Dog Food

While I originally fantasized about feeding Betsy raw, I ultimately decided that it was too expensive and, after researching everything involved, realized it was a lot of effort to make sure she was getting a properly balanced diet. I might eventually still try it, but for now at least, I ended up researching a bunch on Dog Food Advisor to find a good alternative.

Betsy and I on a hike by the ocean where the fish in her dog food is caught ;) Look at her sit-stay! Such a good girl.

Betsy and I on a hike by the ocean where the fish in her dog food is caught πŸ˜‰ Look at her sit-stay! Such a good girl.

I ended up having to decide between two: Acana and Orijen. At the moment we’re feeding Acana because it’s a bit cheaper, and from my understanding, Orijen can be nutrition overkill unless your dog is extremely active. Since they’re both made by the same company, I’m sure they’re both equally awesome, and DFA seems to agree. PLUS they’re Canadian, and most of their fish is caught right near our house, so it feels like we’re feeding Betsy local food. (I’m sure she doesn’t care one iota about this but I’m a crazy pet owner and excited for her anyway.)

I’m ALSO super excited for when Betsy can stop eating boring old puppy food and I can start rotating her through the various Acana Regionals. (I know. She won’t even notice the difference, right? I’m nuts. But there’s something fun about reading the ingredients on the various regional foods and imagining feeding Betsy all these tasty meats.)

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!

The Joys of Housebreaking

Probably the number one thing that everyone spends time researching when they get a new puppy is housebreaking.

I read a ton of different articles in order to get a complete picture, so I thought I’d try to include it all here in one place for future puppy owners, so that they don’t have to search multiple websites.

Best way to get started with housebreaking

I really really recommend the crate method. This was what we did, and you can read more about the benefits of crate training in the link I included, but here is a rundown of how to use it for housebreaking:

When you get a new young puppy (8ish weeks), they will NOT be housebroken. It’s not physically possible. Even if they do have some sense of “Going outside is better,” (which they likely won’t!) they don’t have the bladder control to reliably hold it.

Lying in the grass.

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

So you need to use a strict strict schedule, and rule number one is: If you can’t watch them, they absolutely MUST be in their crate. Most puppies won’t soil their own sleeping area, so make sure you have a properly sized crate (properly sized meaning it’s big enough for them to stand up and turn around in, but no larger).

Rule number two of housebreaking is:

  • Potty break after every nap
  • Potty break after every meal
  • Potty break after drinking water
  • Potty break every 15 minutes when playing

Rule number three (this is not so much a rule as a way to make rule number two easier to manage)

  • Feed your puppy its food and water while it’s in its crate
  • This can buy you a few minutes after it finishes before you take it outside for a potty break
  • When your puppy is super young, it’s easier to schedule its water instead of allowing it to free-drink, so that you know whether the puppy is empty or full. Note: This means you have to be very careful about making sure your puppy gets enough water throughout the day!

Rule number four?

  • If they have an accident as young puppies, it’s not their fault, it’s YOUR fault.
Betsy at 6 months old, playing with Ben at the beach.

Betsy at 6 months old, playing with Ben at the beach.

Young puppies sleep a lot, so when you’re not playing with them, they should be happy to just nap in their crate. Here’s an example schedule of a day with a 8 week old puppy:

  • 6am Wake up, take puppy outside for first potty break. (I carried Betsy at first, because if I allowed her to walk, she’d always stop and pee on the floor before we got there)
  • 6:15am Puppy Playtime
  • 7am Food and water in crate
  • 7:15am Potty break
  • 7:30am Naptime
  • 8:30am Wakeup, potty break
  • 8:45am Puppy Playtime
  • 9:20am Water in crate
  • 9:30am Potty Break
  • 9:45am Naptime
  • 10:45am Wake up, potty break
  • 11am Puppy Playtime
  • 11:45am Food and water in crate
  • Noon Potty break
  • 12:15pm Naptime
  • 1:15pm Wake up, potty break
  • 1:30pm Puppy Playtime
  • 2:15pm Water in crate
  • 2:30pm Potty break
  • 2:45pm Naptime
  • 3:45pm Wake up, potty break
  • 4:00pm Puppy playtime
  • 4:45pm Food and water in crate
  • 5pm Potty break
  • 5:15pm Naptime
  • 6:15pm Wake up, potty break
  • 6:30pm Puppy playtime
  • 7:30pm Water in crate
  • 7:45pm Potty break
  • 8pm Puppy Playtime
  • 8:30pm Potty break
  • 8:45pm Puppy playtime
  • 9:15pm Potty break
  • 9:30pm Bedtime

Whew! Was that absolutely insane? Young puppies are insane. I felt like a zombie for our first few weeks. Obviously use your best judgement with your schedule; it’s somewhat flexible- it’s just to give you a basic idea of how a day can look.

Naptime.

Little Betsy enjoying a tummy-up nap.

