Raising Sage

The First Year in the Life of a WonderPup

Growing up?

It’s been a while since I posted. I’ve been pet sitting for the last month and a half. Sage has been staying with my younger sister. I admit to a human frailty: I was a little worried that Sage would bond to my sister more closely than she has to me. That doesn’t seem to be the case, though. We did go through a puppy manners class together and it seems to have bonded Sage and I pretty well. It goes to show that even dog trainers need to be reminded once in a while of the advice we give our customers. I always advise new puppy or dog owners to take a basic or puppy obedience class to better bond with their dog. Obviously my advice is sound because it worked for me!

So Sage and I are now both home. I like to take my dogs with me when I go for a bike ride. They generally run alongside either on a loose leash or on one of the many bicycle attachments available out there. Unfortunately, my favorite attachment is the Springer but it doesn’t fit on the bike I have. So Sage and I had her first bicycling lesson yesterday. I had her on a 6′ leash on a combination of her regular collar and a prong collar. The prong collar was to prevent her from pulling out of the regular collar or from pulling too hard if we got to the point where I could actually get on the bike and take a little ride. We didn’t get that far but that’s okay.

I pulled the bike off the front porch and set it up in the yard so that when I brought Sage out we were all ready to get started. At first, Sage took one look at the bike and stopped dead, doing the “What the heck is that?!” crouch typical of an Aussie who is a little nervous. I let her drop back and went on down to stand beside the bike with it between us. When Sage expressed any curiosity or interest in the bike, I clicked and tossed a treat on the ground near the bike (about 2-3 feet away). Within just a few moments, Sage was standing willingly next to the bike and even going so far as to dive under the bike to grab treats when they bounced there. At that point, I figured it was time to start moving. I never actually got on the bike but we managed to get out of the front yard and down to the corner of the block a few steps at a time, me clicking when Sage was near the pedals of the bike and saying a disappointed “Oh, no” when Sage tried to get in front of the bike. Sage is still a baby at 6 months so even if I get her to the point where I can start actually riding the bike while she jogs alongside, we won’t be going very far. There’s a park with a bike path just a few blocks away from where I live. My goal by the time Sage is a year old is to be riding leisurely over to the park and back.

One other piece of advice that I pass on to my students is that a dog needs as much mental exercise (or more) as they do physical exercise. A mentally tired dog is a lot less likely to get into trouble than a dog that is simply physically tired. By training Sage to run with the bike without the benefit of a bike attachment, I’m hoping to supply her the opportunity to use her mind–which is truly a thing of beauty.

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Playtime

Sage and I have been attending a Puppy Manners class at the obedience club. There are about 5 other puppies in the class, three siblings from the same pointer litter, a cocker spaniel puppy (tiny) and a terrier mix who, until this week, was about Sage’s same size. Sage and the terrier, whose name is Annie, have a very compatible energy level and enjoy the same type of games. Primarily, they wrestle and chase each other. The only time this is a problem is when human knees get in the way.

One of the most interesting things to do is to compare how Sage plays with Annie to how she plays with her “big brother” Jojo. Jojo is my sister’s 4 year old Australian Shepherd. He comes from a herding background and, at about a year and a half, washed out of herding training because he couldn’t tolerate the aggressive training practices the handlers used. When my sister got him, he was terrified of men, had no knowledge of daily household life (stairs? What are those?), and was only nominally housebroken. What he did have was brains and an undying willingness to love and be loved. Jojo, proving that the right method for the right dog can work wonders, has not only earned a Rally Novice title but also a Canine Good Citizen certificate. He has even been pressed into service occasionally to pull a wheelchair when my foot was injured. While he was in harness and working, you wouldn’t have known about his fears; he was the consummate professional.

