środa, 31 sierpnia 2022

Surviving Pyrshep adolescence or why less is more

 Just a handful of facts before I begin:

- dogs, same as humans, go through adolescence stage, which precedes the sexual maturity and also, maturity in general. What I want to say is that same as a teenager cannot become an adult, independent, responsible and thoughtful human being without going through the stage of rebellion, impulsiveness and utter stupidity, neither can a dog become this perfect companion that you've always dreamt of without being horrible, reactive, "naughty" adolescent. 

- during adolescence period dog's brain is quite literally flooded with hormones which explains lack of impulse control and various undesired behaviours. It's important to understand that when this happens, the dog REALLY cannot control herself / himself. They are not trying to make you mad, they are not spiteful, sometimes they are even a bit puzzled and scared of what's happening themselves. 

- that period can begin as early as 20 weeks of age, although it is usually most pronounced between 7-9 months. The behaviours connected with adolescence usually gradually subside (although they might reoccur every now and then for quite a long time) after the dog is 12-18 months. 

- dogs might become fearful, easily agitated, loud, unruly etc. during that time.

- the intensity of adolescent behaviours might vary among the breeds and individuals. 

Although most dogs will go through this, I think Pyrsheps are more prone to being really nightmarish teenagers. The reasons for that are that they are very perceptive normally, very intelligent, very sensitive to environment, and very bullshit-intolerant - and all these traits get more pronounced during adolescence. 

With my first dog, Sunday, a cocker spaniel, I barely noticed that period. It was something I read about in books about dogs, but I haven't really experienced it with her. She passed her obedience exam at 9 months and with flying colours (my next dog, Vigo, was not even able to hold a sit for 5 seconds at that age... Zelda was not able to focus for more than 15 seconds at that time), she was never fearful and actually didn't have a single behavioural problem throughout her life. She was a simple dog: if her needs were met, she was totally content and didn't make any fuss. Feeding, walking, playing with her and training her were enough to get a happy and problem-free dog. 

Well, universe has the tendency to even things out, so my first Pyrshep, Vigo, made up in spades for what I didn't get to experience with Sunday. There were days when I wanted to kill him, there were days when I cried because of him and there were days when I was totally scared and out of my depth about what was going on - I seriously suspected him to have epilepsy for instance, because sometimes he would just "shut down" and stare into nothing, as if he didn't hear or see me. I also felt totally helpless at times - I tried to train him, I tried to help him, I tried to countercondition his fears, I tried and I tried...

Now I actually realise that perhaps I tried too much. 

It took me a while to recognise that, but it changed my approach to every next Pyrshep (and every next dog) that I had. 

With Vigo, whenever I noticed any undesired behaviour, I was like "we need to change it!". He's afraid of a ladder? Let's spend a whole day walking around it and getting him to approach it, using super tasty treats. He barks at dogs, leaves, cars, people etc? Let's socialise him more, train him more, teach him more behaviours that he could do instead and so on. He is bouncing off the walks and cannot settle? Give him more exercise!

It was exhausting. I was just putting so much energy into it, sometimes I think even contributing to the problem, because I tried so hard to convince him that some things were okay that in the end he got suspicious. I mean, I wouldn't feed him half of the cheesecake to make him approach the ladder if the ladder wasn't actually dangerous, right? 

It was also actually, mostly, not effective. Counterconditioning the fear of the ladder didn't prevent him from getting terrified of dustbins, training lots of behaviours could only help in the second when he was doing them (if he even was able to do it at all), but as soon as I rewarded the "sit", "touch" or any other "appropriate" behaviour, he would immediately go back to whatever undesired reaction he had just before that, which more often than not was barking his head off. 

Well, in the end, he grew out to be mostly normal ;), not because of my efforts, but despite it. 

So how is my approach different now? 

Well, I notice those changes and I adjust accordingly. I remember that it will pass and mostly it doesn't require any particular action. When my puppy gets scared of some random object, I just approach the object, touch it even and then walk on, giving puppy the chance to decide whether to approach it or not. If they do, great. If they don't, also great. Usually by the next day they don't even remember that they were scared of that particular rock, tree, bicycle or whatever. When my puppy suddenly becomes deaf and doesn't come when called, I use long line and we practice recalls in an environment where the success is highly likely. When I see the puppy is overwhelmed by the situation, I remove them from the situation. When the puppy suddenly becomes destructive, I use crates, gates etc. to prevent them from harming themselves and destroying something valuable. I try to manage things in such a way that my teenager doesn't get to practice undesired responses and behaviours: being hysterical, running away, chasing animals etc. I continue to train as much as the puppy is ready for - there will be days when I can see they are not up to it and then we might just practice the things they already know and like - or not. There will also be days when the puppy is in super good and cooperative mood and then we'll work some, with the priority being not so much teaching new behaviours but rather having a great time together. I want to be my dogs safe place. I want them to know that I do my best to understand them. 

Sometimes I just do nothing, just have relaxing walks in calm environment, where the dog can sniff, relax, roll in the grass. Sometimes I just sit somewhere and let the world go by - and here's is an excellent video of one of my gurus, Susanne Clothier, about the power of doing nothing - LINK . Here is also a link to her website with some excellent, free articles, as well as shop with ebooks, DVD and webinars with her work. 


