. Now it’s just stuff, and usually small stuff, the kind of stuff that if I’m not paying close attention can go down pretty quickly, and I know if I lunge for her, it will become a game of keep away. So, I stay vigilant and prepared and have trained her that the phrase, “Whatcha got?” means good treats if you come to me and spit it out.

I did find out just how independent this little puppy is. I’ve never had a puppy that didn’t want to be very close to me most of the time for the first several weeks at least. Not so much this puppy, she boldly goes where none have gone before! Up until this week though I’ve been pretty relaxed about taking her out to do her business, we live well back from the road at the end of a cul-de-sac and the side yard to the neighbor’s dogs has a stout chain link fence. My back yard is fenced, but we’ve been doing ‘business’ runs in the front yard because there is direct access (as opposed to going down the steps thru the garage) and fewer steps. Like I said, up until this week it’s been working out pretty well, when she wanders it’s mostly been into the small wooded area between our lawn and the neighbors fence, UNTIL Monday morning at 5:30am! I was up early, and took her out as usual, but instead of getting busy right away she decided to head toward the road! Now, you have to understand, I’m still in my PJ’s and bathrobe, have my Ugg slippers on and there’s a fair amount of packed snow which has iced over nicely, not to mention that it’s COLD outside! So I’m not at full sprint capacity, BUT SHE WAS! It’s a hundred feet give or take from my front door to the road, giving chase was immediately abandoned as all it did was urge her forward faster (I KNEW THAT), and risk a bone breaking fall, so I backed off and she predictably stopped running but she didn’t stop moving toward the road. We’re about ½ to the road at this point, so I decided to take a right hand turn to get to the driveway, it was dry and clear of ice, so I figured it would offer better traction. I very nonchalantly, edged my way toward the driveway, this gave her pause as it was perpendicular to her current path! That’s all the opening I needed, I hit the driveway and went into speed mode, bathrobe flying out behind me like a witch’s cape, I did an end run around her that the Patriot’s defensive coordinator would have been proud of! As we both approached the road she was now behind me, I turned and with one quick motion scooped her up with glee, and then she bit my face! Oh well, these are the trials of living with a puppy, at least she didn’t make it to the road. Not that there was any traffic on my small dead end street at 5:30am on Monday morning, but it was the principle I beat her – this time. My first stop that morning was the hardware store where I bought a lovely 50 foot line and clip. Problem solved – no more walk abouts to the back yard, no more mad dashes to the road and no more taunting the old dogs who live next door, puppy I OWN you now!

I suppose I should also talk about the training that I’ve been doing with Alex over the last four weeks, since this is a training blog. You know, the kind of training we do in classes, basics like sit, down, stay, wait, come, leave it, etc……. While I haven’t mentioned it a lot, I have certainly been working on all of those things plus some. I have a list, it would probably scare most of you, but the funny thing is I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it or actually doing training sessions. Mostly, I incorporated this type of training into my daily routine as much as possible. It goes something like this.

  • Every time we take a break at work, I put Alex on a leash and ‘leash walk’ her to the nearest patch of grass. She gets lots of praise and treats when she’s by my side and the rest of the time I try to make sure the leash is loose. I really don’t care if she’s ahead of me or behind me or on the left or the right yet. Every Friday afternoon we walk around Concord Center on the sidewalks and she is relatively ‘correct’ most of the time, not pulling and staying on my left side. When she bumps into the end of the leash she generally redirects toward me, if not I stop and wait for her to turn back toward me, then I go back the way we came for a bit. We also enter certain stores to visit our friends and show off our latest tricks.

  • Every time she eliminates outside she gets a big YES!, followed by a party and if she comes back to me, a treat. She is already whining to go out in certain situations, and walking to the door at the training center when we are there.

  • Every time we meet someone outside, I step on her leash, period, even if I don’t think she’s going to jump, because I never know how the person is going to react. I can probably count the number of times, on one hand, that she’s actually made contact with someone with her front feet! She has already learned that sitting gets her attention and jumping doesn’t work, but I’m not going to stop stepping on the leash just in case! Dogs that jump are one of my pet peeves.

  • In the training center I am proud to report everyone has been wonderful about heeding the signs posted on Alex’ pen “Please do not feed. Please do not pet this puppy unless she is sitting”. As a result she often plops her butt on the ground as people approach her pen, if not they tend to (or are coached) walk away from her.

  • In the training center, if she jumps on the pen more than once (she never gets reinforced for jumping on the side of the pen – we all ignore it) she is asked to spend some time with her bully stick in the crate. The pen jumping has been reduced significantly but still has a way to go.

  • Every time she eats, she is asked to wait, and told when she can go ahead. She is reliable in this situation, we will be working on doors next.

  • In the morning before my work day starts, we get to the training center a bit early so I can vacuum, she has finally stopped barking and chasing the vacuum as it never engaged with her play overtures.

  • After I clean, we do about 15-20 minutes of training, if we have time. In the first couple of weeks it was encouraging her to do all the equipment I have in the training center, the tunnels, the platforms, jumping over low jumps, through hoops, climbing up and down the ramps, and stairs. Yes, I taught my 8 week old puppy to do stairs, I know she is going to be big soon and I will NOT BE ABLE to carry her up and down all the stairs that are in our lives. The result is a puppy that actively engages with every new object that she encounters. In addition we have worked the basics, including leave it and go to mat.

  • I have also begun teaching her how to climb into the car, front feet up on the running board into the back row wheel well. The crate is secured facing forward in the back of my SUV, but I have a split seat so she climbs into the back and then hops up into her crate from there. She comes out the same way, but I am lifting her out, not asking her to jump down until she gets bigger.

  • So far, she knows the following commands (some at a more basic level than others) Her Name, Touch, Look, Sit, Down, Wait, Stay, Come, Let’s Go, Leave it, Out/Drop, Go to Mat, Find it.

  • So far she has had experience with the following tricks, equipment and ‘fun’ skills. Shake/Paw, Roll over, Tug (and settle), Treadmill, Tunnels, Stairs, Ramps, Jumps, Hoops, Platforms, Scooters, Sandpaper Boards (for trimming her own nails), jumping up on things and getting off of things, pushing buttons (doorbells) and probably some stuff I can’t even remember.

The point of this is that it is less about ‘training time’ and more about squeezing in 3-5 minutes of play/train as well as using the behaviors in context as much as possible. The only exception to this rule is the ‘come’ cue. I have ONLY used this cue when we are playing recall games! I do NOT want her to learn that the word ‘come’ is something that leads to something bad (like going inside when she wants to play outside) or is something she can ignore. In my book that word (or whatever word you use to mean come here) is sacred and will only be used if I KNOW the dog is going to be successful!

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