The Super Sniffer® Puppy Program: The Importance of PLAY

I have gotten a lot of comments recently on the good behavior of puppies coming out of my Super Sniffer® puppy program. These comments are usually followed by the same question—How do you do it? How can you get pups that are 16 weeks old to pass an AKC Canine Good Citizen evaluation with flying colors, regardless of the breed of dog? I felt it might be of inter

6 week airedale pup

Proper socialization and early training will help a pup reach their full potential

est to explore the program in sections over the next few blogs to give readers some ideas that they can use while raising their own puppies. This month I would like to focus on PLAY.

Play is a central part of my program. Play teaches a puppy all about dog language, about their body, how to think on their feet, to be tolerant, to be patient, and also to master the rules of engagement. All of this is an important part of shaping and developing the personality and potential of your puppy, but it must be done in a thoughtful and controlled manner to be effective.

YpupsonBricksOne of the first things I added to the puppy play area was a wide variety of obstacles, textures, and visuals for the pups to get a taste of many things the world has to offer. We know from research that puppy brains expand with all the new things they experience during the first couple of months after birth. Starting at 5 weeks, I bring the pups to the play area and encourage them to walk over all the surfaces we have there. They include bricks, gravel, bark mulch, dry leaves, sand, cement, plastic, and fabrics of various kinds, to name a few. The list has endless possibilities depending on what you have available to include. There are also many different things for the pups to climb over or crawl under. You never know what will strike their fancy on any given outing and I have often been surprised at the places I have found them. One obstacle that takes most pups several weeks to master is a deliberately off level tunnel arrangement that teaches how to walk on non level surface with different visuals and egress at either end. I can see big difference in breeds and bloodlines on how the pups handle this one. It appears simple to the human mind but is truly challenging to the puppy in learning mode.

Teeters and elevated walks are great for building confidence. I use my trained older Chihuahua “Boo” to help teach the pups

dog showing pup how to go up ramp

Boo is teaching pups to use the ramp

these skills. He is very patient and loves to work with the young pups that are about his size. I’m always nearby to make sure no one gets hurt but allow them to slip off a ramp up or down if its not too far from the ground as part of the learning experience. As the pups get older and I take them through more of the formal obedience I will continue to teach exercise so they learn to be more aware of their legs. This will help them feel comfortable getting into tight spaces, climbing but also keep them safe while being active. The more formal training is done with FitPaws™ products and is something I learned from studying Dr. Chris Zink’s work on canine fitness[1]. It has been a real positive since I have added this element to the program. By 8 weeks of age, all the pups here have a good command of the obstacles and items in the play area.

Good play vs. bad play

It is now time to introduce the pups to the older dogs and expand the pack dynamics beyond mom and littermates. As a breeder, I have access to my own pack, which makes this part easy. I know the dogs in my pack and know how they act with puppies. More importantly, I know they are not going to teach the pups any undesirable habits. If you don’t have your own pack or know a breeder who will allow you to run your puppy with their pack, then it might be a challenge to find a group of dogs that would be suitable. The key to this step is getting the right group of dogs together. Dogs with bad habits, even small bad habits, will influence the puppy in a negative way. When the pups are introduced to the pack you want them to learn how to play politely with other dogs, to play quietly, to share toys and not show signs of resource guarding—all important things that will make for a better canine citizen.

Pups learning from another dog

Pups learning from another dog

With the right “teaching” dogs in the pack, the pups will learn how and when to engage in play as the older dogs patiently teach the pups the rules. It’s fascinating to watch them learn too. Again all this builds character, so don’t interfere much here. Let the dogs do the teaching while you take notes.

From my notes on this activity, I will structure the training exercises for the future lessons. If a pup is not very patient or not showing good self-control, then I will use games designed to enhance this skill as we move on with the formal obedience. You can also see learning patterns with the pups during these times as well which can help you choose how to set your pup for success during obedience lessons. If your pup is very visual then you should have training exercises that make allowance for that trait.

One last way in which I also use play when raising the pups is as a stress reliever when the situation calls for it. If you are teaching the puppy something that is very stressful or causes some anxiety, to interject a brief play time can help turn a potentially negative experience into a positive one for your puppy. When I am testing pups during obedience training around increasingly higher distractions, I will often see signs of stress as they are trying to do the right thing in face of something else they want to do more. So after they successfully complete the exercise I will break off into a brief play session to not just reinforce the reward and praise for a good job but to relieve the tension. When stress levels are high, learning is low and retention of the lesson is not as good. This is something to keep in mind as you move on with your pups training. Be carful not to overdo this type of play as the smart pup will soon be running the show, manipulating the situation to their advantage.

pups climbing bricksPlay has its place in the raising of a well-balanced puppy if it is done properly, safely, and for all the right reasons. Remember that good play stimulates the brain, offers positive learning experiences that will help the pup relate to other things in their future, and it strengthens the body too.

