Blue: Five weeks in …

When I last checked in about my new puppy, Blue, he was starting to feel quite comfortable here Blue.Lyre River.framed.06.16with us, and I was starting to feel quite uncomfortable with my state of “conscious incompetence” in stepping into my role as the “alpha” of our little tribe.

Fortunately, the book came, (you might remember I ordered one specific to Herding dogs) and I found my training collar, which turned out to be in a little used storage bin in the basement.  Unfortunately, the book was assuming that I already knew (or remembered) how to teach the basics, like “sit”, “down”, “heel” etc.  Although Blue and I both mastered “sit”, I couldn’t remember how to teach “down” or “heel” so I checked out another book at the library to refresh my memory.  When I have treats in my hand, Blue remembers quite readily.  Without them, his memory is a little rusty, especially when I request a “down” on the uncomfortable asphalt road.

The first book was great at helping me understand how dogs (especially Heelers) learn, and that just because they seem to have mastered a skill in one place, it doesn’t automatically transfer to another place.  (For example, it could be that he just doesn’t understand that when he is on the asphalt road the command “down” is the same as the command “down” when he is on the carpet at home.  I understand this.  I also understand that it’s uncomfortable to “down” on asphalt, and that he gives me the look that says, “surely you don’t really mean you want me to lie down right here?”)

All in all, the training is going much better for both of us now that I have started to remember my “alpha cues” … (feeding time, going in and out any door, petting time).  I simply make him sit first before he gets what he wants.  I still forget sometimes, but I seem to be holding the “Alpha” title, at least for the moment.

The best news is that Blue’s socialization has improved significantly!  Blue at the lake Fathers Day 2016.framedOn Father’s Day, I took him with me to my parents, where 13 of the 24 of us Halbergs were gathered to celebrate.  I explained to the six kids that they needed to mostly ignore him except when given the okay by me to feed him treats or see if he’d let them pet him.  The adults had the same rules, although I knew they were unlikely to initiate the attention.  Blue was a little unsettled at the beginning and again later when the majority of us were gathered in one spot. He was very jumpy and nervous, but he displayed no aggressive behavior.

He is also more relaxed when I take him on trails and beach access with plenty of people.  I’ve introduced him to bicyclists, and allowed him to be “off-leash” on some of the least traveled trails.

Anytime he encounters something new for the first time his initial response is to simply stop and look.  He met the 102 animals at my sister’s farm with curiosity, but didn’t seem to want to chase Blue meets chickens  & peacocksthem … even when she let the 36 chickens out of their overnight hutch.

I’ve been crate training him, meaning that he gets put in his crate at night and if I am gone during the day.  I crate trained my earlier dogs, and it is a fantastic practice.  Dogs are den animals, so they really don’t mind having their own space.  I can transport the crate when I visit other locations, so he can still have “his” safe space to hang out, and it limits his ability to get into things he shouldn’t and allows me to get a good night’s sleep.

Plus, the added benefit of his bedtime crating is that the cat (Katniss) has started roaming around the house in the evenings again, and even felt comfortable enough to sleep with me last night (with Blue in his crate beside the bed.)

Ahhh.  The training is far from over, but we’ve made it through the first month.

As my dad always says, “Onward and upward.”

Two weeks in …

Blue has been a member of our family for two wBlue rotten wood 06.04.16 framedeeks and two days now.  I have to say he is adjusting well.  Too well.  To be honest, he was easier when he was scared of everything except me. He stuck close to the house, kept me in his sight, and tried very hard to please me.  He still does.  Except when he doesn’t want to.  Sigh.  Now he gets bored –Hank won’t play with him — and finds things to amuse himself with.  Like pieces of wood.  From the deck.  Or the house.  Or a planter. … Or somewhere!!  (Yes, I give him chew toys!!  He likes these other things better.)

We will get there.  When I got him, he’d never worn a collar.  And he didn’t like it.  But by the end of the evening (four – six hours after his arrival) he let me put a leash on him.  I also don’t think he’d ever been away from his home or away from his siblings. His social anxiety was pretty bad.  They call it fear aggression … towards people, not dogs. So one of my first and most important jobs has been to socialize him.  Once I discovered he loves water, I started taking him to the closest beach, which almost always has people. The article I read on curing social anxiety in Heelers said to give him lots of treats so that he associates good things instead of bad things with the experience.  I tried that, but he was too scared to eat. Another thing he really likes is pets from me.  So whBlue 06.04.16 frameden he gets too scared (usually when people are walking towards him) I squat down beside him and pet him.  Then I get back up and we keep going.  Sometimes we’ll talk to the people if they are friendly and sympathetic, but nobody gets to reach towards him or try to pet him.  When we get to the beach, he gets to swim / splash, and he loves it!!  This part of our project seems to be going well.  Today I brought him to my parents place on the lake, and he only growled once even though there were five new people right around him, and others nearby.  Unfortunately, when he did growl, this time it seemed to be a protective growl … him protecting me from my mom’s reaching fingers.

I’m afraid that might be a sign I’m failing at Alpha.

Honestly, I keep forgetting.  I forget to make him sit and wait for me when I open the door (this is big in dog-hierarchy apparently).  I forget that I’m supposed to make him do stuff for me (like sit) before I pet him (when he comes seeking it from me.)  I forget that I’m supposed to ignore him (rather than push him away and say no) when he’s jumping up to get my attention.  (Hank is giving me lessons on this one.  He is an excellent puppy ignorer!!)

But Blue is very smart, and has already mastered “sit”, “come” (both the command and the whistle), “kennel” (except lately “kennel” has been only when he wants to, which hasn’t been often.)  Today at the lake I even taught him to play fetch with a ball.  “Get it.”  “Bring it.”  And even “Drop it,” which is more than Hank will do.  (Hank was trained NOT to drop anything … he grew up in Alaska, and Justin’s rationale was that if Hank held onto a stick, it could then be used to pull him or Justin out of the ice.  Great idea.  Not so great for playing ball.)

As for me, I am in The-Competence-Spectrumthe “consciously incompetent” phase of my Alpha training, and it’s uncomfortable.  I know that it is up to me to socialize and train this puppy.  And I know that I need to figure out the right way to teach him.  So … I did what I always do when I need to learn something quickly: I ordered a book.  “Teach Your Herding Breed to be a Great Companion Dog.”  It should be here next week.  Also, I can’t find my training collar, which I know would help us both pay attention, and make it easier to spend 15 minutes / day completely focused on training.  I’ll keep looking.