'The true Soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because He loves what is behind him.' -G. K. Chesterton

08 July 2011


One of the things I want to do here is to document the process of bonding and training with Angus. Many (most) of you are veteran dog owners and trainers and much of what I write and do may seem odd or wrong to you. All I ask is that you keep an open mind and remember, these are my methods and your mileage may vary. I am strictly self taught with the addition of raising and training two previous dogs, Trooper and Chrisi, both Black Labs. The methods I'm using with Angus are the same I learned at the literary feet of Richard A. Wolters and my experiences actually putting his ideas into effect. I'm going to start at the beginning and carry on to what I hope will be a finished retriever and family dog. The two are not self exclusive. Both Trooper and Chrisi were and are competent retrievers and great family pets. Both were immediately responsive to voice, hand and whistle commands, fetched both marked and blind retrieves and were good with kids and strangers. They were near perfect canine companions if I do say so myself. Angus? We'll see but he has all the hallmarks of a fine dog.

Picking a puppy
Regardless of what anyone tells you it is not a science, it's a crap shoot. Still, there are things you can look for. Please bear in mind that most of what I tell you is from my experience with the Labrador Retriever breed but they should work with most breeds.
I tend to stay away from the shrinking violets. They are usually the picked on dog and may have already picked up habits and traits that will negatively effect their ultimate temperament. This is many times the fear biter. Not always the case but it is a potential indicator. I also disregard the fat boy. He's usually the litter bully, spending way too much time at momma's teat at the expense of his brothers and sisters (see the shrinking violet). Listless dogs may be less than bright or even sick. Beware.
I look for the well adjusted puppy. He's inquisitive, explores, plays and is unafraid of humans. He'll usually come right up to you and watch your face. Dogs are great at reading facial cues and body language and a dog who shows interest is a dog that will be far easier to train as he grows up.
With all that said I bought and paid for both Trooper and Angus sight unseen. In both cases they were the only black males in the litter so I had exactly zero choices to make. Like I said, my belief is that picking a puppy is a crap shoot. Better by far to pay particular attention to your breeder. What does the facility look like? Is the whelping box clean, dry and covered? What are their experiences breeding? Do they have a veterinarian on call? Do they have references? Do they have a guarantee? Are they affiliated with the AKC? (Not always a great indicator but better than someone who says AKC? What's the AKC?) Have the parents been screened for genetic problems (hip dysplasia, eyes, structure, etc.)? These are the things to look for and ask. If you get information that makes you uncertain do yourself a huge favor and find another breeder. Stay strictly away from pet store puppies. These are almost always puppy mill dogs and ones you will almost certainly have behavior and medical issues with.
Last but not least take a look at your local pound. Murphy's Law has adopted at least 2 dogs that I know of and they were/are both fine animals. Both puppies and adults can be found in  most any breed you can name. Now, on to the show.

Preschool - 7 weeks to 12 weeks
Angus is in preschool. I got him just a few days shy of 49 days old. 49 is the target but a few days either side is acceptable. The purpose of picking up your dog at 49 days old is two fold.
First, we want the dog to imprint on us. The bonding process is best done at this age. By 49 days the puppy has learned some socialization skills, has learned about humans and has learned that he's a dog. It sounds funny but a dog needs to learn that they're dogs and not humans. We've also lessened the impact of negative behavior by litter mates.
Second, we've jump started the process of transitioning the dog from self directed behavior to trainer directed behavior. The sooner this process starts the better.
In preschool Angus and I will get to know each other. Through feeding, playing and general care we'll form a bond that will have a permanent effect on the dog. Starting at 49 days gives us the best chance for this to become strong and life long.
Preschool puppies need a lot of attention. Don't get one if you're not prepared to devote the majority of your time to him until he reaches about 6 months. Angus and I are together constantly. We eat together, play together and sleep together. He gets the majority of my attention when he's awake and my watchful eye when he's asleep. I am taking him along the path toward being the dog he can be and that can't be done properly unless you're devoted to the puppy and the process. I'll gently teach him the things he needs to learn now and instill in him the tools he'll need when the training ramps up.
In Preschool Angus will learn some things but more importantly he'll learn how to learn.

