This post goes hand in hand with the series on Puppy Raising. These are exercises that can be executed in different ways, but I cannot overemphasize how important it is to train young pups using a positive and rewarding approach. There is enough adversity in the exercises themselves to be challenging for pups without adding any extra. We also always want to preserve the positive association with people and handling whenever possible.
These skills are non negotiable in my opinion. They set the basis for a positive relationship between dog and owner as well as the development of self control. When dogs learn early that there are fair rules to follow and that by following those rules, they can get what they want/need, it forms the foundation for the development of a confident, stable dog who trusts their owner. Just like children, dogs do best within a structure, with fair rules. Also just like children, they do best when they understand those rules well and the rules are tailored to their cognitive abilities. Remember that some puppies, just like some children, will push the boundaries harder and more often than others. Setting the rules requires being willing and able to enforce them when necessary, again with a good understanding of cognitive ability. A young pup won’t be able to meet high standards for behavior like an older pup will.
For information purposes, “backward motion” is what we see when a dog/pup is about to sit. All of their energy is moving them backward, away from you. “Forward motion” is the opposite, what we see when a dog is about to run after something or go through a door.
The training exercises should be done away from stock unless otherwise indicated. Rewarding with food should be done with the pup’s regular ration of kibble (use freeze dried meat for raw fed or bits of hot dog) if at all possible; for highly stressful situations consider using something very tasty like roast beef or chicken.
LGD Puppy Raising Exercises
- Make it a routine practice to handle feet, toes, ears, run your hands over all parts of their body, look in their mouths. Start slowly and gently for pups who seem disturbed by what you are doing. Do not overdo it and release the pup when they accept the handling. Praise calmly.
- Introduce to strange children, adults, people with different clothing and hats, people of different skin color, shapes, sizes, abilities.
- Introduce to different flooring, different obstacles (logs on the ground, gravel, rocks, tall grass, etc.). Encourage reluctant pups but allow for independent problem solving. Do not coddle.
- Train or at the very least, expose to a crate. Crate training is easier if pups are given something very yummy to chew on such as a stuffed kong or flat rolled rawhide.
- Place a flat (regular) collar on the pup. Wait until they are no longer bothered by the feeling of wearing a collar before going to the next step.
- Attach and allow to drag a leash/light long line in an area of a building or on the property where they are comfortable.
- Have pup drag a leash (or preferably a longer line/rope) and then pick it up, let it down.
- Pick up leash and apply slight pressure, calling the pup by name or with a sound, when they turn to you, release the leash and praise.
- Next time, pick it up, apply pressure (slight and steady, then increasing – do not yank), turn and call the pup, then take a few steps with them going in the direction of the pressure when they respond, drop leash and praise/play.
- Follow by shortening the leash/line, but do not hold tight. Allow for slack in the line unless applying pressure to change direction or encourage a reticent pup to move forward. Do several changes in direction before releasing. Rewarding with food is appropriate if helpful, but do not do around stock.
- Tie the pup for a brief period of time. Do not untie until relaxed.
- Restrain the pup by hand briefly and take note of reaction. This gives you information about what kind of pup they are. Pups can be afraid of restraint, so do not assume struggling or getting upset is an indicator of issues with dominance.
- Take note of who is bossy in the litter and who is not, and whether mom will correct the pups for pushy behavior. Make a plan to encourage timid pups and to teach bold pups to wait.
- Practice getting in and out of a vehicle. Reward and praise heavily.
- Take pups on a fun car ride (not to the vet), expose them to sights and sounds off the farm/homestead.
- Take pups to the veterinary clinic. Ensure as much positivity as possible. This will be easier to do if pups are already used to being handled and restrained.
- Feed in both separate and areas together out of individual dishes, ensuring fairness. Fairness means no stealing, no matter how “nicely” and submissively it’s done.
- Ask pup to sit by raising food dish above their heads before feeding.
- Do not give pups what they ask for when they ask for it – whether it’s food or attention, going through a gate (except if it is for the purposes of relieving themselves) – instead, give it to them when they show at first slight and then more patience/backward motion (settling).
- Do not greet the pups with high amounts of enthusiasm around stock, children, people of different physical abilities or the elderly.
- Show affection mainly after the pups have settled and have “four on the floor”. This means that all paws are in contact with the ground. This does not mean that you cannot interact with pups when they are excited and/or playing (see bullet point directly above for exceptions to this), but share affection most often when pups are displaying “four on the floor”. This means making a point of seeking out pups who aren’t naturally pestering for your attention. Remove attention and/or help to settle if the pup becomes too excited to remain in contact with the floor/ground. This will mean split seconds of patience/backward motion for enthusiastic pups. Build from the split second to longer periods in subsequent sessions.
- Show stock affection and focus first, then pups. Do not give a pup attention who puts themselves between you and the stock when you are paying attention to stock. Place them to the side and when they relax, calmly praise. Physically block if necessary, and only show affection when you are done interacting with the stock and only if the pup is also being calm with backward motion. The same rules apply to interacting with children. All enthusiastic play/interaction should take place away from the stock/children.
- Feed each pup some kibble in sequence by hand. Ask for some sign of engagement (looking you in the eye, responding to a sound) before giving the pup their piece. Physically block other pups or dogs from trying to take food out of turn.
- Place pup in stall or pen and shut door briefly. When they are quiet, open the door and praise, allow them to exit. See comment above (regarding affection) about rewarding split second patience for pups who struggle with self control.
- Once the pup is sitting reliably for their food dish (they should be able to sit until the food is on the ground), use the raising hand motion to ask them to sit before allowing them over thresholds (gates, doors). As they mature, they should wait for you to indicate whether to go in front of you or wait for you to enter/exit. Treats can be used to encourage this behavior but should only be delivered outside of the stock enclosures or at the very least, away from the stock.
- Give pup(s) a bath. This may not be appropriate in the coldest of weather, but combined with a bit of crate training or confinement work (can be done together in a room) it can be a good exercise even then. Ensure they are well dried before returning outdoors in cold weather. Reward heavily with food/treats during this time.
The only deviation from reward based methods I suggest is to begin to form the basis for appropriate corrections. Those will follow in an upcoming post.