Fear Periods in Puppies

“Help! My puppy, who loves everyone, just did something awful. A friend of mine wanted to pet her when we were out walking and she growled at him. I can’t believe it. She’s really well socialized, too. What am I doing wrong?”

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(Credit: Michelle Osborne)

This is a common complaint with puppy owners: a formerly outgoing, friendly puppy overnight turns into this shrinking, stranger-danger baby dog who doesn’t want to meet anyone. The puppy’s owners are understandably shocked by this behavior change.

So why is this friendly puppy suddenly unfriendly? And why is she growling at people she would otherwise want to interact with? The answer lies a series of developmental milestones called “Fear Periods.”

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(Credit: Michelle Osborne)

Fear periods are episodes in the puppy’s emotional development where they may become increasingly suspicious and fearful of items, situations, or people. Even people and places the puppy has been formerly comfortable with may suddenly become anxiety-producing and unsettling. These periods can occur at any time during the puppy’s development, but the most common ages are:

• Seven to Nine Weeks
• Four to Six Months
• Approximately Eight to Nine Months
• Approximately Twelve Months
• Approximately Fourteen to Eighteen Months

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(Credit: Michelle Osborne)

These periods are important for the puppy, as they help him or her establish caution that they will need later in life. The sudden change in behavior is distressing to dog owners, however, and very likely to lead the person on the end of the leash to make entirely preventable mistakes. Many dog “experts” advocate forcing the puppy to confront his fears (“flooding”). Unfortunately, this often leads to the puppy’s instinctive and irrational fears becoming more acutely realized and reinforced as valid. 

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(Credit: Michelle Osborne)

Training through a fear period isn’t difficult–you just don’t do it. You recognize the fact that this is a developmental stage in your puppy’s life and that, like all developmental stages, it will pass with a little time. Limit introductions to new people and new things, keep your puppy’s environment calm and comfortingly familiar. And if you must encounter someone new, keep those encounters short and overwhelmingly positive. Give your pup a treat and walk away to go play tug and give the puppy space. 

Above all, let your puppy set the pace, because socialization is more than just meeting and greeting. It’s also about how your puppy interprets the world you’re both exploring.

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(Credit: Michelle Osborne)

And don’t be afraid to comfort your puppy. Distracting a puppy during a fearful encounter with a high value treat or a toy is a good thing–it gets his mind off his fears and returns him to a happier, more secure place emotionally. Rewarding a puppy (or a grown dog for that matter) during a fearful encounter does not teach them fear–it just offers comfort. And that’s important, because you are and will always be the most important, most comforting person in your dog’s life. So be there when he needs you most.

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(Credit:  Zak Thatcher)

And lastly, just a thought…

We don’t make our children submit to the attentions of strangers. So why do we insist on it with our dogs? Strangers are not always kind, and it’s okay to be cautious of them.

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(Credit:  Zak Thatcher)

So when your friendly puppy decides overnight that strangers are scary–this isn’t a crisis or even unusual. It’s only a fear period and it’s a sign that your puppy is just a baby dog who hasn’t figured out how the world works yet.

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(Credit:  Tony Moran)

But she has you to help her learn.

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(Credit: Michelle Osborne)

For a dog-centered method of dealing with scary things, please look into BAT–Behavior Adjustment Training.  It’s fun, it’s easy, and your puppy will enjoy doing it.  For a quick and easy explanation, please click here:

http://empoweredanimals.com/BAT-basics.pdf


Sources:

https://www.berkeleyhumane.org/files/galleries/CriticalFear.pdf

https://positively.com/victorias-blog/dog-bite-prevention-part1/

http://suzanneclothier.com/the-articles/if-only-hadnt-happened-dog-would-be-fine

 

Nimbus, Or: Why It Might Not be Totally Crazy To Adopt a Puppy from a Shelter

About three years ago, I started mulling over the idea of getting a puppy. I had a Plan for Futurepuppy, of course: I was going to get a carefully bred baby AmStaff from a breeder that I loved, coming from parents that I also loved.  I have always been a big rescue person, but at that point in my life, my line on puppies was this: “If you’re going to a shelter, get an adult dog. You’ll know what size they are, what their energy level is, the basics of how they’re structured, a lot of things about their temperament, that kind of important stuff. Shelter puppies are a crapshoot! Who knows what’s going on there? If you go to a breeder for a puppy, you’ll have a general idea of the kind of dog they’re going to grow up into!”  Plus, I admit: at the time, Katie had just gotten Bean, and I was totally jealous of the way all of his litters’ puppy buyers had kept in touch through Facebook, sharing pictures of the pups, talking about behavioral and health issues and basically watching all the puppies grow up together. I have shelter dogs with mysterious, crappy backgrounds, and the idea of having a big extended family made up of your dog’s sibs, parents and owners sounded really nice.

Well. Things happen! First, the litter I was hoping for didn’t happen.  Then, Widget happened.  Widget is a full-blown maniac and has some challenging aspects to her character, but I really did get so lucky with her; she is just the kind of sport dog I was hoping for, and she taught me that I really, really like puppyraising.

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Widgey, second day home. Those crazy eyes told me what I was signing up for!

Fast forward. Widget is a few weeks from her second birthday and now looks like this:

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So grown up!

I now work at a large animal sanctuary and am surrounded by a whole lot of ridiculously great dogs.  I fostered one of them, and even though he was too excited about cats to be my dog, he made me realize that I really wanted/felt equipped to handle another dog and also helped clarify for me that maybe I do not want another super high-drive sport dog right now (I have two! And given the remoteness of where I live, they are both, frankly, being underutilized at the moment.) [PS: by the way, Shine was just adopted! Thanks, internet!]

Then we got a really fabulous mama dog who had just weaned a litter of eight puppies in at work; she was medium-sized and cute and friendly with nice structure and an amazing temperament, and I looooved her. One stressful day, I thought to myself, “Oh, what the heck; I will just go over to the puppy building and say hi to her puppies. I bet they’re cute, and they’ll make me feel better.”

You see where this is going, right?

NimbusWelcome home, kid.

His name is Nimbus right now (his mom and litter were named after clouds and wind patterns).  I think it is cute, but I haven’t totally settled into it yet; I’m going to bat it around for another week or so then make a decision.

