Puppy

Freedom is Earned

In my domain, my dogs have always earned freedom.  What does that mean?

It means that before Tucker earned unsupervised free run of the whole house, he had to show good unsupervised behavior in my bedroom.

And before he earned unsupervised free run of my bedroom, he had to show good partially supervised behavior in my bedroom.

And before he earned partially supervised behavior in my bedroom, he stayed in his kennel when I wasn’t able to watch him – because that was the safest place for him (and my stuff).

It would surprise most people to know that Tucker was not left outside of his kennel if I wasn’t home until he was somewhere between 2-3 years old.  Why?  Because I knew his kennel was safe, and when he was an adolescent, I didn’t 100% trust him not to stick his head in a trashcan or steal some kleenex.

I have received numerous calls, emails, and text messages from folks who have provided their dog (usually a puppy) with too much freedom too fast.  Young dogs are like children – they get distracted, they “forget” rules, and they are easily tempted.  You shouldn’t feel guilty for limiting your dog’s unsupervised freedom – it can save you money and your dog injury!  I have heard of dogs destroying couches, digging through walls, and even ingesting foreign objects – all because they were trusted too soon.

But here’s the reality folks – as you begin providing freedom, you may have great success for a while and then your puppy does something very “puppy.”  So what then?  Just like a parent with an unruly teenager, it’s okay to take freedom AWAY again for a time until you feel it can be handled appropriately again.

Exhibit A:

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Ellie just turned a year old this past Saturday.  She’s a firecracker, so she has not been given much freedom yet.  It’s only been in the past few months that she’s even been trustworthy enough to leave in the living room while I walk down the driveway to get the mail.  Lately, she had been showing much improved maturity – so the hallway gate blocking off half the house was used less frequently and fewer doors were closed when she was out of her kennel.

This morning I took a phone call from a client.  I didn’t realize that Ellie was no longer in sight until the call ended – less than 10 minutes.  I found her ripping up Tucker’s bed in the back room.  So what now?!  We’ll take away some freedom – we’ll spend a while using the gate again and closing more doors – and when she has gone a while without an incident, we will slowly begin providing more freedom again.

Restrictions and boundaries aren’t mean folks – they’re a safety net for you AND your dog.  Don’t feel guilty – feel in control!

 

 

 

 

Categories: Behavior, Chewing, crate training, dog training, Ellie the Warrior Princess, freedom, kennel, owner encouragement, Puppy, training tips | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Purebreds VS Rescues

Purebreds VS Rescues
Please note that this post is geared mostly towards those looking to adopt or buy a puppy – not an adult dog.  I am also using “rescues” to generally refer to dogs of unknown history and breeding – not necessarily purebreds who need a new home or end up in shelters.

As with almost every other subject, people can get very defensive, and downright mean, when it comes to purebreds versus rescues.  So, just in case anyone is curious, here are my two cents on the subject:

BOTH ARE GREAT. 

And here’s why: each owner’s needs, and each dog’s purpose, is different.

Rescues
I love rescues.  They come in all sorts of cool and sometimes funny looking combinations.    I grew up with Dingo, a “pound puppy” who was mostly Golden Retriever and a little bit of who-knows-what-else.  We had her for nearly 16 years and loved her dearly.  As a adolescent, I never dreamed I’d ever grow up to own a purebred dog.  After all, I’d had a great rescue, rescues are cheaper (initially, at least), and there are a ton of them available.  So, how did I come to a place where I now own two purebred dogs?

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Dingo

Purebreds
I love purebreds.  They may be cut from a relatively similar cloth, but they are all still individuals.  I ended up with my first purebred dog, Tucker, because I volunteered to be his Puppy Raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind.  When he was career changed at a year and a half, they gave him back to me.  During this time, I also had the privilege of becoming good friends with a couple who train Search and Rescue dogs – all of whom just happened to be purebred German Shepherds.

Then I became a dog trainer.  As my business grew, my Labrador (who is atypical in my opinion) decided he didn’t want to have to work every day.  He’s mellow and he’s lazy.  He didn’t seem to enjoy being the one and only demonstration dog or training assistant.  So, we began thinking about our next dog.  And although a working dog will always also be a family dog in our home, our business needs were a huge priority.  I needed a dog with a great work ethic, a confident personality, and a good temperament.  The more time I spent with my search and rescue friends, the more I fell in love with the qualities of the German Shepherd Dog.  And now we have Ellie the Warrior Princess.

