26 June 2011

Raising a Puppy - Week 8+

With a little help from my friends...
    I've been off writing a bit because of back and hip pain — doc says I have sciatica, most likely caused by, say, about 2 months of chasing a little puppy around. I'm trying to take it a little easier, and am also getting some help from my friends — our morning play group, my friend Karina stepping in to "babysit," and advice from a local dog trainer.

First, the morning play group: Here we have Gem, Misha, Ellie, and Kavik, the four regulars at our neighborhood pre-workday play group. The oldest dog is about three, I think, and of course, Gem is the youngest (he was born 7 March 2011, so he's over 3 1/2 months old now). These guys play really well together, but usually pair off Misha with Ellie and Gem with Kavik.

Kavik and Gem seem to have a special bond — I think it has something to do with the fact that Kavik is such a nice dog and Gem has a fascination for pulling on his incredibly fluffy white fur.

They have a great time wrestling and running and generally wearing each other out.

Gem especially likes to pull on Kavik's tail, and sometimes I wonder at the big dog's patience.

Second: My friend Karina loves dogs — we met while walking our golden retrievers several years ago. Since then, both our big guys have passed on, so now Karina has stepped in as "Auntie." Yesterday was Bear's and my 1st anniversary (we got married in Vancouver last year), so Karina helped us out by taking care of Gem. Everyone had a good time and I learned I need to stop worrying so much about whether Gem will be OK and whether he might be too rough... I'm not the "be all and end all" for Gem.

I was worried about leaving Gem alone with Karina because he has been biting — hard. I have some rather impressive bruises to prove it, and lots of torn clothing. I've been quite exasperated with this behavior, so I called in a specialist: Gigi Moss of Boulder, recommended by my vet and by word of mouth. Gigi came out to my house today and gave me some great advice. One: I do not need to try to assume an "alpha" role with Gem and fight with him physically. Prying things from his mouth and grabbing him by the scruff of his neck, or "clocking him one" as his breeder advised (which I did not do) will only serve to intensify his out-of-control feelings/behavior. If he's biting and pulling, "biting" and pulling back will not elicit the desired response, which is to get him to let go, to stop biting. He has to be "interrupted" — given something else he'd rather have in his mouth (and accompany that by saying "get it" or some other command that he will begin to associate with the redirect). I'll have to start carrying an arsenal of sticks and treats and toys — things that I know will catch his attention.

Gigi also explained that adult dogs will not discipline a puppy with force. At this age, they won't force him down or swat him or otherwise punish him. A well-balanced adult dog that has had enough of a puppy may say so with a growl, but the greater "punishment" is that it will simply get up and walk away.

The worst (and best) thing you can do to an attention-seeking puppy is to deny it attention! Pulling and yelling and pushing and begging and getting all wound up works great if you want the puppy to pull, bark, push, beg, and get more wound up. Of course, when you're out on a walk, you can't simply drop the leash and leave your pup, but you can redirect the behavior and, if nothing else, tie the leash to a tree and turn your back for a minute.

Caveat: I'm writing quickly and putting what I gathered from Gigi today in my own words, so any factual errors or misstatements are all mine. Gigi had more hints that I'll take more time to put into action and cover here in greater detail. Gem, Bear, and I will be meeting with her again in a couple of weeks to check in and learn some other skills.

The best thing about working with a trainer: Having another human to talk to. Reading is great; taking your dog to socialization classes is great — but sometimes you need the one-on-one discussion time to reinforce what you know, to ask questions, and to develop the specific skills you need to nurture a healthy, mutually enjoyable relationship with your pup.

Today I have a true sense of a bright future for me and Gem.

1 comment:

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