28 May 2011

Raising a Puppy - Week 4

Quite a week it has been. So many ups and downs, but by the end of the week, more up than down.
      Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, Gemmie seemed to escalate from "puppy play-biting" up to aggressive, hard biting. I stopped letting passersby pet him, and worried that with Gem I'd bit off more than I could chew.
      I don't bruise easily, so the two big bruises Gem left on my arm on Monday illustrate what to me was an unheard-of power for such a little pup. On Tuesday, I was to the point of sending him back to the breeder for (1) a weekend off and (2) remedial training/socialization with his sister and mother and the other goldens there.
      But sending him away didn't feel right, so my husband, Bear, and I decided to redouble our efforts. We'd tried the "yipping" and "growling" suggested by books, Websites, and by the vet, but that did not cause Gem to stop or to loosen his grip. So, we moved to a stronger method, one used by Cesar Millan on his show, The Dog Whisperer. As soon as Gem started to bite one of us, we would yell "no" and then push him down to the ground, holding him on his side until he stopped struggling and let out a breath of relaxation.
      It's hard, and I bet it looks scary and mean. But the puppy is not being hurt and, more importantly, neither is the human. I say more important, because in the long run, a puppy's well-being is measured by how well he interacts with others — especially other dogs and humans. An aggressive, undisciplined dog is an unhappy dog. Such behavior would not be tolerated in a pack, and fitting into the pack (family, neighborhood) is of great importance for a well-balanced dog.
      And it works! Gem has not bitten me since Wednesday morning — that is, he has not bitten me for long! He is seemingly 10 times more gentle now than he was a week ago. I can caress his face and not fear being bitten. In fact, he seems to be enjoying the softer attention much more now.
      As anyone raising a puppy knows, this fight isn't over. It will require consistent, calm discipline. But it's empowering to both human and dog to know it is something that can be handled and overcome.
      Speaking of empowering to the human — last night I learned something about myself and about Gem that my sleep-deprived over-worrying was not letting me see. Gem is a good dog. I am a good trainer. We work well together.
      We went to our first puppy socialization class at the local humane society. Gem was the biggest pup there and I was worried he'd be overbearing and aggressive. Not so. He was gentle and calm and he was the first pup to display the classic play bow. It was interesting to note that other folks in the class did not know what that meant. 
      What made me most proud of Gem, though, was when the trainer asked to use him to help the more shy pups. The class was made up of two very small corgis (wow are they cute; they look like little long-eared guinea pigs!) and two under-socialized humane society adoptees. First, the trainer separated the larger adoptees from the very shy corgis, then had Gem lie down and stay while the corgis came up to him. They were praised whenever they came near, and they were able to learn that this big dog with the strange waiving appendage (when had they seen a tail before?) was not a threat and that they were safe. A great confidence builder. 
      After a while, Gem was moved to the other side of the room with the larger pups. He initiated play and they had a good time. One of the pups, Lucy, was having a harder time, because she was afraid of humans as well. So, while Gem played, I enticed Lucy to me with treats until she turned and allowed me to pet her bottom. Soon, she'll be more relaxed around everyone.
      Gem is promoted to the 12- to 18-week-old puppy group next week, and so is Lucy and the other bigger pup. I'm looking forward to seeing them get to know each other more and having Gem help work out their "issues" (hah! and mine!). Also, it will be nice to have Gem be around a larger bunch of pups to see how it is for him to be the small one.
      Another cool thing: They had a little tunnel in the training room, and I got Gem to go through it on the first try! I'm thinking for sure this guy and I will really enjoy agility training when the time comes.
      And one last benefit — nothing's better after a long day than a tired puppy...

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