Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Puppy Dog Tales - The New Arrival

The new puppy - Little Boy - has arrived and is settling in well.  He has been checked out by the vet and has had his first course of vaccinations.  

He seems a bold and inquisitive pup, and when brought in to the house and introduced face-to-face to Big Boy and Little Girl, he seemed pretty relaxed about the whole change of scenery and family and began exploring quite happily.  

Big Boy is curious, but doesn't really see the need to get involved, although he finds it a bit alarming when the puppy bounces towards him stiff-legged with all four paws off the ground - like a little cartoon character.  The puppy has also threatened to nip his toes - and Big Boy hates anyone touching his feet - so as is fitting for the old man that he is, he is keeping his distance and treating the pup with some disdain.

After some initial concerns, Little Girl has been really keen to play with him. However, she weighs 28kg whereas Little Boy weighs in at 3.5kg at the moment. Labbie playtime involves much body-slamming, high speed chasing and crashing in to things - so he is much too little to allow this at the moment.  However, despite being closely watched, sadly accidents do happen.  Earlier today Little Girl fell over in her excitement and landed on the puppy, then later in the evening she stood on him.  Nothing seems to be broken although he is obviously tender and bruised so I will see how he is tomorrow.  She too has been injured in their interactions - he has been trying to suckle from her and has nipped her - drawing blood so that too will need to be monitored in case of infection but it should be a relatively superficial wound as his teeth are very sharp but very short.

Toilet training is progressing - we have managed to catch most of his toileting and rush him outside, giving him the command 'Go Toilet' and he seems to be responding, so earning lots of praise or a tiny treat.  He also is responding to 'Come' and giving eye-contact when he gets his meal so that is all looking good so far.  However I suspect he is going to be a chewer - he has a fascination with chewing shoes already - even when they are on your feet, and he is also fascinated by all the lovely dangling wiring under my computer desk so I will have fun trying to keep little teeth from nipping through thin wires when I am not looking!

He howled and cried when left in his crate in the utility room last night.  The crate door was open but the baby gate confined him to the utility room and kept the other two dogs out.  He had a blanket that had been rubbed on his mother in his crate, but when he started howling Little Girl bolted downstairs to see him as I think she thought he had been hurt.  She soon realised he was OK so ignored him and came back upstairs to her bed. He quietened down fairly quickly and was up 3 or 4 times during the night.  Big Boy sleeps downstairs now so he was close by, and my daughter also slept downstairs for his first night and took him out to toilet in the small hours.  The floor was relatively clean this morning - just a couple of small puddles and a small poo.  Hopefully his night-time toileting  needs will decrease as quickly as his physiology will allow.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Puppy Dog Tales - Tomorrow is the Big Day!

Tomorrow is the day we pick up the new puppy - Little Boy.  He is a black Labrador Retriever and will be 8 weeks old.

As we have two labs already, we have had to prepare them as well as the house for the new arrival.  Over the past couple of weeks the dog crate and puppy toys have been brought out and put in position in the utility room where he can be confined by a baby gate; mats that the puppy might chew have been lifted and the older dogs' bowls have been moved out and into the kitchen.

We have a cardboard box lined with newspaper and towel to bring him home in - a travel crate would do just as well - and we are taking his bed blanket to rub on his mum before we leave so that he can smell her and doesn't feel too lonely.  Both older dogs will come in the car when we go to collect him so that they can smell him in a confined space during the journey home, and he can smell them.  Hopefully by the time we arrive back all three will be used to each others' smell and introductions shouldn't be too stressful.  

Both older dogs are well socialised, although the older one has various health problems so won't appreciate a puppy hanging off his face and ears again.  We need to watch him as he is unlikely to reprimand the puppy by nipping it, he is more likely to sit on it and as he weighs 35kg that could be rather serious for the pup!

I plan to train the puppy in obedience firstly, then once his joints have stopped growing - possibly 12 - 18 months old for a Labrador - I will see how he manages with agility.  I will also try Gun Dog Training depending upon my time and his temperament.

Choosing a puppy from a litter of adorable little faces and wagging tails can be very difficult, but you need to think about what experience you have of dog ownership and what you want from a dog so that you can make a sensible decision as to which pup to choose.  The WORST thing a first time dog owner with young children can do is to choose the pup that runs up to you and demands attention.

