I wrote this back in June of last year and never published it. Anja is just over a year old now, passed her first breed club test with a very nice score, and has become a fantastic can-go-anywhere companion, and a solid hunter, despite bursting at the seams with energy.
I brought Anja home a little more than a month ago. She is a Deutsch-Drahthaar, or German Wirehair, from parents who were tested and bred through the FCI affiliate breed club, the Verein Deutsch-Drahthaar, Group North America. She's being raised and trained as a hunting companion dog, meaning a working dog that I live with. This post is going to be a long catch up post covering a lot of things from her development and training so far.
Picking a puppy
Once I settled on a breed of dog, I began attending training days and tests to make sure that the decision I was making was the right one. For about a year I attended events held by both NAVHDA and the VDD-GNA. Two organizations who focus on versatile hunting dogs (the former a general group, and the latter breed specific). I watched how the dogs were trained, interacted with the folks who were there, and tried to either be helpful, or stay out of the way. When you are getting a dog to do the sorts of things that Anja is bred for, it takes a team and a group effort to get the training done. So it's helpful to know if you like the folks you'll be working with. Luckily for me, I find hunters as a whole a great group of friendly people. Hunting dog people were no exception.
I finally settled on a breed, and breeding, after watching a number of dogs work who were out of a particular sire, and then getting to see the dam of the litter both in the field/water, as well as at home.
I chose to get a drahthaar puppy because performance (work/functionality) testing, and health/structure testing are required for every dog that is to be used for breeding. And the particular pairing that I chose was above and beyond the requirements in terms of both performance and health testing. Both dogs were tested through utility level (the highest performance test in the breed club), were high scoring dogs at the breed invitational, and had additional health screenings or scores that went above and beyond what was required (highest rated hips, elbow and shoulder dysplasia free, high scoring conformation, etc.). This, by the way, is what we mean when we talk about "REPUTABLE BREEDERS/BREEDING". Health, temperament, and performance testing, and limited availability only to suitable homes. And above all that, I liked the guys that owned the dogs, and I liked what I saw in terms of how the dogs conducted themselves in the field and around the home.
I met the dam of the litter on at least three occasions spread out over a year, and about three more between when the puppies were born and when I brought Anja home.
Bringing pup home, and managing her in the home
I picked Anja up at 7 weeks old. She cried in the crate the entire way home, and we spent about a month working on her crate behavior. From her perspective, she had lived her entire life with her mother and litter mates, then she was uprooted, lonely, and basically at the mercy of a stranger. There were no familiar sights or sounds or smells. That's quite a lot for her to get over. I saw that she was settling in and bonding with me well, but we were still having some issues with crying in the crate. At this point it was clear to me that it was learned behavior (puppies cry because they need to go to the bathroom, and they get taken out of the crate) because she had adequate food, water, had recently been to the bathroom, wasn't injured... Deductive reasoning and all that. So I had to spend some time providing rewards in the crate while also correcting that behavior that would prove to be incompatible with my lifestyle. I live in a townhouse. So hollering in the crate is not going to go over well with the neighbors.
With that done, the next behavioral adjustment task was to curtail her biting of hands and feet, another very common learned behavior in puppies. This cleaned up relatively quickly. She's still a very young pup so exploring things with her mouth is part of the deal. But most of her launching for feet and hands and pant legs is behind us. These kinds of behaviors were appropriately (for her age) punished.
"Dogs don't grow out of behaviors, they grow INTO them." - Linda Kaim
So intelligently punishing these sorts of things, if done correctly, leaves no lasting negative effects, and is the most effective way to make sure that they go away for good. Puppies never forget what they learn when they are very young, so taking crate yodeling and attacking body parts off the table now will pay dividends for the rest of my time with Anja. Fixing these things now means we won't have to revisit them later.
I made sure that I followed two very simple rules without question: Supervise and Confine, and Schedule. I set up a schedule for Anja in terms of her access to food and water, and subsequently bathroom breaks. I was able to quickly learn how long after food and water she needed to eliminate, and also note how that changed as she aged. Any time I was not able to supervise her directly, she was crated. When she was out, she was either in an ex-pen learning to relax in the house on a bed with a bone, or on leash. This allowed me to begin to condition things that are important to me: the ability to calm in the house, that you can't ever grab something and run away with it, and so on. It also allowed me to interrupt any and all behaviors that I didn't want her to practice: chewing on a wide variety of things that she aught not, jumping on people and furniture, running around too much in the house, and more.