I am also realizing, to my delight, that I don’t have to give up a lot of the things I was hoping for when I was planning for that little AmStaff puppy years ago. There are still some drawbacks that come with adopting a shelter puppy (though there are, of course, many benefits that come with rescue): for me, the major one is that I don’t know Nimbus’s extended ancestry, which means I can’t make many predictions about his health and temperament based on that of his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.  Puppies of known background DO come into shelters, of course; we have two young dogs at the sanctuary who came from a BYB who kept pretty good records, so we know a fair bit about their relatives, breed makeup, and even a bit about the parents’ health status and temperament. However, I would venture to say that a purpose-bred litter from a GOOD breeder is not going to wind up at a shelter.  Good breeders die and have financial trouble and family issues just like anyone else; however, they also generally have networks of people in the breed who are willing to step in and take dogs in times of crisis.  So if predictability is the primary thing you’re looking for, then yes, a shelter puppy is probably not for you.  However, if you’re willing to bend on that, the experience of getting a shelter puppy can actually be pretty similar to getting a thoughtfully bred puppy, especially if you’re willing to do some legwork.  Here are some surprising things I’m learning through my experience with getting Nimbus.

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Teeterphobics Anonymous: How Widget Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the ‘Bang!’

Way back when I first got Widget, I took her to a great puppy playgroup once a week.  This particular group happened to be frequented by a lot of Seriously Serious agility folks and their new “he’s gonna be my MACH dog!” puppies, so along with the standard playgroupy socialization things, we also did a little bit of stuff designed to expose our dogs to some stuff they might encounter in agility.

THIS IS WHERE WE LEARN TO EAT OUR FRIENDS!!

Dim room + maniac puppies = blurry photos

Even as a baby, Widget was an alarmingly fearless little animal who was willing to try everything. Would she run through the baby play tunnel we put out? Obviously! Would she walk across the elevated board (just a piece of wood held up by a couple stacks of books)? Of course, and then for good measure, she would tug while standing on it.  Stack of blocks to knock over (to simulate the sounds the equipment makes)? Fun! Running through a jump standard? Sure, why not?

And then one day, the lady who ran our class was like, “Hey, let’s try out some baby teeter stuff!” and pulled out her wobble board (a piece of wood with a halved tennis ball glued to the bottom: it tips, but only slightly, and is just designed to expose a dog to the feeling of the ground moving a little).  All the other puppies happily pounced on the board, rolled around, played tug while standing on it and otherwise behaved like model pre-agility pups. Widget walked over, put a paw on it, and when it wiggled, she gave me huge whale eyes, ran over to the corner of the room and refused to engage for the rest of the class. “Is she….sick?”, my instructor asked. “Um, maybe?”, I responded. It was so out of character for her to be scared of anything that ‘sick’ seemed like the most logical reason.  But a couple of weeks later, we tried again: same thing. And then a couple of weeks after that, we tried getting the puppies up on the fancy moving exam table (the class was held at a vet’s office, and they had a cool exam table on an elevator platform so it could be raised and lowered at will). Again, Widget was not having it. She was very adamant that a) the ground is not supposed to move, WTF! and b) Widgets do not like to feel like they are out of control. “You better watch out–you’re going to have a teeterphobe on your hands!” said one of my classmates, who was no doubt envisioning Widget running against her pup three years down the line and feeling a little gleeful about it.  At that point, I did what was, in retrospect, probably the smartest thing I could have done: I backed off doing teeter stuff completely. For the next eight or so months, Widget and I worked on a bunch of other pre-agility skills, but the closest we came to doing teeter stuff was doing some basic contact training. This was not easy: I am a problem-solver type, and what I really, really wanted to do was to build all kinds of different wobble boards and do some crazy thing where Widget ate all her meals off the boards and had to stand on the board before we went outside and and and…..Luckily, for once in my life, I did not succumb to my crazy, and so for several months, I just pretended that the teeter did not exist and would never be a factor in our lives.

And then, about a month ago, I decided to start reintroducing The Dreaded Teeter. Widget has gotten a lot more physically confident since our puppy class; we’ve also done a ton of shaping, and a TON of 101 Things To Do With A Box and its variants.  One of the things I do with her all the time is set a novel object out and reward her for interacting with it in different ways: basically, anytime I bring anything even vaguely durable in the house (cans of tomatoes, new brooms, boxes of mail), I put it down on the ground and click/treat Widget for figuring out new ways to interact with it.  I warn you that this kind of creates a monster: these days, any time I have anything new within Widget’s sight line, she is like, “WHAT IS THAT CAN I STAND ON IT CAN I BITE IT CAN I GO IN A CIRCLE AROUND IT, YAY FUN GIVE ME TREATS!” However, it also creates a puppy who is brave around new objects and whose first instinct is to try to engage with new things rather than shying away from them. This is a very useful thing for a jack-of-all-trades sport puppy: if they’re presented with a treiball ball or a lure-coursing lure or an unfamiliar agility obstacle, they’re pretty likely to go over and see what’s cookin’, rather than shying away from it. Just as a backup, I put the “go over and look at that new thing; you will probably get some treats out of it” behavior on cue (Widge’s is ‘go check it out!’) So between all those things, I felt hopeful that we could get some teeter back in our lives without it becoming Big Scary again.  However, I still went (and am still going!) very very very slowly. Here are a few things that we did/are still doing; hopefully, the combination of these things will result in a dog who, in a few months, thinks the teeter is the best thing since sliced bread.

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“I want a small dog because…” [*eyeroll*]

About one year ago (funnily enough, on Mother’s Day), a crazy little seventeen week old cattle dog/Jack Russell cross showed up at the shelter I volunteered at on the day I happened to be volunteering.  She’d been adopted as a tiny pup to a quite elderly couple, and after what I can only imagine were 11 weeks of hellfire,  they quite sensibly decided that she was not the right fit for them.  When I got her, she hated any kind of handling, would happily use her teeth to express displeasure, never stopped moving, and enjoyed shrieking in a way that I can only describe as blood-curdling.  She was also outgoing, funny, would chase a ball and tug on a toy until she was about to keel over, was gregarious and polite with other dogs, and even as a little baby, she loved to work.   Obviously she had to be mine.

One year later, Enya the shelter puppy has become my Widget, the dog who is simultaneously one of the most frustrating and joyous things about my life. She is still outgoing, funny, great with dogs and super worky.   Since coming to live with me, she has played around with herding, agility, rally and a little bit of flyball, and she’s racked up a couple of letters next to her name (beginner titles in herding and rally, plus a CGC).  She has a beautiful, full-speed recall that puts my older dogs to shame.  She will let me put a harness on her now and pet her and ruffle the sticky-uppy fur between her ears and pick up her paws (as long as I don’t linger too long on them).  She is horrendous for anything medical, is a bit of a resource guarder, still enjoys screaming, and the teeth thing….well, I guess the best thing I can say is that it’s slowly improving.