Tucker and Ellie

Ellie and Tucker

 

So, if you’re looking for a dog, and you have friends on one side yelling, “adopt, don’t shop!” and friends on the other side yelling, “you don’t know what you’re getting!” how on earth are you supposed to decide what to do?  Here are a few things to consider:

  • Health
    • Most people have heard the statement, “mutts are healthier than purebreds.”  In my experience, that has been true to a point, but not 100%.  My parents currently have a rescued German Shepherd mix and she has had very few health issues so far.  Dingo, however, had poor hips and allergies, and was on arthritis medication for roughly 8 of her 15.5 years.  Tucker is a mess of weird health problems – acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, poor tooth structure – while Ellie, thus far, hasn’t shown any issues other than a birth defect in her eye (which doctors say isn’t necessarily genetic).  When you rescue a dog, you don’t know their health history.  When you buy a dog, you can (and should!) look at their lineage and health history, but it isn’t a guarantee.
  • Physical Characteristics
    • Some people like big dogs and some people like small dogs.  Some people live on 50 acre farms and some people live in one bedroom apartments.  The size of dog you have, and their other physical characteristics (such as their fur), can have a great impact on your life.

      My dad took me to the pound and let me pick out Dingo all on my own – at five years old.  I wanted a “golden colored” puppy – that was my only requirement.  My parents had no idea how big she would or wouldn’t get and what her temperament would be like.  Newsflash y’all – rescues organizations and shelters GUESS at a dog’s breed to the best of their ability, but when they don’t have any history on a puppy, they are guessing in the dark based on the physical traits they can see at a young age.  Thankfully for us, we had the space and finances to handle what turned out to be a 70 pound Golden Retriever mix – not all families have that luxury.  Another example:  I worked for a wonderful veterinarian for a few years who will readily tell you that guessing a puppy’s breed is not her best skill.  She currently owns an 80 pound hound dog because her son brought home a stray puppy that she thought was a Beagle pup…

      While size is an important factor, another important one for a lot of families is the coat.  If you know a family member is allergic to dogs, you may not want to invest time and money into a rescue who MAY be hypoallergenic when you could buy a specific breed known for that quality or even one who has already been tested and proven mostly hypoallergenic.  And besides that, some people just don’t want to deal with fluffy tumbleweeds floating around their house!

  • Purpose
    • To me, purpose is one of the most important factors to consider in this debate. If you’re looking for a family pet, a companion, or a walking buddy, you may not care exactly how big he gets or what his level of trainability might be for advanced commands.  If you’re looking to train for a specific task or skill, or you need certain physical characteristics because of your environment, you may be wary of adopting a rescue puppy when no certain history is available.

      And do you know what I think?  I think that is perfectly acceptable.  I don’t think either of these sides should be judged too harshly.  After all, if you believe as I do that a dog is a long term commitment, you want to be sure that you’re committing to something you can handle and that serves its intended purpose.  Now, there are always exceptions to the above thoughts.  There are organizations who are willing to take the time to comb through shelters and pick out dogs with certain characteristics to train for high functioning jobs – and that’s awesome.  There are breeders/shops who are in it for the money, who are irresponsible, who sell dogs with horrible health and temperaments and who contribute to our shelter dog problem – and that’s repulsive.

      At the end of the day, you should think long and hard about your decision to adopt OR shop and make the choice that will be best for you, and the dog, in the long term.  Don’t let someone bully you into rescuing a dog with a laundry list of issues that you don’t have the money/time to handle.  Don’t let someone bully you into going to the most expensive breeder in town because they think a dollar sign is the only qualifier of worth and value.  Seek out people on both sides of the road, do your research, and make the decision for yourself.

      Mixed breeds and Purebred dogs

      Between my parents, sister, and myself, we have two rescues and two purebreds.  They are all dearly loved and serve their purpose well.  My sister’s dog Harley, who is a who-the-heck-knows-husky-mix?, fits in well as a patient big brother to my nephew and cuddle buddy for my sister/brother in law.  My parents’ dog Kalli, a shepherd mix, lives a happily introverted life with two empty nesters and has amazing mole catching skills.  And then there’s my kids – the German Shepherd Dog who cries when she doesn’t get to go to the office and the lazy Labrador who enjoys sleeping next to kids at the elementary school while they read.  They all have purpose – they are all valuable – and they are all exactly where they need to be.  

