Raising A Creative Canine

The introduction of a new puppy into a reactive multi-dog household


The Most Important Puppy Task No Comments »

The AVSAB’s (American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior) statement on the importance of puppy socialization:

The primary and most important time for puppy socialization is the first three months of life. During this time puppies should be exposed to as many new people, animals, stimuli and environments as can be achieved safely and without causing over-stimulation manifested as excessive fear, withdrawal or avoidance behavior. Incomplete or improper socialization during this important time can increase the risk of behavioral problems later in life including fear, avoidance, and/or aggression.” www.avsabonline.org/avsabonline/…/puppy%20socialization.pdf

The most important thing for puppy Austyn is to give him as many positive and productive experiences with humans, canines, and the world as possible. Emphasis here are on the words “positive” and “productive.” Certainly it is not possible to predict what the outcome of every interaction will be but it is extremely important beforehand to get as much information as possible to make that decision intelligently. But something can always go wrong:

Take, for example, one of Lizzie-Taylor’s puppy experiences: At lunch we were walking around in a nearby Petco when a gentleman started walking toward us with his adult Golden Retriever. Seeing that we both had Goldens, I smiled. He asked about Lizzie-Taylor, how old she was etc… He then asked if his Golden Retriever could meet her. I happily consented because his girl Golden seemed nice and calm. I gave Liz her “Go say Hi” cue and she went up to the Golden confidently. Right as she was about to sniff her, his female Golden quickly snarled and smacked Lizzie on the head. Needless to say I was shocked! I looked at the man questioningly and he said, “Well, I guess it’s true. She has not been great with puppies and thought maybe it woud go away but I guess not.” I was furious! I would have liked to be told ahead of time that we were guniea pigs!

So even in that situation, there were no dead giveaways. Sometimes things just happen!

My socialization plan with Austyn so far:

Each weekend we walk in the woods with friends to interact with their dogs and to work on recall and check-in skills.

Austyn comes to work with me everyday to learn how to settle in his crate (with many mentally stimulating toys) and meet all of my co-workers, their children and their dogs.

He comes to all of the various training facilities that I go to. Once there, he is learning to wait in his kennel while all of the other dogs work and then he gets his working time as well. Here we practice walking around other dogs that he CANNOT say hello to. I put this interaction on cue, so that when he is an adolescent, he will already know that this is not a “given” and therefore he will not get frustrated and/or reactive when he cannot say hi to every dog he sees. The scenario described above is one of the many causes of canine reactivity.

Tennis Ball, Anyone?

Interactive Toys No Comments »

Interactive toys are those toys, like tennis balls and Frisbees, that you play with your dog one-on-one.

I view these separately for two reasons: the first is that these games are wonderful relationship builders between you and your dog, if played under the right conditions, and second, being a veterinary technician, it is quite common to see dogs that have ingested things, like tennis balls, and other types of inedible items. Be sure that you puppy proof your home!

Below are the Rules of Play that I follow with all of my dogs. The only difference is that I will not start taking Austyn’s toys out of his mouth when he brings them to me until he is a couple of months older.

Tennis Ball - I thnk I LOVE you

I start the play.
The play does not start when my Golden Retriever starts scratching my arm demanding that his needs be met. Years ago my America Eskimo scratched my arm so hard that it ripped my shirt. This was before I knew anything about dog training. Back then I would allow this because I felt guilty that I had to work all day and could not play with him until the evening.

I reinforce the correct behavior.
Now I decide when I want to take the dog(s) outside to play and then I will wait for calm behavior and/or ask the dog to perform a behavior of some kind before the play begins.

So it looks like this: I go and get the tennis ball from the bucket and then call Lizzie-Taylor to me. Together we go outside. I ask her to sit and then upon completion, I throw the ball for her. She brings it back to me at which I will either give her a treat or will throw the ball for her again as the reinforcement. I will then ask for another behavior. I vary the behaviors I ask for so that she never knows what comes next. Sometimes I ask her to lie down, touch my hand, sit in heel position, and so on.

With Austyn, at this age I either ask for a sit or a hand touch. He knows both of these quite well.

Tennis Ball - the object of all affection

I end the play.
The play comes to an end when I decide that it does, not when my dog takes the tennis ball and hides it in the bushes! I try to estimate how many retrieves each dog is comfortable with before completely tiring out. For example, Lizzie-Taylor is good for about 6-7 long retrieves before she becomes “sluggish.” Because she is a competition dog, I want to interact with her only when she’s “on” and at the highest point of her energy level. So I tend to throw the ball for her about 5 times and then I say “All Done!” Together we go back into the house and the tennis ball goes back into the closet until the next play session.

Mental Stimulation

Play Toys No Comments »

Austyn has two different toy buckets, both of which contain his “normal” toys. These are the toys that he hangs out with everyday as opposed to the interactive toys that I use only when I am going to interact with him one-on-one. Tennis balls and Frisbees are wonderful examples of these.

Play toys are the toys that are in his play area. These toys are rotated every day. If dogs see the same toys laying around all of the time, they get sick of them regardless of whether or not they’ve played with them. Children are similar in this sense.

Canine toys can be very expensive so it is a good idea to rotate them on a regular basis. When I used to counsel families individually, I would have the children in the family decide which toys the dog(s) would have access to each day. They loved having this job! (Anything to play with the dog toys!)