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Widget, May 2013

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Widget, May 2014

This is Widget the week I adopted her and Widget this May.  16 month old Widget’s ears have decided they want to go up, she’s developed some grownup looking musculature and all her rolly-polly puppyness has disappeared, leaving a sleek, lean, well-built dog where there once was a goofy little baby.   One thing you might also notice, however, is that even though she’s more adult looking these days, she’s not demonstrably bigger.  When I adopted her, she was 12 lbs., but I felt sure that her cattle dog genes would kick in soon and that she’d end up a nice medium sized dog on par with my older girls, maybe 40 lbs or so.  Last week at work, I weighed her: 19 lbs.  She wears an extra small harness, she’s going to jump at either 8” or 12” (depending on venue) when we start competing in agility.  She is 19 lbs and 11 inches of chaotic energy and pointy teeth, but no bones about it: Widget Quigley is a small dog.

I’ve spent the last several years working at shelters:  I love the work and we have fantastic adopters, but I think it’s inevitable that if you work at a shelter, you develop a couple of pet peeves.  I save the vast majority of my irritation for people who come in and say dumb thing about pit bulls; however, one other thing that makes me sort of internally sigh is when people come in with bizarre ideas about small dogs.  The last shelter I volunteered at was in an area where small dogs are hugely in demand and are generally adopted out very quickly. At that shelter, a dog could be feral, they could be a traumatized puppy mill rescue, they could have massive health problems, they could be 20 years old, they could have a bite history, it does not matter: if they were under, say, 25 lbs, they were generally going to be adopted within the month. And boy oh boy did I hear all manner of “explanations” for why people were picking the small dogs they were picking, and boy oh boy did I sigh when the dogs were returned for being too….something. Too different from what was in people’s heads when they thought about small dogs.

Though Widge is my first little dude, I have known a fair few crazy awesome sporty small dogs in my life, and I’ve very often enjoyed the small dogs that have wandered through my frame of reference (bratty dogs are brats regardless of size.) I count many small dogs among my good pals; just to name a few, there’s my dad’s new Papillon and his floofy little mix who just recently passed away, there’s my childhood Cocker, there’s the Basenji I lived with for years and there’s my grandmother’s awesome Chihuahua.  Besides the fact that they are all small, none of these dogs I have known have the slightest thing in common: they have radically different temperaments, radically different responses to new people/dogs, radically different interests, radically different drives, etc.  The same is true with the population of little dudes at the shelter: they are just as varied as any of our larger dogs, and they all have their own individual needs and quirks and challenges and positive qualities. And yet, we often get people coming into the shelter who haven’t considered much beyond size in thinking about what they want in a dog.  We’ve written before about going in with a plan when you’re adopting from a shelter (same thing goes if you’re buying a dog, imo): there are a ton of different things to consider when you’re thinking about a new dog, and size is only one of those.  Of course, there are a lot of reasons to look specifically for a small dog, just as there are a lot of reasons to look for a big dog: maybe you live in an apartment with size restrictions, maybe you’re very frail and need a dog who is not physically capable of pulling you over, maybe you travel a lot and want a dog who can ride in the cabin of the plane with you.   That said, it’s important to avoid eliding size with behavior or temperament: just as a big dog is not necessarily going to be a hyperactive, uncontrollable maniac, a small dog is not necessarily going to be a mellow little lapdog who’s content to hang out at home all the time.  So, without further ado, and in honor of Widget The Tiny Terror, here are some myths about small dogs* that I wish would go away.

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That’ll do, puppy: Widget takes the herding instinct test

A week or two after I got Widget, it seemed to click on in her little puppy brain that she was, in fact, a baby herding dog.  The results of this were threefold:  1) She started getting very bossy about motion (me, the other dogs, random strangers on the street), 2) when we would take walks, she developed a delightful new habit of waiting for my feet to start moving and then pouncing on them and biting on them with her sharp little puppy teeth, and 3) when she wanted everyone to be together, she would do these little baby outruns and bark obnoxiously to try to get us to move.   Luckily, thanks to my first dog, Lucy, I had a sense that something was going on with her beyond general puppy brattiness.  Lucy, who I always describe as my North American Muppet Dog and who is registered as an Airedale mix (hey, anybody’s guess), looks nothing like a herding dog, and so it never occurred to me to attribute her ridiculous sensitivity to moving things and general pushiness to herding instincts.  What made me finally get it was the day at our old dog park where she spent the whole afternoon moving the cows that grazed in the pasture next door up and down the fence line. It was only then that I was like, “Oh. OH! Wait, really? Huh!”; after that, I started doing some herding training with her and all was well(ish.)

So when Widget started getting all herdy with me, I knew what I was looking at, and I eagerly called up a local trainer to see if I could get her herding instinct tested. And it turned out I could! But not until she was six months old.  So I spent several weeks metaphorically tapping my feet as the puppy got more and more interested in All Things Moving. I circled her official half birthday on my calendar, ticked off the days, and the minute June 30th came, I called up the trainer again and scheduled Widge for her instinct test.  She was officially tested the following Saturday, and you guys, it was awesome.

But before I brag about my puppy, let me try to make this post a tiny bit useful and explain what the herding instinct test actually IS.  In the broadest terms, the point of a herding instinct test is to see if a) a dog is interested in livestock in the first place, b) to separate dogs who want to herd from dogs who just want to chase sheep around and c) to gauge the herdy dogs’ innate talents for balance, distance and pressure and to get a sense of how they instinctively want to herd (do they give the stock the spooky eye, common in border collies? Do they get in front of the handler and attempt to drive the stock forward or do they pull back and collect the stock? Are they barkers or nippers?) If you decide you’d like to take your dog to an instinct test, no matter where you go, this will be the core of what you do.

Beyond that, it gets a little more specific. Like many dog sports, there are a whole bunch of certifying organizations that administer trials and instinct tests; in the US, the big ones are the AKC, AHBA (the American Herding Breed Association), ASCA (the Australian Shepherd breed club) and USBCHA (the US Border Collie Handlers Association) [note, herding people: let me know if I've forgotten something. This is new stuff for me!]  The rules for the instinct test are a little different based on which organization is administering the test.  The AKC for example, only allows specific breeds to test and does not allow mixed breeds (even mixes of herding breeds) or dogs with any kind of physical irregularity (oh AKC, you keep giving me more and more reasons to hate you.) Their test (*note: PDF) requires the dog to be on a 6-15 foot long line and requires that the dog demonstrate a stop, sit, down and recall while in the pen with the livestock prior to engaging with the animals; beyond that, they just have to show “sustained” interest in the stock. The other organizations tend to be a good bit looser with their eligibility requirements, but also, they tend to be a little more specific about what ‘sustained interest’ in stock means.