Love your dog.

And remember that THIS TOO SHALL PASS. 

P.S. The actual impulse to write that post was that today morning when I let Maupka in the garden for her potty break, mid-poo she noticed a stuffed toy that one of the other dogs carried outside the house and forgot there. It got her so scared that a/ she couldn't finish her business, b/ she started to bark hysterically for like a minute before I managed to stop laughing and helped her by removing the toy. 

piątek, 19 sierpnia 2022

Puppy exercise guidelines

The photo of "bag of floating bones puppy" keeps haunting the internet, same as the (in)famous 5-minute rule (increasing the time of walks by 5 minutes per month, so 4 month old puppy can have 20 minutes walks, which lots of people actually interpret as the total time of exercise for the pup), there is "waiting for growth plate to close" advice and so on - basically it all can be summed up with "unless you limit your puppy's exercise, you're gonna hurt them for life".

In fact, the opposite might be true - there is a disclaimer of course, and that is mainly that you should use some common sense, but basically puppies NEED and HAVE TO move, run, turn, jump etc. to develop muscles, proprioception and coordination. Puppies actually need A LOT of exercise. 

I will provide a bit more sources and details below, but common sense in this aspect boils down to a couple of rules:

- avoid too many repetitions of same behaviour or movement. If you tap your knuckle lightly with a pencil 3-5 times, nothing bad will happen. If you do the same 300 times, it's gonna hurt, swell and there's gonna be inflammation. Same thing works for any puppy exercise. You can teach them many behaviours, just don't drill them over and over. 

- free exercise is good. Mostly what your puppy is doing at their own pace and volition is good - again, some common sense is needed, as some (Pyrshep) puppies have crazy ideas like launching themselves from the sofa as high up as possible for instance, but when your puppy is running freely during the walk, jumping over logs, running through puddles etc. that is usually totally okay.

- slippery surfaces are not good - try to provide at least some surface with good grip at home, so the puppy can play there. On the other hand, varied surfaces are great, so make sure your puppy has the possibility to experience walking on grass, sand, gravel etc. 

- rest is vital and needed. Observe your puppy, provide calm environment, teach them to relax but this is complimentary to actually giving them opportunity to let off of all that energy. Again, puppies need LOT of exercise. 

- early training, including both basic obedience, trick and foundations for sport training is great. It teaches the puppy to learn, it gives them mental stimulation, fosters your relationship. 

- healthy weight is essential and it is actually better for the adolescent puppy to be slightly on the "too slim" side than the other way round. Again, I don't mean emaciated, but same as humans, dogs go through that gangly teenage stage and that is fine, they gain more muscles and substance later on, that doesn't mean you need to "fatten them up" in the meantime. Hardly any exercise can hurt you puppy more than being overweight. 

Of course, you don't have to take MY word on that, so here are two great sources to use - by dr Chris Zink, who is one of the world's leading authorities when it comes to canine movement, development and fitness. 

First is her book:  Fit for Life Puppy. I found a digital copy - here.

Second is her poster Fit for Life Puppy Exercise Guidelines - here

Now, when it comes to my puppies and agility training, here is what I do, roughly, as it might vary from pup to pup:

1. Just as soon as I get the pup, at the age of 8-15 weeks - we begin going for walks and I try to give them the option of off leash walks as much as possible. With very young puppies I also have a backpack/ sherpa bag, so whenever I see the puppy is tired, I might put them in the backpack for 15 minutes to let them rest. Usually by the time they are 4 months old they can easily and happily accompany my adult dogs on a full walk, which is usually about 5 km / 1 hr long.

2. Just as soon as I get the pup, we begin some basic training: recall, clicker training for tricks, mainly focused on body awareness, playing with toys.

3. At about 5-6 months of age I introduce first jumping grids, based on Susan Salo's Foundation Jumping program. I work with speed bumps (regulators), so no actual height,but already some stride regulation, soft turns etc. I do one-digit number of repetitions, one or two exercises, roughly once 7-10 days, so again I limit the number of repetitions, not the exercise as such.

4. After 6 months of age I slowly introduce wrapping the objects, running through tunnels, low jumps - again, perhaps 5 minute session once every 7-14 days - you can see an example of such session here. This is Maupka's only agility session this week:

5. After 9 months of age I begin to increase a bit the intensity and length of the sessions. I begin target training for the contacts, I slowly begin to increase jump heights, start building longer sequences etc. 

6. After 12 months of age I begin all the other equipment training such as weaves / see saw / A-frame etc. - of course starting with foundations, so when I say I begin weave training it means I start with running through 2 poles at that time ;). 

Don't treat the above as the manual, you need to do what feels right for you and your puppy. The puppy has to be mentally ready for this as well - Zelda for instance wasn't and most of her agility training happened after she was 12 months old, whereas Mojo and Brego were born adults and were sequencing much sooner than that. 

Also, I think it's good to consult the puppy with a good canine fitness specialist or orthopedist. I also believe it's worth taking x-rays before 4 months of age to see if the puppy is developing properly (at this stage early surgical intervention can prevent further damage and arthritis). By all means consult whenever something is bothering you.