Each day Austyn finds “new” toys in his toy bucket. I also have put the toys in a bucket that he can run into and roll in as he chooses a toy. (More mental stimulation!) This is Wylie-Rae rolling in the toy bucket.

Austyn plays wonderfully on his own, although anytime he is out and about, he is supervised.

Physical and Mental Stimulation

Brain Toys No Comments »

Now that Austyn has been home for a few days, my next priority is to come up with a plan to keep him physically and mentally stimulated.

It is important for all dogs, regardless of breed, and ESPECIALLY for puppies, to be physically AND mentally stimulated each day. If this is not provided for them, they will come up with their own ways to mentally stimulate themselves, and I can guarantee, it will not be something we humans would approve of!

Physical stimulation is easily understandable. Any time the puppy runs, jumps, plays.. These are all ways that the puppy is physically stimulated. Because of puppy growth plates, it is far more preferable to keep the puppy running and jumping “horizontally” rather than “vertically”. You do not want to put unnecessary pressure on fragile growing joints.

As written by Dr. Daniel A. Degner, Board-certified Veterinary Surgeon (DACVS)

“Dogs and cats under one year of age have growth plates, which are located near the ends of the bones of the limbs. Growth plates are responsible for growth of the bones.The growth plates are much softer than other regions of the bones, therefore are more prone to injury. Growth plates normally fuse or close down as the pet matures. Most of the pet’s growth occurs during four to eight months of age. After eight months of age, little longitudinal growth of bones occurs. Usually by one year of age the growth plates are closed and are not visible on x-rays.” copyright © 2004 Vet Surgery Central Inc.

For example, if you are playing with a tennis ball, roll the ball for the puppy to chase instead of throwing it into the air. If you throw it, there is more of a chance that your puppy will run and try to jump up to get the ball. And once the puppy brings you the ball, instead of taking it from him, massage the puppy while he still has the ball in his mouth. Puppies at a very young age like to bring you things to show you what they have, they don’t necessarily want you to take it from them at this young age. You can teach them to “Give” in a couple of months.

You also will not want to take the puppy on very long walks. Several short walks (10-15 minutes) are more preferable than a very long one. (45-60 minutes)

Mental stimulation will encourage your puppy to use his brain creatively. It is very important for them to start making decisions for themselves, and for them to practice this task, several times a day. A mentally stimulated puppy is a happy and tired puppy!

For Austyn, his plan will include the following:

Brain toys: These are the toys in which he will have to figure out how to get the food that is inside. Austyn eats the majority of his meals in this fashion. Actually all of my dogs do, even as adults. Please note that there are also brain toys that you put treats inside instead of a whole meal. Use both interchangeably.

Kong: The Kong Company has many different brain toys that one can purchase. My favorite is their original Kong that comes in a variety of sizes. Black is for the heaviest chewers and red is for the mild to moderate chewers. With my guys, I take their meal and stuff it into the Kong and either freeze it or refrigerate it. You will have to see which consistency your puppy prefers. I have one dog, that if it is frozen, will turn away. Too much work. But he will work on a Kong that has been refrigerated.

Do you feed kibble? This works great too. Just mix in a very small amount of canned pumpkin (low fat and fiber for lean stool) or use some canned veterinary “bland” food. For example, I use Royal Canin Intestinal diet, to mix in Wylie-Rae’s Kong.

I prefer these fillings simply because I do not want my dogs to get diarrhea. Some of my students have filled the Kongs with peanut butter, yogurt, cream cheese, and so on with much success,

Busy Buddies: This company has my toy of choice for Austyn: the Twist n’Treat. This is a toy that looks like a flying saucer where one end screws into the other. You can adjust the challenge of getting the food out by how close you screw one side to the other. The flying saucer, itself, can be filled with any kind of gooey food. Since Austyn is on a raw diet, this can easily be smeared into the creases of the toy, and hence, keeps him working steadily to get his meal. I started with both ends screwed together lightly, but as he becomes more skilled, I start to screw the pieces closer and closer so it becomes harder and harder to get his meal.

Other ideas to feed your pup: smear your puppy’s food into a bundt pan or a cupcake tray.

Luckily for us, the pet stores are now filled with many different types of brain toys. I’m sure you can find one that will suit your puppy’s needs.

And the last thing that I want to mention is to remember to put your puppies in their crates, or other Safe Spaces, for a nap regardless of whether or not they seem to need it. Puppies need to have plenty of sleep. If they do not have adequate rest time, they become extremely over-stimulated and this is when, us humans, can become very annoyed with them. This is the puppy that stops playing with their toys and starts biting us instead! They act like over-rambunctious children! They need to nap numerous times throughout the day. They rely on us, their caretakers, to make these decisions for them.

I can remember years ago when Ben was a baby: about dusk I would call him the “piranha fish” biting at whatever would cross his path! Yes, that includes my pant leg. Into the crate for a nap he would go! I started to change his routine and would put him in the crate before dusk with a mentally stimulating toy. Behavior was much better.

Now my pups go in and out of their crate/space all day along. This time lessens as the puppy matures. And all of my dogs do rest after a training session. There is something to be said about latent learning!