Saturday, December 10, 2011

Onto the next stage!

One of the most interesting things about having a puppy is to watch them go through predictable development stages. 

Tess is now 9 months old.  Tonight, she showed some fear behavior when my boyfriend got home especially late and made a lot of noise on the outside of the door.  She barked and growled and acted fearful - very unusual for her. 

It reminded me of that early fear stage that every young puppy goes through in the first months of life.  The change was marked - literally overnight she went from being a bold, independent, happy-go-lucky puppy, to a pup that barked at the bike in the garage that hadn't been there before.  It took about 2 weeks for novel situations and objects to stop evoking an automatic fear response. 

I've been able to observe most of the development stages in Tess so I wondered whether there was a second fear period around 9 months of age? 

After a bit of searching, it looks like there very likely is!  I love how development is so predictable. 

Tess have reliably moved through each development stage, so I have to assume with the onset of this second fear period, she is very close to puberty. 

This is important - because the plan is for Tess to be a performance dog, I do not want to spay her before the onset of puberty. 

First, a digression - this is personal opinion based on research that I have read (but I'm too lazy to cite right now), heard in class.  I have also grossly simplified the physis closure process and anatomy discussed - obviously more factors than just hormones etc play a role!  I using the radius and ulna as an example.  I have no idea when those two bones specific growth plates close relative to each other, but as it is 3am, I'm not looking it up. 

There is some research indicates that some "performance injuries" such as torn crutiate ligaments etc. may be linked to altering a dog before the onset of puberty.  Hormones play a huge role in growth plate (called a "physis") closure.  If you alter a dog before the growth plates close, the physis will delay closing because of the lack of hormones. 

"What's the problem?" you say, "so the plates stay open a bit longer".  The problem is that some physis' close before others on adjacent bones.  For example, the radius physis can close, and the ulna (adjacent bone to the radius that "connects" on the elbow) can still be open.  This isn't normally a problem - and in fact is normal - because the body has a plan/system/time line for when all the physis' should close so the bones are the correct size in relation to each other.  But when you take away hormones, you are altering that dramactically!!!!! 

So now, the ulna keeps on growing a little bit longer than it should - but the radius can't compensate for it. 

Uh Oh.....

Now that joint and ligaments are inherently under more strain when the dog is doing intense physical activity - like agility and jumping. 

I was really really REALLY hoping she would have had her first heat cycle before xmas so I could have her spayed over the xmas break, however, it looks like it's not going to happen :(.  My guess is that she will be 10 months old (beginning of January), which means I'll spay over spring break.  10 months is average for a dog of her size, and as she's hit all the other "milestones" on the nose, it was too much to hope that she would be early on this one!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

You know you're a dog person when....

... the biggest decisions of your day (after getting out of a 4 hour class) is who gets to pee first - take the dog outside or use the restroom?  decisions desicisions!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Puppy Play

This post got rather long, so here's a quick summary of my thoughts -

1.  You are always training with every interaction and situation - either reinforcing or introducing new behaviors (good or bad).
2.  If I have to say the command more than once, I am teaching my dog to ignore me.
3.  When establishing a behavior, a logical progression of situations sets the dog up for success - with a few "test" situations thrown in.
4.  There is a way to give the dog what he needs developmentally, while still preserving the integrity of your training program.
5.  Not everyone is a dog person and its rude to impose my dog on them if my dog doesn't have proper manners - proper manners includes respect of personal space and not demanding attention.
6.  The freedom/off duty time cannot be micromanaged to the point where it is no longer a mental break for the dog. 
7.  How "far" you train the off-leash behavior will depend on your future plans with the dog. 

Ready for the entire discourse?

One of the common questions I get from other people that watch me interact with Tess on a daily basis is - do you ever just let her off leash and play?

This is usually while we are in the home room, which is full of my classmates sitting on couches, heating up lunches, with 3-4 dogs of various sizes and training levels running around.

A thing to keep in mind is that you are ALWAYS training.  When you are walking from the car and you are too busy because you'll be late to class - you are training.  When you only have 10 minutes to take the dog outside to pee and they refuse to play the crate game or put their nose in the gentle leader - you are training.  When you let your dog ignore you in a room full of paper, engage in questionable behavior (ie - excited puppy behavior that non-dog people may be uncomfortable with), ignores their name, and doesn't come when called.  Even then - you are training.

Tess's biggest training issues are related to her distractability and fixation on other dogs, and movement, and her tendency to lick people's noses in greeting.  Tess is bold and independent.  She's well socialized.  I'm not worried about her approprately interacting with other dogs and people on a socialization level - I'm worried about manners and training.

