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Zip3: Are we ready?

September 2018

With a litter of pups, progress should be at the rate of their development not the prescribed expectation of developmental rates. All sorts of elements can delay or speed up learning progress. We should be looking for indicators that they are ready to progress rather than have pre-conceived expectations burdened upon us.

I have reared more than a few litters of pups and lived side by side with them as they grow. Side by side means the puppy pen is in the middle of my life.

For the first three weeks the bitch is nursing the pups alongside my computer. Not much work get done.
For the next three weeks the pups are at my feet in the living room, not much cleaning gets done.
For the next three weeks the pups are all over the house, I creep around to avoid waking them, but when they are awake the whole house is pup learning-world. Fortunately they sleep 20 hours a day.

This does mean I get to observe lots of details from one minute to the next. In that first 3 weeks I get notice who is a noisy, demanding feeder, who squeals when being cleaned, who is a complainer when the milk does not come fast enough.
In the living room period I see who watches TV, who is first to wake and explore, who is last to sleep, who is in the middle of every brawl.

The more advanced pups often benefit from their accelerated learning at the expense of their siblings, because they are first to learn new things, maybe by only 24 hours, but the slower learners get bundled along in the package whether they are ready or not. As they reach the 7-8 weeks age the individual learning rates are more noticeable. What the fast pups are doing the slower pups may be a week behind.

Often this is decided by size. The more growing a pup is doing the more they tend to sleep, the less active they tend to be. This is nature’s answer to keep the big boys a bit dull and stupid whilst the tiny girls get the advantages – it is a sort of balance in its own way. Big ‘n’ Beefy doesn’t always get to win, Cute ‘n’ Cunning has an advantageous skill set.

My choice is to let each learner have the space and time to learn at a rate that suits them. We have all been subjected to the learning rate of a group. It was called School. Depending on your birth month could mean you were always playing catch up, or felt you were being kept back by the group rate.

As a whole litter they are ready for new things when the current book of experiences is boring. It demonstrates boring by an increase in squabbling – nothing new to occupy their learning appetite so they turn to anti-social skill development.

This was very noticeable in one litter when I was unable to let them graduate to exploring the outdoor world near their living room pen. The doors opened onto a small patio area but that Summer it was infested with ants. The only outdoor access was going to be through the house to the other door. This meant they needed to be another 8 days older, able to respond to the cues to return to the house and travel through the rooms. I was not going to plan to carry individuals from garden to pen when they needed supervising all the time.

By expanding their horizons on a demand and necessity basis their need to learn was fed organically, not accelerated for my convenience or on the advice of anyone else.

For gooey puppy video ….

The same principle with Zip

She arrived with me at 20 weeks and was a fairly stressed, easily aroused little soul. Lots of things get her aroused and excited, mostly movement triggered, butterflies and rams do the job whilst in the garden and then she can whizz around letting the arousal-stress dissipate. But if she is contained – on a lead, in a crate, behind the door gate when aroused the language is a little “fruity”, to say the least.

The policy has been to let her learn to self-manage these moments through experience, some restriction for the sanity of the other dogs and plenty of de-steaming. I can now say that the anti-social de-steaming has faded fast. Less and less the other dogs need to remind her to mind her business.

This has evolved at the same time as “she gets it” on the training front. She has gone from just trying to get it right and work out what is happening to the moment where I cannot keep her out when there is an opportunity to train with me. Simple behaviours such as a lure to sit, bow, turn or down worried her greatly. She is a master at putting the ears completely out of sight and turning the eyes size up to ginormous.

Now we can respond to a lure with enthusiasm and ears all up, radar pointing forwards. This did not occur until she was 7 months old – a good 9 weeks after she arrived. Perhaps the underlying self-confidence is fully loaded to enable premium learning.

Does her age really matter?

Not to me.

A home reared pup of my own breeding may have been responding to the same training with the same confidence at 12 weeks. The important point is she is ready when she is ready, not when I expect her to be ready.

Our skill as teachers is to learn to observe and find those indicators of readiness. What if we ignore the individual’s readiness? If we expose them to social demands too early or expect good physical skills when they are still growing? There is a high risk that the learning in those mismatched phases with have some negative impact for the life of those behaviours. They become the tainted behaviours.

How many kids are “ready to leave home” at the beginning University or College? Some maybe, others maybe not, and even then it can be a traumatic experience because it is too early. I would say 33 years old is possibly too late, but I was outta the house at 12 years old with a bucket load of expectations from Enid Blyton.

I wanted to go learn more, do more things. We need to learn to look for that in our youngsters. This does not mean we let them go feral and explore the county, but that we provide the right sort of library for them to feed their hunger and thirst for learning and experience.

To adapt a well-known understanding and stretching it: perhaps we need to be sure their seeking is engaged before we ask them to go navigate the next world.

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Next: Zip’s arrival from Merrick’s view point and the learning she will need to do to develop a life long friendship.

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