Touch

Betsy learned a new trick yesterday.

For the longest time, I was obsessed with perfecting the basics with Betsy and refused to move on to any new tricks until her ‘sit’, ‘down’, and ‘come’ were totally distraction proof and totally perfect.

Buuut, after months and months of practicing, she is still not perfect (sad!) and I’m getting a little bored of practicing the same tricks over and over and over and over, and I assume she must be tired of them too.

Don’t get me wrong, she’s pretty good. She will happily do a sit or a down any time, anywhere. I can even get her to do a sit/down when there are dogs at a reasonable distance (although it’s a struggle for us both) But I don’t feel like she’s at the absolute most perfect sit/down ever.

For one thing, she will break it from time to time, if the distractions prove too great.

Also, if she’s distracted sniffing the ground or staring intently at something, she often goes into this weird trance that I can’t break through. Any command given during this time falls on deaf ears. Even waving a treat in front of her nose doesn’t work. I’m really not sure what to do about this, so if you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments!

And, on top of all this, I’ve barely even started practicing the recall with distractions. I’m too scared of screwing it up, because even withOUT major distractions, her response rate varies. In the house, she’s great; out and about… mm, not so much. 50/50 I’d say.

Ok, so now that I have confessed all my training sins, here is another: We started a new trick.

I did a bit of googling to see what the most useful possible trick to teach next could be, and I settled on touch, for a few reasons:

  • You can use it as alternative to the recall (because it requires her to come to you to complete it)
  • You can use it to teach her the name of people (I can translate it to “go touch Ben”)
  • And things (Hold an item and get her to do her regular ‘touch’ on the item and then teach her things like “Touch the leash” “Touch your toy”)
  • Which could one day lead to “touch the light” – yay, no more getting up to turn off the light!
  • It’s got a ‘fun’ feel to it (I can move my hand around and make her do different ‘touches’, it’s a bit more active & interesting for her than a sit or a down)

Here she is a day after I first started teaching her ‘touch’

I apologize for the low quality! We do a few other tricks because Ben continued to record for longer than I expected πŸ˜‰ You can see a few things she learned ‘naturally’ (ie I didn’t make a conscious effort to teach her) … “go in your crate” and jumping up on items/running to stand in certain locations when I point to them.

It’s so neat to see how quick she learns. The first few training sessions I didn’t use the word ‘touch’, I just held out my hand with a treat nudged between my fingers. I made sure she understood the concept that touching my hand with her nose = treat from my other hand. It took her a few short sessions last night to get the picture, at first she was super confused and kept offering different behaviours. I felt bad for her and was worried I was doing a poor job of showing her what I wanted.

BUT it’s like she suddenly had a breakthrough – we had two 5 minute difficult sessions, then later I tried another one thinking it would be equally difficult, but she suddenly seemed to ‘have’ it, and she was SO EXCITED!

I quickly moved on to using the word ‘touch’ (adding the word whenever she touched my hand actually seemed to help her learn quicker) and from there began holding my hand in all sorts of positions… she totally had it! Amazing. I couldn’t believe how she went from super frustrated to a pro in under an hour.

We practiced it on our walk this morning and again when I got home from work and… yep. She’s got it. She loves it.

Our technique is probably not competition quality, but it’s good enough for me!

Advertisements

Earning doggie freedom: Unsupervised time in the house

Since getting Betsy, we’ve been very very strict with her unsupervised time. At first, unless we were directly interacting with her, she was in her crate. As she got a bit older, we allowed her to wander as long as she was in our line of vision and we weren’t distracted cooking dinner or something.

About two months ago, we started cautiously allowing her to stay in the living room while we cooked dinner in the kitchen. It was pulled off without any issues, so, recently, just shy of 6 months of age, we’ve given her two more freedoms:

  1. Allowing her to sleep on her dog bed at night instead of in her crate.
  2. Allowing her to be unsupervised when we not able to check in on her for long-ish periods of time, such as when we’re showering or when I leave for work and Ben is still in bed.

