Rewarding calm behaviour

It’s important to us that we have a relaxed dog that isn’t always running around like crazy, jumping on people in greeting, etc. Betsy isn’t there yet. She’s not the most hyper dog I’ve ever met, but she’s pretty excitable around people and other dogs, and is often getting herself into trouble by trying to play with dogs that absolutely do NOT want to play. She doesn’t approach calmly for a sniff – she will happily launch herself right onto a strange dog’s back if I let her, as if obviously they will want to play with her.

Not ok.

She also tends to roam restlessly around the house in the evenings, picking up naughty things to chew on, even though she has plenty of ‘legal’ chew items at her disposal.

She is getting better. We’re quite stern with off whenever she tries to jump on someone, and when she does approach someone calmly, we always make sure to praise her. You can often see her trying to contain herself – she’ll start to jump, then remember she’s not supposed to, and curb herself into melting into someone’s legs instead. It’s so cute to see her try so hard. But sometimes she completely forgets, especially around other dogs, so it’s a work in progress.

One experiment I have started after reading about other people doing it, is randomly rewarding her whenever I catch her in a relaxed state around the house. If I notice her lying on her bed, or quietly chewing her bully stick, I’ll make sure to tell her she’s a good girl, and I’ll often go grab a treat to give her as well.

I have no idea how well this is working but my theory is that it certainly can’t hurt!

We also practice various impulse control exercises, which Betsy is really good at, despite her issues with rude greetings. She has to sit and make eye contact with me before being allowed to approach her food dish. She has to sit calmly in front of me before I clip on her leash. If she’s really eager to get outside/inside, I make her sit and wait until I have taken off/put on my shoes before she’s allowed to go through the door. When she pulls towards something she thinks is super awesome, we turn around and try again until she manages to approach it on a loose leash.

Betsy practicing her impulse control by waiting for my ok before she can have breakfast.

Betsy practicing her impulse control by waiting for my ok before she can have breakfast.

Sometimes it feels impossible, like we’re making zero progress. But I know this must not be the case!

And occasionally, we have a breakthrough. She used to start dragging us whenever the house came into view, so excited to come inside and run around like crazy. After a million “turn around” exercises after each walk, she finally has figured out that she doesn’t get to walk down that final stretch of road until she is walking calmly by my side. And in recent weeks, our turn-arounds have diminished from 10 to maybe 1 or 2.

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Puppy Walking

5 months old

One thing I find really weird is how many “stressful” “problems” we’ve had with Betsy that upset me SO MUCH and I feel like it is THE END OF THE WORLD WE ARE DOG PARENT FAILURES… and then a week or two later I’m like “Oh yeah, I forgot that was even a thing!”

One of the first puppy problems we encountered was the walk.

Betsy hated the walk.

Mainly, she hated leaving the house. She’d sit and she’d refuse to move. She’d jump into my arms nervously. She’d whine, she’d shake. When we finally got back home, she’d suddenly switch gears and desperately try to drag us towards the house. We felt like jerks, but were advised by various people to just keep trying.

This went on for several weeks, and then there was a turning point.

There were actually two turning points.

One was the neighbour’s dog. Betsy loves the neighbour’s dog. He’s a 7 year old black lab and he barks at her whenever we go out for a pee break. Betsy alternates between running away, barking back, and trying to play through the fence. He’s a really friendly old guy, and one day me and Betsy happened to be going for a walk at the same time as the neighbour. Betsy was SO OBSESSED with chasing after her super fun neighbour-dog that she forgot how much she hated going for walks! Even though we took a different direction from the neighbour, just the act of getting out there completely shook Betsy from her fearful funk, and we had our first fun walk together ever.

I think the other turning point came when we started loose-leash training in obedience class (we started obedience class when Betsy was about 3.5 months old) and I started carrying treats with me to encourage her to walk next to me and not way in front/way behind.

On a walk

Approx. 3.5 month old Betsy on a walk, trying to pose but distracted by some Dachshunds that are walking by.

Now I carry treats AND toys with me, and our walks have become so much more fun for both of us. We don’t just walk. We walk, we train, we play a little as a reward for good training, we get to meet people and dogs (Betsy loves meeting people and dogs). My one regret is that I didn’t start bringing treats and toys with me sooner, but honestly I don’t know if it would have mattered. I think the real problem was Betsy’s age – she was just a little too young to enjoy walks when we first got her.

Adventures in Crate Training

Betsy started crate training the moment we brought her home.

