Category Archives: Puppy Diary

I’ve created a monster

Okay, he’s a really cute monster. But still.

I do this every time. I teach (intentionally or unintentionally) each dog one thing that goes horribly wrong. I taught Rain, my first Newf, to retrieve Coke cans. See, the metal scent articles in competition obedience are considered extra difficult because dogs don’t like putting metal in their mouths. I was sure I clicker train my dog to pick up metal, so I grabbed the most convenient metal object available: an empty Coke can. Sure enough, I was right. He was happily retrieving that sucker within a few clicks. The next day he figured out that some cans of Coke come with a sugary sweet bonus! And never again was a can of Coke safe around him. He used to try to wrestle the can I was drinking out of my hand while I was drinking from it. (Jay thought this hilarious.)

So now it’s River’s turn. (You’d better believe I haven’t asked him to retrieve a Coke can. No sirree! Just my car keys. But I digress.)

Our den is in the basement. It’s a long narrow room with a wide staircase at one end. My desk is in the corner of that end of the room, and my desk chair backs up to the stairs. River frequently sits there, and I turn around in my chair to interact with him.

Early on after we brought him home, he developed a routine. After his breakfast, he would sit on the stairs, talk to me (cute little vocalizations from a not-terribly-vocal dog), and then when I turned around, he’d put his front paws on my knees and ask to be picked up. I’d pick him up and set him on my knee, and he’d lean against my chest, and we’d snuggle. (Altogether now: “Awwwwwwww.”) It was seriously cute.

For weeks this happened once each morning. No problem there! No matter how busy I am, I can take five minutes out of my morning to snuggle with my baby. Then he had a couple of needy days where it happened two or three times. Okayyyy. I guess I can live with that. But you can guess where this is going.

Today he asked over and over and over ALL DAY. I know it comes as a shock to some people, but I *do* have work to do. No matter how much I’d love to spend my day playing with the puppy, I can’t do it. But when I tried to redirect him to something else, he acted like I’d sent him out to play in traffic. When I caved and picked him up, he’d wrap his paws around my neck and cover my face in kisses: “Joy! You love me!”

Sigh. Damn, he’s a good trainer.

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River update

My sweet boy is 19 weeks old — 4.5 months. I love this age. He’s still a sweet, gawky, mama-focused puppy, but he has adapted to the household and learned enough English and human body language to get along. He hasn’t yet succumbed to the inevitable madness of intact-male adolescence, and he’s also big enough to play rough with the big dogs, which makes Pflouff extremely happy.

His first puppy class ended on November 1, and he started his second class the next night. The new class is “Continuing Basic,” and its goal is to work more on the basic skills before moving up to Obedience II. Obedience II focuses more on behaviors for competition obedience, and it’s intended for dogs a year old or older — dogs who are mature enough to handle both precision and corrections. River is a clicker dog. He’ll be able to handle precision work younger than one year, and he won’t be receiving physical corrections, so I could have moved up to that class. But, I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to really focus on the basics during these last weeks before adolescent-brain kicks in. Obedience II can wait until he’s older.

My plan is to finish this new class in December and then take a break through the winter (and through the first couple months of his adolescence). Even if he weren’t about to undergo a massive brain change, we’re supposed to have a crappy winter, and that will make getting off the ridge iffy a lot of nights. So no regular classes for a while. I’ll let his brain — and the weather — tell me when the time is right to move on.

I won’t waste the time, of course. If his first “Continuing Basic” class is representative, he’ll be learning lots of new stuff that we’ll need to practice. I can also get a jump on the Obedience II behaviors, when his brain is functional enough for new stuff. When it isn’t, we can focus on drilling the basics. The recall, especially, needs to be worked during adolescence. So do impulse-control behaviors (which I haven’t done enough of yet). Adolescence is the time when nature demands that “Because I said so,” isn’t good enough, so it’s the time when reinforcing correct choices becomes paramount.

I *may* drop in on a conformation class or two during our winter break. I haven’t decided to show River, but I’m considering it. He’s a nice looking pup, and I don’t think he’ll be the challenge that Pax would have been. I haven’t suddenly developed a love of conformation — thought it was boring when I did it with Pflouff — but I have an alterior motive.

I’m thinking seriously about trying competition obedience with River. The primary challenge when showing in obedience is being able to train in a show situation. I figure, if I sign him up for conformation but not obedience, I can use the time to work with him and get him used to the stress and chaos. Not that I think it will bug him too much. He is so different from Pax!

Pax, up until the moment he was neutered (at age 6!), was an extremely outwardly-focused dog. It gave him great attitude; I think he would have shown beautifully. But getting him to focus on me was HARD work.

River is much more focused. He notices and (so far) isn’t stressed by events around him, but he’s able to concentrate and work, even when there are strange dogs working around him. I’m not sure he has the attitude to do well in conformation (even if he has the structure), but you never know!

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Snuggly (and brilliant) puppy

River was snuggly this morning. Not sure why, but three separate times he crawled onto my lap, nibbled on my fingers, and then tucked his head onto my shoulder to nap. It was painfully sweet. If he weren’t so big (and I didn’t have work to do), I’d have loved to let him stay there.

Took a break in the middle of the morning and, since we’re having a break between storms, decided to take him outside into the front yard. Remembering how hard it was to get his attention out there a couple of weeks ago, I decided it would primarily be for his exercise, and I would just reinforce his recall now and then.