Hopefully she doesn’t ruin it all by chewing on something naughty! She is pretty good – has never touched any wires and hasn’t touched any furniture since her first week with us, but she does really love to steal socks out of the laundry and try to entice us into a game of chase. Plus, I believe she will soon enter her second chewing phase, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we had to move back to the crate temporarily, but at least it’s a start!

She’s still crated while we’re out of the house, by the way, and I don’t think that’s a freedom she will earn until she’s well out of puppy-hood, maybe three or four years old. Too much potential damage can be done!

I told Betsy to lie down next to my mom's dog, Stoic, for a photo-op. You can tell she's absolutely vibrating with the desire to jump up and run over to my mom, who is out of the frame.  Good job Betsy with your down-with-distractions!

I told Betsy to lie down next to my mom’s dog, Stoic, for a photo-op. You can tell she’s absolutely vibrating with the desire to jump up and run over to my mom, who is out of the frame. Good job Betsy with your down-with-distractions!

As a side note, I was pleasantly surprised by how well she took to sleeping out of her crate. She flops down on her dog bed and will stay in the exact same position from 10pm until whenever we wake up – which is usually 6 or 7am, but one morning I slept in until nine and woke up to her sitting calmly on her bed, just staring at me, like she knew the day couldn’t begin until I woke up, and was too polite to try and wake me up early.

These are the main criteria we used for each graduation period – always the same questions, but you never know, with more freedom the answer could be different.

  • Is she having house training accidents?
  • Does she ever chew on naughty things in front of us?
  • Has she chewed on naughty things when we weren’t carefully watching her?

Have fun with your dog

Before I even got a dog, I spent every waking moment reading about dogs, dog training, how to raise a perfectly balanced dog, how to have a dog that is well-trained and polite, etc etc etc. I was obsessive about my research.

Online, there was a lot of information, and lots of it was useful, but everything (surprisingly!) failed to hit on one key point: Enjoy your dog. Play with it. Snuggle time isn’t enough, you need to run around together, throw toys, play tug, work with what kinds of games it loves to make it love you.

I know this seems painfully obvious, but somehow it wasn’t. Much of what I read said things like “Don’t play tug because it encourages dominant behaviour,” or “Strong pack leaders don’t play with subordinates.”

Lots of articles just didn’t make mention of playtime at all, instead focusing on things like nothing in life is free (which I still support, if only because introduces lots of great extra training opportunities)

We did try to play fetch a little with her, but it quickly became obvious that Betsy only played fetch if given a treat after each retrieve, and was otherwise disinterested in the activity. Instead of trying to work within her interests, we simply gave up.

And so, when Betsy would jump and tug on the leash, desperate for some playtime on her otherwise boring walk, I’d be like a tree and ignore her until she stopped.

Oh how I regret it now. Her cutest, most adorable first two months with us and I was trying so hard to do everything right that I managed to get this one thing horribly, horribly wrong.

When she was about 3 and a half months old and we were on another boring walk, she had a tantrum (her one and only tantrum in all her time with us), something clicked, and I remember saying to Ben, “I just realized that we…. never… play with Betsy. Ever. I think we should try to make more of an effort to have fun with her. We’re always so serious.”

A quick timeout from a fun game of chase in the house on a rainy evening.

A quick time-out from a fun game of chase in the house on a rainy evening.

And just like that, life with Betsy became a million times better. It was already good, we already loved her, but playtime kicked it up to the next level and I really wish we had started earlier.

Ben and Betsy playing with a tennisball toy in a fenced-in court.

Ben and Betsy playing with a tennis-ball toy in a fenced-in court.

There are lots of reasons why playing with your dog (and probably puppies especially) is a good thing.

First of all, it’s fun. What’s the point of having a dog if you’re not going to play together? It also helps with bonding, and keeping your dog’s attention on you when you’re out and about. If your dog thinks you’re the coolest, most fun thing around, why would it want to run off to chase something else? It builds trust, it builds the dog’s confidence in itself, and in you, and as a result, it makes training easier.

Betsy and I now do a few things in play:

  • I bring a tug toy on every walk, and bring it out for a few minutes as a reward after she executes a nice sit or down.
  • She loves being chased, so we do a lot of keep-away with one of her stuffed animals. This is exhausting for me, but it’s probably a good workout.
  • She loves hide and seek; it’s so cute to see her cautiously peering into a room and then lighting up and bounding towards me when she realizes that she’s found me.
  • She also really likes “find it”, where I hide treats and then send her on a mission to discover them.

