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.
More coming — Stay tuned . . .