In watching him learn to play with Sage (because he did have to learn to play with her), I’ve watched him explore different angles of “attack.” If he comes in from above and she rolls onto her back, he’s not all that happy about it because her very long legs get in his way so he can’t grab her neck-fur. If he comes in from the side, she is big enough to give him a solid body-slam in return. She’s a lot easier to grab that way but he’s found out that it’s a lot easier for her to grab him too. He likes coming in from behind while she’s laying down. Technically, he’s mounting her but neither one of them seem to acknowledge that at this point in time. She’s too young and they both are neutered. If she does allow him to come in for a landing, she usually grabs his ears when he leans over to grab at her paws or what she might have in her possession. He’s not crazy about that so the “aircraft carrier” method doesn’t always have the best results for him. Because she’s barely four months old and because she is still physically smaller than he is, they do often play face-to-face with no real need for calming signals or submissive indications necessary. Chasing and wrestling are also the favored games between them. With Jojo, though, Sage can really go all out, resulting in an exhausted pup and a tired but happy older dog.

Sage has learned that she can’t play the same way with every dog she meets. Jojo is, by far, her favorite playmate because he’s as rough and tumble as she is. Missy, my sister’s 6 year old spayed American Eskimo, is good for chase games but draws the line in no uncertain terms at wrestling or tug. Quinn, my sister’s other Australian Shepherd (5 year old neutered male), simply isn’t interested in playing with her but doesn’t object to her following him around. My other Aussie Lacey, a 12 year old spayed female, will do some playing with Sage but because she is so much older, she can’t be as vigorous as the puppy wants. Finally, Sage has learned from my other sister’s Papillon Sammy that little dogs don’t like rough play. She does occasionally play chase with Sam but he definitely draws the line with her if her teeth come into the game at all.

So how does this relate to puppy class? I’m not sure except that a good puppy class should have dogs of all energy levels and sizes for your pup to learn from. The instructor(s) should be prepared to step in and order a time-out if the pups get too aroused. Finally, as the puppy owner, I am always practicing calling Sage out of playtime for a reward then releasing her to go back to the fun to get in a lot of recalls. One of the advantages of a well-run puppy class is that your pup should learn that, while playing with other dogs is fun, playing with you can be even more rewarding.

Clickety-clickety-click–Good girl!

So I’ve decided to use clicker training in order to preserve this dog’s creativity. Sage, of course, isn’t interested in my discussions of training theory. She’s much more intrigued by the practical applications. We started out tonight by avoiding the most common mistake clicker trainers–especially new ones–make: Teaching sit as the initial clicked behavior.

It’s not bad to teach sit, in fact, it’s almost compulsory. But the first few behaviors you teach with clicker training become the default behaviors for your dog when clicking, a fact that I was roundly criticized for by my younger sister because I taught a foster dog that she eventually adopted to back up as his first clicked behavior. She found it very aggravating when working with him years later because he would back up when he was frustrated.

So for Sage’s first behavior, I decided to teach her that she has a butt. More precisely, I decided to teach her that she could move her butt independently of her front end. It took ten click/treats total before she was moving her rear end three steps to the left. It took five additional c/t for her to move her rear end three steps to the right. Now, being that she’s a puppy and fairly new to the game (for all training should be in the spirit of a fun game), she hasn’t a conscious clue what she’s being reinforced for. That’s all right. We’ll get there in time so there’s no rush to put this on command right now. Tomorrow, we’ll work on a different behavior.

-O-

Yesterday, Sage watched me play fetch with Lacey and Missy. Last night, she brought me a tennis ball. I tossed it for her and she retrieved it, not once but several times. Perhaps her previous family played fetch with her but I think it’s much more likely that she learned by watching the other dogs play. I’ve seen her pick up other behaviors by merely observing the older dogs (sitting at the back door to go out or come in, for example). I’ve had other dogs who learned by observing (example: Ricky the Papillon learned to open his crate by watching humans do it, there’s no other explanation.) It stands to reason. Dogs in the wild have to learn somehow and observing other dogs perform behaviors must be one of the ways. Trial and error can be very difficult to survive but watching some other dog try something and succeed or fail is much more life-sustaining.

