This is an edited version with 4 videos.
This has been a very exciting week for the puppies, with two big events – a “puppy party” mid-week and our large summer party we hosted yesterday.
What Is A “Puppy Party”?
A “puppy party” is a training event for puppies, as we follow Puppy Culture protocols. In our case, the boys were presented with three simultaneous challenges:
- puppy sized agility equipment,
- a room they have never been to,
- people they have never met.
The equipment we used was a slightly elevated puppy dogwalk, a wobbly board (Buja Board) and a small chute. All three pieces of equipment presented unique challenges. A dogwalk delivered a dare of experiencing new footing on an elevated surface. A Buja Board, named after a famous dog trainer Brenda Buja, who invented it, is a square plank resting on a small ball, so that as the puppy steps on the board it wobbles, challenging a puppy to ignore the sensation of instability. A chute is a small barrel with a fabric tunnel that envelops the puppy as it runs through it.
The Fine Line Of Puppy Training
It is crucial to understand the difference between an appropriate challenge and the one that overwhelms the puppy. A same piece of equipment can be an instant confidence builder or a scary event, and it is extremely important to read the puppy’s reactions and adjust the challenge accordingly. In an ideal world, a “friendly stranger” in the exercise is a good trainer, or a very experienced “dog person”.
I could write volumes on how extraordinarily lucky I am to enjoy friendship of Jane and Mark Lindquist, but for the purpose of this topic I’ll narrow it to this one tiny instance. Jane, a dog trainer extraordinaire, spent a day with us so that my little munchkins could jauntily and swimmingly execute the “puppy party” challenge, propelling them to future doggy greatness. Mark videotaped the entire endeavor. We have experienced magical moments at our “puppy party” (and that was before our usual luxuriating in good food and drinks), positively magical training moments.
The Reds – Primo And Banzo
The puppies truly showcased their distinct personalities and their individual stages of development. Primo and Banzo, the two red boys, had stopped exhibiting signs of being in fear imprinting stage prior to the “puppy party” and accordingly they were unfazed by the new room, the equipment and strangers. They progressed immediately through all obstacles, showed confidence and had fun.
Here is a short sampling of an unbelievable display of trust and fearlessness they showed. In this video Banzo is meeting the two men Mark and Nick for the very first time. Furthermore, Nick has a beard, something Banzo has never encountered before. Nick is calling Banzo to walk towards him over a slightly elevated plank. Banzo shows no fear or hesitation and is extremely interested in saying hello to humans.
In the video clip below Primo is powering through a baby chute towards me. Bear in mind that Primo is 6 weeks old here. He just met Jane, he is in my living room that he never saw before and Mark’s professional video equipment includes gigantic lights shining right on the chute.
The Black And Tans – Derby And Nugget
While the two red boys showed a textbook ideal in their very first response, the two black and tan boys were poster children for the first Fear Imprinting Period. Prior to bringing them into the living room, where the equipment was set up, I warned everyone that Nugget was still visibly to me not over his 5-week sensitive stage (first Fear Imprinting Period). I was not sure if Derby was over it yet either.
Nugget came first. I placed him in front of Jane and chute and Nugget promptly tucked his tail under and folded his ears back. Instead of luring Nugget into the chute Jane was saying hello to him, petting him and engaging in play. Nugget relaxed, got his tail up and even started prancing around. The challenge of meeting a new person in a new setting was enough for him. A seasoned dog trainer will never lose sight of a long-term goal and will not err on the side of overwhelming a puppy. Reading puppy’s reactions and asking for nothing more than the puppy is ready for is a fundamental building block for confidence. We repeated the same interaction devoid of equipment challenge with every other new person in the room till Nugget was happy and confident about meeting new people and a new space. I brought him back to the puppy pen without trying to get him onto any equipment.
Derby was not much more confident than Nugget. He was unsure of the new environment, the lights, the strangers but relaxed somewhat and walked a small portion of a dogwalk. The boys had been primed to experience wobbliness a week earlier with a makeshift wobbly steps made of cardboard boxes. They loved playing on those unstable boxes, so at least Derby attempted a small part of an equipment challenge. However, we did not push him to try the other pieces of equipment when he showed reluctance.
Second Run- When Magic Happens
After the first round, all puppies were given time to rest in their pen. For the second round I was bringing them up to the living room again one at a time, in the same order as before, so that every puppy had exactly the same amount of rest. We timed every obstacle for a 2 minute session, so a total of 6 minutes per puppy. For Nugget and Derby, those 6 minutes in round one were mostly being petted and allowing them to explore the room a bit.
The way the puppies reacted to round two of the same exercises was spellbinding in its vast progress from round one, distributive learning in all its glory (a period of rest in between learning). For Primo and Banzo it meant leaping up on Buja Board, racing on the dogwalk and powering through a closed chute.
However, I experienced the most poignant moment when I went to exchange puppies when it was Derby’s time. I brought his brother back (who just aced round two) and while scanning the puppy pen for Derby I saw him standing in a water bowl. His face and the front feet were dripping with water. I realized instantly what was happening. I had been exposing the boys to wet surfaces and Derby’s brain was all fired now to make neural connections, to learn! He was connecting the dots of the little exercises with wetness. Over the few previous days, I had been introducing various wet surfaces and setting up new play areas behind them. In order to get to the new toys or objects the puppies had to walk over wet towels, and later a cookie sheet with just a tiny bit of water. They had a choice of never stepping on wet things, but if they walked over them they were instantly rewarded by getting to some new toy.
Norwich are notorious for hating wet grass and wetness generally. I can’t tell you how many times I would have to beg my reluctant dogs to go potty during the rain when I knew they absolutely needed to. And don’t get me started on counting the times when I would arrive at an agility trial and if it started to rain I would know I had just wasted my entry fee, all the packing, all the driving, everything I had to sacrifice that weekend to be at the trial- all for naught because of wet grass, wet table, and especially wet chute. Since my 2006 litter of one, a singleton Holly, I had been exposing my very young puppies to wetness and water to avoid future issues and I saw a huge difference.
The sight of Derby splashing happily in a water bowl was such a telling moment. He was ready to take on any challenge. His brain was saying “Aha!” Sure enough, the boy who in round one was not ready for the obstacles raced through them all in round two. Nugget did just as well.
The difference between the “reds” and “black and tans” was much smaller by round two, even as the initial difference in their reactions was tremendous. By round three, when we brought all four boys at the same time, and when they were feeding off each other’s energy and bravery, all four boys pretty much raced through everything.