A Blue Hound Beagles Blog
(A Dog Agility Blog Event: Starting your puppy)
Talk about awesome reinforcement timing! This past month, in some weird universal coincidence, big lots of people (okay, a couple) asked me exactly this–when did I start training? How? And now here we are, officially chatting about it for the Blog Event!
So here’s my easy answer: I start my puppies the moment they come home.
Now, anyone who’s gasping, “She puts her puppies over jumps/on the a-frame/dogwalk/WHUTEVER” should just slap their own heads. Just pause right now and take care of that little chore for me.
Right. That’s better.
Probably I was meant to talk about exactly when to start training what. How old before they’re physically ready to do this or that, how old before they’re mentally old enough to do this or that, and in what order does one do this or that? But there are plenty of books out there that profess to handle such things, and I don’t personally espouse any particular process/timing/sequence over another for any individual dog.
Nope, when I get a new dog, I start with the games that will give us a relationship and training foundation–focus, motivation, responsiveness, team-building, and most importantly–learning how to learn. Learning that it’s okay to be wrong and to try again. Learning that I won’t let things become frustrating, but will provide support and set things up for success.
The puppy/dog, you can be sure, has no idea we’re doing anything but playing.
Not that I’ve had many opportunities to start a dog from scratch, because that’s how life is.
Strider, the dog of my heart, was in my hands from the age of 4 days; I raised him and his siblings after they were orphaned and yes, he was in training of some sort right from the start, way back before I had any introduction to doggy competition sports. He never questioned our gestalt; he loved our gestalt. He was loyalty incarnate. Strider taught me the difference in a dog who learns from puppyhood and a dog who (like our others from those days, all of whom came as rescued adults) doesn’t.
Connery Beagle was the first puppy to come home as a performance prospect. Right from the start, I worked foundation responses and motivation and concepts. Connery has always known who we are together, and the security it provided him has gotten us through his illness and through the dog attacks and recovery. Connery and I don’t have to wonder about one another…we know.
Dart is an entirely different story.
Dart came to the pack at ten months, a brilliant, emotional creature of intense vibrational energy who had already decidedly defined the rules of his universe. These did not include housebreaking, impulse control settings, volume control, or–in spite of his brilliance–any concept of the learning process.
I said to the household, “It’ll be a year before we have any handle on this dog whatsoever, three years before he’s truly housebroken, and he’ll never be counter safe.”
So far we’re right on schedule, three years in. First he learned how to make choices and then he learned how to learn. He learned that he could rely on me. He was learning behaviors along the way, but those were incidental and almost beside the point, because without the relationship they didn’t mean a lot. His entire first year here was like living with a teenaged boy who’s been sucking down refined sugars–volume set to high and crazy.
I figure he’ll start to settle down when he’s ten. Maybe. But I think in the years along the way, we’ll have a whole freakin’ lot of fun.
Rena comes from the far end of the spectrum. Her first mom pulled her from a shelter when she was ten months old, loved and trained her for another three years, and then had a change in circumstance that precluded training and competition. After six months she sadly concluded that Rena needed her training and trialing activity. We were about to experience a princess-sized hole in our pack, and although we were most of a country away from Rena, her first mom sent her here via awesome Shuttle Pet.
So Rena wasn’t started as a puppy, and then she was trained–but not by me.
At this point we’ve had her almost a year and I think maybe another year will give her the confidence and connection she needs. (It didn’t help that she’s had some health issues since arrival, which have worried her.) She’s just going on five, so we have time.
I’ve started her in rally, finished out her regular agility titles, and introduced her to tracking. I’m looking for ways to build her foundation and keep her active that won’t tangle with what she already knows, how she already knows it–which means letting her utility obedience training lie mostly fallow right now.
So even with a dog already trained to detailed, advanced performance criteria, my answer is pretty much the same: Start right away. And start at the beginning. And stay at the beginning for as long as the dog needs it. Because no matter what the age, that early training isn’t about doing things; it’s about establishing a relationship.
Don’t you think?
YES!! Terrific timing. I’ve been trolling through Agility blogs for two days on this very subject. First we wanted to be sure Agility was in the future of the luki hounds. That’s a positive! Then reading and more reading and some frustration since it’s not only a whole new world it’s a whole new vocabulary! I can use horse training as a foundation, particularly Dressage training since that perfect ten meter circle does not happen accidentally the first time you ride a cold backed green horse. And there you have vocabulary specific to a sport.
Still looking for that step one guide to Agility.
Absolutely there’s a resonance with horse ground training!
I think when it comes to finding a training guide, it’s probably best to split the effort into two things–what the person has to know and what the dog has to know. The person, after all, needs to learn the obstacles, the performance criteria for the obstacles, the handling options, and the various wide circumstances under which the obstacles need to be performed. It’s awfully hard to develop foundation pieces that support the *dog* learning all of these things until the person knows what’s coming.
I almost think it’s necessary to have a Learner Dog. Or a schoolmaster. (Jean-Luc served as schoolmaster for a number of folks–he was so darned literal!)
I learned more in a fifteen minute ride on an extremely talented jumper than I did in five years in class. Ditto for riding an upper level Dressage horse. We will continue to absorb
Love this post! And agree that every animal comes with its own timeline. Working with my mule Lulu feels more like working with a clever dog some days rather than a horse. The relationship is the foundation, the particular skills come as by-product. Suppose we could do agility?
Shoot, yes. Isn’t that what trail riding is all about? ;>
Love this post! Although I’m not doing agility with my dogs, I think the basic message “start with establishing a relationship and training foundation building a sense of “team” and “trust” applies to any kind of training – even just “manners” training.
I agree completely!
Great post! I am experiencing the “wait & let them develop a brain” training right now 🙂
Then it will be encouraging to know I’m still in that stage with Dart, nearly four years later… ;>
(No, no. It’s not as bad as that. We definitely see glimpses of his brain these days!)
Oh! I just realized who you were! Duh!
I have one of Chase’s sons – Stout. The one I am waiting on to grow up 🙂
Oh, that is TOO funny! I almost posted at your blog that your Stout looked a WHOLE lot like the Cardi I’m running…and then thought no, I’ll just sound like someone who can’t tell Cardis apart…
Really enjoyed this post! We are (well I am not, the other half is) looking for a new dog…will let you know what we end up finding!
A new dog! Cool! Yes, tell all!
German shepard cross…not shy, under 1. There is a dog at the Edgewood shelter that Jim hopes to be able to see tomorrow–if the posting was up to date etc. I looked at the animal shelter in Valencia because there were two there, but they were not available somehow…
Trixie at Edgewood listing?
No Leah–but no one answered no reply to calls or emails… Loking at a t germand shep and catahoula tomorrow…
Bummer about Leah–she looks like a happy dog. The catahoula would be a fun mix, though. Online somewhere?
Dee, I liked the post very much. I wanted you to know my new email email@example.com ATT took our mails away, and we lost all of our contact’s addresses. Send me a note and I will get your address again. Take care
Marie! I was just thinking about you! Thanks for your new address–very glad to have it.