I just realised i didn’t post anything for two weeks… It has been a busy time, fully filled with dogs and training and I wish I was more organised with writing things down. By last Wednesday my head was spinning after three days filled with training and interesting conversations about.. well training ;), tonight I just got home after giving a puppy seminar for two days and again my head is full and there are many things I want to write down. I will (try to) focus on one to keep this post not too long and complicated; my brain tends to wander in unexpected ways.
After the seminar I got I ride home with one of the participants and since I had Fenix with me this meant he had to fit in the car somewhere. There were two kennels in the back of the car, each with one spaniel. Initially we decided to put Fenix in one of the crates and sproker puppy in front with me. I got Fenix out of another participant’s van and asked him to jump into the crate in the smaller car. Eventually, the crate turned out to be too small for him and he traveled with me on the front seat (yes it was not easy to fit him there either). This simple situation made me think of how much I asked of him today (and do on regular basis). In the morning he drove in yet another car, then he was in a new building, playing with people he never met, then few hours of the day in a van crate next to a dog he never met, and in the evening he was moved to yet another car, next two another dog (with which he could have contact through top of the crate that had opening). And he did well. He was not reactive at any moment, he was social with people and dogs he met. And this was not a very strange day for him. He deals very well with new and challenging situations, I’m yet too find a location/situation that would scare him.
He was always a stable puppy but I did not start throwing him in all those situations straight away. First on the train he traveled in a little bag, then the buggy. When I brought him to school (where SIFD teaches husbandry students about detection) he traveled in the front of the car with me. I also didn’t leave him in the car alone on the first day. He was with me in the classroom or with one of the interns (thank you Annemijn and Shannah). Then he would stay in his little bag on the front seat (he ate salami out of Wesley’s sandwiches once).Then he would stay in the car kennel, and I would always reward him whenever I opened the door to get another dog. Now he can stay in any car, with a crate or without, with other dogs also if they bark at him and he will spend most of the time sleeping. He also doesn’t bark when the car is opened and another dog goes in or out. I could have put him immediately in the car kennel and see what happens. Could have waited out if he cries and eventually he would shut up and get over it. That does not work for me though. I think we should avoid anxiety and distress as much as possible especially when it comes to a puppy with a still developing brain. Additionally, I definitely don’t want them to experience distress in a place where they are supposed to rest. I do realise that a lot of people have problem with this approach, I often get suggestions that if I don’t leave the dog immediately in the car or let it sleep alone it will never learn to do that. Same for the buggy, people are afraid that the dog will never learn to be comfortable in public places without it. Well if you use it right the opposite will happen.
During my last seminar in Belgium we had 7 week old puppies brought in by a breeder and when they were brought into a room in a kennel they started to panic. Instead of waiting till they get quiet we took them out immediately. They were very distressed and they needed social reassurance. And no we did not teach them that if they cry the crate opens and they can manipulate us with that forever 😉 We made sure that they first can feel safe in the new place. that they know that if they get scared they will not be left alone (those puppies were way too young to deal with fear on their own). And guess what, an hour later they were sleeping in that kennel, and slept through all of us leaving to go for a practical exercise (there was one person left that could react if they woke up). And after they woke up they did not vocalise, they played together till we took them out.
Moving at a pace that is appropriate for the puppy (even if it means doing very little in the beginning) does not mean you will create a dog that is overly sensitive or dependant on you. It is about moving at a pace that the puppy brain can comprehend and which it can learn.