This Little Doggy is now 5 months of age, which means she’s been with us for three months. It seems like forever ago I was travelling to Scotland to pick up the tiny bundle of mischief; can it really only be three months?
How did this…
…turn into this…?
I thought it time I wrote a little review of the training we’ve covered so far. Keep in mind that I’d like to have Luna do some showing in the conformation ring, and also train her up to be a working gun dog, albeit we’ll very rarely have the opportunity to actually go out on a shoot. So I’ve started on the basics of both of these, as well as normal pet puppy training.
This has been a long slog, but we’re nearly there at last! We have the very occasional accident inside, when I’ve misinterpreted her signals. We’re still getting up at least once a night, but that’s a physical maturity issue, I’m sure, which will sort itself out in time.
Very, very little biting now. She plays “bitey-face” with my open hand really nicely, with no contact. She does like to chew the fluffy tops of my boots on walks if she doesn’t have another job to do, so I have to keep her busy to save my poor Sorels – and calves, if she aims wrong!
Every day, I do desensitisation work with eye drops. She’s still getting the saline drops daily, but I’ve stopped the medicated drops she was having for conjunctivitis, and her eyes are looking good now.
I brush her teeth daily, too – well, I let her chew on my rubber finger brush at the moment, because she’s still teething and I don’t want to cause her any pain. She likes the taste of the toothpaste, which helps – and since I changed to this new brand, the Two Bigger Doggies’ teeth are also looking amazing.
A couple of times a week, I trim her nails, just with clippers for now, but I’ve just started reintroducing the Dremel, and she’s not fazed by it.
We’ve done some work on a chin rest, but over the coming weeks, I want to extend that to her having her chin in my lap rather than in my hand, as it’s more convenient to have both hands free.
This is mostly very good. She’s great when there are multiple people and tends to be quite diffident towards them, until I tell her “say hi”, at which point she turns into a wriggly mess. She struggles more when it’s a single person she’s met before, so that’s something to work on. Having said that, today we were walking off lead and she saw a friend, but stayed by my side until we were close enough to say hi.
Ignoring other dogs
This is very much a work in progress, but we don’t get a lot of opportunity to practice. A few times a week, I take her down the street to where there’s a Pyrenean Mountain Dog behind a gate. He barks and hurls himself against it to get at us. Squidge is very excited by this and would love to play. She’s starting to check herself and look towards me before trying to pull towards him. If I do focus exercises in front of him, she quickly responds.
Other dogs on the street tend to be off lead (despite the law) and they’re impossible to work with, since they’ll come over to us. This is going to be our biggest challenge by far when we enter the show ring. I can already imagine the carnage…
I introduced this quite late with the Two Bigger Doggies and it’s not brilliant at times, so I wanted to address it immediately with Luna. I want her to learn not to go through an open door until told to, not for any outdated ideas of me being “alpha”, but because it’s potentially dangerous, not to mention just bloomin’ annoying, for a dog to push through the slightest crack in a door ahead of you. She’s generalising this pretty well, and waits both outside and inside the lift and at all sorts of other doors for me to release her to go through. She struggles with walking out of our apartment door when she’s excited to go for a walk, so I have to work on that.
We’re getting there. She is defaulting to standing a lot better at the back now. I’ve been using a mirror to check how she looks from the side – it’s surprisingly difficult to tell how square she is from above. I’m sure the pros do it somehow, but no chance for me! I’m slowly adding duration to her stand (only a handful of seconds for now) and adding a release cue. I’ve also started people stroking her while she remains standing still – not easy for a Lab puppy who thinks everyone is her friend!
If you see us in the street and I have her in a stand, feel free to come over and ask to stroke her; I’ll be most grateful for the practice!
Her sit is good to a visual or verbal cue with minimal distractions. She’s happy to do it around people, and once I have her focus, around other dogs. I’ve been adding duration and distance slowly. Ten paces away is our maximum for now and I’ve included turning my back on her to walk away, which is far harder for her than simply backing up. I am introducing movement – waving my arms, standing on one leg, star jumps, spinning in a circle, running on the spot. Again, slowly, slowly.
It’s hard to do the early stages of Total Recall when you have other dogs in the house! So, I’m working on it out and about by blowing my whistle when she’s running towards me on walks, with or without the other two dogs. We also play short sessions of ping pong recall a few times a week, which she LOVES and this has massively speeded her up. I can’t do too much because I don’t want to stress her joints, but we play a few reps every few days. When J comes with us on walks, we can call her back and forth between us, too, which she loves – but again, only a little here and there to protect those growing joints.
