The puppies continue to soak up experiences like little sponges and I’m racing to teach them skills and behaviors before week 12 when they join their new families.
When I got my first Norwich Terrier he was air shipped to me and came out of his crate an emotional mess I spent the next years undoing. I am convinced that he was not properly crate trained (if at all) or prepared for travel. I vowed that no puppy will ever again be shipped on my behalf and also learned a lot about crate training.
Crate training does not mean shoving your puppy into a crate for a certain amount of time and asking the puppy to do all the work. Demanding of the animal to cope is not training. Training (at least positive reinforcement training) is a creative and interactive process of shaping a behavior. If a target behavior is relaxing in a crate, I need to do my part before asking puppy to do his. And relaxing is not the same as resigning to something.
The process is individualized based on each puppy’s response. My incremental, daily goals for each puppy were different because they are different individuals, but they all reached the ultimate goal of sleeping happily in their individual crates at night and waiting relaxed to be let out in the morning.
First, four crates were added to the puppy pen for them to explore at their own pace. This aspect of choice is very important in making an initial association. It also allowed me to observe the differences in each puppy’s willingness to enter a small space.
Next, some really exciting things started appearing in those crates every time the puppies returned from a romp in the back yard. The boys quickly learned to race back from each outing to check out the crates. Soon they started using them for stashing their own treasures.
In the next stage I closed the crate doors after puppies settled there with a yummy chew du jour. Derby did not like that, so I had to adjust for smaller steps for him in accepting confinement. I left his crate door slightly ajar, and increasingly more closed till I could lock the crate without any protest. Actually, the release to get out immediately was a reward for the first couple of times.
I kept those closed door sessions short and sweet for everyone. Once the pups were able to expect a closed door and settle nicely each time I started putting them into crates. Till now, they entered crates on their own choice. Again, I kept the door closed for short sessions. In just a few sessions (remember those breaks matter!) the puppies were totally relaxed being put into individual crates and having the doors closed. Now, many small session later, they have slept through the night, no peep from them, for the last 3 nights.
The puppies have been using potty area since their first meal other than their mother’s milk. Now, at the same time as I introduce their crates I’m phasing out the potty tray. The concurrency of those two things is as important as setting the potty area was for the first meal. (See a blog post on that here).
Releasing puppies from the crate, especially in the morning, means that I can bank on their need to pee. I get them outside very fast. We have just a short, few seconds run to the door leading to the back yard. They are very good at going potty outside as soon as they hit the grass. The puppies have built a beautiful association of relieving themselves when outdoors.
The challenge now is to hold it when indoors and the potty tray is not in sight. For days when I’m home I remove the potty tray from their area and let them out every 2 hours, 20 minutes after each meal, and after every intensive play session. With this schedule they are going potty outside only, but it requires diligence. When I know I will not be here to let them out in 2 hours I put back the cat litter tray. The greatest thing is that once outside they go potty immediately and look at me for praise. You have to see it to know how cute that is.
This week we have been playing a lot of games to teach puppies relaxing or getting excited, as appropriate to a situation. They have been very good at recall, even as I’ve been giving them a lot of freedom to get away quite some distance from me, and even out of sight, before I call them back. However, when we had visitors they were so overexcited that they did not come back immediately. I realized that it would be helpful for them to learn controlling their arousal (to some realistic degree).
So we played a lot of games of crazy excited play, chase, toy tugs and then settling for a quiet time of lazy belly rubs, chewing sticks and just hanging out. We did it over and over and each time the puppies were better and better at switching gears.
Walking Through Shadows and Navigating Steps
This is a “Norwich” thing. I found that some of my adolescent dogs get spooked on sunny days at dog shows by the intense light contrast between a shaded area under a tent and the open area flooded with light. There is a similar condition when we leave our walk-out basement or are coming back to it from the yard on a sunny day. It must look crazy to anyone witnessing it as we race back and forth through the door with lots of praise. It is working though. After an initial hesitation to walk past the line of light contrast, now the puppies race right through it.
Stairs are physically challenging for puppies, so I try to limit their time going down, but I do like using stairs to overcome mild fear. My goal is to get puppies to come to the very edge and not back away when I approach to pick them up. It also makes for a great setting for puppy photos.
Continuing Fun and Games
We are getting on and off a grooming table every day. The puppies have their mouths and feet touched, with good things happening right afterwards.
They are learning that great things keep happening when they come when called. And they continue to experience new objects, new people and new dogs. What a life!