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 😉

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 😉

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.

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!