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Chapter 2…New Puppy in the group.
Let’s say you have decided to take your chances on bringing a puppy into your program. If you are really serious you need to be months or even years ahead of your emotions. How many folks say, “We are just going to look at some puppies”? I would bet all of us have justified a trip to see pups with these words. I would also bet all of us that are not liars will admit we have come home with one of the pups we were going to just look at for a few minutes. If you have done some research it may not be the worst decision you have ever made as a handler and trainer, but it may not be your best decision.
Months or even a year before you make such a commitment you should go and see Mom and Dad. Looking at Mom’s play drive and into her soul will not provide you an accurate picture if she has just delivered a litter of puppies and has been nursing them for 7 ½ weeks. Dad may not be on site…actually many times Dad is another part of the country or has long since passed if you are looking at serious Field Trial dogs. You need to go spend time with Mom when she is at her best.
I don’t have a lot of experience with pups. Just because I have been lucky a few times does not mean I am good at this game. In talking to extremely experienced breeders and people that have lived Field Trial their entire lives many will tell you pups inherit more from their Moms than we realize. Of course Dad is an important part, but we do seem to place more emphasis on the Dad part of these equations. If pups are like people some get a lot of who they are from their Moms and some get a lot of who they are from their Dads. Bottom line is the percentages may vary so it is important to put as much emphasis on Mom as Dad.
Seeing the parents also allows you to see how a kennel operates, how a breeder maintains his or her business and helps develop a relationship with that breeder. Things go a lot better if the breeder respects you and what you are going to do with their dog and things certainly go better if you respect the breeder. This advanced opportunity also allows you to leave a deposit long before the litter is put together…that equates out to having a higher pick of the litter. While having a higher pick does not guarantee success it is nice to have a good selection when bringing a pup into your group. Keep in mind many of the best dogs in our system were left over pups no one wanted in the beginning. If you trust your breeder you might consider letting them tell you about each pup and take their suggestions seriously.
When should you start training a pup? Well you can wait if you want, but the pup will start without you so you might as well train together. One of the first things some people do to their pups is to put them into strange situations and see if they act the way that person feels is appropriate. Some put the pup on a slick surface and take note of their reaction. Others take a pup to a crowded mall and see how it does with lots of excitement and noise. The problem here is if the pup does not think this is a good idea you could cause fear and develop a lack of trust between you and pup. Keep in mind an important aspect of training and raising a pup…fear is never forgotten. If the degree of fear you produced is minimal you will probably be able to work past that fear. If it is severe…and you may not always know the degree of damage you have caused…you may never overcome an initial mistake.
If you simply place the pup in surroundings it finds interesting and safe you can watch how the pup progresses and explores new environments. I enjoy taking a new pup for a walk at our rubble site. A first visit may be limited to the area around your vehicle. If the pup wants to walk away and investigate things shadow the pup and stay close…the pup will know you are there for them. I also like to feed the pup on the rubble pile or surrounding area. What a neat thing this rubble can be to the pup…He/she get lots of attention, picked up to be petted 100’s of times and FOOD!!! Things move forward at the pup’s speed and you will not instill fear and aversions you have no idea have been placed in your dog.
Another good thing to do on these walk abouts is establishing a strong recall. As soon as the pup starts to focus on something kneel down and call the pup’s name. Let him/her see you have food, stay low…height means everything to a dog…get excited without scaring the pup and as soon as they get to you the reward is the food accompanied with lots of petting and attention. Within a few days you will be well on your way to hard wiring an awesome recall. After a week or two you can even call the pup’s name with a lower voice. Before long the pup will always keep an ear out in case you want to call him/her. From experience you might consider using a portion of the pup’s regular puppy chow as the food reward. The pup does not get the scoots from too many snacks or gain too much weight from additional calories.