As both Lucy and Widget are shelter mutts, all of my experience has been with AHBA; AHBA restricts the official herding instinct test to certain breeds of dogs and their mixes, though they allow any dog to compete for titles (and the list of who’s eligible to take the instinct test is broader than you’d expect: it includes poodles, Dobes, Rotties and several terrier breeds). ASCA does the same (I have no experience with USBCHA, and their website is not forthcoming). Unlike the AKC, AHBA has no obedience requirements for the first part of their two-part instinct test, though they do recommend that dogs who take the test have some good foundational recalls and a down-at-a-distance; especially for young dogs who’ve never met stock before, it’s nice to have a little bit of control before you go in, just to help ensure nobody gets kicked or eaten. The first part of the test primarily gauges how the dog moves with the stock and makes a strong distinction between dogs who are actually trying to herd and dogs who are chasing or playing with the stock (the former passes, the latter does not). Following a brief “Hey dog, these are sheep!” introduction period, the dog also needs to attempt to work the stock for between 6-8 minutes. In the second part of the test, dogs are asked to move the stock in a particular direction or along an assigned course. They begin on a long line and must demonstrate a drop and recall before the line is removed; this helps gauge whether or not they are able to keep their brains in their heads around livestock. The dog needs to test for two different judges and pass both tests to officially be awarded their instinct title.

In practice, here’s what the test looked like for us when Widget and I showed up at our tester’s beautiful ranch this weekend. What Widget knew prior to taking the test was….not much. As part of my slightly manic attempt to socialize her during her first few weeks home, I’d introduced her to horses and cows; however, we were going to be testing on sheep, and she’d never met sheep. Strike one! As far as obedience-style stuff, in the week before the test, I spent a lot of time imagining her tearing around the arena attempting to swallow the sheep whole, and to make myself feel better, I started working on her distance downs. We also worked on the moving down, which I figured she’ll need for Rally anyway, and I tried to fade my hand signal and get her responding to only a verbal. When we worked on things alone together in a nice boring environment, this went very well; I got her doing downs about 15 feet away from me, she thought the moving down was awesome, and I got the hand signal pretty well faded. However, add in simple distractions like a bird landing on the feeder or–gasp!–my other dogs barking from inside the house and a lot of our work went out the window. This did not, shall we say, inspire much confidence that she would be able to keep her head together in the presence of Exciting! Sheepies! Strike two! She also had nothing like a stop, which is to say an immediate stand-stay at a distance in the presence of lots of running sheep; this is a really hard skill to teach, and all I’d managed to really solidify with Widget were the outlines of a down-stay and a cued stand. Strike three! Needless to say, my heart was thumping pretty hard as I drove up to the gate of the ranch as I mentally calculated how many sheep my bad baby cattlejack could eat before I went broke.

When we got inside, we met the tester, who chatted with me for a while about the kinds of herding I wanted to do with Widget. Once he’d reassured himself that my interest was purely recreational and I didn’t have any sheep at home that desperately needed herding, he got down on the floor and interacted with Widget a little bit (“that is a weird mix!” and “she’s a cute little shit, though, ain’t she?”) Widget mercifully managed not to pull out her favorite greeting maneuver (peeing all over the new person) and after they’d hung out a little bit, the trainer removed her fancy new harness (which he deemed silly), clipped a lightweight long line (maybe 10-12 feet) to her collar and walked her into a medium-sized round pen which contained three mellow, dog-savvy sheep. For the first 30 seconds or so, Widget was mostly like, “Yay, sheep poop!”; from the outside of the pen, I said, apologetically, “If she doesn’t have anything, it’s no big deal.” Right as I was saying that, however, Widget spotted the sheep at the edge of the pen, and then, like a miracle, for the next few minutes, my goofy little maniac of a puppy turned into a calm, focused, attentive Real Dog. The first thing she did upon seeing the sheep was to do a long, looping circle that put her behind the sheep, at which point she attempted to drive them forward a little bit. She stayed at least a few feet from the sheep at all times, which the tester later told me was a very nice respectful distance; she did not bark, she did not attempt to bite anyone. I’m so used to seeing the border collie crouch ‘n stare that I actually am not sure what she did to get the sheep to move; the sheep, nevertheless, moved. As they pulled ahead, Widget did another big looping run out in the other direction, caught up to the sheep and again, from about four feet away, managed to stop the running sheep and move them back to the part of the pen where they’d started. As she was doing this, the tester was simultaneously moving around to see her work and talking to me about what she was doing. “You see the way she’s moving along with the sheep; that right there is balance.” “She’s not spooking them, but she’s making sure they go where she wants them to be, see that?” “Oh, and that right there, where she took off in the same direction as them, that’s just inexperience talking. Oh, see, there she goes, she corrected it. Goooooood girl.”

After a few minutes of this, he dropped her long line and interjected himself between her and the sheep. He spoke very softly to her, so softly that I couldn’t hear what he said, and Widget immediately dropped into a down. Then he put the point of his stick on the ground and verrrrry subtlety turned his shoulder in to block the space; Widget quickly pulled off in the opposite direction of the stick, ran around the pen to where the sheep were, picked them up and brought them up to the point of the stick. And then, either by chance or by a cue from the trainer, one of the sheep peeled off from the group and took off into the middle of the pen. At that point, Widget–who acted like she knew exactly what she was doing, no big deal–pivoted around, circled out around the runaway sheep and moved her back to the rest of the flock. The tester turned to me and said, “Welp, if you want to know whether she’s got instinct….I guess there’s your answer.” At that point, he said, “That’ll do” to her, and Widget immediately left the sheep and went off to lay in the shade and eat more sheep poop. Had I not seen it with my own eyes, I would have never believed it.

I was pretty blown away by this whole thing. I really need to stress how little of it had to do with my own training; besides the whole…sheep thing, we’d never gotten a distance down that quick and that good, our work with “run out to the left” and “run out to the right” had been hurried, sloppy and had depended a lot on my new Manners Minder, and she definitely, to my knowledge, did not know what “that’ll do” means. Widget’s a six month old puppy; she spends a lot of the day biting things and stealing my shoes, she is (real talk!) not even reliably house trained yet, and I have certainly never seen that level of immediate and precise responsiveness from her. But put her in a pen with some sheep and a guy who knows how to very subtly use pressure and a whole other dog emerges. I have three mixed breed dogs and consequently don’t spend much time thinking about what any of them are ‘supposed’ to do or be like.  Because of that, I generally underplay the power of basic, conditioned-for-centuries instinct, so when I see it in full-blown action like I did at the herding test, it kind of blows my mind.

After Widget’s first go-round with the sheep, we gave her a good long breather while we talked about what he had seen in the test. After that, he asked if I’d like to have her go out again so she could practice moving on his cue. I said Yes Of Course and asked if I might be able to take a picture of the two of them working. He grimaced like I’d asked to steal his soul, let me take one lousy picture (where she’s actually hanging back away from the action) and then had me come in the pen with them to practice my own movement vis a vis the sheep. So there is basically no photographic evidence of this amazingness, to my deep sadness.