When we were outside, I let her drag a very light line with the handle cut off. This allows me to still maintain control if I need, but I want to work on her staying with me while "off leash" from day one, get her out and exploring, and get her comfortable with a line dragging since I'll need to check cord her during some of our training later on. By the time the check cord comes into play, she'll already be desensitized to it.
All along the way, socialization was a top priority. I had trust in Anja's breeding and her abilities to do the things she's meant to do, even if I couldn't see all of those things in great detail yet. So what I was more concerned with was making sure she was comfortable with the rest of the world around her. Socialization is effectively exposing a puppy to everything that they are likely to encounter for the rest of their life. And you really only have until 12 - 16 weeks of age to do that. So I have made a point to take her as many different places and expose her to as many different things as possible early on, and still continue to do so now. And that will never stop, but I won't get as much bang for my buck once she's past the four month old mark.
So she's been in rural, suburban, and urban settings. She's been exposed to a variety of surfaces walk on. She's climbed over things and under things. Seen big trucks, other dogs, people of all different races/shapes/sizes, people wearing hats/glasses/sunglasses, people in wheel chairs and other mobility aides. She's been inside stores, to restaurants, spent hours riding in the car while crated. She's been in fields with grass taller than her, in the water, in the forest. She's seen various cars, bikes, motorcycles, big trucks. She's been exposed to various types of game that she will hunt: rabbits, ducks, chukar. She's been exposed to gunfire. I'm sure there's a ton of things that I didn't specifically seek out that she was exposed to. And she's been around a large number of dogs, both puppies (heavily supervised and refereed) and socially stable adult dogs.
The amount of time she gets to directly interact with other dogs and people is in direct proportion to how well she is able to maintain attention and focus on me around those same things.
Key points for socialization are that we are looking for EXPOSURE and not always INTERACTION. I don't want her dragging me over to people just because they are oogling at her and making noises (funny how that sort of thing is unacceptable if it was a person, but with a dog it seems to be ok?). I don't want her thinking she gets to make contact with every random dog she sees while we're out (again, funny how it's supposed to be ok for dogs, but if just walked up to you and put my hands on you, it wouldn't be ok). I want her to be comfortable with the world, all of it, passing around her, and her being able to stay comfortably and confidently calm. I want to make it so that nothing gets her highly excited except for the things that I really want her to be excited about. And all of this comes down to structured, tactful exposure, and paying attention to Anja to know when something is a bit too much for her.
This part of raising a puppy, when you're really trying to do it right, is enough to make you hate people. Everyone wants to pet the puppy. Everyone thinks every dog should meet every other dog. Even a simple rule like, "if any of her feet come off the floor while you are touching her, you need to stop and stand up," can't be heeded. And so, the general public is generally awful at helping you raise a calm and polite dog. Because of this, most of her direct interaction with people has been with long time clients. Read: people who know how to follow directions.
So far, I've made one kid cry because I wouldn't let them pet Anja. I've hollered at a few parents when I hear them say, "Go ask if you can pet the puppy," that, "No... we're not petting puppies today." I've shoved my booted foot in a few dogs' faces when their owners were unwilling or unable to control them. The bottom line... I don't care about anyone, or anyone's dog, or anyone's feelings as much as I care about the appropriate upbringing of my puppy. Because the random person that you meet out on the street certainly isn't thinking about you and your needs. They want to squeek and squawk, fondle and fuss at, get their puppy fix and move on. Yeah... no.
Your Training Partners
Not everyone has a breed club, or task/event specific training group, or training clients to help them raise their puppy. But generally, everyone does have family and friends and coworkers that can make or break the critical puppy development time you have. Here's the not so short list of people and ways that it "takes a village" to raise Anja:
- she attends many of my training classes, usually tethered, getting non-interactive exposure to lots of people and dogs
- she goes to Linda Kaim's training facility on Wednesdays with Gretchen for off leash dog socialization
- also while at Linda's she gets physically handled by Linda, an important interaction when she goes for conformation evaluations with the breed club in the future
- my training club clients have helped me with a variety of training exercises
- my colleagues at work have allowed me to extend my lunch, and make that time up at the end of the day, so that I can get home mid-day for bathroom breaks to support housebreaking
- members of NAVHDA and VDD-GNA assist with training days, bring game, set up training scenarios, and more
- my vet, Scott Lindle, who allows me to handle Anja while she's being examined which helps create a routine that my little pup can count on to be predictable even when some things are happening that make her uncomfortable
You may not need some or all of these things. But I know I would have a lot of trouble getting it done without these folks. Not listed here... the general public. The general public is usually terrible at being helpful in raising your puppy. To the best of your ability, they should become background noise to your puppy.
