She’s ten weeks old with a zest for exploration. I’m in my 70’s and my speed limit is about ½ mph. She has puppy ADHD. I have focus and know my boundaries.
My yard boundaries are currently delineated by Invisible Fence which has served me and my dogs well over the past 13 years.
But now there’s Leia, a puppy who is starting to widen her chosen territory and turning a deaf ear to my calls. After all, what lies in the area of the vast unknown? Other dogs? Food? Friendly people? Downed birdhouses with a mysterious scent? Strange noises that need to be investigated? Wood piles to climb?
The issue now is safe containment.
When I called Invisible Fence, they advised me that they would not be able initiate fence training with Leia until she is four to five months old.
Two facts: 1. Leia will be in the next county by then 2. I am no longer able to run through the neighborhood after an errant puppy.
Reality is staring me in the face; at my age it is time for me to install a physical fence . . . sooner than later. So I’ve started my search for reputable fence companies in the area, asking for recommendations, and reading customer reviews. Once I’ve isolated 2-3 companies, then I will contact them for estimates and advice on the best type of fencing for my needs.
Readers? Your recommendations for quality fence companies in the Bucks County, PA area are welcomed!
My animals have humbled me often, and I’ve learned to listen.
Leia is a smart puppy, and she learns quickly. She has learned to sit, lie down, and is starting to recognize her name. She is still learning that jumping on me and chewing on my hands is unacceptable. She has learned that I will not put her food down until she sits and waits.
But housebreaking has presented some challenges. The first three days she was home, she did not have an accident in her crate or in the house, only because I was extra vigilant and got her into the yard regularly.
Then, boom, she finally had an accident in the family room. Fortunately, I caught her in the act, reprimanded her with a loud NO, and quickly got her outside to finish peeing. I was able to catch her in the act two more times, and she was great for five days. Success! I thought.
Then she urinated in her crate and again in the family room. I was upset and frustrated; I honestly thought she was making progress! Humble Pie!
This made me realize that my training needed to have more clarity. Leia needed to understand that when she felt the urge to toilet that she should go to the door. I knew I needed to devise a plan and set Leia up to fail.
I gave her free range in the family room with access to water, toys, and chew items. It worked.
She squatted, and I quickly made it clear it was unacceptable and got her into the yard and praised her for relieving herself outside. I allowed free range in the family room to continue with intense play and chewing. Then she started to make a beeline for the corner where she had peed before. I said NO! and redirected her to the door and into the yard.
I allowed her a long drink of water and continued to give her freedom to play and chew. Eventually I saw her stop, hesitate, and then she made a beeline for the door. I was ready and let her out into the yard immediately, praising her effusively.
She took the initiative to head to the door one more time, to toilet in the yard. I then gave her a high value treat and put her into her crate to chill. It was like a switch had been turned on.
This whole scenario took about an hour and a half. I was worn out from the vigilant observation, acting quickly, and redirecting her appropriately.
The real test will be tomorrow, I thought.
This morning, after she finished her breakfast, I gave her free range again, knowing that she would soon need to pee. I gave her a sheep horn to chew to hasten the process. I only had to wait about 10 minutes when I saw her stop. I could see her brain working, and she opted to head to the door! Hooray!
She went out and toileted to much praise from me.
So, Humble Pie works sometimes. One just needs to recognize the mistake and have the fortitude to figure out how to produce the desired results or affect appropriate change. This reinforcement will continue until I can reliably state that she is housebroken.
One of the biggest mistakes that people make when training animals is the lack of consistency and appropriate redirection. Punishing Leia for leaving a puddle in the family room or peeing in her crate after the incident would have not been understood at all. Discipline AFTER the misbehavior has been done is inappropriate, ineffective, and sometimes cruel. It can lead to mistrust and fear; that is something we totally want to avoid when we train.
“Look at Leia’s tail,” I said to Wendi. “It looks like she has a cowlick or a curl.”