I’m going to go back next Saturday and try to get a repeat performance for another judge, and after that, the tester–who’s also an instructor–is going to teach me how I can get her moving in some specific directions (required for Phase II of the AHBA test); hopefully after that, Baby Cattlejack will bag her first title. Beyond that, I am not sure. The responsible part of me wants to wait until she’s a year old: less psychologically impressionable, joints more fully developed. The less responsible part of me, the part that wants to Herd All The Things, wants to start lessons like yesterday (“Hey, it’s just running around on dirt! She does that all the time anyway!”). So we’ll see. For now, I am basking in the knowledge that my puppy is OBVIOUSLY some kind of a sheep savant and trying to read up on as much about herding as I can, just so I know I can hold up my end of the bargain. I loved herding when I did it with Lucy and am loving it even more with Widget, so I’m really excited about this fun new pursuit.  Even more important, though, is that I know that my baby puppy had a great time.

Here’s my one bad picture–I promise to get some better ones next week! What is happening here is that Widget has just lined up the sheep and is hanging back making sure they don’t go anywhere. The trainer is going in front of the sheep to see if he can get Widget to come around behind them and drive them forward (which she did, right after I snapped the shot).
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ETA: This post went up later than I thought, so have some more pictures from Day Two of herding!

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She’s cutting in too close here–see how that one sheep is breaking off from the group? It’s just lack of experience talking.
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But here at least she’s able to correct herself and go out to pick up the errant sheep.
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Itty bitty drive
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And here she is attempting to climb into the sheep’s water bucket to cool off, but failing, as she is extremely short. I just put this picture up to embarrass her.
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Meet the Puppies of TU!

You may have noticed a few new faces showing up in Wordless Wednesday and a few new names dropped here and there. That is because Team Unruly has an everpresent case of Puppy Fever, and several of us have recently succumbed. We are very excited to formally introduce our newest, tiniest and occasionally most annoying members!

Meet River!
aka Amelia’s Impossible Astronaut (once I register her!)
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River is a: Six month old Australian Cattle Dog. I am certain that she is purebred, but is more of a “ranch bred” type that is less stocky and taller than the average AKC line ACD. More fun that way! She came from the same shelter that Kelsey’s Widget did and was found wandering around the desert at ~12 weeks old. Don’t ever go to Arizona to visit K*; you will leave with a puppy you weren’t planning to have at exactly the wrong time!

[*note from Kelsey: No, seriously, come! I have so many dogs to show you!]

Tell us about her! River is, in a phrase, a whole lot of dog. She is very high drive and loves to work. She will ask to train long after the session is over, she will go hiking for miles without slowing down, and she keeps Owen the Cardi EXTREMELY busy. I’ve had a great time training her so far because she just loves to problem solve and work it out. Once she knows what is expected of her, she will know it. Everything she does is with intensity and a complete lack of self preservation – watch out for your knees if this dog is running near you! She is sometimes hard to live with, but always fun. Recently she learned that snuggling with her humans isn’t so bad, and she is turning out to be a sweet girl when she wants to be… which is mostly when she has been exercised and trained all day long!     

What are your plans for her? She started nose work foundation while we were still in Arizona. Since that is my main sport and the one I teach, it is what we will play the most. She loves searching and is showing great promise already even this early in her training. I have no doubt that she will start her competition nose work career soon after she turns a year old in December. Very few environmental factors distract her from working, so she is an excellent sport prospect puppy for basically anything I’d like to do with her. We have also started a little bit of agility foundation skills and she thinks it’s great. Anything that is exciting and active, she’s all in! She is my wild girl and I love that about her, so we will probably stick to sports that are less structured (probably no obedience championships in our future, for example).

OK, OK, one more picture:img_0080-copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet Rumor!
aka GSR Top40 Keep Em Talkin

Rumor at 5 months old

Rumor is an AKC/UKC purebred, showbred, and registered Golden Retriever

Tell us about her! Her mom is a UKC champion and dad is an AKC & Canadian champion. She will be 6 months old on July 6th, but won’t hit the conformation rings for at least another 6 months. She is all go-go-go, but has a heart of gold and a soul full of try. Her favorite activities are napping in the sun, chasing a ball (though we are still learning how to bring it back), chasing the barn cats, and using her pit bull big brother as a chew toy.

What are your plans for her? Rumor and I will do everything together! Before we hit the conformation ring, we will be working on fun tricks, obedience, weight pull, and agility. We’ll start nosework and therapy work, too. In short: We’re gonna do everything!

OK, OK, one more picture:

Nosy Rumor!

 

Meet Widget!
aka Four Forces Wingardium Leviosa
DSC08055Widget is a: Bad baby cattlejack! She is 24 weeks old, an Australian Cattle Dog and Jack Russell cross, and came from the shelter where I volunteer (where she was adopted as an eight week old, then returned because of the aforementioned Bad).

Tell us about her! Oh, she’s ridiculous. She’s so much fun, such a little monster, constantly moving, constantly dirty and smart as a whip. She’s this itty-bitty little thing: I had assumed her ACD genes would kick in and she’d get leggier as she aged, but apparently she’s only gained six pounds since she was eight weeks old, and I think she is destined to be a shorty (I had to buy her an XS harness. EXTRA SMALL! WHAT?) She is precisely half the size of Nellie, who is half the size of Lucy: I think that means that my next dog is going to have to be some kind of teacup something. Anyway, she’s got a great smile, she is constantly laughing and she is absolutely 100% convinced that she is the queen of all she surveys. I am having more fun training her than I think I have ever had in my life. Her other hobbies include barking constantly, splitting up pairs of shoes and hiding one somewhere in the house, getting spooked by her own tail and biting everything that moves. My new life goal is to encourage her to develop better hobbies.

What are your plans for her? Everything. EVERYTHING. She loves to work, she thinks shaping is a blast, she is impossible to tire out, and right now, seems like she’d be good at most things, so I am trying her out on everything and am waiting to see what sticks. I’m having her herding instinct tested this weekend. We start Puppy Agility Camp in about two weeks. I think she’s going to be a stellar flyball height dog, and when Nellie’s flyball team starts up again, she’s coming with. I am finagling a friend’s pool next week so I can teach her to swim. We’re working through Pam Denison’s Click Your Way To Rally Obedience, and she is already doing fronts and finishes like a boss (though heeling is another matter.) I just introduced her to nosework a few days ago. I have thoughts about treiball and lure coursing. There is just nothing I don’t want to try out with her. I am trying hard not to turn into one of those Toddlers and Tiaras moms. SPARKLE, BABY!!!!