Though I put my hands on more dogs in a day than most folks will have in their lifetime, doesn't mean that I don't suffer from the same kinds of things that everyone else does. Most notably, putting too much pressure on my puppy in the form of expectations that are way too high. People should know that from taking a puppy home until about 2 years of age, constant management, supervision, and training is needed to make a solid companion in a dog. Perhaps these standards are a little different from other folks, but I want a dog who:
- is calm in the house
- has work ethic in training
- is reasonably social with other dogs and people (this mostly means outgoing, friendly, and polite... not a falling-over-themselves-attention-seeker)
- keeps their mouth off my things
- responds reliably to commands with little need for enforcement of them on my part
- shows emotional control in stressful situations that sometimes aren't fun (like the vet)
- allows me to handle their body/feet/ears/eyes/mouth without protest
- knows not to go to the bathroom indoors
That alone is quite a list for a dog! But on top of all these things that I need to have in a companion, Anja has a whole separate set of skills that she needs to develop. She has a job. Her hunting job will require her to learn to use her nose, her body, and her mouth in specific ways. Some of these I can teach, and some I simply need to provide enough exposure to the right circumstances for her to develop them on her own.
And so I find that I am routinely reminding myself that she's just 3 months old right now, that I've signed on for what will be a minimum of constant and progressive training for a variety of things that are sometimes in direct contradiction with one another:
- be a drivey monster while hunting but be calm, quiet, and relaxed everywhere else
- keep your nose on the ground when you are tracking, but keep your head up and air scent when you are field searching
- show reservation on feathered game but pursue furred game with reckless abandon
- be independent but be cooperative
These things take time. And I find myself constantly battling internal demons when she's showing a little too much of one of the things I want (but maybe in a setting where I don't want it) or a not enough of something when I really want her to do more of it.
The thing I just keep trying to remind myself is to try to make sure we're both having fun. When that stops happening, for either of us, that's when training ends and we spend some time apart. I'd like to say that all of our training is "play" to Anja right now, but that wouldn't be true. There's a few behaviors that I've had to punish early on. She takes some things very seriously. Retrieving bumpers and other non-game items is fun. When she has something furred or feathered within scent, sight, or in her mouth, she is not playing. It's something deeper, something more serious to her, but still something "good." So right now our field work is all about exposure. She can't really do anything wrong there. I don't ask much of her, perhaps a recall once in a while. Other than that I try to stay out of it and let her figure things out, and cheer her on when she does something awesome, which happens with regularity!
Separate from out in the field we work on basic obedience, mostly using food and toys as rewards, and minimal pressure. We're working on static commands (sit, down, stand), recall, and directional movement. We do play retreives during very short sessions where I'll throw items, release her to get them, and she brings them back so that I throw the next item. I'm not extracting anything from her mouth during play retrieving. I just tease her with a new item until she drops the one she has, then throw. Or I pick her up and she drops the item after a short time. This is helping her not want to play keep away. We'll start shaping a hold and deliver (that I can back-chain a formal retrieve off of later) when she's holding static positions just a little bit better... and when I find something that isn't so much fun to play with (which is hard when your dog naturally picks up everything, including metal objects).
We also spend a short time, about 5 minutes a day, doing physical handling exercises. I go through a patter of touching every part of her body: feet, toes, belly, tail, eyes, ears, mouth. We go through this work to help her understand that she has to allow me to inspect her. And I trim/dremel nails about twice a week. Getting through any protest related to these activities now, assures that I (and the vet, and the breed club judges) are not wrestling with rancorous 60 pound animal later on. We teach appropriate behavior in this situation now, when she's tiny pounds and easy to handle. We don't wait until the dog is fully grown and then try to fix it.
And in the house we're working on "don't touch that, you can't have that, stop that" and "relax, chew this instead, you can have that when you do what I asked".
Oh... and she really likes watching TV.