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Faith and fear are two words which can describe the feelings surrounding purchasing a new puppy. Faith that the puppy will turn into the champion that you are hoping for and fear that it won’t. Emotions wrestle around in your mind as you worry about your new purchase and what the pup will be like a few years hence. Did you make the right choice? What do you do now? What well meaning advice from others should you take and what should you discard?
This article provides some words of assistance based on an interview with Jerry Bradshaw, owner of Tarheel Canine in Sanford, North Carolina. Through this facility, Jerry offers police, sport & pet obedience training, boarding & importing services as well as providing seminars and consultation on various training topics.
Doing work ahead of time is never fun. It can be dry and boring. But in the case of purchasing a new pup it can be critical. You wan the best raw material so you can end up with the best dog possible once he’s been trained. Make sure the lines you are selecting from are appropriate for your needs. Some lines are more prey driven, with little to no defense. Some lines are almost all prey-driven. Some lines are very reactive, and some are lacking in animation but very controllable. What kind of dog is best for you? Don’t let the convenience of buying a pup from someone in your local club keep you from getting the right pup for you and your personal situation.
Ask around and weigh all the opinions, but don’t put too much weight on any one person’s opinion. After all at the end of the day that’s all it is. When you find a breeder & a breeding that you like, find out how the pups are managed from birth until when you take yours home. These first weeks are critical in terms of starting to develop the pup in a direction which will make it trainable and able to react properly to stressors. You want a breeder who will thoughtfully expose the litterto visual and tactile stimuli, and handle the pups for short periods of times every day. Avoid a litter that is kept in a shed in the backyard for the entire time without exposure to these key elements. Yes, there are dogs that can take this kind of puppy hood and grow up to be a champion, but it is the rare exception. It is best to give your pup the best possible start by buying from a thoughtful breeder who has done her best to develop the pups to their full potential.
Select the right pup.
Take someone along with you when you take your first look at the litter that has a decent level of experience in the sport you would like to pursue. That person should be more experienced than you and able to objectively help you select the right pup. You’ll want to assess the pup’s nerve & prey drive. Is the pup confident in various environments? Does it recover quickly from stressors? That is, when the pup is exposed to something that makes it a bit uncomfortable, is it able to overcome those fears quickly and investigate the novel stimuli, or it is too scared to do so. For dog sports, you’ll want a pup who is always putting his mouth on things. Take a look at the
grip. Yes, you can tell something about a pup’s grip as an adult in its behaviors as a pup! No analysis can be relied upon completely, but there is a correlation between puppies who have a full bite on toys/rags and an adult who will have a full bite on the sleeve as an adult. You want a pup who takes the object all the way to the back of the mouth and hangs on. A pup who bites with only its incisors, or a pup who bites and then frequently repositions its grip could be a frustrating problem down the road. Don’t take formal puppy testing (aka Volhard) too seriously; these simple observations can be sufficient to select the right pup. To a large extent, selecting a pup is a crap shoot anyway.
The Clatter Stick.
Once you’ve brought your puppy home, you can do a lot of development work before it is old enough to begin formal training. Done right, by the time formal training starts, your pup will have a wonderful base & will be fully ready to participate and excel. Once of the first things you can do (and perhaps the breeder even started this for you) is expose your pup to the clatter stick.
The clatter stick will be used throughout your dog’s training career and fear issues surrounding the clatter stick can be a career ending issue, not to mention an embarrassing and time wasting one. Exposure to the stick can begin very early. Many breeders will do this even before the pups are sent to their new homes. Pups have very basic drives and their food drive is most primary in the early weeks and months of their lives. Eating is also very pleasurable for pups. Take advantage of these feelings by tying the clatter stick in with their desire for food. While feeding the pup, whether in his regular bowl or from your fingers, gently swoosh the clatter stick around, making contact with the floor or your forearm. Always being conscious of the pups reaction and being careful not to overly stress the pup as you could inadvertently cause a negative association with the pup and create a fear of the stick. Easy does it. You have a long time to train the pup and there’s no need to rush things. Pushing toward a goal too quickly can prevent you from ever reaching it.