There were two main reasons we decided to crate train Betsy:

  1. Housebreaking. Everything I read prior to getting Betsy said that crates are the absolute easiest way to housebreak a dog. Based on our experience with the crate, I have to say that I agree.
  2. Landlord stipulation. Our landlord’s rule for dog ownership was that our dog was in a crate when left home alone unsupervised.

After researching crate training, I learned a few other reasons why it was a good idea:

  • Teaching dog to self-sooth. It’s important for a dog to know how to be alone, and how to comfort itself when stressed.
  • Preparing a dog for situations when a crate is required, like if she gets lost and ends up at the pound for a few hours.
  • Gives the dog a safe spot to retreat to if needed. (example: Betsy recently voluntarily used her crate when we had a friendly dog over and she needed a five minute break from playtime.)
  • Is a safe way to transport your dog when in the car.
  • Keeps your puppy out of trouble at bedtime, so that you can sleep without worrying about her getting into something naughty!

We found crate training Betsy to be ridiculously easy. We were very lucky. She took to her crate pretty much right away, and although she protested a little, it only took a day or two for her to completely adjust to being in her crate. She never complains, and always scoots in there happily at bedtime. (and if there’s a treat involved, her default behaviour is to run to her crate, in hopes that we’ll give her a treat if she goes in there.)

Betsy's Current Crate

Betsy chillaxing in her crate with a bully stick.

Betsy has had two different kinds of crates, the solid plastic kind and the kind that is all bars that the dog can see out of. She definitely prefers the solid plastic kind. A total cave dweller! When we first got her, she had to go in her crate fairly often for potty training purposes, but now that she’s a bit older, she only goes in there at bedtime, when left alone, or if she’s being hyperactive and getting into mischief every 30 seconds and I need a moment of sanity.

Our potty training experience

The nice thing about the crate means that as long as the puppy is in there, no accidents! So you don’t have to worry about her having an accident overnight, or when you’re not paying attention. Because whenever you can’t supervise your new puppy, she is in her crate and not off in a corner pooping!

It also teaches the puppy that holding her bladder is a possibility, a concept that not all (if any?) puppies are born with.

Betsy was awesome with her crate. We’ve never had a crate accident, although we’ve known people who have struggled with this. When we first got her, she’d make funny noises of discomfort in the middle of the night when she really had to go, and I’d get up, carry her outside (never let your new puppy walk outside or they’ll totally pee on the floor before you get there!), and let her do her business. We did 2-3 bathroom breaks in the middle of the night at first, then just 1, and, only recently (at 5 months old), we’ve gone down to zero. Yay!

Betsy posing in her brand new adult-sized crate.

Betsy posing in her brand new adult-sized crate.

We haven’t had many accidents in the house at all, although I wouldn’t call Betsy 100% housebroken, and probably won’t for a few more months, just to be safe. But she definitely is fairly trustworthy at this point, and I don’t have to constantly watch her, terrified of the sudden squat.

Time-outs

Sometimes Betsy gets into this zone of being annoying. She gets tons of exercise, we do lots of training and games to tire out her mind, but every once in awhile she just… bah. Is annoying! Mostly pulling kindling out of our firewood stack and trying to chew on it, which is not allowed. Sometimes getting into the recycling so that she can chew on a piece of cardboard, which is also not allowed. If she keeps going back to annoying behaviours after a thousand redirections from me, I usually get fed up and crate her for about ten minutes. After she is let out again, she is usually magically more mellow and no longer getting into mischief. I don’t know why this is but it’s a lifesaver.

Crate tips

  • Always have something chewable in the crate! Chewing is a great way for a dog to relax itself, and it also gives the dog something to do if it wakes up and is bored waiting for you to let it out.
  • Don’t leave your dog in the crate for inhuman amounts of time. Of course!
  • Make sure your dog has had lots of exercise before expecting her to be in the crate for any amount of time.
  • Give your dog treats in the crate without locking her in, so that “Go in your crate” doesn’t always mean “I’m locking you up and leaving you alone.”
  • Play crate games with your dog (we don’t do this nearly enough but luckily Betsy is fond of her crate & it doesn’t seem to matter….)
  • Again, use the crate responsibly. Don’t be a jerk.

Puppy Socialization

Meeting her first cat.

It was very important to us that we socialize and condition Betsy as much as possible.

What is socialization and conditioning?

Socialization – Getting your puppy used to as many people, children, dogs, cats, horses, and other living creatures as possible.

Conditioning – Getting your puppy used to as many weird objects and environments as possible, like walking on bridges and weird surfaces, traffic, funny hats, loud noises, etc.

Socialization

Betsy attending puppy socialization class.

Angel

Betsy meeting Angel, my mom’s older and somewhat crotchety pomeranian.