“That’s called a twizzle,” Wendi told me.
The Labrador breed standard cites: One of the characteristics of the Labrador is the otter tail. It does resemble a real otter’s tail and is also thick at the base and wrapped with hair. A Labrador’s tail should not reach below the hock. The hair on the tail should be tightly wrapped and not loose or fluffy like a setter’s. When Labradors are out of coat, the tail may look skinny and thin. Ideally, the shape of the tail should resemble a carrot. It is fine to have a twizzle.
I’ve grown to love Leia’s little twizzle. It gives her a bit of style and pizzazz. I can’t wait to see what it looks like as she matures.
And while we’re on the subject of tails, I’ve noticed that I am not yet honored with those vigorous wags so characteristic of the Labrador breed. I only get a gentle wave. So now I am wondering what I must do to deserve a REAL wag like Leia gives total strangers she meets on the street?? That’s my current challenge.
For some reason it brings John Donne’s lines of poetry to mind. “For whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Instead, it seems it should be, “For whom the tail wags; it wags for thee. . . but not for me.”
Heidi came to Blue Haven (my home) in March of 2012. I had no idea I was getting a puppy! I’d just returned home about two weeks before from a trip to Belize. I’d always entertained the idea of getting a second dog but hadn’t made any active plans.
I learned she was for sale on March 16th and was asked if I would come and photograph her. When I saw her, I was immediately drawn to her. I expressed my interest in purchasing her and brought her home the next day, St. Patrick’s Day, at the age of ten weeks.
Heidi was very easy to housebreak and train. She was the first puppy in her KPT (Kindergarten Puppy Training) class to get her S.T.A.R. puppy certificate. On the last day of KPT class, the instructor suggested I do the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test with her. Several dogs were coming to be tested, so I thought, why not! It would be fun. I never expected her to pass at the age of five months, but she did. She performed confidently and eagerly along with the older dogs that were being evaluated.
When Heidi turned 14 months, she passed her therapy dog test. She then started doing therapy dog work at the local public library and in school classrooms. As a therapy dog she is very interactive with the kids. She is one of those dogs that will snuggle close and put her head on a child’s lap. I haven’t observed in her the degree of intuitive work that Hannah did, but Heidi is much loved by her kids and teachers. She definitely brightens-up the classroom when she walks in with her tail wagging furiously.
Heidi is a very biddable dog. She is “usually” quick to respond unless she decides to manipulate me for extra treats. (“I’m NOT coming unless you have a tasty treat!”) But mostly, she is very eager to comply. She is a wonderful off-leash hiking dog because she doesn’t wander far and comes when she is called. The only drawback is her inclination to eat disgusting stuff she finds – a typical Labrador trait.
One of the most amazing things about her is that she is a self-motivated service dog. I never trained her, but this seems to be where her intuition kicks in – with me! Hannah would never bark when someone came to the door, no matter how hard we tried to teach her. Obviously, most dogs DO bark when they hear a knock, but Heidi barks and sometimes will come to get me. If she needs to go out to toilet, she will come and get me wherever I am in the house and gives me “the look.” Heidi also figured out how to get my attention if I’m sleeping; she will nudge me or bump the bed to wake me.
Probably the most amazing story occurred in the middle of the night not too long ago when I was suddenly awakened by my bed being bumped. My dogs sleep in my bedroom at night, but on their own beds. The bumping was persistent, so I finally turned on the light to find Heidi in a high degree of stress. She was panting and running to the bedroom door, so I quickly got up. She RAN downstairs to the front door, and I let her out where she had an explosive bowel movement. I was amazed that she knew how to awaken me and that she made the supreme effort to not relieve herself in my bedroom.
After Hannah died, Heidi suddenly became the only dog in the house. It definitely affected her. The stress caused her to have gastric upset for a month afterwards. She would look for Hannah. She had never, in her life, been the only dog; she and Hannah were bonded deeply.