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[1] Canine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation by M. Christine Zink and Janet Van Dyke available at Caninesports.com

3 Common Communication Mistakes Dog Handlers Make

 

I was beginning to think I was the only one noticing, until a friend mentioned that she noticed that people are not communicating with each other as much these days. I know that might seem like an odd statement with all of us connected via social media, texting, and emailing all the time, but it really does seem that something is being lost in today’s media rich-world with personal communication. When communications break down between people, it can lead to hurt feelings, fights, distrust, and eventual disengagement between the parties. Not surprisingly, this also happens between our dogs and between our dogs and us. In this blog, I want to look at some examples of how to communicate better with each other and with our dogs.

As a trainer and instructor, I am in a position where I must be clear with my clients and students as to what I need them to do with their dogs in order to be successful in either handling the dogs or training them. What is more important in my mind is that we are clear in communicating to the dog what we want or need them to do for us.

One common mistake I see is that the leash handling is telling the dog one thing while the human is saying something opposite of the intent of the leash handling. When teaching the dog to walk on a loose leash what I most often see is people with a death grip on the leash and so much tension the poor dog is sure there is something wrong. When I mention this to people they realize the dog’s leash is taunt in their hands and give some slack only to wrap the remainder of the lead around their hand! If the lead is not totally loose and held in a relaxed manner the dog will not learn to walk on a loose lead. To show people what I mean I will take the lead from them, gently drape it over my fingers with my arm very relaxed by my side and take off walking. Many of the previously tugging dogs will simply go along and follow me, some might take off in which case I can grip the end of the lead before they jerk it out of my hand and turn around and walk off in the opposite direction from which they were headed. After 4 or 5 minutes of this, almost all dogs will begin to walk beside me with the leash very casually draped over my fingers. No tension (person) = no tension (dog).

Another common miscommunication I see is with the word DOWN.

BooDown

Boo showing the “Down”

 

English is a difficult language for humans, let alone dogs that are trying to learn it. You need to establish one meaning for the word and STICK TO IT! I have to emphasize that last point, as this is where the problems really occur, if you teach it to mean one thing then start adding in nuances that you want the dog to understand. They just don’t well with things like that so keep it simple. I like to teach “DOWN = go into a position where your body is lying down on the ground.” I use OFF instead of DOWN for “get off the furniture or off me,” etc.

The last common miscommunication I see is people not reading their dogs correctly. With the medical alert dog training a key part of the training is to teach the dog to give a very clear signal that an “event” is happening with their person. For a diabetes alert dog this would be a change in blood glucose, for example. This alert needs to be clear and unmistakably related to the event the dog is trained to alert to. What often happens however is the dog is trying to tell the person what is happening and the person is not paying attention. If, for example, your dog never bugs you about anything and all of sudden starts to pester you, your first thought should be he/she is trying to tell you something. Many people miss this and believe the dog is trying to be a pest. I see this all the time with housebreaking issues with puppies but it is particularly critical with the medical alert dogs. To overcome this situation, start from the beginning of training to set limits on how and when the dog can touch you. You would not want an alert dog to have a trick of “give me your paw,” or a cue to go outside to relieve themselves by pawing at you. In training the medical alert dogs, save any bodily contact with you for their work. If this rule is adhered to, you can be assured if the dog then comes to you he is telling you something is not normal.

TabouliHeadstudyRecently I got a message from a trainer in my program about a diabetes alert dog. The message relayed that the dog jumped up on her person’s bed (which she is not allowed to sleep on) and started licking the mouth of her person and pawing at him to wake him up. He did not get up, but the commotion woke up someone else in the house who did get the person up. When the glucose level was checked, it was quite low. This was good communication on the part of the dog, clearly not the dog’s normal behavior, and easily recognized, as being a signal that something is wrong. This behavior was well rewarded and hopefully will continue as the dog transitions from training to living with her diabetic person.

If you have not taken the time to read up on dog body language andGolden_Doodle_Running signals, I urge you to browse some titles at the local dog book store or check out some videos on You Tube so you can become familiar with what the dog is saying to you. They certainly take the time to learn all the nuances of our body language, we owe it to them to try and learn theirs.