We did a ton of research on these two topics before getting a puppy, and there are a bunch of things that we learned:

  • Socialization and Conditioning can and should continue throughout a dog’s life. however, a there is a small window of time in a puppy’s life that makes a huge difference: the first 16 weeks.
  • It’s important that the experiences your puppy has during this time are positive and not overwhelming.
  • It’s important that your puppy meets as many people and other dogs, etc as possible, and that her interactions with them shows her that these creatures are really wonderful and fun.
  • Socialization is an EXTREMELY IMPORTANT aspect of raising a happy and well-balanced dog.
  • There are hundreds of articles on puppy socialization online that detail all this at length, so I will link you to a few if you’re interested: How to socialize your puppy, Puppy socialization, Puppy socialization is part of raising a perfect puppy.
  • Another really important thing for a puppy to learn is bite inhibition, which is also learned during a puppy’s first 16 weeks of life. You want your dog to have the softest bite possible so that she doesn’t hurt other dogs or people in the future. Bite inhibition is best learned by playing with other dogs: They play, a dog bites to hard, the other dog yelps and stops playing, the dog learns that she needs to not bite as hard in the future.
  • Finally, you want your puppy to learn about other dogs’ body language – Play moves, calming signals, etc.
  • All of these are reasons why socialization is extremely critical 🙂

Unfortunately, puppies also go through something called a fear period between 8 and 12 weeks of age, where scary things can traumatize them and affect them for the rest of their lives. So while you socialize them you also have to be EXTRA careful that you don’t expose them to anything terrifying. A lot of responsibility, and we were so so paranoid.

(pro tip: If your dog is scared of something, the best way to deal with it is to approach the scary object and interact with it, to show your dog that there’s nothing to worry about. Do not comfort your dog, as this just tells them that they’re right for being afraid!)

Betsy’s Socialization Adventures

Needless to say, we did our absolute best to socialize Betsy well, and continue to do so, even though she’s past the critical phase. I don’t know how well we did, and probably won’t until she’s a bit older, which is when you can start to see the effects of things you might have missed out on. However, I don’t think we could have done anything more, so no regrets!

Meeting her first cat.

Betsy meeting her first cat, a friendly/slightly senile old cat that belongs to my parents.

Here is some of the stuff we did:

  • Puppy socialization classes – This was a big part of our socialization plan, and I’m so so glad that we did it. When we first started going, Betsy was really nervous. It took about 6 classes for her to come out of her shell, but we kept it up and now she absolutely LOVES going to class (we still attend a few times a week, since she has so much fun there). These are classes put on in our local pet stores by a professional trainer. Puppies 8 months and under are thrown in a pen together and given a chance to play. This is where Betsy has met the majority of other dogs, has practiced bite inhibition, play regulation, and responding appropriately to other dogs’ signals.
  • Meeting kids – My boyfriend is the manager of an after school care program, which is awesome for socializing Betsy with kids. Betsy went to work with him for the first 3 months that we had her, and he made sure she had positive interactions with kids of all ages every day. Again, she was a bit scared at first, but now whenever we pass kids on one of our walks, she is dying to go say hello to them!
  • Meeting elderly people- At my boyfriend’s work, there is also a seniors’ centre, so he would take Betsy there on his lunch breaks to meet with the residents there. There she got to experience canes, walkers, wheelchairs, etc, and learned that old people are awesome (and they loved visiting with a puppy, so it was win-win!)
  • The world in general- We take Betsy with us as much as we can. We often go downtown for coffee, so we’d take her with us and let her hang out on the patio (with us, not alone of course) while we drink our coffee. All sorts of people are downtown, and they all like to say hi to a cute puppy, so she got to experience a ton of different types of people, as well as lots of traffic and interesting noises and smells.
  • Cats – This was tricky, but we managed to introduce Betsy to five different cats, all of them with completely different personalities. One was my mom’s senile old cat who seems to be completely unaware of what’s going on half the time. She let Betsy sniff her at length before wandering off. Another was my mom’s younger, spunkier cat, who growled at Betsy and bolted, much to Betsy’s surprise! My boyfriend’s brother has two cats, one that Betsy kept trying to play with, and another that tried to scratch Betsy when she walked by. And finally, a cat we encountered on one of our walks, who simply stared at Betsy in disdain when she gave it a play bow.
  • Horses- Betsy saw a few horses from a distance when we first got her and took her to a farm, but I wish we could have done more 😕 I don’t think she’s well socialized with farm animals, unfortunately.
  • Having people over and going to other peoples’ houses – Betsy has experienced lots of both. ‘Nuff said.

