Salinger: Week One

Salinger has been with me for one week and so far I have taught him to sit. That's it. I'm not worried about "obedience" at this stage. He's just a puppy! What I'm worried about are positive experiences. We explore the neighbourhood, we try a different route every day, we visit local businesses (paramedics, police station, long-term care facility, construction sites, etc) and even if it's just stepping in the door and experiencing a different kind of flooring and having a few treats and a little dance party, that's a great experience. I don't expect anything of him!

I want to teach him that the world is safe even when it's unpredictable. I show him that when anything scary happens (plastic bag blowing in the wind, a bang, kids yelling, a motorcycle, a rumbling truck, construction equipment, garbage bins, you name it!), something fantastic follows - chicken, Rollover, Ziwe Peak, hot dog, whatever is on the menu that day.

I don't force him to walk beside me - that's boring! As long as he isn't pulling, we explore and he sniffs everything. If he stops, I stop. We watch the world go by and if he seems uncomfortable, he gets some tasty goodies to associate with whatever it is that spooks him. If he is really spooked and won't take the food, he tries to get away from the "scary thing" and I follow. When we're at his safe distance, we look back and he gets some goodies then. We'll get closer tomorrow that way.

I use a long (30ft) line and we go to the big park or baseball diamond and he runs around, chasing a ball or a couple of friends from the neighbourhood who are friendly with puppies. We hunt grasshoppers and follow field mice. We have a treat party every time he does his business outside. I wear a baseball cap and sunglasses. I wear bulky clothes and clunky shoes. Sometimes I wear a hat and mitts and a scarf. I run the Vitamix (and at the same time I throw chicken to him) and he falls asleep because that is old news now. 

We ignore some dogs while we're on leash because not all are interested or friendly. Same goes for people - we sit and eat while they pass. Sometimes his hackles go up and he barks (mainly at parked lawnmowers and other novel items) and I squat beside him and talk in a soothing voice while I stroke his back and offer some treats. Suddenly he realizes that he is not in danger and he eats the treats and goes to check out "The Thing". Every time he approaches it or sniffs toward it, or interacts with it in any way, he gets a lot of happy talk and a couple treats. In no time, he things it's "normal" and we just walk past and he's back to prancing and grasshopper hunting. 

Sometimes he picks things up off the ground. Leaves, twigs, woodchips, acorn hats, plastic wrappers, you name it. If it's organic (the first four in the list), we just keep going as if nothing has happened. He chews it like gum for about 5-10 seconds and then spits it out. It's not exciting as he had hoped. The frequency of this behaviour goes down over the course of a week. If he picks up plastic or non-organic materials that could be dangerous, I say nothing. I stop and drop 3 treats on the ground beside him. He drops the item to scarf them up while I get rid of the item I don't want him eating. No biggie. After a week, he picks up the plastic, then drops it and keeps moving. It's of no interest to him and he doesn't get a rise out of me. 

IMG_3032.JPG

At home, we work on crate training, independence training, we snuggle on the couch, we play with toys, we taste-test a lot of different kinds of foods. There's music in the background - Victoria Stillwell on the iPod dock - classical music with the sounds of babies crying, city noises, thunderstorms, fireworks, and more. He's not even noticing - he's habituating to it. 

Sometimes there's a noise outside - dog tags jingling, kids in wagons rumbling down the sidewalk, a saw or drill, people talking and laughing. When he perks his ears up to these noises, I immediately praise him and tell him how amazing his observational skills are, as I go to the fridge to grab a goodie from the door to associate with this stuff. He gladly takes it and goes back to lie on the couch. I want to prevent the barking out the window as I know German Shepherds are naturally very good at this. 

My family and friends visit and play with him, "untraining him", as they say. He has learned that visitors in the home bring the best experiences. I know Shepherds are also prone to scepticism of strangers, so I want him to think all strangers are The Best Ever. 

It sounds like a lot of work, but it's not. We just never leave the house without a full treat pouch and poop bags. Even if it's midnight and I'm tired. Even if it's 7am and I'm sleepwalking. Even if it's a quick potty break before I go out to the grocery store. I am always prepared. Why? Because every moment is a training opportunity. Dogs don't just learn when you're teaching them - they learn constantly...so I have to be using every opportunity as a teachable moment so that I can create good patterns and reinforce the behaviours I want to see repeated. 

Having a puppy is a lot of work, but is it ever worth it. I am so in love that my heart hurts. He can do no wrong in my eyes - he is so brand new and so sweet. I don't want to miss a minute.