Have you ever noticed how having a dog (or dogS) seems to take over your world? Maybe that’s just the experience I’m having, but I’ve noticed that dog-people seem to gravitate to All Things Dog. But I guess that this is only fair, as a dog centers HIS life around his human…
My day generally begins at 6AM, or on those all too rare days, by 7:30 AM. When my eyelids throw off the wieght of slumber, Hans is immediately alerted by that innate sense that dogs seem to possess by providence. “One of the people I protect has stirred! I MUST go on alert!”
Hans was crate trained as a young puppy, and he still sleeps in his private den, as his proto-ancesters did, warm and safe with familiar smells and sounds. But the instant he hears my wife or I stir, he is out and on duty. I love this part of his day when his face appears over the edge of the bed, he licks his chops, and he jumps onto the bed. He needs to go out and relieve himself, but his first thoughts are of his Pack. ” Is everybody okay? Can I help?”
Hans will lay there on the bed, usually ACROST us, using the full force of his wieght to say, “I’m here, and ready to work!”
It goes back to something else I’ve been exploring My “Relationship” with my working dog…Many dogs involved in the various sports are well-trained to perform various tasks. But when exercise or competition is over, it’s back into the crate or kennel. I have observed very talented dogs that were no more than tools to their handler. When a carpenter finishes using his hammer, he puts it back into his tool box and closes the lid. Done, fini…What my training has been revealing to me is that my dog and I work more effectively when we are “working together” as friends, if you will allow me to anthropomorphize him for a moment. Here’s a “for instance”…Ask yourself, “Does my dog work well when he’s Off-Leash?” Does he come when he’s recalled without hesitation? Or more specifically, Does he WANT to come to me?” Or maybe try this exercise: Allowing a family member to hold your dog in place, you run away (No Toys or Food Treats Allowed) in full view of the dog for about 200 yards, and then find a place to hide. If your dog was then released, would he “Track you Down” as fast as he could run? It’s important for you, as the runaway, to disappear at the end of your track. Why? Well, at first, your dog is going to put his big nose into the air to catch your scent. Air-scenting is really faster, and more efficient for the dog. But if you disappear and negate the air-scent, his instincts will put his nose ON THE GROUND and a Tracker is created. My feeling is that “Prey Drive or “Hunting Drive” is a major reason that dogs will do this, and I’m trying to understand their role in this activity.
If your dog has no interest in finding you, this type of tracking will simply not work for you. The dog must be motivated by something to be truly effective. In this instance, it’s as simple as, “I love my master more than life itself, and I must find him immediately so that we are not seperated anymore!” There is no food bait involved, only a lively celebration when the dog succeeds in his track. Later on, when tracking others, the motivation is slightly different, but for now we are discussing YOUR relationship. So…how do you build this type of relationship? I have learned that this is more important than many trainers/handlers realize. And, it’s also a more pleasant way to LIVE WITH your dog.
One proviso is necessary here. Bait assisted, and other types of very formal track laying methods WILL work. If you are only interested in Titles, or view tracking as a necessary evil in schutzhund competition , then it can work. Some very exciting dog sports have eliminated tracking altogether because the participants view it as the least exciting event. That’s okay…But here, Tracking is the goal, and purpose of our work. Okay, on to building a team…
Warning: Training and Team Building a dog takes time. It’s not just an every Saturday afternoon for 30 minutes. It starts when you get up in the morning, and ends when you go to bed at night. It involves formal training, play-time, nap-time, meal-time, and even some canine style rough-housing.
I advise beginning with you and your 8 or 9 week old puppy taking a socialization puppy kindergarten. You’ll both meet other dogs, and other dog owners. It shouldn’t require anymore than 4 or 5 sessions of about 2 hours. Just enjoy other people and their puppies and do some exercises together…
During this time period, at home, let your puppy wear and drag around a light leash in a SUPERVISED atmosphere. It allows him to get accustomed to it. Also, play hide & seek games with toys or small treats. Make it a GAME, not a work session. This is also a good time to develop ATTENTION in your puppy. Using SMALL treats, let your puppy chase you around attempting to get a treat. When, and ONLY when, the two of you have EYE CONTACT, give him a treat. Keep this game lively and fast. Fairly shortly, you will be the focus of his eyes whenever you are together. Your play sessions should never be more than 10 or 15 minutes, and as P.T. Barnum once said, “Leave them wanting More…” Also, ALWAYS take possession of any toys you may use together, when you are finished. Put them away, out of sight…YOU are the source of all things fun or yummy! This is important.
Take your puppy with you wherever possible during these first 2 or 3 months, being careful to watch over the pup when people or other dogs approach. These are formative times for the pup, and a bad experience becomes a life-altering experience.
This covers the early weeks of your Team-Building. Make it fun, and make your puppy WANT to be with you.
Living with your dog is much different than just Training with your dog. In our home, the dog is present and well-behaved when we eat, have company, clean house, or whatever the family is doing. His private den (his crate) is beside our bed, (which actually makes a great bedside table)…My point is simply this: Live with your dog. Don’t treat him as a rake that hangs in the garage until you have leaves that need to be raked. Will he get in the way occasionally? Yes…Will you wish that he’d go lay down somewhere out of the way sometimes? Yes you will…but given time and patience, your dog will be no more annoying than your children!!!