OK, OK, one more picture: The sweet posing picture was a ruse. This is how she is 90% of the time
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Meet Firefly!
aka “Can’t Stop the Signal”, aaka “Fly.”
Fly's happy smileFirefly is a: Curbside calamity? The animal shelter had her listed as a Jack Russel/Bull Terrier mix, which sounded delightfully insane. Delightfully insane she is, but I’m not sure I see any Bull Terrier in her – APBT would be a better guess, I’d say. She has a Jack-y face on the body of a small, athletic pit bull. As far as we know, she’s somewhere in the neighborhood of one year old and she was picked up as a stray. We don’t know much else about her life before I spotted her on PetFinder and decided to go and meet her.

Tell us about her! She is a jackalfaced terrorpuppy of the highest order, but other than that, she’s pretty awesome. I went looking for a second dog because I wanted a competition/sport prospect, and Fly is shaping up to be exactly that (though, admittedly, I’ve had her for about ten days so far…). She’s scary-smart and it’s really fun to play shaping games with her, because she picks stuff up so quickly. If Cerberus is a Mack Truck, Fly is more of a Ferrari – she’s very light-boned, lean and sporty. It’s obvious that nobody has really taken any time to work with her, though. She doesn’t know how to fetch or tug (we’re working on it!) and she still has a lot of really obnoxious puppy behaviors – she’s bite-y, jump-y, chase-y and a world-class face-licker, no matter if your face is on the ground or six feet above it. She has the happiest happy-face I’ve ever seen and I’m constantly worried she’s going to break her tail off because she wags it so hard. She’s awesome in her crate, awesome in the car, and generally just a really happy, fun, smart little dog.

What are your plans for her? Not to hammer on a theme here, but, well: Everything? As I mentioned, I wanted a second dog as a sport prospect, as Cerb gets worried about strange things in his environment and it can make competing very stressful for him (and me, for that matter). As much as I love training and working with Cerb and will continue to have fun with him, I wanted a dog who wouldn’t be quite so stressed in trial situations. I think Fly will be that dog! We’ve already started installing the basics like heeling, sit, come, etc. She really didn’t have any of these behaviors when I adopted her. We’re also starting some Control Unleashed games like learning to target her mat and play “Look At That.” I think that our first task will be her CGC, which isn’t a performance title but will motivate me to work on her lack of manners. Then I think we’ll make our performance debut in Rally, and from there I’d like to get her doing some Agility and possibly formal Obedience. I’ll definitely be fitting her for a weight pull harness so she can follow in big brother Cerb’s pawprints, and if I can track down a good place to do Nosework and Dock Jumping, we’ll try those, too! The world is Fly’s stinky, slimy oyster.

OK, OK, one more picture:

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Meet Perri!                                                                                                                         aka “Rip Van Periwinkle”

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Perri is: hardly new to TU – I adopted her from her previous owners last August, but I couldn’t resist jumping in and introducing her formally!  Perri is a parti-colored standard poodle on the very small end of the size spectrum at only 39 pounds.  My “big poodle” search ended abruptly when I found a Craigslist ad with the simple phrase, “5 month old female standard poodle puppy.  Does not get along with chickens.”                And that’s why we call her the Craigslist Chicken Killer.

Tell us about her!  I remember the day that I brought Perri home and got her settled in, I was afraid of letting her alone.  She was a puppy, after all.  But instead of peeing on my floor and eating my walls, she was happy to snooze on my couch and watch my every move.  I thought there was something wrong with her!  She integrated almost seamlessly into my “pack”, aside from a maddening but short lived few months of horrible crate anxiety.  Perri is the most mellow of my dogs, but she still has a playful streak.  She terrorizes Ein and Molly with pouncing, herding, and leg biting.    As young as Perri is, I find that she is my easiest “take anywhere” dog.  She is not afraid of people, and she does not jump all over them.  She is a sweet, silly and fun dog to live with.  She can rest and sleep all day with no consequence, but she can also keep up with a long hike and busy schedule.  Perfect Poodle.

What are your plans for her?  Trail Dog most importantly.  She will learn from the best (Ein).  Our sport focus will be Obedience and Agility.  Rally Obedience as well, and I would like for her to be a therapy dog (I am having a difficult time finding TDI testing.)  Perri lacks confidence when it comes to working hard and training, and she is teaching me HOW to teach her.  Much like Molly has helped me grow as a trainer (and how), Perri is also helping me as well, and reminding me that dogs have as much to teach me as I have to teach them.  Maybe more.

OK, OK, one more picture:

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The Team Unruly Review of Puppybooks, Pt. II: The Puppy Primer (Patricia McConnell and Brenda Scidmore)

[Review of what in the what now? See here for more details and here for the first installment]


After reading Leslie McDevitt’s Control Unleashed for my last review, a book which is resolutely NOT geared towards the first-time owner or newbie trainer, reading McConnell and Scidmore’s Puppy Primer was a pretty profound change of pace. This is a book–and I mean this with absolutely zero disrespect–that you could comfortably give to, say, your awesome aunt who hasn’t had a dog in twenty years, is not too clear on this whole ‘training’ thing, and is bringing home a new puppy next Tuesday. While some of the information in The Puppy Primer might feel a little bit elementary for experienced owners, it is one of those books that I think will be a godsend to new owners who really do want to learn and do things right with their new pup. Brand new owners who are sussing out the right way to do things can find themselves accidentally drifting into Cesar Millan-land: they are people who find themselves suddenly buying a choke collar and practicing their alpha rolls, not because they are bad people but because they are worried that their puppy will otherwise become a juvenile delinquent and they start thinking that this is How It’s Done Now. If you have one of these people in your life and want to gently steer them in a more dog-friendly direction, McConnell and Scidmore’s Puppy Primer is the book you want to pick up  [and I am putting my money where my mouth is here: my dad just adopted a 10 month old Papillon and a copy of this book is currently flying across the country to him]. The tone is light and friendly and engaging throughout: McConnell and Scidmore aren’t afraid to be funny, they’re not afraid to admit that puppies can be horrible little hellions occasionally trying, and while they resolutely encourage positive training (with only minor, well-contextualized forays into the language of corrections) they are never hectoring or dogmatic about it (as some books absolutely can be: Ian Dunbar’s Before You Get Your Puppy, I’m looking at you.) The way information is presented is, in fact, the book’s strongest suit. I am, YOU WILL BE SHOCKED TO HEAR, nobody’s Cesar Milan fan, but I think his books’ most seductive aspect are their friendliness: generally, I think they read like, “Hey, you’re a good person, you’re trying hard, your dog’s a little bit of a monkey, let’s work together to fix the situation!” The Puppy Primer reads the same way, except that McConnell and Scidmore’s solutions are focused around early socialization, training and play, whereas Millan’s are focused around poking your dog in the side a whole bunch. [Yes, I am being reductive about this. No, I do not care. Ain't nobody claiming to be objective around here.]