Most importantly, puppies need millions of potty breaks, and will reliably go immediately after eating, playing, or sleeping.

What to do if you catch a puppy going in the house?

  • Interrupt them with a quick hand clap and then lift them up and carry them out to the grass, praising them once they go outside.

What to do if they go in the appropriate location?

  • Praise like crazy! We did not use treats, but in retrospect, I think it would have helped as well.

As they get older they will be able to hold it for longer and you can slowly loosen up. I was really worried about how I would know when the time is right, but it really is just common sense. You’ll know.

What to do if you take them outside and they don’t go and instead start to play or lie down

Back in the crate, wait five minutes, back outside to try again. Rinse and repeat until they go potty. It’ll happen, don’t worry.

Cleaning stains

Make sure you use an enzymatic cleaner (and maybe some baking soda?) to eliminate any smells from accidents. Dogs will go where it smells like a bathroom, so you don’t want your house to smell like a bathroom!

DO NOT use Ammonia based cleaners, as they smell similar to urine.

Puppies that start to only go in a certain part of the house

Probably smells like a bathroom there! Clean clean clean, and start to spend more time in that part of the house, so that the puppy views it as a part of the ‘den’ that it doesn’t want to soil. One way to avoid having a puppy that pees in little-used rooms is to use baby gates & slowly expand the puppy’s territory. We didn’t do this because we were too cheap to pay for baby gates πŸ˜‰

At what age should they stop having accidents?

It varies! Don’t beat yourself up. Betsy gradually eased up. First she’d have two-three accidents a week, then one accident a week, then one every three weeks, and so on. A lot of the stuff I read online were articles like “Potty train your puppy in just one week!” And then I’d feel like a failure because we’d had Betsy for two MONTHS and she still wasn’t 100% reliable.

I think it fully depends on the puppy – some are better at ‘getting it’ than others. Betsy was weird – as she got older, she’d ask to be let out 99% of the time, but once in awhile she’d randomly decide to pee in the hallway instead.

I’d say 90% of her accidents happened while we were actively supervising her, so we’d interrupt her and move her outside right away. You REALLY don’t want your puppy having accidents without you noticing. That’s why unsupervised puppies should ALWAYS be in their crate.

Another shot of 6 month old Betsy playing at the beach.

Another shot of 6 month old Betsy playing at the beach.

Betsy did have a few accidents (maybe 3?) that happened without us noticing (all three were while we had company over, surprise surprise) Most of these happened when she was a bit older and we thought she was mostly reliable, so we had let our guard down a little. Big mistake. I’d always beat myself up over it for an hour or two after the fact, but hey! Looking back, she was doing very very well. She wasn’t a wonder-dog who learned potty training overnight, but overall, it was a breeze.

How do you know when they’re 100% potty trained?

When you stop worrying about whether they’ll go when you’re not watching. Betsy is 6 months old now and I still worry, although her last accident was 4 weeks ago. If she manages another 4 weeks without having an accident, I think I’ll start to relax.

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˜‰

U like my crate?

U like my crate?

Was on the phone when I caught Betsy strewn across the top of her crate, staring at me soulfully. Had to hang up so I could take a picture. Still don’t know what she was thinking. Probably something along the lines of, “I’m bored, please play with me.”

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.

Photoshoot

No interesting post today, just a few photos we took in the back yard because it was a beautiful day out and we didn’t have many photos of Betsy without her collar on.

Nice way to practice her sit-stay & down-stay πŸ™‚

You might think she's looking at me but she's actually staring at a treat that I'm holding above the camera... greedy!

You might think she’s looking at me but she’s actually staring at a treat that I’m holding above the camera… greedy!

Betsy showing off her most solid command, the sit.

Betsy showing off her most solid command, the sit.

The bite-y phase

Making funny faces

One of my least favourite phases that Betsy went through was her land shark phase, which fortunately didn’t last very long at all. I remember mentioning to another puppy owner (who owns a bulldog that shares a birthday with Betsy!) that Betsy had started her bitey phase, and the owner rolled her eyes and said her own dog had started that phase AGES ago, and that it was AWFUL. So I guess this phase could have been a lot worse.

I first noticed Betsy was going through a biting phase when I was doing lunges. Ben thought it was hilarious.

With Betsy it was pretty minimal – she would jump and nip you (rather hard) when she wanted to play. One time she bit me in the butt when I was trying to take a nap and startled the crap out of me.

I think she got it from all the playtime she had with other puppies, and didn’t realize that people didn’t enjoy playing the same way as dogs did.

We struggled a bit with figuring out how to get her to stop – our go to “no” sound, which usually works really well, just got her more excited. Then we tried pushing her off whenever she bit and holding her at arm’s length until she stopped – worked a bit better but still not perfect.

Strangely, I guess with a combination of different methods, she just sort of stopped on her own, and now she never bites us. I just tried doing lunges a minute ago and she didn’t even budge from her comfortable sitting spot.