Sunday, September 18, 2011

Absorbed in the world of puppy training


Getting a Belgian Tervuren puppy just four weeks ago, qualifies the title of this blog. Absorbed in daily activities, grooming, training, nurturing, setting rules, guidelines and boundaries, nutrition, health care and more. Raising a puppy is a time consuming and often frustrating job. It is no wonder so many teen month pups end up in shelters, rehomed or worse.

Puppy and Client Work Much The Same. As I was doing a walk and train with Valor (read more on my  FB page Raising Valor today, my mind wandered to client work. Raising a puppy is very similar to re-training, re-socializing a reactive or aggressive dog.  As we  walked we did exercises in watching single and double person approaches, mark or click watching OR giving a calming signal, and feed either for looking automatically at me or walking away from and repeating it over and over until it become irrelevant.

Making Triggers Irrelevant. In training through reactivity or aggression, making the trigger ineffective, and inefficient are what lead to irrelevancy. Whether that is human socialization, dog socialization or familiarization to the environment. We did many types of exercises that I normally do with clients, such as:

  • Car goes by fast - click for watching calmly, move away or sit and treat OR open and close bar. I use a combination of things to keep it interesting. My puppy, Valor, now watches, turns away or sits automatically when a car approaches. He sees me keeping him safe and I keep his herding instincts in check.  Providing lots of herding type activities is the key to getting through cars, trucks, joggers.

  • Approaches are hard for reactive dogs, people approaching fast, or dogs on lead while people talk, hold objects and/or handle cell phones. Doing real life and mock set-ups help pups adjust to what ever comes along.

  • Sounds happen and suddenly, a police car zooming by or emergency vehicle or fire truck and what about gun shots at the local gun range or barking dogs at houses you are passing. Click/treat calm, reward.  Sounds so simple and yet this is the very thing puppies are missing all over the world.  Having just one bad experience can stick with a dog for a lifetime because they are programmed to survive. A dog can't afford to make a mistake, as that could cost them their life or their next meal.  With that in mind, the critical learning months become easier to understand. Dogs are, of course, always learning and so looking at the way a puppy learns and comparing it to a reactive or aggressive dog re-learning skills are, in fact, similar in nature.

As simple as these exercises sound, they require due diligence, consistency, persistence and lots of reward for doing the right behavior. There is no need to ever raise a voice, pull, tug, or use aversive pain devices.

The more volatile a dog, the more going backwards and re-creating their environment, their boundaries, their experiences into more successful scenarios becomes vitally important.

Widen World Slowly. In the case of reactive/aggressive dogs vs. puppies their world needs to slowly widen, meaning it needs to start small and slowly grow as they become better and better at their daily learning. I always make a reactive or aggressive dog's world smaller and slowly work them outward into bigger areas. That depends, of course, on the situation and the dog. Some dogs are already in a too small universe and so from their I widen their world and teach them to handle each thing that comes along, slowly.

Break Down Triggers. When working with my puppy, I break down the triggers. I don't work with them all at once, but I allow him to become comfortable with each trigger individually. For example:

Fast moving vehicles
People approaching
Men staring
Dogs barking
The fire hydrant down the road that looks like a munchkin

Change The Meaning. All these I go into training mode to "show" pup they are okay and apply a different value to it. Instead of scary, they become fun to look forward to. This means teaching the puppy coping skills. What to do when the scary, rattly truck comes up from behind.

This makes a huge difference whether training a puppy or training a reactive dog. Both contain value in the way it is done.  Split things up, as Bob Bailey, renowned positive trainer and founder of chicken camp, says, instead of lumping things together.  It is much more effective and longer lasting.

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