Before you even get your pup home its temperament is shaped by:

  • the genes it inherits from its parents; 
  • the environment it was exposed to as it developed inside its mother's womb (was she happy and well-fed, or stressed and starving?)
  • the mother's temperament (is she calm and friendly to humans, or fearful and snappy with strangers - she passes these attitudes on to her pups)
  • early exposure to people, environments, noises, smells, other dogs and animals etc from about 6 weeks to 14 weeks.  The more experiences your dog has of all these things, the better.  But a scary encounter could cause him to be fearful for life so take care and be in control of new experiences.
When choosing my pups I have used the Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test http://goo.gl/uU74V as well as consulting the breeder. This is one of the tools devised by the Volhards who have been training, raising and showing dogs for over 30 years and can be used by a new owner - you don't need to be an expert.  It is also used to inform selection of puppies with a suitable temperament for Guide Dog training.  

It can help identify pups in a litter that are strong-minded and independent and so are not suitable for a family or an inexperienced handler.  Similarly, extremely fearful or submissive pups will need a calm environment, probably not with children, and they too need an experienced handler who can build their confidence.  Families with children should look for a calm, easily controlled pup who will get on easily with children and can adapt to the noisy comings and goings of family life.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Puppy Dog Tales - 2 days to go...

Exciting times - after many months of waiting our breeder finally has a litter of pups and we have "booked" another Labrador Retriever - a  little boy.  We went to visit and see the litter when they were 5 weeks old and all being well we expect to collect him on Sunday when he will be 8 weeks of age.  This is the ideal time for pups to leave their dam and become accustomed to the human world in which they will live.  

In order to prepare Big Boy and Little Girl for the new arrival, the dog crate has been brought out, cleaned and is in position.  The blanket that will serve as a bed until he stops toileting during the night is inside, as are the puppy toys - but the door is closed.  Little Girl loves toys but will easily destroy puppy-sized toys and I don't want her to think that the new pup is being given special treatment so by the time he arrives she will be used to the smell of the toys, and not being able to reach them.  

The dog crate is in the utility room, which can be closed off from the rest of the kitchen by a baby gate.  Thus puppy can be safely contained where he can see, smell and hear all the hustle and bustle in the kitchen but is safely contained behind his baby gate, out of harm's way.  His crate will be partly covered by a towel so that if he feels the need to retreat to a quiet, dark corner on his own, he can do so.  He will sleep here until he is toilet trained and can be relied upon not to chew personal belongings  or furnishings, at which point he will have access to most of the house same as the other two dogs.

The puppy's food and water bowls are also in place beside the big dogs' bowls, again so that they can become used to the extra bits and pieces before the exuberant little beast arrives to disrupt their lives!

I do not plan to use the crate to restrict the puppy's access to the rest of the house - that it what the baby gate is for.  Rather, the crate is to give him a secure 'den' where he can withdraw for peace and quiet if he feels the need.  Also, if we decide to visit friends overnight or go on holiday before he can be trusted not to chew things, he can be locked in the crate on those occasions without causing him too much upset, whilst keeping our hosts happy!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Asking for a Hidden Object - Gaze Alternation in Dogs

Have you ever wondered why your dog will stare at your face as if to get your attention, then flick his/her eyes to another location, then back to your face – all with no or little movement of the head?  

The reason is most likely that s/he is asking for a hidden object – probably food or a toy.  Big Boy used to do this frequently when he wanted a carrot.  He knew where they were kept on the counter-top, and would stand and stare at the location, then flick his eyes to my face, then back again to the carrot location.  Carrots were his ‘filler food’, designed to fill his stomach without actually put weight on him and so he was fed them fairly liberally to stop him scrounging more fattening foods.  As a Labrador with damaged joints, keeping his weight down is of utmost importance!

A recent French study has demonstrated that dogs exhibiting this behaviour are indeed attempting to communicate to their human partner the location of a hidden object that they desire.  So the next time you see your dog do this, just follow the direction of their gaze and try to understand what they want – it will help strengthen the bond between you if your dog has confidence in your ability to understand him.

Similarly, both Big Boy and Little Girl will stand motionless and stare fixedly at the bottom edge of a sofa or fridge if a treasured plaything or a tasty treat has been knocked underneath.  They stand staring and motionless, ears forward, not looking at me, for several minutes until I come to see the reason for their unusual behaviour and retrieve the object for them.