It’s been a week since Zelda came home with us, brought home on Boo’s birthday. Since then, we’ve gotten to really know her, and have had to brush up on skills that have gone dormant.
Things like constant supervision to prevent inappropriate chewing and housebreaking accidents. What do we do when things go wrong? Exactly what I recommend clients do- interrupt and redirect. Zelda now understands that interruption does not mean punishment is coming, and will over time learn that her wide variety of chew toys does not include wooden train tracks. DO provide your dog with a variety- sometihng squishy (I like Kongs for this), something hard (I use cow femurs), and something tasty (Greenies and yak’s milk treats are what we use). Some of these chews should also be filled- Kongs are great for that and you can get cow femur sections that are filled with various tastes.
We’ve also been reminded of overcoming fear- last night my nine year old jumped around the corner all suited up in his Halloween costume with an extra Stormtrooper mask on, and Zelda lost it. I wasn’t there, but my husband knew exactly what to do and encouraged Zelda’s curiosity, overcoming her fear. Several treats later, with my son taking off his costume bit by bit, Zelda was loving the game, and when next my son leaped around the corner with a battle cry, all suited up again, Zelda just wagged her tail, still relaxed. This took only a few minutes.
Related to the fear is just learning about unfamiliar things in a home environment. Zelda has learned about stairs, and different flooring surfaces, and mirrors, and car rides- all things that she was unsure of at first, but now is fine with. She does get a little nauseous, so car rides have been short so far. She also had a vet visit with a wellness check, though that came with its own uncertainties that she overcame with help (cueing “Easy” and a few treats). She’s gotten very used to her crate and really enjoys it. I made it a great spot for her, with a thick comfy bed and a soft stuffed toy in there (just in case she needed something soft after being separated from her puppies). Every time she’s enclosed in there she gets high value treats and chews, and the other dogs have been confined to the same room as her for company, especially when she started barking when we left (she’s good now). She’s crated when we’re gone, but during the night, so long as we know where she is and what she’s doing around bedtime, she’s allowed to be free (since the first few nights). If she’s acting suspicious, she gets confined for bedtimes for her own safety (we don’t want her chewing or ingesting something while we’re sleeping).
Being the children of a dog trainer has some advantages and disadvantages, and the first thing my kids wanted me to do was teach Zelda to play, because she didn’t seem to know what toys are. About three or four short training sessions in, and Zelda began happily chasing balls. Actually fetching will be next, along with frisbees.
We haven’t been focused on the normal obedience commands, even though Zelda has already begun work as a demo dog and soon I’ll expect her to hold her sits through class just like I asked Boo to do before she retired last year. Instead, we’ve been working on the foundation- respect and trust and the rules of the house. These things aren’t taught in training sessions and can’t often be captured on video because the training happens hundreds of times throughout the day, only lasting a few seconds to a few minutes. Every interaction is teaching Zelda something, just as every interaction you have with your own dog teaches your dog something. It’s a matter of being intentional about what you’re teaching.
The more formalized training sessions we have done have been Conditioned Relaxation and Come. Leave it will be next. So if you’re looking for what I consider most important, there it is. Come is very important for her as she doesn’t understand it, will dash off after prey, and seems unsure of people (including us) when outside off leash, almost as if she’s forgotten she’s a housedog now. Combine that with some management lapses and Come easily topped the list as being the most important command to work on.
So we work while she’s on her 50 foot line, and we work in fenced in areas, and gradually I increase the distance and increase the distraction. She’s coming along well, and now will respond confidently in low distraction environments. You can see what it looks like with the video, but I call her, praise her all the way in, reward, and then immediately send her off again. I might call her several times in a row, or I might wait several minutes between trials. Currently, I’ve been calling her while she’s around dogs who know Come, and then rewarding all the dogs who come. This really helped get her past the hurdle of being unsure whether she wanted to be near a human outside, especially once she realized that she consistently got goodies for coming in close. In the beginning, she grabbed her treat and ran off to eat it, and that behavior has been naturally going away as training progresses, but I will be grabbing her collar before feeding her in the next week or two to get her used to that.
As for Leave it, with the chewing accidents and because of the nature of the command, that’s next on the list, as I said. However, it’s not vital just yet, because interrupting her with an “Ah-ah” works just fine. She’s a very “soft” dog- it only takes a mild correction to stop her in a behavior, and I expect she’ll take to Leave it quickly and easily, though I’ll make sure to get video of that training.
So, that’s what a week in a dog’s life looks like here: lots of learning, all the time, in tiny bite sized pieces!