       

 

Categories: Adopting a dog, Blog, Buying a dog, dog training, Mixed Breeds, owner encouragement, Puppy, Purebred dogs, Rescues | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Common Puppyhood Injuries

Puppies, like children, often get sick or have accidents.  And while some of these sicknesses and accidents are unavoidable, there are some things we can do as owners to attempt to reduce visits to the vet.

The AKC recently published an article about the top puppy injuries they see come through their insurance program (yes, doggie health insurance is now a thing).  You can read the full article by Clicking Here.

Two of the five most common items they discuss are ear infections and ingestion of a foreign body.

In Puppy Preschool, we discuss the importance of first aid and proper grooming, which includes regularly checking your puppy’s ears and knowing how to properly clean them when they become dirty.  Some breeds are more susceptible to ear infections than others, such as breeds with floppy ears and/or a lot of hair in the ear canal.  Ear infections can be quite painful, and at times costly, so it’s important to utilize preventative strategies when possible.  Even so, ear infections can still occur, so owners would do well to familiarize themselves with the early symptoms so they can receive medical treatment before the infection worsens.

Anyone who has ever owned a puppy also knows that they explore the world with their mouths.  That means that anything within a puppy’s reach is often fair game for mouthing and/or ingesting when unsupervised.  Puppies can often make quick work of certain household objects, so best practice is to crate your puppy when it is unsupervised.  If you are crate training properly and helping your puppy understand that the crate is his safe space, crating him should not cause undo stress.  Even if your puppy doesn’t love the idea of going in his crate while you go to work or run an errand, his safety (and the safety of your belongings) should still be prioritized over his feelings.  As the mature adult, it’s your job to make decisions for him – he’s just a baby!

Even diligent owners who move objects to higher ground and utilize a crate can still find themselves with a puppy who has ingested a foreign object.  While some objects may pass through your puppy’s digestive tract without causing harm, other objects can either leech toxins or become stuck along the way.  When in doubt, call your veterinarian.  He or she may want to take x-rays to identify and locate the object in order to create an appropriate treatment plan.

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Don’t forget that “all natural” objects can become a problem, too!  Puppies who swallow large chunks of wood, rocks, or even large nuts could end up with a digestive issue.  Supervision is always key!  

 

 

 

Categories: dog food, dog health, dog training, Puppy, training tips | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Accidental Training

Ordinarily, when you think about your dog learning a new behavior, you think about actual training – specific, planned instruction to elicit the response you want.

What few people realize is that your dog is constantly learning – not just when you’re actively teaching.  Dogs are masters of association.  Have you ever marveled at how your dog sometimes seems to know what you’re planning to do next before you do?  For example – I pick up the dog toys in our living room each time before I vacuum.  Well, as soon as I start putting toys away, Tucker goes to his bed to get out of the way and prepare for the entrance of the vacuum cleaner – and the vacuum isn’t even out of the closet yet.

This same principle is at work when we teach “auto” commands.  If you habitually ask your dog to sit as you approach a cross walk, odds are high that he will eventually start sitting at cross walks before you even ask.  He has learned that certain actions from you warrant a certain response from him.

Because dogs are creatures of habit, love associations, and pay attention to every little detail, it can be very easy for us to “accidentally” train behaviors.  Allow me to give you a funny example.

When Ellie was a small pup, I didn’t trust her to be out of my sight for more than three seconds.  She was notorious for getting into things and even more likely to have an accident in the house – housebreaking was not an easy task for her.  I spent a lot of time with her corralled in the living room so I could sit on the couch and work on my computer while still monitoring her playtime.  Well, when I needed go to the bathroom, I would pick her up and take her with me to the closest one, our guest bathroom.  As she got a little bigger, but still no less mischievous, I would entice her to come into the bathroom with me with a toy.  At the time, my only thought and concern was that if she was closed in the room with me, I would at least be able to see if she had an accident instead of missing it and stepping on a spot of soggy carpet later in the living room.

