Thursday, May 9, 2013

Sola - the New Icelandic

This is fifteen week old Sola who lives in Maine and is wicked smart, as they say there. She is approaching her teenage "months" and her family is in a slight panic. They have asked me several questions which are answered below. (Most of these things have been addressed in much older blog entries but here goes - - - .)

I remember that feeling of frustration with the teenage months very well. The great thing about dogs is that their teenager time lasts only a couple of months instead of at least a decade for humankind. They behave fairly normally up until their adult hormones start being produced then, sometimes for some dogs, it literally seems as if they have forgotten every thing they ever learned and become disruptive, combative, obstinate, etc. just like humans. (Sometimes that stage in humans lasts until the mid-thirties! Ha!)

(As an aside here: most recent research says that dogs should not be neutered - yes, that's the correct word for both males and females - until they have produced their adult hormones. The production of adult hormones closes the end joints of bones and causes growth to stop. Neutering before hormones are produced may mean that growth can continue for a short while resulting in a larger than normal, in weight perhaps and even height, dog. Many vets like to neuter early to prevent unplanned pregnancies. If you're not sure, Google canine neutering and decide for yourself!)

However, if you've done your job with training and socializing with other humans and dogs, your puppy will, after teenager-hood, soon become reasonable again - or, at least as reasonable as any Icelandic can become. Sola has taken puppy classes and has been socialized after leaving her birth home.

Puppies are almost always born into a litter - there are usually several puppies for them to play with. Puppies, even very young puppies play with one another. They learn early on that if they play too hard with their litter mates, the litter mates will yelp and retreat to a corner away from the too-aggressive pup. They don't like it when a play mate leaves them and they soon learn how to play well, without hurting.

After they leave their birth home, especially if they find themselves alone in their new home, they forget "how" to play well and safely. They forget how to be gentle enough.

If your puppy or young dog comes across another puppy or dog, they may be too assertive. If they are, their new playmate will yelp and retreat to a safe spot. That is why it is important for new puppies to have contact with other healthy new puppies so they don't forget "how" to play. Playing with adult dogs and cats is OK too as long as the play is somewhat supervised. Most adult dogs are very tolerant of puppy play. Lots of cats like it too. Allow the adult the luxury of a safe place away from the puppy. They have to be able to safely retreat or the lesson could get rough.

If a puppy is too rough when playing with a child (or an adult) the person should yelp and say "Ow!", stop playing, and retreat. The new puppy will know that it has played too roughly. Really.

There are three children in Sola's home: - 6, 9, 11 and a 7 year old cat in a suburban home that has a fenced yard.

Sola apparently nips at the heels of the children. I believe that that's a relatively easy behavior to 'fix'. 

Of course herding dogs have had that behavior bred into them for generations, for hundreds of years. It's one of several ways they move their charges - whether they are sheep, geese, horses, cattle - - or children. 

When teaching classes I tell my students who have this problem with their dogs, usually they are other herding dogs like collies, shelties, border collies, Aussies, etc., to gently kick back with their foot when nipped at. The object is NOT to hurt they dog but rather to make it reluctant to nip. If you make actual contact with the dog, it should be gentle. Usually two or three soft kick-backs are enough to stop that behavior, especially for our very intelligent Icelandics. Think of the kick-backs as love taps. Nipping is never acceptable and must be stopped ASAP before it becomes more serious. Each member of the family may have to do this so that the dog learns that it cannot do that to humans.

A herding dog is more likely to herd smaller humans. Larger humans don't like that behavior and are usually pretty good at getting that across to the dog. You may need to help younger children on "how" to discourage nipping - kicking back gently so as not to hurt the puppy.

(As another aside, I teach children, especially smaller children "how" to discourage unwelcome advances by dogs, yours or a strangers. I tell them to pretend they are a tree: cross their arms across their chest and turn away from the dog. Do NOT look back at the dog. Ignore the dog. Don't even look over your shoulder. That invites interaction. Raising  hands and arms shoulder high or head high encourages the puppy or dog to jump up. That can be dangerous. That could knock a person over, especially a young person or an older person. That kind of arm movement mimics a dog's "play bow". When dogs meet other dogs and they want to play, they raise their butts and lower the forequarters in a kind of "bow".)

One of my own adult dogs got caught on some furniture and was panicking. I tried to help and was bitten, puncture-wound bitten. That would NEVER have happened with that dog but it was severely stressed. My fault. Children (and adults) should recognize that sometimes dogs will overreact when they are scared. I think we all recognize the difference between an aggressive dog and a really frightened family pet, dog or cat, that panics and scratches or bites.

One of the reasons that so many people like the herding breeds is that they are very smart and learn very quickly. Icelandics are, in my opinion, much smarter than other herding breeds and also they are much more people oriented. Some herding dogs are stand-offish, don't respond lovingly to humans. Our dogs, when they are properly socialized from puppy-hood, have the opposite problem, if it is a 'problem'. They love people. Usually all people.

When you think about a puppy, think about a two year old toddler. Both need to be watched like a hawk and 'entertained'. Both are extremely curious about their surroundings and learn quickly. Most parents baby-proof their homes while junior is growing up. Puppy-proofing is a smart thing to do also. If you cannot watch your puppy all the time, then it must be confined or else it will get into trouble. That's a given with toddlers and puppies. 