Heidi turned eight on January 8th, so I told her she was getting a puppy for her birthday. Actually, I never get another dog for the dog I currently have. A puppy is always welcomed into my home for me because I love a canine presence; in my book, there’s something special about having two dogs.
Leia arrived on January 10th, and Heidi wasn’t sure what to make of her at first. Heidi immediately set strong boundaries in the house and was a bit more lenient in the yard. As the days pass, I see that Heidi is accepting Leia more and more but also maintaining firm canine rules.
Just this morning Leia grabbed the sleeve of my jacket, and I was unable to get her to release. Heidi ran up to us and disciplined Leia so that she released her hold on my jacket. I was amazed that Heidi had the intuition that she needed to intercede.
I am looking forward to the day when Leia is ready to take walks with Heidi and me. The yard is getting just a little too small.
In retrospect, I have a whole new appreciation for Heidi. When Hannah was alive, the dynamics were different. When Heidi became the only dog, it only reaffirmed how special she is. And now that she is a “teacher” to Leia, she is also teaching me. This is the beauty of having animals. They are our greatest teachers. We need to be less quick to react to canine behavior with human emotions and LISTEN to them. When we take the time to listen and understand, we become better as humans.
Henry Beston’s famous quote hangs on a wall in my home, and it is a daily reminder of my responsibility as a custodian of my animals.
“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.” ― Henry Beston, The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod
Last week Leia had two out of town visitors, Sharon and Tom.
Sharon and Deb have been friends since they were pre-schoolers when they lived next door to each other in an apartment building in Shippensburg, PA.
Sharon presented to both Leia and Heidi a container of homemade, organic, cheese-flavored dog treats which she had freshly baked just for them. Needless to say, both gave 4 paws up for the treats and very quickly labeled them HIGH VALUE!! (Deb even tasted them and said, “YUMMY!”)
High value treats are treats that dogs rank at the top of their food list. They smell great and are very enticing. I can’t speak to flavor, because usually they are gulped without much chewing and taking time to savor the taste. They are made from foods that a dog craves and that are worth more than anything that could be distracting it, squirrels and the neighbor’s cat included. The most popular high value treats usually include peanut butter (no xylitol!), cheese, chicken, and liver.
Naturally, Leia wanted to save her high value treats, so Deb took her to the bank where she met with Donna and Michelle. Lots of cuddling occurred, but the bank tellers advised Leia that she should invest her high value treats with a high interest rate instead of taking out a safe deposit box to store them. With the interest rate, her high value treats would increase in amount!
Not only was the bank visit a safe socialization stop for an 8-week old puppy, but Leia did a bit of therapy dog work as well. Michelle had just lost her father, and a good long cuddle with Leia made her feel better.
In fact, when Leia and I left the bank, Michelle called out, “Thanks for brightening my day!”
On Monday, Leia met her vet Dr. Jackie Menninger of Family Pet Clinic in Southampton. My pets and I have been going to Family Pet Clinic for 13 years. Dr. Menninger and her associates are a wonderful team, and they have taken excellent care of my cats and dogs. Given that I am hearing impaired, Dr. Jackie and her staff always go the extra step and take the extra time to communicate with me by email or via text messaging. It’s a highly professional and extremely well-run veterinary hospital. I never feel like I’m being processed or my visits being rushed. Dr. Jackie and the other vets in the clinic always spend the time that is needed to care for my pets and to answer my questions.
It was a routine “new puppy” visit for a health check which most breeders require be done in 3 to 5 days post purchase. Leia passed with flying colors, and Dr. Jackie remarked how calm she was for an eight week old puppy.
She weighed in at just over 13 pounds and needs a little more weight on her. She dropped weight after coming home, probably due to the transition, not enough food, and an increased activity level. So I’m increasing her food gradually to avoid any gastric upsets.
We discussed several topics: vaccinations, flea/tick control, and spaying, which motivated me to revisit my thinking about these somewhat controversial issues. It is leading me to share information and articles which have steered my thinking and opinions over the years.