If by chance something scares the little guy you need to hold the course. Act like nothing is wrong and do not give any value to the episode. If you do not react in a scared manner chances are the pup will not react as strongly. Say the dog seems scared during a storm when thunder claps. If you run over and console the pup in essence you are rewarding the exact behavior you do not want. If you act like it is not big deal it will not be as big a deal to the pup next time. Bottom line is to avoid rewarding or reinforcing behavior you do not want from your pup. A good breeder I know has a propane cannon going off on his property every few minutes. Want to bet none of his pups are afraid of a shot gun going off when they go hunting with their new owners.
When the pup is young Parvo is always an issue while you wait for vaccinations to protect the dog. You are limited in where you can safely take your new pup. With this precaution in mind it is good to get the pup into as many new environments as possible without taking any unnecessary health risks. Go slow and make sure the exposure is a fun thing for pup. If you question yourself about safety or how a pup will react just don’t go there…
Remember pups and dogs do not care about getting 100% on a test. They work for us because there is something in it for them. If you experience problems during your training it can probably be related back to two things…1) Motivation…what you are asking from your dogs has to be fun for them. 2) Repetition…for dogs to learn and hard wire a behavior they need repetition. Lots of repetition!!!!!!!!!!!! If you want to enhance your training and take full advantage of the time you invest in your dog never miss an opportunity to reward your dog!!!!!!
Make sure you are communicating with your dog in a manner they can understand. Time and time again you will see a dog have problems with an alert/commitment to a victim and while well meaning, the handler will fold their arms and turn away from the dog. You have made a mistake in asking too much from your dog, motivation is probably lacking and many times you have tried to move forward before the dog is ready. Now after all those mistakes on your part you then abandoned your dog or even worse get upset with him/her. Every time you work your dog they need to succeed and you need to make sure they are having fun.
Instead of turning away and ignoring your dog…like they can really understand anyway…stop the damage and reset the problem. Add in a pop up…do a call out…have the victim come out of the hole that may be in rubble that is too serious and run into a hole in an easier section of concrete. While we all want a strong alert after a search we need to break these problems down into at least two sections…the search and the alert.
Lets say you reset the problem by putting the victim in a more accessible location. The dog has not quite learned the alert just yet and they are not completely sure of this search thing you ask for all the time. With a runaway the dog blows over to the victim like a rocket…per your instruction the victim waits for 20 barks. After a few barks the dog is confused and loses interest. The dog just does not understand all you have asked from him/her.
Now…what if you rewarded the search with an awesome toy and tons of play with the victim. As soon as the new dog gets close to the victim that victim comes out of the hole and play time begins. You have just rewarded the dog for what you asked of them…a good search. Once that part of their job is hard wired then you start asking for a bark alert. This may develop over a period of time. For example, the victim may still come out of the hole and reward the dog like crazy. When the victim can get the toy away from the dog that victim now teases the dog until they hear a bark…wham…toy goes to the dog immediately.
You pull back the dog and a new victim yells out from another hole…maybe even keeps yelling while the dog is running towards this victim #2. As soon as the dog gets to the victim…again, WHAM…playtime. I mean play time to the max…yelling, pulling and when the dog deserves to win they rip the toy from the victim’s hands.
Now victim #3 yells out from an alert barrel on the dirt next to the rubble pile. The lid slams shut just before the dog gets to the barrel…now you get one bark…WHAM…lid flies off and play time…I mean the victim comes out of the barrel and plays…lays on the ground with the dog standing on the victim’s chest and tug, tug and tug.
Rest…water…let the dog see other dogs getting his/her victim and then one more barrel with a call out. One bark and the lid that was only half way on comes off and play like there is no tomorrow. Want to bet within a month of this type of stuff you are on your way to having a dog performing strong searches with an awesome bark alert. Add in simply walking on the rubble with Mom or Dad (handler), maybe eating dinner on the rubble and some days just going to the rubble pile with your dog to read a book at the highest point. Your goal is to have your dog think rubble is like a day at the park.