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  • David A. Van Wie

The First Two Weeks of Autumn

After two weeks in her new home, young Autumn, our Llewellin setter pup, is still hoping to get the cat to play with her. Autumn is an eating, growing and pooping machine, so she has pretty much caught up to Django in size.

To his credit, Django seems interested in his new housemate. Maybe it’s just jealousy, but he wants to be part of the action, so long as little Ms. Ball-of-Energy keeps a respectful distance. When I take Autumn for a walk down the driveway or out on the lawn to play, however, Django will often follow. He wants to be nearby and, when I start training Autumn, he likes to watch the action from the safety of a fence post.

Training The Trainer

As we often do in our family, we got about six different books on training. Some are more helpful than others, and we've been scanning through several to pick up the best methods and explanations that make sense to both me and Cheryl. It's critical that both “parents” play by the same rule book, or chaos ensues.

One good one is How To Raise A Puppy You Can Live With by Clarice Rutherford and David Neil. It does a nice job of reviewing dog psychology and the developmental phases over the first year. We haven’t raised a puppy in about 20 years, so it's been good to go back to the beginning.

I have also been looking for good books about how to train a bird dog to hunt for grouse and upland birds. I found an old classic called Gun Dog by Richard Wolters, published in 1961 - with black and white photos – that still gets 4.9/5 stars on Amazon. As long as you give Mr. Wolters a pass on the old-school, sexist writing, Gun Dog provides plenty of timeless advice and a logical progression for training a dog for the field. I also ordered Building A Grouse Dog- From Puppy to Polished Performer by Craig Doherty. I’ll review that in a later post.

Learning The Basics

Because I work at home, I get to work with Autumn several times a day. This is a huge advantage. It has been very easy for me to bond with her and earn her respect as Top Dog in the family. And luckily she sleeps for several hours at a whack, so I can still get work done as long as I adapt to a puppy schedule.

We started right away learning the basics of SIT, STAY and LIE DOWN. We've been using little treats- pieces of puppy chow that we keep in a small Tupperware container- to get her attention. It literally took her about an hour to learn SIT. Soon she would follow us around and SIT time after time, expecting a treat. But it worked and by Day 2, she would SIT every time.

By the end of the first week, she learned to SIT and STAY. The positive reward method is working well with her. I work with her about 10 minutes at a time two or three times a day. In just a few days, she would STAY and wait patiently for a treat as long as I would hold my hand up and calmly say STAY over and over. She now STAYS while I walk big circles around her in the yard, and even if I go briefly into the next room, as long as she can hear me say STAY.

Sometimes I will go back to her and give her a treat. Other times I will say OK, COME and she will run over to me for a treat. I’m working on weaning her from expecting a treat every time; sometimes she gets just a big GOOD GIRL and lots of scritching and love.

The hardest one to teach is OFF when she jumps up. She often wants to play and can get wound up, trying to nip my hand or shirt sleeve. The best way to stop this is to tell her to SIT and STAY, and then give her an alternative toy, like her rubber bone or a stuffed toy. When she is behaving again, she gets a treat to reinforce proper behavior, but not right away or she will learn that jumping up will get her a treat.

She must think it is funny how treats magically appear when she calmly chews on her rubber bone.

I’m also teaching her GENTLE, which means she can lick my hand and not bite it. When I get GENTLE licks, she gets a treat. When she starts to nibble, she gets a NO and I try to ignore her. She is already getting the hang of it.

Establishing Limits

It took Cheryl a little longer to get Autumn to respect boundaries and not jump up on her. Each person has to establish his or her own limits, which took longer for Cheryl because she is at work all day. We now both have pretty similar patterns with Ms. Puppy.

One thing we agreed on early is that the crate is never for punishment or banishment. It is always a positive, great place to be. She has toys in there. And every time we put her in the crate, we give her a slice of apple or piece of carrot as a treat. Our vet suggested using fruit and vegetables as treats, and Autumn loves them. She loves gnawing on a carrot. It focuses her attention and calms her down. And it makes the crate a nice place to be. So if she gets annoying, we play with her for a minute then put her in the crate with a treat; she doesn't think she is being punished. Thanks to your friend, Vaune, she also has a travel crate which we keep on the porch.

Now, when she gets tired, she goes into the crate by herself and puts herself down for a nap.

House Training

What about house training, you ask? Good question.

Because I’m home most of the time, I’m able to take her outside as often as need be. Every time she wakes up from a nap – out we go. And she goes.

After she eats breakfast or dinner, out she goes. And she usually goes #2.

During the first week, we had some issues with her peeing in the house. We have hardwood floors downstairs, so before we brought her home, we took up all the rugs, leaving just a couple old, small foot-wipe size rugs. She likes one near the fireplace that she uses as her “home base.” She peed on it a few times, so we had to cycle a couple small rugs and throw them in the washer. But we would usually catch her, scold her and take her outside, so by the end of Week 1, accidents were few and far between.

Same with #2. She had a couple accidents, but seemed to know that this was supposed to be outside. The whelping kennel where she lived for her first eight weeks has a separate pooping area that the puppies all learned to use, which was helpful. We try to get her to go near the edge of the woods so we can clean it up, toss it into the brambles, and avoid the mine field effect on the lawn.

A couple times she went outside and then came back in the house and pooped again. This was very effective in TRAINING ME to be sure she had plenty of time to wander around and go a second (or third and even a fourth time!) before going back in the house.

Now, when she wakes up, she follows me to the door and trots right out to her spot. The other day she went by herself while I watched from the door, then came right back in (it was cold outside, so she didn’t want to stay out for long).

Play Time

We also plays FETCH with her tennis ball and stuffed toys. She will bring them back and is learning to DROP them for me. She gets a treat when she drops it. I never play tug-of-war with her. If she won’t let go, I press her lip against her sharp teeth and she lets go quickly. Or I shake the treat box to remind her that DROPping it will be rewarded.

Yes, she is a puppy and wants to play. Sometimes she barks at me to get me to play with her. When she does this I take her outside so that she will learn that barking at me means she wants/needs to go outside.

Out and About

The first weekend we had her, I took her to a rugby game and after playing with all

the people, she slept inside my coat. On Halloween, we went to a friend's house in Hanover and she loved seeing all the kids in their costumes. She even met Scooby Doo! She enjoyed visiting Cheryl at work and meeting students on the green.

So, we are making great progress and having a blast! This young lady is attentive, smart, willing to please and a joy to be with. We couldn’t be happier with our new companion.

And I think Django even likes having her around.

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