There are three aspects of what I like to call ‘basic training’ or the most important bits we wanted to nail as soon as possible: using the crate or ‘den’, toilet training and perfecting the sit – which I referred to in last week’s blog in terms of it not being perfect… yet. Where did we get our inspiration from? A book called Easy Peasy Puppy Squeezy by Steve Mann, marketed as ‘Your simple step-by-step guide to raising and training a happy puppy’. (It’s a very informative and entertaining read. If you are thinking about preparing for a puppy, I would highly recommend it.)
I read this book from cover to cover (twice) on the recommendation of one of J’s work colleagues. I really like it because it is all about positive reinforcement, a mantra I swore by throughout my 23 years as a teacher. I remember one of my previous heads talking about the behaviour management of children when we were gathered in the staffroom for a meeting: ‘Catch ’em doing something good… and reward them for it.’ The same goes for Margot – when she shows that she understands what we want her to do, she receives a small treat. It sounds so simple, but when you are tired, it’s easy to focus on the negative whether you are dealing with children, young people or a puppy. Patience, and a positive mindset is key.
Another friend suggested that background reading was useful, but that it was important not to take every piece of advice as gospel – that it had to work for us as a family. I drew the line at having the crate in our bedroom for the first few nights or even moving it upstairs as I thought it would be confusing for her. Other gurus have advised the ‘start as you mean to go on’ approach. Everyone here was in agreement with this philosophy so we set up the den in our dining room downstairs which has now become her room. Whether she is allowed upstairs in future remains to be seen, but for the moment we have a stair gate in the hall so that the front door and the stairs remain a no-go area.
The transformation of the den has evolved naturally over time. The photo on the left shows our lack of experience with the pristine colourful mat on the floor by the entrance. I showed Sarah the puppy lady a photo of the crate before we brought Margot home. Her response: ‘Your house is so clean and tidy!’ I sensed from her reaction that we might be in for a shock and it might not be so clean and tidy for long…
My dad’s old army blanket works around the three sides for warmth and we put the tiny puppy bed close to the entrance with the foxy cuddly toy inside it. The next question was whether we locked her in at night or not. If we did, what would she do if she needed the toilet? Another dog guru made the suggestion that we put a puppy pad or some newspaper near to the entrance as she wouldn’t wee on the mattress she slept on. Apparently, dogs don’t do that…
We shut the crate door on the first night but she didn’t like it. Fearing she would be traumatised and never want to go into the den again, we compromised: the gate was left open and all the other doors to the downstairs rooms were firmly shut. Making sure anything we didn’t want chewed was out of reach, J and I made our way tentatively upstairs. (As I said in the first blog post she cried on the first night but not since.) So far it appears that night time is not the preferred chewing time – each morning Margot is waiting patiently inside the den until J comes downstairs. Her morning routine is quickly becoming established… (One word of warning – you can see in one of the pictures above that the blanket is folded up and over the top of the crate. That only happens when she goes nuts for absolutely everything in the room she can possibly chew – or drag – usually in the late afternoon. Distraction is still the key but temporarily moving the blanket out of reach also works! The puppy bed didn’t last long inside the den either – I think she prefers the space of the fleecy mattress.)
In the first blog post I said I would talk about the ‘den wizard’ in a later instalment. (This is another suggestion from Steve Mann in his Easy Peasy Puppy Squeezy book.) J was really excited about the den wizard visiting as a motivator in encouraging Margot to bond with her safe space. Our brief was to make the den an exciting place to be. Obviously, Foxy was already in situ, but we also hid treats in and around the small puppy bed. Ideally, the den wizard should visit regularly in the first few days and in secret so that there are treats to discover on a number of occasions. He did pay a visit a few times, but possibly not as often as J was hoping. (He talked about the den wizard alot…)
I think it is safe to say that Margot loves her den – it has definitely become her quiet go-to space very quickly. The newspaper remained by the entrance to the crate for a few nights. Those clips holding the back of the mattress up against the end of the crate were removed once she started trying to chew on them – but I don’t think they are necessary anymore. She trots in and snuggles up on the fleecy mattress whenever she wants a nap or some alone tme.
‘I love shredding the cardboard boxes. I can get through a big one in a couple of days. All the little pieces I leave on the floor disappear when one of the big people picks them up. There’s also this machine that appears every so often that hums and whirrs. If I get too close to it, I get a bit nervous and jump backwards. It doesn’t stop me from trying to bite it first though. She’s quick at moving it away from me but I like to try and catch it. I’m only really destructive before a nap when I’m tired.’