I still really wish she enjoyed playing fetch – I did spend some time working on it with her, hoping that she’d learn to love it, but it’s so obvious that she likes being chased so much more… it’s hard to force her into a game that she’s lukewarm about.

Still trying to find that perfect game that tires her out without tiring me out, too πŸ˜‰

A quick rant

The one downside to dog ownership is the number of pretentious and judgemental people you encounter, most of them dog owners themselves.

I encounter three different kinds, and they all make my blood boil:

  1. The ones who give me advice that is super obvious, as if they think I’m some dumb dog owner who doesn’t do her research. This one is well meaning and I do my best not to show my irritation, but ugh, I don’t need to be told that my dog’s back dewclaws should be removed when she’s spayed. I do realize that they’re floppy and a hazard, thankyouverymuch. And please stop telling me to go to dog parks and how important it is to socialize my dog. I have spent a lot of time socializing my dog, and continue to do so. And maybe you don’t feel that dog parks are dangerous to puppies, but I most certainly do. I have heard way too many horror stories.
  2. The ones who have breed bias and admonish me on the dangers of rottweilers. You’d think if you are a dog lover you’d be a bit more accepting. Not to mention the general rudeness of it. Think what you like in the privacy of your own home, but badmouthing rottweilers to my face is like badmouthing homosexuality to a gay person, or smoking to a smoker, or anti-children sentiments to a mother, or bashing religious people when talking to a religious person. It’s RUDE. Especially since Betsy’s behaviour does nothing to trigger this – she’s as sweet as pie to everyone she meets.
  3. The ones who act all weird about their own dogs as if my dog is a monster. We’re on a walk, they let my dog greet their dog, the dogs begin to play together, and then the owner suddenly gets all tense and wants to leave, as though Betsy is bothering their dog. She isn’t. Their dog is clearly enjoying themselves, and it’s not even like Betsy does anything to look scary – she doesn’t make any scary noises when she plays, her body language is bouncy and excited, and she doesn’t do an excessive amount of height seeking. I get that sometimes this is just because they want to move on with their walk and that’s fine, but other times it’s obviously because they just feel uncomfortable with dogs playing, which seems so WEIRD to me.

BLAH.

(obviously I had a very annoying walk this morning, can you tell? :P)

Solving problem behaviours: Jumping at Cars (eek!)

In my introduction post, I mentioned that Betsy had “gotten over her fear of cars” and that had introduced a whole new problem.

The problem is this: Now she loves cars. She loves to jump at them, she wants to chase them, the bigger and scarier the better (busses are her favourite).

She especially loves cars when it’s dark and rainy out (aka when there is very low visibility for seeing a small black dog), I imagine because they make loud wooshing noises and their lights are exciting and bright.

We first noticed this new obsession when she was about 3 & a half months old, and it scared us. Chasing cars is probably one of the most dangerous and terrifying habits a dog can develop.

With her especially it’s scary because she jumps at them on leash, and when she’s full grown and 100lbs, she could easily drag me into traffic along with her.

I did a bunch of research and I took the following steps:

  1. Got a martingale collar for walks instead of a flat collar. This is because her flat collar can loosen easily and be pulled free of if she jumps at just the right angle, whereas a martingale will tighten up and make sure she doesn’t get free. We still use the flat collar for low-traffic walks, but whenever I know I’ll be near a busy road, I martingale up.
  2. Started practicing calm behaviour when near a road. This includes praising her when a car passes and she doesn’t react, and sternly saying “At-at” when she jumps at a car (when she jumps it also means the leash tightens up and then yanks her back down, so that’s probably no fun for her either)

I know a lot of people believe in ‘purely positive’ training, and while I try to train her with rewards as much as possible, I’m not going to simply ignore the unwanted behaviour of her jumping at cars. I need to let her know I don’t approve.

So how has progress been?

