On Good Behavior LLC

Puppy Priorities

I have a new puppy! Ally was born April 20th, 2009 and joined the household on June 17th. She is a Vizsla. My clients have been very curious about what I’m doing with Ally, so here are my priorities for eight to sixteen weeks:

  • Socialization: Ally’s breeder did an awesome job socializing this litter and Ally is very excited to meet new people including men and kids. Nonetheless, I don’t want to take this for granted. We tend to have a quiet household, so we’ve made point of regularly having people over for dinner, having my agility students come in the house to meet her etc. I also try to walk her in a busy neighborhood like downtown Princeton or Rocky Hill every other day.
  • Play with your own stuff: I want Ally to be able to have run of the house as soon as possible, so I was very careful in the first few weeks to keep all shoes put away, kitchen towels up on the counters rather than hanging from the refrigerator door etc. I also used gates, an ex-pen and a leash to restrict her access so that whenever she was out of her crate, the only things within reach were her bones and toys. I made sure she got lots of attention for chewing on her own stuff. After a month, she is starting to seek out dog toys to play with and mostly ignoring other items–except socks!
  • Play with me: Most puppies love to play tug with their owners, but lots of adult dogs lose interest in playing with their people. We play tug multiple times a day and are now working on playing tug in lots of new places. I want her to be able to focus on playing with me despite distractions. 
  • Sit to say hi: Ally is a very bouncy, pawsy puppy. Often, owners tolerate this when the puppy is small, but get angry when paws are muddy or the dog gets big. Ally’s rule is that her butt has to be on the ground to visit. If she jumps, I either turn away or slip a thumb in her collar and gently lift her off of me with no comment and no eye contact. At this point, she very rarely jumps on me, but she has a long way to go with other people! Of course, training the other people is by far the hardest part.
  • Control yourself: Ally’s rules already include sit while I fix dinner, sit to have your leash put on, sit to come out of your crate, sit before I’ll throw a toy. All of these rules are easy to enforce—if she won’t sit, I won’t cooperate!
  • Come: I started teaching an emergency recall cue (I use Come) as soon as Ally could sit. We started with yelling Come as she sat in front of me and I fed her lots of treats. Then with her sitting in front, I would take one step back, lure her to come towards me and sit again, and feed her lots of treats. Gradually, we built distance and faded out the lure, but she still gets rewarded generously every time she comes. I’m also careful not to use my emergency Come! for everyday situations when I need her to come along—that’s Let’s Go.
  • Explore new objects: As a future agility star, I want Ally to love walking on new things. I’ve been using a clicker and shaping her to climb on a box, wobble board, plank, log etc etc.
  • Hold still: Dogs need to learn to be still and tolerate restraint for grooming, vet visits, pulling off ticks etc. There have been lots of protests about this, but Ally spends a little time restrained in a sit, stand and/or a down every day.
  • Settle in a crate: This was the hardest one for Ally. Initially, she screamed her head off unless I was right next to her. She was having full panic attacks and wouldn’t eat when in her crate. It took most of our first two weeks together for her to learn to relax when separated from people. This required patiently waiting out the screaming and going back to reward any quiet. At first, she wouldn’t eat the treats I would drop through the door for quiet moments, but eventually she started eating and stopped screaming. It’s important for puppies to learn to relax in crates both when home alone and also while people are home but busy. You never know when you will need to confine your dog for a repairman, scared child, or because the dog needs rest after surgery.
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