Forgive me for this more informative type of post. Sometimes I can’t forget that I’m a retired librarian. We librarians do love information and strive to always find authentic information, checking currency of dates and reliability of sources. I do promise to return to writing more about Leia and her antics. Believe me, she’s really cute but no princess. She’s a pistol! She’s going to challenge me and keep me on my toes, but this is why I enjoy working with puppies.
OK, back to the somewhat controversial topics.
Vaccination: One of my favorite articles on WHY we vaccinate puppies several times from about 6 weeks until 12-16 weeks appeared in one of my WHOLE DOG JOURNAL issues a few years ago. It very succinctly explains the immunity (antibodies) most puppies receive from their mothers when they drink the colostrum after birth and how that acquired immunity slowly dissipates over the months as they start growing. This is when the puppy vaccinations kick in and encourage the puppy’s own immune system to overlap what they received from their dam. The article can be read at: https://www.dogsfurdays.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Puppy-Vaccines-Whole-Dog-Journal.pdf
Also, I, personally, am a follower of Dr. Jean Dodds DVM, a recognized authority on pet vaccinations. She posts a vaccination protocol annually for cats and dogs, and it is now adopted by all 27 veterinary schools in the United States. She cites that current research is showing that most of the core vaccines are good for at least 7 years and often for the lifetime of the pet. It makes a strong case for running titers instead of automatically re-vaccinating every three years. Her most recent protocol is available here. http://bannerckcs.com/Files/vaccination%20protocol.pdf
Heartworm and Flea/Tick Control: I admit that I’m a bit hard-headed when it comes to chemical use for flea/tick control. Dr. Jackie told me about a new oral flea/tick product called Credelio which is supposed to be safe(er) and also target all ticks carrying the entire spectrum of tick borne diseases. I have relented, over the years, to routine heartworm doses. I will use Frontline sporadically, but commonly opt to use an organic flea/tick repellant when I venture into areas where the potential for ticks is present. Two products I’ve had good luck with are Flea Flicker Tick Kicker and Nantucket Spider. NOTE:* I am, in no way, recommending ANY course of action because I believe that it is up to each individual pet owner to make their own decisions with the guidance of their veterinarian.
Spaying/Neutering: The philosophy on spaying/neutering has also changed over the years. It used to be that female dogs and cats were automatically scheduled for their spay surgery at the age of 6 months before coming into heat. When I got Hannah in 2007, I learned that the 6 month spay was no longer an established recommendation. So, being a librarian, I went online and started researching authentic sources. It was such a new concept, I needed to convince myself. I ultimately found a power-point presentation used in a reproduction seminar held at the University of Pennsylvania that explored the benefits of waiting to spay female dogs until after their first heat. In a nutshell, there are several reasons supporting the research.
Being a Labrador owner, I am naturally interested in the benefits as related to larger breed dogs. Experienced breeders of large breed dogs and vets who take care of larger dogs have noticed that dogs spayed/neutered before their first birthday grew much larger than dogs who remained intact until after they reached puberty. Multiple studies performed in the 1990’s corroborated this.
In 2000, a research study published in the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism came up with a hypothesis as to why this happens. When puberty approaches, estrogen is responsible for healthy maturation of the skeleton and the gradual closing of the epiphyseal growth plates, the spaces between the bones that allow the bones room to reach their full length. It’s believed that removing estrogen (i.e. the ovaries or testicles) in puppies will keep the growth plates open longer than is natural. This allows more room for the bones to grow larger/longer than they’re genetically programmed to, causing body proportions that can be unhealthy and abnormal for the dog’s frame. For example, the femur, the thickest bone in the hind leg, has a natural stopping point about eight months of age. But when the dog is fixed at the typical six months of age, the tibia, which should stop growing at about a year of age, will continue to grow, then causing an unnatural angle at the knee. These skeletal abnormalities can then potentially cause serious bio-mechanical deviations, joint stressors, and health problems as the dog ages.