Pups are growing neural pathways like crazy & this is your chance to influence how they get laid down. Why not expose your pup to fun problem solving activities to help his developing brain. This is an important part of your development activities. You can play hide & seek with your pup. How do you do this? Have someone hold your pup while you hide behind a wall or tree just a few feet away. Increase the distance the older your pup gets and as he gets to understand the game. Call to your pup only enough that it knows you are no longer there and to entice him to find you. Take a toy and throw it into a pile of boxes and have the pup figure out how to find it among the chaos. Make him work his way through & over barriers to get to you as you call him enthusiastically. Always make sure these learning situations are age appropriate and set your pup up to try hard, but to succeed.
Play fun rag games. These are great to do with other pups to build
excitement & feelings of competition & is an excellent time to
introduce the clatter stick during the chaos and excitement of the
game when the pups are less likely to notice.
The number one priority is the socialization of the
new pup once you’ve brought it home, according to Jerry. This is
in conflict with what some trainers believe. Some trainers believe
that no one should be allowed to touch the dog but you, the handler,
and that any affection given or received by the dog by someone
other than his handler may detract from his relationship with
his owner and his ability live up to his potential as a sport dog.
Jerry does not believe this, and in fact believes in doing everything
you can to socialize that new dog. He believes that if a dog
genetically has what it takes to become a great dog, then socializing
it will only enhance this. Further, a lack of socialization to people may detract from the dog’s ultimate capabilities. This is because
if the dog isn’t allowed to become familiar with all different
kinds of people it could develop fear issues that will come out when
you least want them to, for instance on the field when you have a decoy unlike anything you’ve exposed the dog to previously. This could include a particularly large decoy when you usually work with someone smaller, someone from another ethnic group, or someone with different mannerisms. Puppyhood socialization should expose your pup to many different kinds of people, and create a pleasant association to allow to dog to grow into full confidence as an adult.
Teaching the Out.
Trainers vary tremendously on whether or not a dog should be taught the out as a young dog. Jerry believes that this ought to be an individual decision that takes into account the dog’s lines & temperament. Some pups are from such tough, independent lines that an early out must be taught in order to ever have the proper
amount of control over the dog’s outs as an adult. On the other hand, some pups are more polite, and if you start the out too early, the dogcould develop an apprehension regarding ever really getting into it with the decoy. Some people like to start the dog with motivational outs by offering the dog another toy in exchange for the one he’s in possession of, and this is a fine way to start. But Jerry cautions thatonce a decoy is involved, getting to dog to respond to an out command can be a whole different ball game.
Should you start trying to develop your dog’s defensive
drive prior to six months? Again, it depends on the dog and highlights the necessity of working with a good decoy. Too much defense work too young can ruin a dog if he’s not ready for it. Always end your training sessions positively, and if you can see the dog reacting negatively to pressure to go into defense (displacement behaviors such as jumping on the handler, tongue flicks, or sniffing the ground, or escape behaviors such as trying to get away from the decoy) the decoy should immediately switch tactics to encourage prey driven behavior to avoid traumatizing the pup. These behaviors include things such as moving from side to side, a lot of movement, using the clatter stick the dog has become accustomed to, having the decoy act as though the pup is intimidating him, with no aggressive staring or body language from the decoy. Jerry believes that most dogs are heavier in prey drivethan defense drive at first, and you should work in their strongest drive
until they’re ready for more. Some decoys never work the dogs defense drive. It’s up to you as a handler to decide if you want to work with a decoy like this, recognizing that if your dog is capable of working in defense and you don’t develop this drive, your dog could be at a strong disadvantage at a trial if the decoy employs this technique.
Enjoy Your Dog.
These first months are your opportunity to expose
your dog to everything. Have fun with it, enjoy it, but take it seriously, too. Each game, each walk is an opportunity to show or teach the pup something new. Keep it positive. The pup will show you what it’s capable of and don’t try to push it too far too fast. Have a game plan, and know where you’re headed, or you just might end up somewhere else.