If I put her into a situation where there are a lot of other dogs and people (especially people sitting down on the ground and on couches) off leash, I am setting her up for failure - I know that she will ignore her name and recall, because we can't function in a situation 1/2 distracting.  Until I get good behavior in a less distracting situations, it's unfair of me to expect it in in a high arousal situation - and instead of reinforcing our training, I'll be reinforcing a habit of ignoring me in a high distraction situation.  Even worse - the home room situation would also reinforce naughty behaviors in addition to crime of ignoring me!  The opportunity to jump on people and furniture and knock over chairs and clear the coffee table (and couch) in a single leap!  Don't laugh - I speak from personal experience!

Don't worry!  I know that play and movement and being able to just "be a puppy" is an important part of a quality life!  I regularly let her off leash to play - but I control the situation for success.
  • She gets to play with Reed (Golden Retriever housemate) in the back yard off leash.  I have a pocket full of treats and she regularly gets treats for checking in with me, and for looking at me when I call her name (I then treat and immediately release her to play again).
  • She gets to play with new and familiar dogs off leash inside, if it isn't more than 2-3 dogs and no more than 3 or 4 people in the room.
  • She gets to play with 1 other dog off leash outside in an unfenced area (and drags a very light long line).
  • Every 1-2 weeks I take her to a fenced dog park during an "off time" (usually not more than 5-6 dogs) to play off leash.  I use this as my "check" - this is an extremely high arousal situation - and compare how she is improving over time.  How well does she listen to her name and recalls?  Does she check in?  Is she continuing to greet dogs and people appropriately off leash?  Because she still has a tendency to ignore me in a dog park situation, we don't do this really often - it takes me ~24 hours to rebuild the name game and recall to where it was pre-dog park.  I try REALLY hard not to do recalls or call her name at the park unless I'm almost positive that she was ready to do it on her own - so it lessens my chances of her ignoring me.  Remember that you are always training?  Repeated commands is training the dog that is does not have to respond the first time you say something - Tess ignoring me or me having to repeat a command is more likely to happen at a dog park, regardless of my best efforts, so I can't do it too often - have to rebuild the relationship between trips.  Make sense?  
For the first 3 situations (the dog park is too stimulating) Tess plays a few quick games to establish the value of the relationship before being released to play (and so she understands that although she isn't directly interacting with me during dog play most of the time - this REALLY REWARDING thing still comes from me - the source of all things fabulous in her life).  A few RZ games, nose touches, a few bows and then OFF SHE GOES!!!!!!  And let me tell you - she is BEAUTIFUL at full speed.  :) 

The dog park is important because it's my transition or bridge to high arousal situations (like the homeroom at school).  It's hard for her to be too naughty at the dog park, other than ignoring me.  She's never engaged in a behavior that I had to stop.

When she starts responding to me consistently in the dog park, then she'll be ready for off-leash in a busy homeroom - but not before then.

Am I being picky?  Absolutely.  I have the luxury of being able to keep Tess with me almost 24/7, thus I have lots of opportunities to physical and mentally stimulate her throughout the day without resorting to letting her off leash to run energy off in a situation not of my choosing.

I'm constantly walking the line between these 2 concepts -
1.  Giving her freedom that she has rightly learned and the reward of being "off duty"
2.  Being mindful of what she is learning and what I'm reinforcing while she's enjoying that freedom while not restricting or micromanaging that freedom/off duty time to the point she becomes resentful or anxious.

With your relationship with your dog, you may care more or less about your dogs responsiveness and control - I think a lot of the the decision is based on your future plans with your dog. 

I have big plans for this girl, all of which require her to develop self-control and focus her attention on me in very high distracting situations.  Agility and other performance competitions require a dog that can work through crowds, new places, and unfamiliar situations without losing focus.  I'm also considering designating her as my service dog, which requires many of the same skills. 

A digression - Another thing I consider when letting my dog off leash is that not everyone around me is a dog person.  *I* wasn't a dog person before getting Tess, and even now I don't enjoy unfamiliar dogs (or familiar dogs....) invading my personal space, demanding my attention, and slobbering on me.  My dog is my responsibility - which means that until my dog can run up to a seated person and politely sit a respectful distance away while seeking attention (and not demand attention if ignored), my dog has no business being off leash in an area with other people.  Period.  It is unfair of me to impose my dog on other people in the area.  I'm willing to "test" her behavior in a dog park because I figure there are mostly dog people there.