Some people use an X-pen (exercise pen) which is sort of like a child's play pen. Others confine the puppy to the kitchen using gating or barricades. As long as you are there with your Icelandic, it will not complain. You and your family have become the new "pack" for your puppy. Its birth pack was your puppy's litter-mates. Dogs, like humans, are pack animals. Until it feels secure, when you are not around your dog, it will be anxious. 

When your puppy is a mature dog, it can be left for longer and longer periods without you worrying about damage. Toddler-humans, teenage-humans need some structure. So do toddler-puppies and teenage-dogs. It does get better and you will know when that happens - not in years (or decades) - months. One day it will just be better. It's amazing to actually realize that when it happens.

Most dogs are given up to shelters are the age of about ten months. Duh! The teenage times. If the owners would just be patient for another two or three (maybe) months, the dogs would have made the transition.

  While I am typing this I have five dogs curled up around my feet. If I get up and go somewhere, they all come with me - - and then settle down there too. I'm a senior-human and quite sedentary now. My dogs do not care. They just want to be with me. If I ran, they would run. I don't, they don't. Their "job" is just to be with me and they love that job. So do I!!!

 Up until recently I did lots of dog sports and my dogs did them with me, of course. That part of my life may be over for now and they are just as happy.

When Sola goes for a leash-walk, she pulls. That's also a simple fix because she is so smart! 

Start in the backyard with Sola on a leash As soon as she starts to pull in one direction, turn around and walk in the opposite direction. Gently jerk the leash, and say, "Sola, Here!" or "Sola, Come!" as you head off 180 degrees opposite to where she wanted to go. If she runs ahead of you in the new direction, repeat. Turn to the opposite direction, gently jerk the leash and set off in the direction YOU want to go. You are teaching her that in this pack (her new family) you (and the other humans) are dominant over her. It is not a hard lesson to learn. Remember? Dogs are pack animals, They will respect and follow the leader(s) of the pack - her humans. She will very quickly learn that you decide which way to go, not her. (I say to do that in the backyard first because when your neighbors see you doing that they will think you're crazy - - - unless they are dog people too.) After you and several other members have tried this over a period of a few days, try going for a walk in the neighborhood. Remember: YOU get to decide the direction. For no reason at all, change directions as you're walking. Learning the lesson would go faster if you used treats. (See below.)

Take her to a church, temple, synagogue  parking lot when there are no services and practice walking there. Or use a shopping center parking lot when it's closed to practice this random walking.

Crate training is important. The crate should be their den, their cave, their safe place. If your puppy/dog does not seem happy enough when in the crate, feed ALL her meals in the crate. Dogs learn to love their crates if they are given good things when they are in them. Duh! If a dog is punished in its crate, it will not like its crate. Duh! Duh!

Put her in her crate with a bone and close the door WHILE YOU ARE NEAR HER. Remember, at her age she is uncomfortable being alone. She lost all her birth family and her first human family in one fell swoop. She is going to be anxious if you are not nearby - - to begin with. She may be afraid that you will leave her too. As soon as she learns she can trust you to come back, she will relax more in her crate. It will take time.
Use a command, perhaps, "Get in your crate!", or "Get in your box!" and then always give her a treat immediately after. Have the treat in your hand when you give the command so it can be given immediately. If you wait a few seconds to reward with a treat, your dog will not know "why" it got the treat. It will like it BUT not understand "why". Rewards for good behavior have to be fast. Have the treat ready to reward when you say "Sit!", "Stand!", "Down!", "Come!", etc. They will not learn unless the reward is fast.

Finally: Treats! A few decades ago people did not use treats to train dogs. They made them do stuff. Some people still train that way. That would be like you working for no pay. 

Treats are the reward dogs get for doing stuff. Use lots of them. They should be small - one bite size. A treat for our dogs should be about the size of a pea. I like to vary the treats I use. I think they might get bored with always the same treats. Not all dogs like the same kinds of treats. Watch the reaction of your dog to see what it really likes. 

I cook low fat hot dogs and cut them into half slices, freeze them and store them in my freezer (so they don't spoil). I keep a bait bag in there too. I like the Velcro kind not the draw-string kind. You can also get a workman's belt from Home Depot for about $1.00 to keep treats in. (They are easy to wash.) When you go for a walk with your puppy, wear the bait bag and have lots of treats in it. 

I also use low fat string cheese, cut and frozen. Cheerios are great and healthy too. I sometimes use Captain Crunch peanut butter. Shh! Don't tell, The dogs love them and they are treats so they should love them. You wouldn't use that as part of their diet, but for a reward or a treat, why not. 

When you do the "walk in the opposite direction" game, give her a treat when she comes back to you and say, "Good Girl", "Good Come!" and give her a treat. Let her know that she's doing what you want her to do. Talk to her. You are trying to teach her about her new life with you. Treat her like a human toddler. Talk to her lots. Teach her words. A smart dog, and she's a very smart dog, can learn hundreds of words. They learn faster when they are young but, in spite of the saying, you can teach an old dog new tricks! I know you can because my Kata didn't do agility until she was nine. She's over eleven now and loves agility.

Anytime you ask your dog to do something, you should have your reward ready. Treats are best when they are younger but as they get older, praise is almost as good. So always praise your dog for doing what you want it to do. How else is it going to know which behaviors are good and which are not.

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