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The Team Unruly Review of Puppybooks, Part I: Leslie McDevitt, Control Unleashed: The Puppy Program


Here is the absolute best thing I can say about Leslie McDevitt’s book, Control Unleashed: The Puppy Program (or any book, really). Five days ago, I walked into my house with a squirming, 17-week old cattle dog x JRT in my arms, feeling slightly crazy and temporarily overwhelmed. The minute I got her to settle down for a nap, I went over to my increasingly towering stack of puppy books, searching for something to reread that would remind me that, yes, I would be able to do this, that I had the tools to transform this zoomy, barky, mouthy bundle of kinetic energy into a happy, focused, engaged dog who loved to learn and was a great buddy and sports partner. The book that I grabbed was McDevitt’s.

I was predisposed to like Control Unleashed: The Puppy Program because her first book Control Unleashed: Creating a Focused and Confident Dog rocked my world when I first read it. I got ahold of Famous Original Control Unleashed when I was trying to figure out how to work with my first dog, Lucy, who was anxious and highly reactive. The book is geared towards sports people (agility in particular) who are looking to get their dogs through behavioral issues and back into sports. At the time, I was very far from considering dog sports–I just wanted to be able to take my dog outside to pee without it being the end of the world. The stuff I learned from Control Unleashed (particularly the Look At That game, which I’ve written about here before) is what got me from the crazy dog I had then to the significantly-less-crazy agility veteran who is currently sleeping on my couch. The thing I found most revolutionary about CU is how different of an approach it took to dealing with distractions: a lot of the books I was reading, the classes I was going to and the trainer I was working with at the time were all telling me that the problem was a failure in my relationship with Lucy, that I had to be the most interesting thing in her world, way more interesting than all the things that scared her, and that she needed to be focusing on me 100% at all times. I looked at my environmentally-reactive terrier and felt hopeless: even at the best of times, I definitely had competition for The Most Interesting Thing In The World with her, and hearing over and over again that the problem was our relationship preyed on all of my fears that I was not good enough to help this dog who I loved so much and who needed my help so desperately.

McDevitt changed that. Her argument about reactivity, paraphrased, is basically this: “Look, you cannot be the most exciting and important thing in your dog’s life all the time; you can be with somebody you dearly love, and nevertheless, you sometimes still want to watch a TV show instead of interacting with them, or jump out of the way of a passing car when they’re nearby. When your dog is having a panic attack, the most important thing is the thing that is causing the panic. So the best thing you can do is give her the tools to cope with the panic in the moment, and then eventually help her get to a place where she feels she doesn’t need to panic anymore.” That argument was really revolutionary for me: as a person with a fair bit of anxiety myself, it made a lot of intuitive sense, it seemed significantly more humane (as well as significantly more realistic) and, most importantly, it was the first thing I tried with Lucy that worked, and worked well. It turned me into a lifelong McDevitt fan.

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Meet Widget, and also, the return of The Team Unruly Review of Puppybooks

Longstanding TU readers might remember that back in…Decemberish? I announced that a) I was getting a puppy and b) that in preparation for that, and to calm my “OMG, I have never had a puppy before!” jitters, I was going to read and review a whole bunch of puppy books. A good friend of mine, who, among her many sterling qualities, happens to be a fabulous AmStaff breeder, was going to breed my favorite of her dogs, and I was going to bring home an 8 week old male performance/possibly conformation project from that litter. I got, I think it is fair to say, borderline obsessive about the litter: I made myself an enormous family tree for the Futurepuppy that stretched back to the turn of the century and that was also elaborately color-coded by various dogs’ sport titles, so I could tell at a glance how many of Futurepuppy’s great-great-great-great grandparents had, say, earned their CD. I read up on as many of the lines that were represented in the breeding as I could, spent hours pouring over material on gauging puppy structure, built myself a little puppy-sized A-frame and wobble board and read every reasonable-looking book I could find on puppies, puppy training, puppy pre-sport stuff, etc.

Well, as Rabbi Hillel (filtered through Woody Allen) once said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” First, Mamadog did not cooperate: when she was initially going to be bred (by AI), she went into a silent heat, so the window was missed. She also comes from a long line of dogs who go a loooooong time between heats, and she decided she was not going to be the exception there. As time ticked on and no puppy was on the horizon, I started doing the math and realized that the earliest time I could possibly bring pup home would be this fall, right around the time I will likely be moving and starting a new job. I thought about my Great Life Plans, realized that the next good time to get a puppy would be….a shockingly long time from now, got depressed, imagined getting my first puppy in my forties. I tried to work on my promised puppybook series, but every time I started, I got bummed about the prospect of No Puppy for Me and quit.

Then, last Saturday, I was doing my regular volunteer shift at the shelter near my house: we got word that a puppy who’d been adopted from us was being returned, and so I set to work prepping a crate for her and getting the intake stuff ready. An hour later, in came this wiggly little 17 week-old cattle dog/Jack Russell cross girl, who, at the time, was suffering under the name of “Enya”. She’d initially come into the shelter as a maybe-9-week-old pup: she and her three siblings had been put into a Rubbermaid container and left in the middle of a busy street (luckily near a red light camera, so the jerks who put her there have now been cited.) A nice person got them out of the street and brought them to the shelter, where they’d all been adopted out very quickly. Too quickly, in Enya’s case, as she’d been adopted out to a couple in their 90s (one of whom was disabled to the point where they weren’t able to participate in the puppy’s care), and it became clear pretty quickly that a baby cattlejack was a lot more than they were equipped to handle. So she came back to the shelter several weeks older, but as blank of a slate as she was when she went out.  She was very much not potty trained. Her ears went back when she heard the word ‘No’, but she didn’t have any idea how to sit or do any of those babydog things. She was 90% comprised of little puppy shark teeth. She climbed. She wiggled. She yelled if she thought she was being ignored. You could practically see the little wheels in her head turning, coming up with all kinds of exciting trouble to get into.  She was baaaaaad. She was awesome.

The area I live in is kind of a weird mix for dogs: my little town is primarily populated by retirees who, for a lot of practical reasons, are generally looking for either small or extremely sedate dogs. The area around us is mostly active ranch land, and as a consequence, there are many drivey, active, working dogs who spend their days bossing cows around and doing farm chores. Many of these dogs are intact, and many of them live in areas with minimal fencing, so you get a lot of ‘oops’ litters of puppies with a lot of working instincts. These are very much not the kinds of dogs that are marketable around here, so very often, the shelter will get these amazing, well-built, worky dogs who are just full of potential and would do great in sports homes (of which there are very few in the area). TU’s Sarah’s new ACD pup River actually came from the same shelter [PSA: if you come visit me, you are probably leaving with a dog].