Potty Training
The first thing he needs to learn is where to do his business. House training is actually pretty simple in theory but demanding in practice. I started out by taking him out to the potty area as soon as we got home. I knew he would need to go and kept him there, playing and petting until he voided. I praised him and we played for a bit to implant in his mind the idea that some things are more fun than others. I keep Angus in a confined area, the living room, with immediate and easy access to the yard and the potty area. It's important to watch him constantly when he's awake. Look for the signs that he needs to go. For Angus he'll start nosing around and exhibiting body language that I have learned to read as "Need to go right now". Scoop him up, take him to the potty area, keep him there until he goes and give him plenty of praise and fun when he does. I take Angus outside every time he eats, drinks and after he wakes up from a nap. If he starts to go in the house again scoop him up, give him a NO and take him to the place. Keep him there for a bit but if he doesn't go don't praise him. Thoroughly wash any place he's gone in the house and use a scent remover like Fabreeze to mask the scent. For solid eliminations it's much the same. One thing I suggest is don't get too thorough in cleaning up in the beginning. I want him to be able to smell where he's already been, at least at first. Oh I scoop but I don't rinse until I'm sure he knows exactly where his place to go is. Does it work? It did beautifully with both Chrisi and Trooper. We had maybe 10 to 12 pee accident in the house total and no poops. Angus is doing even better. We've had 2 pee accidents and not even close to a poop in the house. He'll jump up from a sound sleep and head out to his potty place just as nice as you please yet he's barely 7 weeks old.

Crate training.
I'm a firm believer in crating dogs. Now before you condemn me let me explain. The only time I crate Angus is at night when it's time for sleep. The crate is open, airy and cool and it's right next to my bed. He can smell me and hear me and it gives him comfort. He also learns that when it's time for quiet and sleep it's time. Dogs are also natural denners. They seek out places where they feel secure. The crate is quiet, dark and temperate. It also alleviates potty accidents as the dog will tend not to go where he sleeps. A crate is a perfect den. Don't believe me?
This is Angus' sleep crate. Note that it's open at the top and has plenty of air flow. Angus, like Trooper, likes to choose his sleep surface. After I took this picture I laid down some tiles so he can choose between the blanket and cool, hard surfaces. Note also his monkey. If Angus chooses to play quietly in the crate I'm fine with that so I give him something to do if he wants. It relaxes him and removes any stress he may have been feeling over being confined. I also have one of my worn shirts in there so my scent is always in his nose.
Here's Angus' toy box. Yep, it's another crate. I put all his toys into it whenever he's done playing so he has to go into the crate to get something fun. It reinforces the idea that the crate is not something to fear but rather something positive. Even something to seek out. That's Angus after waking up from a nap in that crate that he voluntarily chose.
Need more proof? Here is his favorite sleepy spot in the living room. Note the similarities to his crates. This is a spot he found and goes back to again and again. Enclosed on three sides, dark, quiet and secure.

Ok, one more and I'll get off this topic. Here's Angus sleeping in the mud room. Roughly 8x9, it's completely closed during the day except for the doggy door. He loves it in there and, for all it's greater size, it's just another crate. The point is that crate training your puppy isn't cruel or harsh, it's actually good for the dog. Let me leave you with two things about crate training.
The usual rule of thumb is never leave the puppy in the crate longer than 1 hour greater than his age in months. For example, Angus is approximately 2 months old so 3 hours is the max. It's usually time for a pee about then anyway. I let Angus set his pee times. He'll wake me when it's time and go right back to sleep after. He's such a good boy.
The crate is not a playpen or a replacement for your attention. Never use the crate as punishment. The crate is a positive place for the dog not a way to "get him out of your hair".

As Angus gets older I'll look for the signs that he's ready to transition from that self directed to trainer directed behavior. The first sign I look for is response to his name. I'm also looking for him to seek me out and follow where I lead. He wants to do what I'm doing, whatever that is. I'm already seeing some signs of that in Angus. He'll follow me around, climb into my lap when I sit on the floor with him and look to me when it's play time. He's learning that chasing the ball is fun and chewing is a sublime activity as long as it's the right thing. But for now it's strictly no pressure learning. there's no discipline here beyond NO. I may do dominance with him (a puppy definitely understands and has experience with who is dominant in the litter) but nothing else. What I'm trying to do with him is make him happy, secure and interested. He gets plenty of love and affection and learns that Daddy's hands are wonderful things. I'm preparing him for adulthood and the life of a Good Dog. When Angus starts responding to his name we'll move on to advanced Preschool where he'll learn SIT, STAY, COME and maybe DOWN. Believe it or not but by the time this puppy is 12 weeks old he'll know all these commands and respond to them by voice, hand and whistle and he'll do it all with the doggy equivalent of a smile on his face..

Skeptical? Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy.

Stay tuned.



Ed Rasimus said...

Good stuff! Angus is a lucky dog and you are a lucky owner.

Six said...

Thanks Ed. I am indeed a lucky, lucky man.

instinct said...

You train just the way we trained our dogs (German Shepherds and Belgium Tevurens).

I picked my first dog by just sitting near the litter and waited. The pup that became mine waddled over, sniffed for a bit, then went to explore, came back, played some more and finally came back and plopped in my lap and went to sleep. That was it, he came home with us that day

Six said...

I think that may be the very best way to select a puppy Instinct. Let him choose you.