Fast forward several months.  Ellie is now more trustworthy and no longer has accidents in the house.  And yet, nearly every time I walk into our guest bathroom, regardless of where she is and what she’s doing, she follows me!  Without meaning to, I convinced Ellie that when I go into our guest bathroom, she is required to come with me.  Now, she is a shepherd, which means her desire to keep an eye on me is fairly high.  So, how do I know that the behavior is accidentally trained and not just a virtue of her breed?  She only does it with our guest bathroom – never the master bath.

As she gets older and the behavior isn’t reinforced, it will likely fade.  But for the time being, she seems very convinced that I either need moral support or a bodyguard when I go to the guest bathroom!

Ellie’s example is a funny one, but sometimes, we can accidentally train behaviors that we don’t like.  As you’re evaluating your dog’s behavior and trying to figure out how to stop a certain action, ask yourself if you may have accidentally taught it or still be reinforcing it – it might give you some insight into how to fix it!

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This is Ellie’s self-appointed “spot” when she follows me to the bathroom.

 

 

Categories: Behavior, dog training, Ellie the Warrior Princess, Puppy, training tips | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Monsters are Everywhere – When You’re a Puppy

The world can be a big and scary place if you’re a puppy!  As you’re socializing your puppy and taking him/her to new places, keep in mind that things that seem completely normal to you can be very frightening to a young pup.

If your puppy suddenly seems afraid of something, try getting down on his/her level to see if you can understand (A) what they’re actually afraid of and (B) what they find scary about it.  A statue in a park might not seem scary to you or me, but if you get down to a puppy’s level and look at it from that height, you may find it more intimidating than you realized.

Such was the case with Ellie the Warrior Princess earlier this week when I took her with me to get the car inspected.  As we were leaving, Ellie began to growl and bark towards the road.  It wasn’t immediately clear what was upsetting her, so I had to get down to her level and track her gaze.  That was when I realized that she had spotted a bright red fire hydrant way up on the hill by the road.

When your puppy is panicking over something you deem silly, it may be tempting just to walk away and avoid feeling like you’re causing a scene.  In reality, it goes a long way if you can help your puppy overcome that fear instead of just leaving it to linger in the back of his mind.

So, how does one help her puppy overcome a fear of a fire hydrant?  You walk up to it, crouch next to it, and pet it like a dog – all the while encouraging your puppy to come check it out with you.  I may have looked quite silly petting it and trying to introduce my puppy to a fire hydrant next to a four lane road that day, but it’s worth it to make sure she continues to gain confidence and overcome her fears.

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A few tips on overcoming fearful objects:

  1. Say hi to it yourself!  If you look like you don’t want to touch it or get near it, why on earth would you puppy want to do that?
  2. Do not coddle your pup.  Resist the urge to hold, cuddle, and coo to your dog as he backs away or growls.  Speak confidently and calmly, and make sure you convey to your pup that it’s really no big deal.
  3. Practice!  When you’re out and about and see something weird, encourage your pup to check it out, sniff it, and say hi even if he hasn’t actually noticed it yet.  Get ahead of the weird fears and suspicious thoughts – lead the charge and say hi first!

If your puppy encounters a fearful object and you aren’t able to work through it all in one sitting, try to return to the spot or object again later to continue practicing and working through the anxiety.  Avoid the temptation to drag your puppy up to something and try instead to encourage independent forward movement by making it look fun!

 

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Prince Tucker had to learn how to meet weird new objects all the time as a Future Leader Dog puppy, too!

Categories: Behavior, Blog, Ellie the Warrior Princess, Fearful dogs, Puppy, Puppy Socialization | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Puppy Teeth – do they all fall out?

Yes!

I go over some basic oral hygiene tips in my Puppy Preschool classes and I often find that first time puppy owners aren’t totally sure they understand those pointy little needles in their puppy’s mouth!

Yes, just like human children, your puppy has a set of “baby” teeth and yes, they will all fall out!  The good news is that your puppy will lose those sharp baby teeth much faster than a human kid.  Somewhere around four months, your pup will start replacing those baby teeth with adult teeth.  Even though the puppy teeth won’t be around long, do yourself a favor and go ahead and get in the habit of routine teeth brushing!

Dental care is extremely important for your dog, and it’s never too early to work on your dog’s tolerance for it.  Get in your practice with that awkward doggie toothbrush with teeth that will fall out anyway!