Walking to heel
She’s wonderful at walking to heel, on and off lead – for now! When adolescence hits, it will probably be a completely different story, but setting the groundwork now is hopefully going to pay dividends later. For now, there’s hardly any lead pulling; I expect a tiny bit as we approach places where she knows she will be let off lead. I could counter this by keeping her on the lead more often at those places, but it’s not very practical (for example, where there are snow banks to clamber over), so I prefer to have her learn to control her impulse to pull, because that will stand her in good stead in the future when exciting things outside of my control happen.
I have started to introduce an automatic sit at heel when I stop walking. I was a bit concerned this might cause issues in the show ring, but there’s no reason why it should interfere with my “stand” cue. I have a different way of holding the (also different) lead when she’s in show mode, so she should take all of that on board as her cue for behaviour.
Targeting a post
This is fairly new. Having her touch a post with her nose may seem like a bit of a party trick, but when it comes to teaching her to run away from me, and with directional control, for gundog work, it’s very valuable.
I introduced the post inside the house a while back, but she was more interested in chewing it than touching it with her nose, so we’ve had to go very slowly with that stage, to shape a nose touch rather than picking it up and running off with it! She’s pretty good with this now, unless she’s over excited, so I’ve started introducing distance, meaning she has to move away from me to get to the post, rather than starting off with it under her nose. Only a few feet for now, in a straight line in front of her. Complexity – added distance, multiple posts, direction – will come much later.
The hunt whistle is a certain pattern of blowing that tells the dog to search an area. Basically, “put your nose down and find the dummy/bird/whatever”. At the moment, the training is very basic – I throw a treat on the ground and, while she’s distracted, throw another one so she doesn’t see it. Then tell her to “find it” (she already understands this means to put her nose on the ground) and blow my hunt whistle when she’s on top of it. Again, distance will be added as time goes on, so she has to hunt a wider area, and in more difficult terrain.
This is where you blow a single peep with your whistle and the dog stops what it’s doing, turns towards you and sits. We’ve only done a tiny bit of this, and obviously only when she’s completely focussed on me. Still, she has a far snappier sit than the older ones sometimes do! This tends to end up a far stronger behaviour than the recall, and is the “go to” if Shadow gets a whiff of marmot.
Her early days with me showed that she has a very strong natural retrieving instinct. I was warned by both her breeder and an experienced friend to not do too much, because it would be very easy to turn her into a loopy retrieving monster, so I’ve done very, very little recently – and have been kept busy with other things, anyway! I tried a little inside the other day and she wasn’t that keen to play, so I was a bit concerned that I’d broken her somehow. So I did a little bit of puppy “switch retrieve” with her and found out that she’s really not broken at all! This is a game where you throw a toy in one direction and, when she brings it back, throw another in the opposite direction. It’s very fun and I used it to build desire in Shadow, who wasn’t the keenest retrieve when he was younger. Well, I think this will be a game that stays “in the bag” in general with This Little Doggy, as I could see it turning her into a monster in very short measure. It was great fun, though!
In hindsight, I think she may have been put off at home by having the other dogs watching what she was doing. They all need work on “honour” around each other, meaning they learn not to take a retrieve that’s not for them. The Two Bigger Doggies are generally brilliant at this between themselves, but haven’t yet learned that the rules apply to Luna’s toys, too! So, as they learn that, Luna will also gain in confidence that she’s not going to have her things taken away.
She has a great delivery to hand most of the time, too, that I want to nurture. It’s something I have to keep brushing up on with Willow and Shadow, so I’m keen to keep Luna’s natural delivery as strong as possible.
I’ve only done a bit of this – holding her back as as I throw a toy or ball and then releasing her with “go get it”. But, now her sit/stay is strengthening, I’ve been playing around with it a bit more, dropping a ball on the floor in front of her while she stays sat, and now I’m able to throw the ball a few feet in front of her while she remains sitting before I release her to retrieve it. I still hook her collar with my finger at this point, to prevent her self-rewarding, but we’re making good progress and I’m very pleased with her ability to control herself.
All of this training is approached though making games, and she absolutely loves it. She laps up all the new learning and sticks to me like glue when we’re out on our walks, wondering what fun thing we’re going to do together next. She’s a bright – and fun – little spark and I’m loving working with her.
Here’s a little video of one of our training walks. Videoing is great as it shows up all my faults, too. I really need to learn to stand still!!