Strange observations when socializing

When Betsy feels overwhelmed or scared, her immediate reaction is to beg to be picked up. I don’t know where she got this behaviour from, it seems to just come to her naturally. She did this around traffic, other dogs, and kids when we first got her, although she has since gotten over this and loves all three of these things (almost too much! More on that in another post…)

Doberman

Betsy on one of her downtown adventures, looking a little nervous while meeting a friendly Doberman.

As she’s gotten older, she has gained so much confidence. I don’t know if this is related to her age or due to us raising her confidence through ample socialization. Or maybe a mix of both. Betsy is virtually never scared now. I recently watched her pop a balloon and not even flinch at the bang, while my mom’s older pomeranian scooted off in fear at the noise!

One thing we were always worried about was traumatizing her. Especially during puppy socialization class, where she seemed SO TERRIFIED at first. I actually emailed the trainer after her first class, worried that we were scarring her for life by bringing her, but she encouraged us to continue coming, and it turned out to be a good idea.

I don’t worry about this so much anymore, although I do live in fear that a dog will run up and bite her on a walk or a stranger will abuse her and trigger fear aggression later in life 😦 I do my best to not approach other dogs without checking with the owner first, and carefully watching their signals to make sure things are going ok. It’s hard because Betsy is totally clueless, and will jump playfully all over a dog that is giving off every warning sign in the book if I let her (I don’t!)

Recently, Betsy had two unpleasant interactions, one with a dog and one with a human. The dog was at a dinner party. The owners assured us it was a friendly dog, it turned out it wasn’t 100% friendly, and it bit Betsy not once, but TWICE. Neither bite broke the skin, and Betsy seemed to come out of it unscathed emotionally (fingers crossed). I’m hoping it was a good lesson for her not to be too pushy with other dogs, and that the fact that the dog obviously refrained from biting TOO hard gives me hope that she saw it as a correction and not as a totally terrifying event.

The other was with a person (what?!) who thought he was some kind of dog expert, and grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and wrestled her to the ground, SHOUTING, when she jumped up in hello. We don’t encourage Betsy to jump, and we always correct her for doing so, but our corrections involve pushing her off and turning our backs, not wrestling her down and holding her there! I was livid with him and I still regret not saying something 😕

Our adventures in socialization continues!

An Introduction

Baby Betsy.

Hi guys,

My name is Rose and my dog’s name is Betsy. At the time of writing this post, she’s 5 months old. She’s a Rottweiler (3/4) & Yellow Lab (1/4) cross.

My boyfriend and I got betsy at 9 weeks of age, and she has become the focal point of our lives.

After raising Betsy for the last three months, I have decided to start a blog to write about our adventures in training and raising a well-mannered dog. There’s a lot to think about and a lot to be paranoid about, and hopefully this blog will be useful to others who are attempting to raise the perfect puppy!

Disclaimer: I am not a professional dog trainer! I do a lot of online research and do attend obedience and socialization classes with Betsy, but I definitely am not an expert. This blog is for your (and my) enjoyment, but it is not the bible of dog training by any means 🙂 I undoubtedly make mistakes, and dog training philosophies vary greatly, obviously!

Some photos of Betsy so you know who I’m writing about!

A bit carsick.

Betsy on the car ride home from the breeder.

Baby Betsy.

Betsy lying in the grass in our front yard after finally arriving home from the breeder.

Lying in the grass.

Betsy lying in the grass in our front yard after finally arriving home from the breeder.

Little Betsy

A photo of Betsy taken a few hours after she first came home, out for a potty break.

Meeting her first cat.

Betsy meeting her first cat, a friendly/slightly senile old cat that belongs to my parents.

Naptime.

Little Betsy enjoying a tummy-up nap.

Stick.

Betsy being naughty and chewing on a stick.

Halloween

Betsy about a month after we got her, on halloween night, looking all cute.

Volleyball

Betsy loved this volleyball during her first month with us, but has since lost interest in it.

Window

Betsy looking out the window in our living room. She likes to watch the birds that fly by.

On a walk

Approx. 3.5 month old Betsy on a walk, trying to pose but distracted by some Dachshunds that are walking by.

Nose

About 3.5 months old.

About 3.5 months old.

Making funny faces

Betsy in late November (so about 4 months old) posing with my boyfriend for a photo and looking goofy.

3.5 months

Making her adorable face

Antlers

Betsy at about 4.5 months, didn’t want to wear the antlers we got her (we didn’t force her :P)

Posing with Santa

Betsy at 4.5 months getting her photo taken with Santa.

5 months old

Betsy at 5 months, on a sunset walk.