It’s also very important to remember that, just like a human kid, your puppy NEEDS to chew on things!  Make sure your pup has plenty of appropriate items for the teething stage – and don’t be overly alarmed if you see a little blood once in a while as teeth get loose or fall out.

We are currently going through the teething stage in our house – and we chew on a lot of nylabones and ice cubes!  You can check out the images below to see where Ellie has lost a few of her front teeth.  And before you ask, yes, those super sharp canine teeth are usually some of the last ones to go!

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Categories: Blog, Ellie the Warrior Princess, Puppy, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dog People Need Dog People

Dog people need dog people.

That may sound pretty obvious.  I mean, of course dog people like to hang out with dog people, right?

But I’m not talking about the casual, lets meet for coffee and bring our pups, kind of people.  I’m talking about the people who will go down into the trenches with you.  Crazy dog people need crazy dog people.

Let me tell you about my favorite crazy dog people: Roy and Suzie.  They started as my mentors for a project in high school a decade ago and have been my doggie mentors ever since.  This past weekend, they very graciously went above and beyond the realm of normal dog friends.

They let me bring a brand new puppy into their house.  It just so happened that we had already planned a visit to see them on the same weekend our puppy was ready to leave her litter, and since they live on the way to the breeder, we decided to go ahead and do both.

Now, let me tell you about our newest little addition – Ellie.  She is the strongest willed, most confident puppy I have ever met – and she kept everyone in the house awake until just after 4am on her first night with us.  My friends work shepherds in Search and Rescue, so they know high drive dogs – and they say she’s the highest drive little shepherd they’ve ever seen.  We were all astounded that she had the energy and lung capacity to sing us the song of her people at the highest volume imaginable almost constantly from about 10pm to 4am – and that was with plenty of potty breaks, snuggles, and playtime mixed in to try to wear her out and calm her down.

And yet, they never complained and consistently offered help and advice on what we could try to help Ellie settle in with her new people.  They sent us home with toys and collars for when she grows, and an offer to help whenever needed.  Those are the kind of crazy dog people that every crazy dog person needs in their corner.

It doesn’t matter how much you know about dogs and puppies in general – each one you meet and raise will be different from the last, and it’s always good to have people around you to offer new tips and tricks.  🙂

Below:  Roy and Suzie with Tucker the day after I picked him up from Leader Dog six years ago (top) and with Ellie this past weekend (bottom).

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Categories: Behavior, Blog, Ellie the Warrior Princess, Puppy | 1 Comment

A Tired Puppy is a Good Puppy

I imagine that the vast majority of books written about puppyhood use some variation of the phrase, “a tired puppy is a good puppy.”

There’s a good reason for that: it’s true!

Tired puppies are much less likely to get into trouble, because they simply don’t have the energy for it.  If you play fetch until your little pup can barely hold his eyes open, chances are, your shoes are safe for the next few hours.

Sometimes, wearing a puppy out can feel like a daunting task, especially if the weather outside isn’t the most welcoming.  Here are a few suggestions for indoor activities to help encourage some long puppy naps:

  1. Obedience – Yes, you read that correctly.  Start working on obedience!  I don’t care if it’s day one and your puppy is only 7 weeks old – get started!  The earlier you begin teaching basic obedience commands and manners, the better off you will be in the future.  “Sit” is a great place to start because most puppies will naturally fall into a sit if you hold ANYTHING of interest over their heads.
  2. Handling Exercises – Practice handling your puppy so that future visits to the veterinarian and groomer are pleasant and stress-free experiences.  You may be surprised at just how much effort is required for a puppy to hold still long enough to have all of his toes touched!
  3. Toys – Make sure your puppy has several appropriate toys to play with, and encourage appropriate playtime!  Play fetch, tug on a rope, chew on a bone – but make sure that ALL of those “toys” came from the pet aisle.  Don’t set your puppy up for trouble by encouraging playtime with socks, shoes, children’s toys, or other household items that you don’t want chewed up in the future.

All of these activities should be fun in and of themselves, but sometimes, the best part is the long puppy nap that comes afterwards!  (But don’t forget, as soon as that puppy wakes up, take him outside for a bathroom break!)

 

 

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A tired puppy is a good puppy!  Tucker June 2011

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A tired puppy is a good puppy in the car, too!

 

 

 

Categories: Behavior, Blog, Puppy | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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