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The Alex Chronicles - 6 months!

6 Months Old – She’s almost a dog – how did that happen?

OK, I know childhood and puppyhood go by quickly, but WOW! Alex now weighs in at 51lbs, and she’s not overweight, she’s just growing up. People no longer see her as a puppy right away, and are sometimes surprised that she is as young as she is. I’m constantly surprised at how old she is and how much she already looks like an adults dog – where did the time go?

I still haven’t made it to Kimball farms to see farm animals, but we have walked past a couple of horses in a local paddock, while she was interested, she was not overly excited when they came over to say hello.

Her foray into fearful behaviors was fairly brief thankfully, but I know I am not out of the woods yet and will continue to watch her for fearfulness all the way up until her 2nd birthday. Most people think by the age of one you’ve pretty much got what you see in a dog, but honestly I’ve seen a lot of dogs take dramatic shifts in their behavior between 12-24 months. So, during the next 18 months I will be taking care to ensure her interactions with other dogs, people and environmental stimuli are done with care, to ensure she is always comfortable or at the very least, that any situation that becomes scary for her is kept to a minimum. Along these lines I have taught her to go to ‘place’ when she is feeling unsure. ‘Place’ is between my legs (preferably facing the same direction I am facing so that I can a) feed her and associate the scary stimuli with good things like food b) fend off any overly assertive/aggressive or overbearing animals – including humans and c) so that I KNOW when she isn’t feeling up to an interaction since sometimes that can be hard to tell! It’s working fairly well, although she does have a tendency to go to ‘Place’ under other people, generally whoever is closest to her which can get a bit disconcerting for some people.

Alex is now eligible to be entered into obedience competitions, however eligible and ready are two different things! I am still working on some core movement behaviors primarily pivots, which are going a bit slower than I would like, but rather than drill her too often I am taking a longer range view. I’d rather she take longer to ‘get’ these behaviors and enjoy herself than be forced to ‘practice’ and haver her think this obedience stuff isn’t any fun! I have also been trying to up the ‘game time’ and play during these sessions, as I do have a tendency to be a bit ‘Type A’ when it comes to competition. Again, my focus is keeping it fun and engaging so that she WANTS to do it.

I am also still working on getting Alex comfortable with water! She is just getting to the point that if she is alone and motivated (by a stick thrown just far enough out) she will take one or two swimming strokes. Once again, my watchword is go slowly. Pushing a dog it and taking a ‘sink or swim’ approach may work (or you may end up jumping in yourself if your dog panics and goes under) but it can also lead to a deep distrust and set the process back a lot! I’d rather have a dog that doesn’t swim until later in life or at all, than a dog that when the going gets tough, she thinks I’m going to just give her a shove in over her head!

I have, at least for now, conquered the tugging on leash while walking issue. I usually recommend stopping every time a puppy does this and dropping the leash to step on it and waiting until the puppy’s arousal level comes down, while this technique does work over time by extinguishing the behavior, it can be frustrating for the dog and it can take a lot of time for the behavior to extinguish. Instead, I have actually started playing tug games with the leash when she is on leash. I have found initiating a game of tug with her BEFORE she does that she is more likely to work longer on walking on a loose leash. She loves playing tug games, not so much taking long walks on a loose leash, so I’m using something she loves to do to reinforce what she doesn’t love. The key is to give her multiple opportunities to tug on the leash ON CUE, rather than wait for her to initiate the game, which only happens when she’s gotten bored or frustrating with walking on a loose leash. If I had a choice, I would just keep our leash walking to a tolerable length of time for her, but when I do outdoor classes I really don’t feel comfortable leaving her in the training center by herself (even in a crate), so she needs to come along. An hour long leash walk for a 6 month old puppy is interminable! So every 10 minutes or so I stop an play a game of leash tug with her! This gives her an opportunity to reset and go another 10 minutes. The bonus is by putting it on cue, instead of initiating the game herself she is working to get me to give the cue!

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