I can’t believe that I have reached my tenth blog post already. That means that Margot has been living with us for ten weeks now and she is 20 weeks old on the day of publication. Where did that time go? When I think about how much she has changed in those two and a bit months, it’s incredible really: not only in size, as she now looks so much bigger when she trots around the garden, but also in terms of her temperament and behaviour. We seem to understand each other so much better, most of the time, especially in this last week now that all the excitement of Christmas and the new year have passed.
Reflections on the Festive Period
I know I made some reference to this in last week’s blog, but I hadn’t really considered quite how much of a difference having a puppy over the Christmas period would make. Well, I had, but the theory is one thing and the practice something else. On reflection, I think Margot handled all the upheaval and the constant flow of strangers in and out of the house rather well. There may have been a couple of awkward ‘bitey’ moments, but most of our visitors had prior experiences with dogs and were confident in their interactions with our pup.
New Year’s Eve exceeded all my expectations. Having established a routine of going upstairs not much later than 9pm so that Margot can settle in her crate without any distractions, we weren’t sure about how seven of us in the next room ‘seeing in 2023’ at midnight would compare. As has become tradition over the last few years, we had my oldest friend from school here to stay along with her family. (Being a farmer’s daughter, she has had lots of experience with animals in her formative years and she wasn’t phased in the slightest.) During our meal, Margot stayed in her room, but later in the evening there was too much going on in the living room for her to settle and sleep, so after quite a bit of intermittent whining, R and I allowed her to come into the kitchen at 11pm. Perhaps she just wanted a bit of company (or not to be able to see the games being played in the living room through the glass) because she promptly went to sleep while my friend and I had a much-needed catch-up.
New year, new training session… We were so grateful to our wonderful trainer Fleur in coming to see us on the Bank Holiday so that we could all hear her pearls of wisdom. And what amazing pearls they were. Once again she listened to our concerns, gave us some suggestions and showed us some practical ways to distract Margot when she is behaving in ways that we might not be happy with.
One of the battles which has seemingly evolved over the holiday period is wiping Margot’s feet after she comes in from the garden. With all the rain we have had recently, there are constantly puddles on the patio and patches of a quagmire rather than grass. (The pup’s digging doesn’t help much with this either…) Therefore, rather than having a trail of muddy paws across the dining room through to the kitchen, patting down her paws and wiping down the backs of her legs has become somewhat important. Fleur talked to us about teaching our puppy to focus on a treat on the floor and encouraging her to wait before she is allowed to eat it. This is something we have introduced, but not as a method of distraction. (There is something similar I have seen on the internet called ‘The Bucket Game’ but we aren’t using a bucket here.) If we place a treat on the towel, which she will sit on after coming in from outside, the idea is that she will be so distracted by the food, we can lift up her paws and wipe them gently. J is better at this than I am as you can see in the pictures above, but there has certainly been an improvement rather than Margot running about the room to get away. (It is also a strategy I have started to use when putting her collar and harness on for a walk. Sometimes it works and sometimes I have to walk away and have a few minutes’ break before trying again.)
Walking on the two point harness is steadily improving. One of the pinch points is when we meet other people or dogs – Margot rises up onto her two back legs to try and get closer so Fleur introduced us to ‘Watch’ as another distraction and showed us how to use a clicker to help with training.
What are the benefits of clicker training with dogs?
According to the Blue Cross website, ‘A click is more effective than your voice for two reasons. Firstly, your mood will influence how you sound and can make your voice inconsistent. Secondly, by the time you’ve praised your pet they might have moved on to something else. A clicker gives a quick, clear and consistent signal to your pet.’
Why is clicker training successful with a whole manner of animals?
‘Clicker training uses a distinct and consistent signal to mark a desired behavior in real time and then follows that signal with a motivating reward. Because animals understand precisely which action earned the click and their reward, they learn new behaviors quickly, easily, and enthusiastically.’ – American Kennel Club (In fact, Fleur told us that even hens can be trained using a clicker – now that is something I would like to see!)
