Every Dog Every Day
9.Primary school early classroom
Being a puppy is a busy, over-filled learning fest. Nature has designed them to excel at being inquisitive and curious.
If you do not feed that desire to learn, then the learning that happens may not be on your agenda: jumping at people, opening the waste bin, chasing the cat, chickens, skateboards, eating fox poo, unstuffing the sofa, biting off the top of the gear lever, shredding tampons all over the house.
Class or Not?
If you want to take your puppy to class then stay with the rules of “gradual” and “familiar”. At no time should they be thrown in at the deep end or allowed free interaction with anything other than an appropriate sibling substitute. Even then we all know just how ghastly siblings can behave.
At our classes a young puppy is welcome to come and watch for as long as it takes for them to want to be interactive with their owners. To begin with I expect the pup to watch, on their lap if they wish. Practising the observe, assess and file away skills from a safe and secure place.
We explain and teach many of our first behaviours with food, which is an excellent measure of stress levels. A stressed dog is unlikely to be interested in eating food. If the pup, or adult, is stressed then learning should not be attempted. Once they are comfortable to take food, then lessons can begin.
We regard lesson time as an opportunity to teach the dog to focus on you and your agenda in a very stimulating environment. In the future you will need the dog to focus on you at the park, in the woods, crossing the road, walking past the school, in the class. This is the most valuable skill we can teach. Class for puppies should NEVER, EVER be about going for a romp with other puppies. Other people and dogs are there for you and your pup to learn how to walk on by. They provide a mimic for future life, where you want to practise focus when other dogs are playing, running or training.
You may meet another puppy that your puppy takes a liking to – and at a separate event arrange a play date in your garden with this friend for them to learn interactive skills. But that is secondary to teaching the pup to be able to focus on you.
Our puppy classes teach the partnership:
~ to learn how to walk on by: stuffed animals, people, other dogs, packets of crisps on the floor etc etc.
~ the beginnings of walking together in a variety of environments
~ proprioception skills: going up and down stairs, over rocky planks, wobbly cushions, bubble wrap, slippery surfaces
~ coming to your hand
~ being handled for grooming and husbandry getting in and out of the car
~ safely learning through games: playing with toys with people, to release, control arousal, what to bite and where to bite it
Being a puppy is a busy, over-filled learning fest. Fortunately nature has designed them to excel at being inquisitive and curious. Never forget that if you do not feed that desire to learn, then the learning that happens may not be on your agenda: jumping at people, opening the waste bin, chasing the cat, chickens, skateboards, eat- ing fox poo, unstuffing the sofa, biting off the top of the gear lever, shredding tampons all over the house. (The last two were owned by Mabel Gordon)
Most puppy classes and dog professionals become a little over reliant on chronological age to indicate expectation.
I have breeding experience with Border Collies and Gordon Setters. Up to 7 weeks they track along side by side with identical developmental markers. The day they get up onto their feet, eat raw meat, want to leave the pen etc. There is a slight difference between a summer litter and a winter litter; perhaps because of the daylight hours or more energy needed to stay warm.
At 6 weeks summer pups will wake with the dawn, winter pups some 3 hours later in the day. This can make a few days difference within the breed. Large boy pups can be a day or two behind the smaller girls – more of the food resource is used in sleep to build the extra materials rather than staying awake for learning experiences.
The 4 weeks old pups wake about 6 times a day and I regard every waking session a “new day” in their lives. For every new day there is something new to learn. This may be the arrival of a new cardboard box in the pen. I raid the local supermarket for good fruit and vegetable boxes all smelling of different organic produce. They make excellent climbing frames and natural dog-gyms. Their bed- ding will change, they will learn to drink water, be carried. At 6 weeks they will experience car travel, visitors and grass.
By 17 weeks the collie pups are about 10 days to 2 weeks further ahead than the Gordons. This is the age when teeth begin to change and this developmental marker is noticeably later in the Gordons – a much larger breed and noticeable slower growing.
They are ready for a new home when I can no longer provide an ongoing schedule of “something new” every day. I plan to home the collie pups at 7-8 weeks, and the Gordons at 8-9. By then their appetite for “new” is fed with a new home and new table to get their feet under. Smashing. They settle within 60 seconds and no looking back.
I clean the house and re-gain the sitting room and a normal night’s sleep.
These differences all equal out over time if the pups are given the same learning environments.
Ready for School
My pups reach 8 weeks full of confidence eager to learn and ready to take on the world. Developmentally, in behavioural terms, they very advanced. If you could not identify their age through physiological markers they would appear to be some weeks ahead of their contemporaries.
If they were in a class of pups all the same age their behavioural advancement would give them advantages over the other pups. This is similar to the phenomenon of our academic year covering a 10 month age range which in growing children can result in enormous variation in physical and mental skills.
Progression and measurement of readiness should be assessed at the behaviour level not the chronological level. We cannot state that a puppy is “ready” to be walked on a lead in traffic at 20 weeks, or that their social interaction should include a specific agenda by a certain age.
A puppy is ready for their first class when they can be carried to a
strange place and eagerly respond to a piece of food.
A puppy is ready to learn walking together on a lead when they
can follow you around the house without encouragement or prompting.
A puppy is ready to meet dogs when they have met through the
puppy pen fence and shown appropriate social behaviour and curiosity.
A puppy is ready to move out of baby puppy class when they
respond to their name, familiar with being blocked by the lead, can focus on the owner and remember the name of a behaviour, such as sit or down.
If the pup is expected to learn behaviour beyond their developmental age long term harm can be done and the owner most certainly will perceive their pup has “failed”, or is less than it should be.
Plants that have developed a good root system will survive drought and storm. Pups that are reared with well developed neural pathways are prepared to be able to cope with an unscheduled developmental bumps. For a pup not reared in the optimum environment all attempts should be made to make up for that with a “something new every day” schedule as soon as possible: always gradual and always allowed to become familiar.
You can build your pup’s adventure playground at home: where they are secure and comfortable. Plenty of household items with hidden pockets of food to search for. Enquiring, investigating, building confidence and proprioceptive skills moving their bodies.
Kay has been involved in training dogs for over fifty years. From teaching lifeskills for all types of dogs to top level sports and working dogs.
Kay leads the way in developing innovative and creative techniques that deliver connection and effective teaching for both dogs and people in a blend of passion, joy and enthusiasm.
The constant thread has been a passion for learning about dogs and effective teaching.