This was a different puppy. He heeled — and I mean perfect head-up heeling — all the way to the front gate and back. He broke off to do a little exploring, and I was able to cue some beautiful recalls. He even swung himself into heel position a couple of times. I let the big dogs out with us for a two minute run, and each time the three dogs got as far from me as they could, I cued River’s recall — and he came galloping away from them back to me. (Twice the big dogs came thundering back too!) That’s a 30 yard recall away from some pretty powerful distractions!

Only thing he didn’t do well was stay. I tried just once or twice — figured there was no reason to focus on it right now, since it wasn’t in my original plan. I can bring him out later, assuming it’s not pouring rain, and work on stays.

I’m really glad I have this area and the pastures. The dogs don’t get much access to them, so the distraction level is fairly high. They’re also fully fenced and private, so I can train off leash. It’s excellent practice when I can’t get into town or to PetSmart to practice in higher distractions.

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I think we’re FINALLY making real progress on the housetraining. Yayyyy. I was beginning to despair that it would never happen. Now that the deck has been rebuilt and the dog door is more puppy-friendly, River is going in and out of it regularly.

Now that he’s big enough to get on and off the bed by himself, he’s even taking himself out at night — or trying to. LOL. I don’t trust that completely and follow him down to make sure he goes alllll the way out. When Pflouff was a puppy we built a channel between the stairs and the dog door to ensure she kept moving, and so I think I’ll start doing that with River.

Sincerely — you have no idea how relieved I am. He’s not housebroken yet… I certainly haven’t stopped suggesting he go out several times a day, and I’m still getting up several times during the night… but I’m finally seeing a little light at the end of the tunnel. (Please, God, no trains. Can’t. Handle. A. Train.)

In other news, River has been to three puppy classes now, and he’s doing fabulously. I’m so proud of him. I get comments about how calm and sweet he is. Sweet, yes, but the “calmness” is from careful reinforcement of calm, relaxed behavior. He’s really doing a fantastic job of focusing on me during class — for a 16-week-old puppy attending his first round of puppy classes, I mean. We have a lot to learn, but it’s progressing little by little.

He’s doing well with sits, downs, recalls, go to heel, down on a mat, and walking (a few steps) in heel position. We’ve introduced “stay” over the past week or two. It’s still shaky, but it’s improving. I really want to emphasize “stay,” because it’s the foundation of impulse control. He needs to learn that giving up what he wants earns him even better things — that patience REALLY pays off. I’m not ready to introduce big distractions yet. First I need to get just the distraction of me moving and jumping and acting silly really solid. Then I can have both me and Jay acting silly. Then I can add things like food on the floor, toys bouncing around him, and toys being thrown. Being able to hold a sit while a retrieve object is thrown (or shot!) is a foundation behavior for field training.

It just occurred to me that I haven’t invested an afternoon on “Crate Games” yet. (That’s because the first session really is two or three hours long. I don’t focus on things I ENJOY for that long!) Crate Games will really teach him basic self-control though, and the lessons can be generalized to other situations. I need to get on that!!

The other thing we’re working on, though just a little, is backchaining the retrieve. River is a retriever, and he has an excellent, instinctive play retrieve. But the formal retrieve is something different, and I want to teach it right. I have decided to get the take solid on a bunch of different types of objects before I really progress the training. That could be a mistake — I don’t know. But I do know I want the take and give to be really, really solid and really, really generalized.

So, overall, things are going well, and I’m happy. River is growing like a WEED, and his temperament is every bit as sweet and gentle as Pax’s is. I love my little boy.

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The world fundamentally changes the first time you hear a pack of hunting coyotes in full voice. At least that was River’s experience last night.

I took River (and Pflouff) out to pee at 1:45 this morning. The coyotes were across the street at our neighbors’ place, raising holy hell. Our neighbors raise alpacas, and although an adult alpaca (especially one in a paddock with her buddies) isn’t likely to be on the menu for coyotes, a baby cria could be. Our neighbors are intelligent people, though, and their entire property is surrounded by 5-wire New Zealand fence — very hot electric wire nicknamed “coyote fence” for a reason. So the coyotes surrounded the pastures they couldn’t reach and made a nuisance of themselves.

No lights at the neighbors’ house, so they might have slept through the whole thing. Not River. When he went outside, his whole body went on hyper-alert. Pflouff ran to the front, ready to confront the intruders if they dared to come near her fence. River ran back inside. I had to carry him back out and shut the door to get him to pee. When we went back to bed, he couldn’t settle. He sat up, alert and listening, for an hour and a half until the coyotes left.

I don’t blame him. The first time I heard them, I thought we were being attacked by banshees. The sound a pack of coyotes makes is eerie, otherworldly. When dogs bark, they bark at the same time, but they bark their own individual pattern:

Dog #1: Bark bark growl snarl bark!
Dog #2: Growl bark whine bark bark!
Dog #3: Woof growl bark woof growl!

Coyotes are different. It’s as though each one barks the same pattern, but each starts the pattern a fraction of a second later than another:

Coyote #1: Yip yip bark growl yip bark
Coyote #2:     Yip yip bark growl yip bark
Coyote #3:        Yip yip bark growl yip bark
Coyote #4:            Yip yip bark growl yip bark

It gives a terrifying, echo-like quality to the singing that adds to the impression they’re all around you.

I’m not worried about River. He was fine this morning, and he’ll learn through experience that the coyotes won’t come near our dog fence. He is small enough right now that he *could* be a coyote dinner, but that won’t be true for long, and it’s not likely he’ll be harassed with me, Pax, and Pflouff around. The coyotes are annoying, but they’re not stupid!

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