She is much much better. At first, she jumped time and again at car after car, whenever we were by a road. Now she will jump maybe 10% of the time. My hope is that this will eventually make its way down to zero. I also often catch her thinking about jumping and then changing her mind and looking at me for a treat instead. Which is perfect.

How much exercise does your dog get?

Socialization

Hi Internet! I have a question for you. It’s the title of this blog post.

Let me explain why I’m wondering.

I have read that (young, healthy) dogs need between two and three hours of exercise a day, with at least half an hour of hard cardio (so an activity that makes them pant)

I have also read that you need to be careful about large breed dog exercise because you don’t want to affect their joint growth.

Some people insist this is crazy-paranoid and to just not allow your young dog to jump/run on concrete, but long walks are fine.

Here is what seems to work for Betsy. It’s hopefully not affecting her joints, but if we cut back on her exercise she’d be miserable. She needs it!

  • 40 minute walk in the morning
  • 20-40 minute walk halfway through the day
  • 1 hour walk in the evening
  • 30 minute – 1 hour game of tug/fetch/chase/whatever in the evening
  • 15 minutes obedience in the evening
  • 20 minutes of “find it” (I hide a treat under a bowl and she has to pick which one it is. Alternatively, I’ll hide it around the house and she has to find it.)

On the weekends, some of this is substituted by an hour of puppy playtime with other young energetic dogs (phew)

I also often feed her meals through a puzzle toy to try to tire out her mind, although she finds it laughably easy and I don’t think it’s really all that mentally exhausting for her.

Ok, so this seems like a fair bit, right? Let’s say an average of 2 hours and 25 minutes of exercise + various “mental workouts” Not the absolute most – I’m sure working dogs, agility dogs, etc get WAY more, but decent, right?

So I’m googling other peoples’ large-breed dog exercise regimes and it seems like a lot of them think that two 20-30 minute walks per day is a generous amount, which is WAY less that what I’m doing with Betsy! And I think it’s not enough…. But maybe I’m wrong? How are their dogs not running around like maniacs in the house? I always find that when Betsy hasn’t had enough exercise she’s absolutely insane.

(by the way, that’s not some terrifying dog cage fight in the featured post image. It’s two puppies playing at puppy class!)

Choosing Betsy

I thought it might be fun to write a bit about how we chose Betsy out of all her other super adorable siblings.

We used the Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test to choose Betsy. There are lots of video examples on youtube of this test.

Some people swear by this test, other people think it’s outdated and ridiculous, but it worked really well for us. Or maybe we just got lucky πŸ˜‰

Some of Betsy’s brothers, at first glance, were way more appealing than she was. They were SO friendly and excited to meet me, jumping up and mouthing happily at my hands. However, according to the Volhard theory, really outgoing and mouthy puppies, while super super cute when young, turn into extremely confident dogs that can be a handful to manage. (needless to say, we didn’t really want a handful of a 110lb rottweiler for our first dog!)

Betsy hanging out with her siblings. She's the one with the pink collar.

Betsy hanging out with her siblings. She’s the one with the pink collar.

I kind of wanted a female dog and we also preferred the rottie colouring (although it was a really tough call, so much cuteness!) So we tested all the females first. Betsy was the first puppy we tested and she killed it compared to her sisters. She was the only one who came when called (tail down) & she was totally cool with being held down on her back and held up in the air.

Betsy's siblings. All the rottie coloured puppies were female and I believe two of the mixed yellow lab looking  pups were male (and the third female).

Betsy’s siblings. Interestingly, all the rottie coloured puppies were female and most/all (not 100% sure) of the mixed yellow lab looking pups were male.

We have since received tons and tons of compliments on Betsy’s temperament, so I’m really glad we chose her, and I think the tests definitely helped. When the vet met Betsy, she told us we’d picked “A really well tempered puppy”, and the trainer at the puppy classes we go to has told me on more than one occasion that Betsy has “the perfect temperament”


You really have to go in to choosing a puppy with a game plan. Otherwise it’s sooo easy to be overwhelmed. If you’re going to a professional breeder, they will be very well informed and will likely chose the best puppy for you, but the ‘breeder’ we went to was just a family with two dogs that happened to breed, so it was up to us to judge which puppy had the best personality for our lifestyle.

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.