The ‘watch’ command involves placing a treat by the dog’s nose and moving your hand up to your eye so that they are looking at you and you have their attention. Success is rewarded with the treat and the command word is added in a bit later. We also tried it with the clicker. The trick here is to click as soon as you see the behaviour you want and reward immediately after. (When out on a walk, there is definitely a knack to holding the lead, the clicker and a treat all at the same time. I have been successful when crossing paths with a couple walking, but failed when meeting another dog so it’s still a work in progress, but also still early days. My first impressions of the clicker are really positive, so much so that I have ordered two more so that we can have one each in either red, white or blue. My next question is how long are you supposed to use it for?)
The other training point Fleur demonstrated was to encourage Margot to lie down. We have chosen the command ‘Flat’ for this to avoid confusion, as up to this point we have using the word ‘Down’ for get ‘down’ from the counter or from people.
So, the get ‘down’ from the counter didn’t appear to be working. Fleur’s thinking is that every time we tell Margot off in this way, we are actually giving her attention so she won’t necessarily stop doing it. Instead, we should be rewarding her when her ‘four paws are on the floor’ and ignoring the jumping up by completely turning our backs. We also watched a video about this on YouTube with a trainer called Chirag Patel, someone our guru recommends.
Back to School
After the excitement of the holidays, and with all the extra support, it is strange being back on my own again with Margot during the day. Of course, on the first day when the other two went back to school, it poured with rain constantly which made getting out for a walk and time out in the garden rather tricky. We did manage it – just.
I did think that with the new year I could set up a new routine: I would try and work upstairs in the study for a few hours so as not to be in the same room as Margot for most of the day, but she whined intermittently so I failed at the first hurdle. But I have to say I also thought it was rather sweet when she moved the mat from other room to lie next to me while I worked in the kitchen – see above. (Not so much today – she is happier in her own space in the other room for her naps. Perhaps ‘fickle’ should be her middle name? Or maybe we are both finding our new boundaries.) However, there are still elements of the rollercoaster in terms of the constant puppy training so I am not out of the woods yet. Nobody said that it was going to be easy.
Margot says …
It’s really quiet in the house again, with only one big person with me now for much of the time. A lovely lady came back with some very smelly beefy treats and a small handheld thing which makes a clicking noise. I’ve noticed that every time they press on the round thing, it makes a shrill sound which is followed by something tasty. They all seem much happier with me apart from when I chew on the mattress.
And finally… I said in the last blog post that I would mention Graeme Hall and the ‘Dogs Behaving (Very) Badly’ TV show. We watched a couple of the programmes over the holiday period. Initially, I was reassured that our puppy wasn’t as badly behaved in comparison, but the turnaround of behaviour of these difficult dogs is incredibly quick. Of course, part of the show’s purpose is for entertainment, so it would be dull to watch the reality of the consistent and constant reinforcement. The presenter Graeme Hall is clearly full of charisma. Perhaps I should order one of his books from the library… I wonder what our trainer Fleur thinks of his methods. I must remember to ask her.
Next week… 5 month update, weight check at the vet and how many puppy teeth has Margot lost?
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2 responses to “Dog Blog #10 – Happy New Year!”
You are doing so well with Margot! She is such a sweet natured puppy and I thought she did really well at New Year with all of us in her house! As visitors we all found her low stress and a joy! I appreciate for you guys it was more stressful worrying about her not jumping up at us (which she hardly did atall), and keeping her training consistent, but we think you were brilliant and Margot really responds to each training moment! The clicker sounds a great idea, it will be interesting to see how it goes. It is so time consuming and a huge commitment but all your perseverance and kindness with Margot is already paying off. Hope this week is good with everyone getting back to normal after the holidays.
Thanks for your lovely comments and positive feedback, Becky. We all loved having you here for New Year too!