Ultimately, in the end it’s up to the individual owner and his/her veterinarian to determine the best time to spay/neuter a specific pet. There is no accepted norm, and if you do conscientious research, you will still find a wide range of differing opinions. My opinion and decisions are driven by how the research applies to the breed I own.
What a glorious January weekend we’ve had with daytime temperatures in the mid 60’s. It has been perfect for the first few days of introducing Leia to her new home, yard, and initiating housebreaking.
Leia LOVES the back yard, and she is having a romance with leaves. She sniffs them, tastes them, and chews on them. Sometimes she watches the breeze blow them across the grass. Nothing holds her attention like leaves. Makes me wonder if somehow, by osmosis, she knows how much I love trees and my own love affair with leaves. Most of my friends know how I am always picking up leaves and converting them into hand-made leaf cards. In addition, I love to photograph trees.
Leia seems to have been pre-programmed to toilet outside. She has not had an accident in the house since her arrival Friday evening, although I know it’s inevitable she will, at some time sooner than later. When I let her out of the crate, I am now encouraging her to follow me to the back door and out into the yard. I still carry her outside at night and if she’s in a state of high excitement. I use a happy voice and scurry to the door, and she runs after me. Fortunately, the door is only about 10 feet from her crate. As soon as she gets into the yard, she toilets to effusive praise from me.
I am now starting to teach her “hurry-up!” which is the toileting command I use. I say “hurry-up” repeatedly while she is toileting, and she will soon associate the phrase with relieving herself. Training dogs to a toileting command is so useful, especially with therapy dogs who can be asked to toilet before they enter their working facility.
Right now the back yard is Leia’s own little slice of heaven. It’s a delight to watch her explore her new world. She’s tried to become friends with a little dog statue sitting in my garden. She wants to chew the rose bush and is learning what thorns are. (I finally put up a pen around the bush) She’s met neighbors of all ages, from small children to seniors in their 80’s. She has investigated the generator and the railroad ties around the base of my Weeping Cherry tree. She’s tasted pinecones and sampled dirt.
And then there’s Heidi, her canine housemate. Heidi just turned eight on January 8th, so I told her she was getting a puppy for her birthday. Heidi had always lived with another dog until Hannah died, so Heidi has been the only dog the last 4 months. It was an adjustment for her, and it is obvious that she loves the company of another dog.
However, Leia is a puppy, and the dynamics are not the same. It took Heidi time to figure out what this little black “thing” was up to; it was so different than to what she was accustomed. Heidi decided very quickly, like many adult dogs with puppies, that she would set some boundaries. Leia is NOT allowed to set foot on Heidi’s bed if Heidi is lying there. And Leia is NOT allowed to borrow Heidi’s toys if Heidi is playing with them. The boundaries seem to exist only in the house. In the yard, Heidi’s whole demeanor towards Leia changes. She initiates play and is trying to teach Leia the game she used to play with Hannah. It’s marvelous free comedy entertainment.
I have lectured Heidi that she needs to help me teach Leia. Heidi is nicely trained and is very biddable, so hopefully some of that will transmit to Leia. I don’t need another dog who takes a message and gets back to me.
Meanwhile, Leia basks in the glory of the grass and fresh air in the back yard — and she usually has a leaf in her mouth.
Author’s Note: I am not a professional dog trainer, nor am I a canine behaviorist. What I write is based solely on my personal experiences and my readings about canine behavior. One of my favorite sources is a periodical titled WHOLE DOG JOURNAL. I try to be diligent about pursuing “authentic” information. I am a retired librarian after all! Being an educator, I tend to often write about the HOW, hoping that perhaps my experiences might be helpful to other dog owners. There are also many wonderful books (another blog post?) about dogs, how they learn, canine behavior, and effective ways to train thoughtfully and positively. I believe if we are conscientious and informed dog owners and socialize and train properly, our dogs will be grounded, happy, and secure, void of many problems that dogs commonly experience in today’s society.
