Alex Chronicles - Week ????
Ok, so I did pretty good the first 4 weeks with keeping up with a new puppy, the business, the kid coming home for spring break (at least for a couple of days), and then it just became a blur….
It is now nearing the end of week 7, and as Alex approaches 15 weeks I can’t seem to keep track of how old she is, when she last ate (or peed/pooped) last or what behaviors I’m supposed to be working on! Add to that that I am currently on a plane to DC for a dog trainer’s conference and you will hopefully, forgive the lack of updates for the last few weeks.
Alex is settling in well, we have a routine that works, for the most part (and keeps me from forgetting to feed her or take her out), although there are certainly breakdowns and as such some accidents along the way. My bad…
Alex is bold, Alex is sassy, Alex barks ( a LOT) and makes funny roaring noises when she’s frustrated. She likes, no LOVES to dig in my garden and unlike any dog I’ve owned, likes to hang out, by herself, outside! Sometimes I wonder if she really cares if I’m around or not, except of course during feeding time! She’s very happy to sit out on the front steps and survey her kingdom with our without me. In addition after her breakfast and morning trip outside, she’s happy to go back upstairs to the bedroom and crashes on the floor until I come up to make the bed!
So let’s talk about barking. This is not an uncommon attribute for dogs, in fact it pretty much comes with the territory with some of them. Winter had to be taught to bark, and many of you know that I later regretted it but that’s how she used to let me know she had to go out to the bathroom. Later in life (luckily much later) she learned that barking could make other things happen, like getting fed and getting attention at the training center. Alex came with a demand bark, and there’s nothing little about it! We have starting making progress in reducing this behavior, and I am learning a lot about what works and what doesn’t work.
It’s a challenge though trying to teach over the barking coming from the ‘office’ area. I have learned that there are certain classes she is more likely to bark in, and have started taking action BEFORE class starts. First, I make sure we’ve gone on a good long walk/run in the woods to tire her out, second she gets put in the crate prior to the start of class (so far she does NOT bark in the crate) and finally I have begun adding a long lasting, high value item to the crate as class starts (bully sticks and frozen Kong toys). Most of the time this works, when it doesn’t we all try our best to ignore it as well as the other dogs that are barking in the class. The barking is starting to lessen, so I know that what I’m doing is working, but I also know barking is a tough challenge with some dogs so addressing it earlier rather than later will be essential to success.
Alex has now also learned how to jump up on the couch and at least one of the beds (with a running start down the hallway). I’m not too concerned about this behavior, I have never minded having the dogs on the couch or in bed with me when invited. She is learning the commands on and off, so that I can let her know when it’s ok for her to come up and when it’s not. In the mean time I am making sure that when she does try, she isn’t hurting herself!
Alex’s personality is coming out more and more as well, she is as I have said, a very confident, independent girl. She has learned to play well with others, and while she loves to play
hard is now learning to play softer with softer dogs. This is as a result of having been put in many different situations with many different puppies with supervision during play! I never allow her to just ‘work it out’, but that’s not to say I don’t let the dogs play. I look for signs of stress during play, raised hackles, lowered heads and body postures that indicate puppies are no longer having fun including ears back, hunched appearance, tucked tails, trying to disengage from another dog, lip licking, yawning, and many others. I intervene when my dog is causing another to be stressed as well as when I see Alex getting stressed. I separate the puppies for a bit, give them time to settle down, and reintroduce them into the play group, but pointed toward another puppy. Sometimes, I can see she’s getting overwhelmed and I let her chill for a bit in her pen before rejoining the group. Be your dog’s advocate when they are playing with other dogs, don’t let them be the bully nor be bullied, be present as they play. Also, get their attention and call them away from the play occasionally, with lots of high value reinforcers when you do.
As she transitions from her primary socialization period (4-14 weeks) into her first fear period (4-8 months) I am trying to be mindful of the situations I put her in while continuing to carefully expose her to new and novel experiences. I took her to Rideout Field near the training center recently (as I often advise people not to) and instantly regretted it as a large, dog ran across the field to lord over her, no harm done but it was a reminder to me that there is a good reason NOT to go anywhere there are off leash adult dogs that you do not know and who’s owners may be as unpredictable as their dogs (ie they have no control over what their dog does). If that wasn’t enough I also violated my ‘dogs meeting on leash rule’ and again was reminded why I give this advice as a hard and fast rule! I will NOT make those mistakes again! I was very lucky that Alex’s response to both situations was neither fearful nor reactive, and my response was to ‘jolly it up’ and make it out to be as fun and rewarding (lots of praise and high value reinforcers) as some of our best games. Take advantage of my mistakes and stay away from those public areas where adult dogs gather off leash, as well as declining the well-meaning but misplaced ‘can they meet?’ requests from others who approach with their dogs on leash. A simple, ‘sorry but we are training right now’ generally suffices to give the message. If they don’t get the message, get away as fast as possible! Remember when you are walking on leash with your dog in public YOU should be the most interesting thing the dog interacts with so pack those treats and your clicker!
We are also taking “off leash” walks in the woods and at the beach, well sort of off leash, more like I’m not holding on to the 15’ leash that’s attached to her all the time, but when I’m not, I’m ready and able to pounce on the end of it if the situation changes. Situational awareness is key to every excursion, I am constantly scanning the environment for people and dogs, so that I can do my best to control the interactions that she has and make it a good one!