If you search up this topic on Google, you will be faced with a minefield of contradictory advice. Good luck trying to work out what’s right and what’s not… Steve Mann, our Easy Peasy puppy man advises having a ‘watcher’ who keeps a diary and a look out for tell-tale signs, sniffing and circling the floor, for example. (Margot, not the watcher.) He is not a fan of putting newspaper down on the floor, but we did by the door as an alternative to a towel for coming in and out of the autumnal garden and she did use it once at night – let’s hope we are not teaching a young pup bad habits. (And please can somebody let me know what to do when it is pouring with rain outside – nobody wants to go out in that, but what’s the alternative? We can’t have a fairweather dog…)
Actually, I think Margot is doing pretty well on the whole. In the garden I follow her every move – it’s a bit like being on playground duty as a teacher – and I make a huge fuss of her when she goes to the toilet outside. (I had a special moment one morning when I spotted her looking out of the glass doors, whining, and weeing as soon as she got outside. My bubble was burst, however, when I spotted a yellow circle on the kitchen floor two hours later. My role as the watcher is not perfect… yet, but I am beginning to spot the signs.) When she is awake – and it isn’t raining – we spend lots of time in the garden. You can see in the pictures below that she lets me know when she has had enough of the fresh air.
Perfecting the Sit
For this part of basic training, I followed the advice of two gurus: 1. Steve ‘easy peasy’ Mann and 2. My brother – he of the newly established K-9 what’s app group for instant answers and advice / fully-fledged dog whisperer. (He and his wife have an amazing dog story, but that’s for a future post possibly…) So, if you hold a treat above a dog’s nose, their natural instinct is to plonk their bottom on the floor as they look up at you with those irresistible puppy eyes. As soon as they do this, you should reciprocate with the word ‘sit’ followed by giving them the treat. This has to be repeated many times in lots of different places. The dog whisperer suggested that we do a bit of ‘sit training’ (or any other kind of training actually) every time we go outside for the repetition and consistency. (My brother also told me to let Margot out every hour to see if she needs a wee – that’s a lot of training opportunities then! We don’t do it every time…)
Margot caught on to this wheeze very quickly and frequently followed me about like a little shadow, perfecting the sit without being asked to. Sadly for her, she doesn’t get a treat every time she does this (even though I am tempted to give in) but only when following the command.
We have started moving away from Margot whilst she is in the sitting position, continuing to say the command aloud. She can run over and sit for a treat from a distance although there are times when her overexuberance kicks in and she jumps up first. Even though this looks really cute, because we are trying to discourage the leaping for the future, we then have to go back a few steps. (The dog whisperer advised us to fold our arms and turn away if she jumps up – I’ll keep you posted if this has the desired effect.)
Still to come… harness training, Vets’ recce with the nurse, second vaccinations, travelling in the car safely restrained, walking on a lead, more updates on chewing, recall to name – so much to learn!
As before, please leave me some feedback about the content of this week’s blog. I love reading your comments and replying to them. Next week I might try to incorporate a survey or a quiz after I have picked up WordPress for Dummies. Every day is a school day.
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8 responses to “Dog Blog #2 – Basic Training”
What a great read, and picturing all of the things we have talked about put into reality.. Little Margot is in a wonderful home. Perhaps a section on the alternative names that have happened since she’s made her welcome appearance into your lives.. For Dexter, we have a few, some we can say here which always make us chuckle, and others perhaps remain unspoken as the little scallywags test us.. love it, and them XX
Thanks, Geoff, for your lovely feedback. I like your idea for the alternative names section too. x
It is a great read Kirsten and even though it was only last year that we were going through this with our own labradoodle, it felt like a while ago…. So the very little puppy period goes quickly! The preventing of jumping up I would definitely encourage as I have been lazy and Tilly jumps up far too much!!
Thanks, Hannah – it’s good to know that the puppy stage passes in terms of the biting and chewing! We will keep trying to stop the jumping up. It’s hard when it’s so cute!
Wow Kirst, it is a real treat reading about Margot and seeing her photos! It’s like having a virtual puppy, lots of fun but without the puppy pads and newspaper 🤪 (for the record I’m sure your house will remain beautifully clean)!
I love how you’re training her with positive reinforcement, and how you compared it to children. It is so true and lovely to see working already with Margot. She sounds very intelligent, catching onto sitting to get a treat, clever puppy 💕 It’s great how you adapt advice from the book to suit Margot, being intuitive and responsive to her. The den wizard is a fab idea, lovely she feels safe and secure there.
Look forward to your next instalment!
Thanks for taking the time to read this week’s blog and to write such a comprehensive comment, Becky. There is much to compare with children and teaching! She does come across as quick to catch on… X
Lovely photos, Kirst. You have been amazing this week as we have all been ‘in the pit’. I kinda love the chaos and calm she is bringing to our lives. X
Yes, it has certainly been a rollercoaster of emotions. I feel like I am slowly clambering out of ‘the pit’ – I like the analogy! xx