So anyway, you can guess at what happened with little Enya: her name is Widget now, and at the moment, she is hanging out in an x-pen near my feet alternating between nomming on a bully stick and yelling at me to get off the computer. Lucy and Nellie passed their initial meetup with her with flying colors, and she and Nellie have become absolute besties (Lucy is not inclined to be all that magnanimous with puppies, but has decided, upon reflection, that Widget is allowed to live.) She is not exactly what I was thinking of when I was imagining my Futurepuppy: to begin with, she’s a little older than I’d hoped, as she’s right on the edge of the socialization window (though luckily she’s already demonstrating herself to be a social and easygoing pup). For another thing, this gives me a three girldog household, which I was explicitly trying to avoid (though things seem to be going fine right now, so I am going to cross my fingers and hope.) She is also smart as a whip, absolutely in love with shaping, affiliative, handler-focused, has huge toy/play drive, friendly with dogs, gregarious with people, herdy, curious and brave. She starts the first of two separate puppy classes tonight, is going to her first puppy social tomorrow, and starts puppy agility camp in June. Though I’m so sad to give up the Futurepuppy that has been in my head for the last year*, I am so excited about what the future holds for Currentpuppy.

*(side note: if you’re looking for a fabulous AmStaff litter with a ton of performance potential in the next few months, I may be able to hook you up)

Now: onto the reading! My initial plan with the TU Review of Puppybooks was to begin with a side-by-side look at Ian Dunbar’s Before/After You Get Your Puppy and Patricia McConnell’s book, The Puppy Primer. However, when I brought Widget home, the first book I found myself reaching for, the one I most wanted to re-read, was Leslie McDevitt’s book, Control Unleashed: The Puppy Program. Thus, in two days, we’ll be posting my review of that book, which will be followed soon by a review of the Dunbar/McConnell books (very soon! I need to remember how Ian Dunbar built his puppy litterbox!) And of course, no TU post would be complete without pictures, so below the jump, you will find some photos of baaaaaaby Widget.

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The ‘Kelsey Is Getting A Puppy’ Literary Review, Vol. 1

All of the sudden, my bookshelves have become overrun with puppy books. In my closet right now is a teeny life jacket and an even teenier collar, both of which I saw on sale and could not resist. In my Bow Wow Flix queue, the Silvia Trkman and Jean Donaldson DVDs are now jostling for space with videos about structure and socialization and sport foundations. There’s an old shelf in my laundry room waiting to be turned into an itty-bitty A-frame.

Futurepuppy is coming.

Futurepuppy is still a very theoretical dog: he is not even currently conceived, and once he is, he will not be coming home until April at the earliest. He is, however, an actual plan: his mama is my favorite dog-who-doesn’t-currently-live-in-my-house, his breeder is my favorite breeder, and we are both thrilled about the advent of him and his littermates. Because he’s a plan and not an actual dog yet, of course things could go awry: the breeding might not take, the litter might not have the puppy I want in it, a meteor could land on my town, who knows. But my life is beginning to open up for him, he’s beginning to take up space in my brain as well as real estate on my bookshelf, I’m starting to imagine what my life will feel like with a third dog in it, the part of my brain that enjoys planning for all contingencies is figuring out all the places we’re going to take him for socialization. And that makes him real, or at least realer than “I think I might like to get a puppy someday”, which is where I’ve been for the last few years.

I’m a person who is very committed to rescue and to the adoption of adult dogs; my own two dogs are shelter adoptees who I got as adults, and I cannot imagine loving any dogs more, nor can I imagine finding another dog who is more fascinating and fun than mine. Also, while I am VERY interested in health and temperament, I’ve never been a person who’s cared much about breed; I know that this puts me in the minority of dog people, but I don’t really have any breeds that I’m drawn to above all others. Personality traits? Absolutely. Breed? Eh. So the decision to get a) a puppy, b) a purebred puppy, c) a purebred puppy from a (fabulous, extremely reputable) breeder has not been an easy or a casual one for me. Someday, I will probably write a long and meandering post about how exactly I arrived at the decision, but it’s one that took me quite literally years to make and I still feel….complex about it.

The end result of all my wibbling is that I feel exceptionally responsible for doing well by this dog. If I am going to do this puppy thing, I am going to do it as right as I possibly can. My girls have a great, happy life now, but both were raised, not to put too fine a point on it, crappily, and I want to give my puppy the things that my girls deserved but did not get when they were little. I want Futurepuppy to be beautifully socialized and to grow up into a happy, brave, confident dog who moves through the world without fear. I want him to be strong and healthy and conditioned and comfortable in his body. While I’m doing my best to resist the set of expectations that come with labeling him my ‘performance puppy’, I’d love to compete with him (I have high hopes that he’ll be an agility and a flyball dog, but mostly I just want to do something sportsy with him in a serious way.) Above all, I don’t want to screw it up.

And thus, my bookshelf and my DVD queue and the growing list of Things To Definitely Do With The Puppy that’s beginning to take shape in my head. In the next few months, before Futurepuppy comes home, I want to soak up as much knowledge as I can: I know a fair bit, but there is always more to know, and new, cool books are being written all the time. And then I thought that all of this reading might be able to be more generally helpful, since maybe some of you might also be contemplating a puppy (and maybe you are a little less obsessive and freaked out about it then I am!) To that end, I’m going to start a little series I’m calling the Kelsey Is Getting A Puppy Literary Review: I’m going to read through my growing stack of puppy books, and then I’ll review/talk about them here. Here’s what’s on my agenda right now: Patricia McConnell’s The Puppy Primer, which I’m going to read in tandem with Ian Dunbar’s classics Before/After You Get Your Puppy. Next up, the puppy version of my all-time favorite dog training book: Leslie McDevitt’s Control Unleashed: the Puppy Program. Then, a couple of books on agility foundations, Pat Hastings’ book Structure in Action: The Makings of a Durable Dog, a book on nosework, and by then, I’m sure I’ll have some more on the list (note: experienced puppy people, please feel free to give me your suggestions for puppy lit in the comments!) My plan right now is to read ALL THE THINGS in the next couple of months and then take a couple of months to relax and deprogram so I can enjoy my new buddy’s puppyhood without feeling like I am doing everything wrong all of the time. But for now, I am in Serious Learning Mode. We’ll see how it goes!

Coming up: McConnell: The Puppy Primer, Dunbar: Before/After You Get Your Puppy.