Learning about balance

yellow lab puppy on disk

Ruby learning to balance on the disk

With Charlie off to his new home we are starting the training cycle all over again with two new puppies; this time two yellow sisters, Ruby and Harley.  If you think housebreaking one puppy takes reflexes faster than a speeding bullet, try two!  The one nice thing about having two pups though is they play a lot with each other.  We take care that they have separate time too so they do not become too dependent on each other’s presence. It is important in a puppy’s education to learn how to handle time alone. Done correctly you will not have separation anxiety issues.  Separation anxiety can result in a lot of damage to your home and be potentially a hazard to your dog’s health.

These girls are doing fine and play with all their toys for hours on end.  They invent games that seem to have rules too. Last night for example they ran through the sitting room area, around the kitchen island, and then Ruby who had the toy she was keeping away from Harley dived under the dining room table. It seem while under the chair legs she was in a “safe” zone.  Well, Harley figured Ruby would have to come out sooner or later and waited on the other side to ambush her and steal the toy. Then the game started all over again.

Sprinkled through the play area we set up obstacles and different textured things for them walk on, crawl over and just plain experience.  There are many benefits to their development in having them do these things, in addition to the great lesson of not being afraid of anything. For example, one thing they learn to negotiate early on is a FitPaws™ balance disk and also the balance cushion.  An agility competitor, retired physical therapist friend, Kim Sector, introduced me to this wonderful piece of conditioning equipment.  At first we just let the pups get use to it being there, and then we teach them how to stand and balance on it so they become aware of their body position.  The shifting weight, as Kim explained to me, increases their strength along the trunk and helps with core muscle tone. It also helps with general range of motion. What I see though is a great improvement in reaction and timing.

All this early exposure to things builds confidence as well. The job these pups will do as they mature is very serious and I feel there can never be too much preparation.  Physically all this playing really helps the growing pups but there is also the mental development aspect that I feel is just as important.  We teach the pups to play with dog puzzle toys and engage them in problem solving games. It is fascinating to me to watch them figure things out and get better and better at something. You can actually see them acquire the skill to master harder and more difficult puzzles as they mature in body and mind.  Long gone are the days of “give a dog a bone and leave him alone”. Thank goodness. The differences I see in the pups raised with the benefits of a physical and mentally enriched education are nothing short of awesome.

The Puppy Lottery

Chocolate lab puppy Charlie looking at team play ball

Charlie watching the ball game.

As a professional trainer, I am often asked what dogs think about. I don’t really know no one really does.  I can only imagine what Charlie thinks sometimes; today however there was no doubt in my mind about Charlie’s thoughts. 

He was as excited as I was to arrive at his new home, after all this is what he and I have been training so hard for over the last couple of  months. He passed all his puppy tests, passed his Canine Good Citizen test, got a clean bill of health from his veterinarians, and was doing great scent work as a diabetic alert dog. The time had come for Charlie to live with and start working for his new family.  Little did we know that they took to heart my suggestion that many toys make a teething puppy a happy puppy.  His eyes widened and his tail wagged as he discovered, much to his delight, basket after basket of toys of every kind and description.  He was sure he had just hit the big time doggie Lottery! 

There were training treats too, container after container of every flavor and variety a puppy could ever want. There were several large fluffy dog beds around the house, just perfect for a young pup to nosedive in and roll around. The family was definitely prepared for his arrival. I think Charlie was as happy a puppy as I had ever seen.   Everyone seemed delighted at his arrival. I was especially touched when the grandparents of his new family, had a special floral basket & card sent to the house filled with specialty bake goods from various local dog bakeries. What a lovely gesture!  I guess that made it official then, Charlie now had his own forever family.

Charlie meets the team

Over the next 3 days he had a schedule to rival any celebrity. He met all the school classmates of his new family’s daughters. He attended the local school basketball game to watch his new owner in the play offs and then get his picture taken with the teammates. He went for walks. He had a play date with the neighbor’s Brittany and his new canine “cousin” a miniature Poodle. He accompanied a whole car load of young ladies to the nail salon.  He went out to lunch with us at the local eatery, and in and between he had obedience lessons and scent work lessons with the girls. It was a full weekend of nonstop excitement. By Saturday night he was one pooped pup, I was a little worried we had done too much. But typical Charlie style, he bounced right back on Sunday morning after recharging his batteries with a nice long night’s sleep.

dog under a table

Relaxing under the table at the local eatery

 As the time drew near for me to leave I thought about the time we had spent preparing Charlie for this moment. According to the log book we put in over 1400 hours of one on one training hours with him, we logged many miles of car riding time, miles of city walks, and countless nights of interrupted sleep to take a puppy  learning his housebreaking routine outside in all types of weather. All these things led to the moment I was now witnessing. Charlie was relaxing in the kitchen where we all stood saying our last goodbyes.  He really seemed to be one very happy puppy who understood perfectly when I said to him, “This is what you have been training for Charlie, you take care of these girls and their family, don’t let anything happen to them.”  I’m not worried, I know he is loved and will be cared for, but that didn’t make it any easier to leave for the long lonely drive home.

