Dolly and I have been attending classes at 2SpeakDog for the past month and a half. On June 6th she graduated from Puppy Socialization Class and now we’ve enrolled in Obedience Level I. Today we will go to a class where we’ll start leash training, unfortunately, in high midday heat but never mind that. Each class we’ve attended has been an hour to an hour and a half and we have homework. On a side note the handouts are excellent: articles on dog language and food, anxiety and we even get a Swag bag with coupons and a free stuffed animal at the beginning of class.
Dolly is seven months old now. So far, she can sit and lie down on command, most of the time, and she is reaching the point where she will sometimes do it without a treat. We are working on an exercise called Wait where I put her on a leash, open the door, turn my back, get her to sit, and when she calms down, I pivot and I say “Let’s go!” and we head out and she gets a treat. (I cut them in quarters.) It’s harder than it sounds. So far, she has not tried to run around me to head out the door; if she does, I’m supposed to block her with my leg or body, all while keeping a loose leash. Regrettably, after this exercise, I have to get my fly swatter and take a few swings around the kitchen.
We’ve also been working on Settle, Level I which we learned in puppy class where I pick her up, breath deeply to calm both of us and with pronged fingers, I wrap one arm under her belly and the other across her chest. This doesn’t work well at home for some reason so I may be picking the wrong time to practice. Nonetheless, during class, when Dolly is usually wound up, barking at other dogs, and dancing on her two back paws, this has been invaluable.
My dog is only going to be ten to twelve pounds – Norfolks are the smallest of the English working terriers – and I would like her to be well trained. The most important part is the socialization; I should be able to walk onto the patio of a restaurant and have Dolly sit quietly at my feet rather than bark at every dog, try to get in people’s laps, and hunt down snacks like cigarette butts. We are not there yet. I take her many places – Goodwill, recycling, Café Express, nurseries, road trips to towns like Gloucester and Staunton, Fido, PetSmart and she is excellent in the car, all whilst sitting in her front seat booster. She is great with people. However, when there is a dog in the vicinity, she goes on emergency alert and dances on back legs with a high decibel bark that can shatter glass. A few weeks ago we went to walk around Stony Point Mall and bumped into a year old Bichon Frise. Dolly reared up, snarled, and danced sideways. Finally, the Bichon just laid down and stared at us ‘til the terrier and her mother skulked to the car. At least the mother did.
Dolly is pretty smart and will learn a lot. She already seems to recognize the words outside, sit, lie down, yes, training, Kong with peanut butter, go to sleep, time to take a nap, and No Ma’am. Or at least she acts differently when she hears these.
I have enjoyed the classes at 2SpeakDog. The program was recommended by my vet and the staff does a good job of getting a class of 10 to 15 dogs, all sizes, all types, and their parents to settle down and learn. (An old dog school maxim is the classes are just as much for the owners as the dogs.)
I admit I would have liked to have left about 15 minutes after the first puppy class started. I was sitting on a mat across from the front door with Granville and Dolly, waiting for class to start, and the door kept opening as the “students” filed in. Seventy-pound Standard Poodles, Golden Doodles, Boxer-Pitbull mixes, etc. All giant rambunctious puppies; there was only one small dog. My instinct was to leave immediately – Dolly probably felt the same way. The teacher, co-owner and trainer Jennifer Kyzer, assured us the first class was the hardest and the dogs would make a lot of progress over the next few weeks. She was right, of course, although I always kind of dreaded the socialization time at the end of class where everyone took the leads and halters off their dogs so they could play. We were not allowed to interact with our puppies and for the next few weeks during socialization, Dolly hid behind a crate, under a chair, treadmill, and giant stuffed dog or she would go stand near a group of children because she figured out the big dogs weren’t interested in them. I confess after each class, I went home and had a large glass of wine to settle my nerves.
I asked Jennifer about common mistakes owners make when training puppies and she sent me an email with a list. First, there is crate training and people not taking the time to make sure the pup is comfortable when they’re in the crate, whether they’re home or not, no matter the distractions. Rewards for going in and out are important, starting with short periods of time and working up to hours. I can leave Dolly now for 3 hours or so, but don’t do it very often and I make sure she is good and tired when I put here in there.
Another common mistake is with potty training. Owners tend to take the dog outside to go to the bathroom and then go back inside and give it a treat; the treat should actually be given within two seconds of the dog going to the bathroom.
Jennifer recommended that in a dog’s first six months we should focus on socialization and experiences. The puppy should be meeting people, all sizes, shapes, and races and hear loud noises, country life, city life, quiet parks, and bustling stores. Some crate, potty and obedience training are excellent to focus on during the first six months.
In one of our classes I was surprised to learn that dogs can easily learn 20 to 50 commands, rituals and behaviors. Exceedingly smart dogs can learn more than that. Some of the obedience commands are sit, down, stay, as well as potty training rituals (ringing a bell and going outside), crate discipline where they learn to go in the crate when you’re leaving the house and settle down, and loose leash walking.
After six classes, I have noticed small changes in Dolly. When we have our short training sessions at home, she pays closer attention to me. She also really seems to enjoy these exercises and I’ve noticed when I stay, “Time for training,” she gets excited though I admit this may be wishful thinking on my part. Today she achieved a real milestone: she socialized with every dog in the class and there was no aggression. Jennifer told me to relax the leash when at the start of the class Dolly went up to a dog and picked a fight; my tight leash was telling her to be aggressive and that it was okay with me. I kept her on a loose leash the rest of the class and she made friends with all eight dogs, most of whom were ten times bigger than she. In fact, by the end of the class I think the bigger dogs were looking at her rather indulgently with a “Here comes the little one again” expression, but none seem to have minded. I must say I was astounded at the difference.
Best regards and hope you are having a great summer,
Tyler and Dolly
PS This will be my last blog for the time being.