So today I tried to teach her to tug. I’m wanting to be able to use tugging as a reinforcement while we are training. She didn’t seem all that interested in the game but we’ll keep working on it. I have the feeling her teeth may be bothering her so she might be more enthusiastic later on. Usually, pups go through teething at about 16 weeks (4 months) but she could be starting early. I’ll be happy to see those needle-sharp baby teeth go though it does mean she’s growing up.

-O-

One of the most important aspects of clicker training is that you need to plan out what you’re going to do in each session. That said, you also need to be flexible. For example, tonight with Sage I wanted to work on reinforcing her for being in “heel position.” She was so distracted by the fact that I was standing (apparently I’m only supposed to sit when she’s around) that I decided to work on the movable butt. Both are goals of mine so it wasn’t a hardship to switch out one goal for the other but it does demonstrate that flexibility in training is important.

Sage exploring the backyard.

Sage takes time out from her busy schedule of playing to search the backyard.

Eatinrox Ys Beyond Her Ears a.k.a. Sage

My Papillon Ricky died just 5 days after his third birthday. When I got him in 2009 at about 4 months of age, I had great hopes for him. I wanted him to not only be my OTCH dog but also a MACH dog. In December, 2010, though, he got sick, so sick that he nearly died. It was a shock when we finally learned what was wrong with him, a combination of Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency, Irritable Bowel Disorder, and food allergies (to rice, chicken, lamb, and many other foods.) Despite hundreds of dollars in treatments and a valiant little heart, he died October 18, 2011. I wasn’t with him when he passed but the vet assured me that he merely went to sleep and his heart stopped beating. For a while, I hated the world.

But in my email correspondence with a wise man, I realized what Ricky had probably known all along. My OTCH and MACh aspirations for him were not to be. He was the ultimate lap dog (at about 3 pounds at his healthiest, he was easy to carry around) and though he tried his hardest, he didn’t have the desire to compete. He wanted to love and be loved, nothing more. When he got sick, he knew what I refused to admit to myself: he wasn’t going to be the dog I wanted. I realized, finally, a few days after his death that I had been subconsciously mourning Ricky since he became sick. After nearly a year of it, I was ready to move on and that Ricky would have wanted me to do so.

So it is that I started contacting Australian Shepherd rescues, shelters and individuals about an Aussie pup. Lacey, my old girl, will be 13 in January, 2012. I know I’ll never replace her but I also knew that I didn’t want to raise my new Aussie without her. She’s brilliant at communicating with other dogs and is wonderful with people of all ages. I need her to show the pup an example of what an Aussie is capable of. That said, Lacey has had some issues in her life. We got CDs on her in several venues and she has an AKC RE title. But she’s growing deaf now, and the joints aren’t as fluid as they once were. Her competition days are over and I believe she’s relieved about that. She wanted to please me and never did understand that any disappointment I felt about our failures in the ring were not with her but with myself. She is just a dog, after all, and can’t cure me of my faults (of which there are many!)

To my surprise, I found my pup at the Nebraska Humane Society. I had to wait until she was spayed but she is now in my home, learning to live with my pack (5 cats, two birds, two guinea pigs, Lacey, 2 male Aussies and a female American Eskimo–owned by my sister.) ¬†She was taken home by a family at 6 weeks of age. I suspect they had no clue what they were doing with her because by 11 weeks she was escaping from the 4′ fence they expected to contain her. By 12 weeks of age, they were finished with her and turned her in to the shelter. I will not pass judgement on them but I will say that the day they turned her in to the shelter was the best day in her young life for it allowed me to adopt her. My pets stay with me for life so Sage will always have a home with me.

Looking at her now as she sleeps in her crate, I know she has no idea the big plans I have in store for her. Instead, she’s dreaming of treats, chasing the other dogs, barking at the squirrel in the tree, and smelling all the great smells in the world. At this point, that’s all she needs to know. Training starts tomorrow and that’s when the real fun begins.