Yesterday, January 10th, was the BIG day. I went to choose my puppy and bring her home. My friend Wendi, who has bred and raised beautiful Labradors for about 40 years, drove me. Wendi and I have been friends for nearly 17 years, and we started our Nor’wester Therapy Dog program together. She has taught me so much about dogs and Labradors over the years.
The breeder, Michael, told me that I would get first pick of the four available black females. Naturally, I wondered if this would be difficult, but I decided to trust my intuition. I knew the puppies would be the beautiful English type Labrador Retrievers I love because Michael is very conscientious about bloodlines and breeding for type, temperament, and health.
When we arrived, we were welcomed into Michael’s kitchen where the four females were waiting for us. True to the Labrador temperament, the puppies eagerly greeted us. I sat down on the floor to interact with them. The first puppy to crawl onto my lap was the biggest female in the bunch. The second puppy to approach me was the smallest and had a very outgoing demeanor. The other two puppies kind of stopped by to say hello and then got distracted by other things in the kitchen. The big female returned, sat down beside me, and looked at me. I instantly knew she was my puppy.
Sometimes it’s difficult to explain explicitly what drives a decision, and I knew I needed to trust my intuition and not second-guess myself. It only took me about five minutes to claim my puppy. Michael then shared that after many weeks of observation he thought the puppy I’d chosen had the best potential for therapy dog work.
I held her in my lap on the one-plus hour drive home. Except for two brief periods of restlessness and crying, she slept in my arms. When we arrived home, Wendi helped me with the important introduction of Leia (LAY-ah) to Heidi, my eight year old Lab.
All went well the first night. Leia fussed and cried about being crated at first, but she quickly figured out that the crate door was not going to open magically. I took her out twice during the night, and she toileted quickly to earn profuse praise from me. I only got about 6 hours of sleep, but I was so happy that Leia adapted so easily to all the strange things she was experiencing the first night and day in her new home.
I love crates! They are not cruel. They should NEVER be used for punishment. If crates are introduced properly, dogs come to love and seek out their den-like environment. Crates make housebreaking very easy and keep puppies safe. Leia has not had an accident in the house since she arrived. Puppies generally do not like to soil their sleeping and eating quarters. The crate should be the appropriate size, just large enough to lie down and stretch out, but not so large that the puppy has room to eliminate in a rear corner. I prefer the wire “life stages” crates because they come with a moveable panel which can be adjusted as the puppy grows.
I’ve learned from experience that it’s best to tackle training hurdles head on instead of making cute puppy allowances. These cute puppies DO grow up, and sooner than later the cute puppy behavior becomes undesirable. The faster you establish the groundwork, the faster you will have a strong foundation on which to base your training.
I quickly discovered that Leia wanted to put her front paws on my legs, so I immediately started action to teach her that it was not permitted. Paws on legs are a precursor to jumping on people, so it is best to not permit it from day one. In addition, Leia wanted to chew on my fingers and hands. In my book this is absolutely forbidden. Instead of ineffective punishment, I use distraction, offering a toy or something appealing as a replacement for my fingers. The distraction works as well for chewing on shoes, furniture, books – you name it.
Another thing I avoid in the cute-puppy stage is holding a puppy on my lap while sitting on my sofa or an easy chair. Puppies quickly make the association and learn that it is OK to jump on the furniture. I do not allow my dogs on the furniture or in my bed. Not only do I not like hair on the furniture, I also don’t like the possibility of ticks or other parasites settling in where I sit and sleep.
Lastly, Leia goes into the yard with me off leash. I learned from Wendi when I got Hannah that it’s important to start teaching our puppies the joy of recall and how to handle freedom while they still want to follow you everywhere. It’s a prime opportunity to build on that natural inclination. Because I love walking with my dogs off leash, it is important to me to start teaching them how to deal with freedom.