The Tooth Fairy

chocolate lab pup with dog toys

Soft toys are good when a puppy is teething

Charlie has been a bit irritable lately; he is teething. It’s a tough time for any puppy but he is taking it pretty well.  His toys are not. I have picked up the third one this week and tossed it in the trash after he chewed it up trying to satisfy his need to gnaw on something. I can’t complain, Charlie is still performing his lessons well in spite of the obvious pain.  It has to be confusing for a puppy, they are growing at an incredible rate, their mouth hurts as teeth erupt endlessly week after week, and there are all these house rules to learn and lessons to master.  It would be easy for a good puppy to go bad at this point.

Ask any person waiting at a bus or train stop who has raised a puppy and they will wince a little when you mention your puppy is teething. It seems a natural response that people just can’t help. They all have stories to tell too of how they survived puppy teething. One man who spoke as he petted Charlie told me his puppy shredded his sofa, chairs, and pillows then proceeded to chew up the rugs.  After he got rid of all the remains the pup took to eating the drywall and cabinets in the kitchen.  He said it was quite a mess until the pup got through the teething stage.  His story unfortunately was all too common.  Puppy teething does not have to be a stressful horrific event in anyone’s life.

We keep baskets filled with dog toys of all shapes, sizes and textures spread throughout the house. The pups learn from their first days in the house right away that these are the only things they are allowed to put in their mouths. The rules are they can do whatever they want with their toys and we say nothing. If they try to take something of ours we correct with a stern “NO” and replace the object with one of their authorized toys. By showing them the right thing to do, they learn quickly to  play with their toys and leave everything else alone in the house.  It is this last point that most puppy owners miss. For reasons unknown and not understood by me, people will tolerate a puppy chewing up their house and everything in it. By showing the puppy the limits and sticking to the simple rule outlined here we have kept all our antique furniture and oriental rugs intact through many puppies.

Another point we make no exceptions on during this chewing phase of a puppy’s life is they are never left alone loose in the house when we are not there to monitor their whereabouts. If we go out and leave Charlie at home for example, he goes in his cage where he cannot get into trouble. He is given all types of safe things to occupy him while we are gone. Never trust a teething puppy in the house alone and you will never come home to a chewed up house! At this stage of their growth that type of freedom is not an option.

The last great trick we have learned to help us survive puppy teething is frozen treats. We use a variety of things including a small puppy Kong™ stuffed with different Kong™ fillers like chicken or liver flavored pâté like fillings. The pups especially like Frosty Paws™ a frozen dog treat found in the ice cream section of the grocery store. I think Charlie’s favorite though is small raw marrow bones whose hollow center are filled with peanut butter then frozen. Usually every night as it is time to put him to bed I will ask him, “Charlie are you ready for bed?”  He will jump up and pad over to the freezer drawer of the refrigerator and stand there wagging his tail waiting for me to fish out a nice cold bone. Once he sees it in my hand he will prance beside me all the way to his cage.  I will tell him, “Go to bed!”, and toss the bone inside his cage by our bed, whereupon he happily dives in after it. He will instantly settle down for a cool treat with no fussing.  Several things are accomplished by this routine that makes it easy to deal with puppies.  First we have a routine, which is always helpful for a dog of any age, but for teething puppies it takes away one layer of stress. Also the routine takes away any anxiety about going to bed and being left “alone”. The treat eases the teething pain and helps him satisfy a need which eventually helps him fall asleep peacefully with a pleasant experience as the last thing on his mind.  He is learning to follow rules and they are not so bad. It sets the tone for later more advanced training that will earn him the freedom of the house one day.

While playing with one of his toys today, Charlie lost a puppy canine tooth.  Being the worse kind of sentimental, I had to save the tooth; especially since it is not that much longer before Charlie will leave me to go to his new home.  I have the glass vial with the tooth near my desk. I remember as a child I use to put a tooth under my pillow at night with a note to the tooth fairy spelling out my wish for something I really wanted.  I usually woke up to find a quarter instead.  I wonder if I put this tooth under my pillow if the tooth fairy would bring me another great puppy like Charlie.