Gotcha Day (+/- a few days) and what I’ve learned so far

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When we got Wilma at 10 weeks, I remember spending hours browsing Reddit reading internet strangers' stories to make me feel better about the whole puppy process. I guess you could say I had a case of the puppy blues, which carried on for quite a while. She is a Cocker Spaniel/Border Collie/GSD mix from a farm and comes with an attitude.

What really helped were the, you know, one year later success stories and what have you. So I thought I would write a bit myself. I'll try and structure it, so here goes:

The good bits:

What were struggling with most at the beginning was isolation anxiety. I wont even write down the dreaded "SA" term because it grinds my gear just to read it. Same goes for isolation "anxiety", but maybe this might help someone doing a word search. Puppies do. not. have. separation anxiety. They are puppies. Some manage well on their own, some don't. I just wish all the dog trainers and internet pages I trawled would have just been honest and said: She is a baby. Be patient. Instead everybody told me to start training protocols developed for dogs with full blown panic mode inducing SA. You know what, she just had to grow and mature a bit and know that "hey, ok, she's actually coming back every time". At the beginning, I couldn't be in antoher room without her going full banshee on me. Now, a few months later I leave without her even noticing. She never cared for Kongs etc when she was missing us, so that didn't work. Also, we ditched the crate pretty early on and just put a baby gate in the kitchen. So, if your puppy whines as soon as you leave the room let alone the house – hang on in there. They're babies, they'll learn. No chewing or mouthing, ever. I mean so yeah she had the zoomies like all puppies but she would eventually just calm down and fall asleep. She never chewed anything, which is why I got rid of the crate pretty early on. Say whatever you will, but dogs in many countires of the world (most dogs where I live) grow up perfectly normally without a crate. It was good at the beginning while potty training in the night though to be fair. Potty training. She caught on pretty quickly and didn't really have any accidents after about 5 1/2 months. Small pat on the back for myself there for going up and down the stairs a gazillion times a day at the beginning (we live in a flat). Recall. I live in a european town with many, many, many dogs and here everybody lets their dogs run off the lead in parks etc and often also on the road. Luckily, most dogs are extremely well socialized and owners are well aware of others so I've never had bad experiences. The only times I had to negotiate with other owners was when she had her first heat (I am keeping her intact) and male dogs came up to us. But the owners would come pretty damn quickly when I shouted their way…Wilma has been allowed off the lead right from the start at 10weeks (which, to be honest is the easiest part as they never stray far at that age). It obviously gets more interesting during adolescence. She still sometimes looks at me when I call her, stops mid-run and decides to carry on in the other direction (she would give me a middle finger if she had one I think 😀 ), but she is getting better by the day. Now, at 14 months, I can see how her impulse control is getting better and she will stop and think and mostly come back. What I find is an extremely valuable resource is my "emergency brake". I have very high pitched dog whistle which I started using with her when she discorvered the joys of chasing birds. I built up its appeal by using wet dog/cat food and super yummy things. And I only use when it is reeeeally necessary. And I know she will 99% stop and come back to me, even if she's off hunting. General sociability. Wilma loves all people. I mostly attribute this to me taking her on public transport every day back and forth to work and her seeing people of all shapes and sizes. It can be a nuisance sometimes when she wants to say hello to everyone, but I am grateful I never have to worry about her approaching people. She has had a few instances of barking at some people who she for some reason found scary, but theat was 3-4 times and after I went up to them and they stroked her she was her usual cuddly self. Handling. She has always been so easy to handle. Anything from cutting her nails to cleaning her teeth she has been an angel about. When she was 5 months old she got stepped on by a horse (my bad) and broke a toe. She had a cast on for 8 weeks and I changed the bandages every 2-3 days. She would just fall asleep on my lap as I was doing it.

What we are working on (I won't say the bad – there's always hope 🙂 )

Eating various different disgusting things on walks. She has got loads better on this to be fair, but where we live lots of people have picnics along the river and (unfortunately) leave all sorts of rubbish. So I need to be very careful. We have worked on an interrupting signal which redirects her to me (a bit like leave) and she's getting good at it. Still definitely work in progress though. She had a phase of eating feces (her own, other dogs', you name it), which fortunately passed. She still goes for horse poo at the stables but gracefully spits if out for me in exchange for a treat. Resource guarding against humans. This is maybe the single most worrisome aspect of her character. I can't tell you how many hours of sleep I have lost over this. I first noticed it around 3-4 months when I naively tried to take a chew from her and she growled at me. My reaction was instinctual (and very wrong) and I got cross with her. After that I started training her to trade valuable possessions for treats. She never had a problem with her food bowl and I still preventively plop some treats in there when she is eating to make sure it stays that way. It was mostly (the classic) disgusting things she would pick up on walks and chews. To be honest I have slightly rivisited my opinions on the matter. I was firmly of the "I should be able to take anything from my dog at any time" people. But, I think this assumption is built on a deep trust between dogs and owners, and at the beginning this trust is slightly lacking. Wilma now lets me take most things from her if I say "drop it" and trade. Some things even without trading (although I do not abuse this right). But I would not guarantee it would be the same for other people. She is with me in the office most days and if she has a chew I will often ask random colleagues to come in a and play the trade game so that she gets used to people handling her chews. It has always only been limited to a warning growl though and (rarely) and air-snap. I am nonetheless worried about the day I might decide to bring children into the pciture… Resource guarding against other dogs. This kind of cropped up later. With my parent's dog she is pretty good, as they have know each other since she was a puppy, but I avoid giving them chews together. It just stresses them both out too much and they don't see each other often enough to actually get used to "sharing" (in quotes as they actually both have their own chew). But recently she has started guarding (growling/air snapping) random stuff like dug out holes, sticks and piles of leaves from other dogs. This makes some situations very difficult to manage; I mean of course I don't bring her toys out on walks and stuff, but I can hardly control where leaves are going to be. In most cases I can redirect her well, but it means I am often on edge in situations where food is involved. Obviously management is key here, but still, I wish there were a way to train this. I find it very difficult to reproduce the situations in a one-dog-household. So if you have any success stories or pro-tips for this kind of thing; I would be forever grateful!

So all in all, still very much a work in progress but I am very proud of how far she has come. My advice to all those at the beginning of their puppy journey would be: use your own instincts, be patient and don't let random online dog experts tell you your puppy is "reactive" or has "separation anxiety". Take a deep breath and chill.

TLDR; dogs are amazing but hard work, damn it!

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