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The Alex Chronicles - 5 months

I am shocked at how quickly time flies and how much there is still yet to do with this puppy! Alex got her ‘big girl shots’ (ie Rabies) and we immediately went to the town hall to get her license! She jingles like an adult dog now. The first thing I bought was a removable tag hook that allows me to take her tags off at any time, like before bed so her movements don’t wake me up at night!

I was reminded the other day that she has yet to see any farm animals, including horses! With as much time as we spend on the trails it will be important for Alex to see and NOT react to horses. As a former equestrian I can tell you that loose dogs can be more than a nuisance to horses and their riders, they can be dangerous, not just to the horse and rider but to the dogs as well! Time for a trip to Kimball Farms as well as some of the neighboring horse farms in the area. I will spend some time with my leashed dog outside the fences, just getting her used to (read really bored) looking at horses. Lots of treats and practicing recalls at the end of a 20 foot line until she is convinced that horses make steak appear and the only way to get the steak is to run as fast as possible to ME!

She has also entered the ‘Flight Instinct Period’, meaning she’s decided that ducking away from my hand when I want to guide her by her collar (something I taught her at 8 weeks) is a really fun game, and it’s worth a special note because if this becomes a habit for the dog’s life it can be dangerous.

First and foremost, make sure your dog is on a line or in an area where they are safely contained during this period, so you never feel compelled to chase them down, that will only reinforce the ‘game’ of ‘catch me if you can’! Up to this point you hopefully have been working on getting a great response to calling your dog to you and reinforcing this behavior a LOT.

This is the time to set you dog up for LOTS and LOTS of recalls, where the dog can NOT be wrong. This means, playing the food toss recall game, the runaway recall game or on line recalls a lot. It may also mean calling the dog with their name only, and adding the word ‘come’ when the dog is already on their way to you. Above all it means, REINFORCE the action of coming every time the dogs comes! Remember that reinforcement comes in many different forms and many be different for different dogs, food, games of tug, running after a ball, getting a favored toy may all be reinforcing to your dog. KNOW what works for your dog!

Alex has also decided she’s afraid of EVERYTHING! Which may be that we missed certain things during her socialization period or it may be the second fear period kicking in a bit early. New noises, both real and imagined, umbrella’s, little kids dressed in green dinosaur outfits and being carried by an adult, sudden movements have all become something to get spooked about.

Her first response is to either sit and ponder (she does this when she’s with a pack of dogs and no one else is barking) or a sudden loud startling bark, which has been enough to make me jump on several occasions now!

This type of behavior can be pretty typical, and how we deal with it can make a huge difference in the long run. Generally speaking when she startle barks or alert barks, I take a moment, speak to her in a calm voice, walk over to wherever she is and let her know everything is ok, generally she follows me back to wherever I was and the incident is over. The ‘dinosaur’ and umbrella were a bit more challenging as we were in the car and walking around she was growling (indicating she was really scared), so I pulled out my best puppy treats and started feeding her as rapidly as possible. The idea is that if good things happen when scary things appear, then they aren’t so scary the next time, and in fact about 50 yards down the sidewalk came a second man with an umbrella and this time she simply looked to me for the treats! So in her mind now, scary things make good food appear! I will be keeping an eye out for this type of reaction in the next couple of weeks and be sure I am fully prepared every time we go out.

Next on the list for Alex is training for the obedience ring. I’ve decided we are going to give the obedience ring another shot. It’s been many years since I have competed. I stopped because I didn’t think my dog enjoyed it as much as I did, but with the training methods I know now, and the fun I make of training games, I’m finding Alex a more than willing partner, and am reinvigorated at the concept of having a level of precession with this dog that the last dog lacked. We have begun foundation work on core behaviors, and I’m not talking about sit, down, stay. I’m talking about weigh shifts, lateral movements, pivots and backing up! We are literally both working on strengthening our core muscles! This is how we can get those precision, flashy movements, and the great part about it is SHE THINKS IT’S A GAME! To her it is, because I’m teaching it as a collection of tricks ending in great games of tug, fetch and find it! Remember, this was the dog that was hopping up on a scooter and pushing it across the floor at 9 weeks!

Often where we go wrong with skills training is to teach these skills knowing they MUST be acquired quickly, putting pressure on ourselves and our dogs to get it right and fast! One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard in dog training is, ‘go slow to go fast.’ Meaning, building your dog’s skills slowly and thoroughly is the fastest way to get the best skills.

And lest you think I have a super pup, who is incredibly well behaved all the time, we are still working on the excess barking at the training center, digging holes in my yard, as well as the jumping and biting at the leash when out for walks! Yes, folks, she’s can still be a normal “naughty” puppy, sigh. Patience…..

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