I have been keeping a secret. And like all the best secrets, this one has four legs!
On paper, my limit is three dogs. I have been planning to add the third dog in 2017 for several years. I knew what temperament I wanted in the puppy, but I just couldn’t find the right match for what I was looking for. And when I adopted my 8-year-old tervuren Panache in February, I did it with the understanding that all of my dog slots were full until someone passes — likely another 2-4 years based on the life expectancy of my seniors’ breeds. I reluctantly put my puppy plans back in their box for another few years and settled in to enjoy life with my full household of wonderful adult dogs.
But when my puppy training clients contacted me in October to say they were considering rehoming their 6 month old german shepherd/malinois mix, who I have loved since day one and who is everything I have been dreaming about in NextDog, there was only one answer.
Bright has been here since October 13th, 2017 — about seven weeks at the time I’m writing this. We’ve spent the majority of that time on the road (which is why it has taken me almost two months to tell you that she exists). Bright came home just a few days before my autumn dog sports trials began, and we have been traveling the east coast for competitions more often than we’ve been home.
While the timing was definitely a “trial by fire” (pun completely intended), I am so impressed by how well she handled the novel environments and the totally new situations!
Training isn’t just about teaching dogs how to obey commands — it’s about teaching them how to be comfortable, confident and well-adjusted in all of the environments they will be in. This trip gave me a chance to assess how well Bright copes with changes of environment and where we still have work to do. For now, I’m not worried about traditional obedience behaviors — I’m focusing on building and cultivating the autopilot behaviors that I want to be able to take for granted a year from now, like walking politely on a loose leash without being asked, or crating quietly in a new environment without stress. In the short term, I am investing the majority my training hours into “nothing” behaviors and problem-prevention.
For most of October and parts of November, we were tent camping in the Tennessee mountains for Nosework and Barn Hunt competitions, my two favorite sports. To the best of my knowledge, Bright hasn’t tent camped before, but you’d never know it from seeing her. She was as polite and professional as my other dogs, who have been doing this for years.
The first two days were an adjustment, which is perfectly reasonable given how quickly her life had just changed. In particular, she was mildly uncomfortable with the large groups of strangers and strange dogs at a distance and she was being more vigilant than I’d like. I took time out of my work schedule at the trial for some short training sessions to get her more comfortable with the environment and allowing her to approach friendly strangers to learn more about them on her own terms. By the third day, she was comfortable and thrilled to be there.
On the one hand, adding a new dog mere days before a huge change in environment isn’t ideal. But on the other hand, if I had to start her off in a chaotic environment, this was the best possible group of people to have a young dog around. We were surrounded by other competent dog trainers and a wide selection of socially-stable adult dogs! All sorts of experienced people and dogs for my new puppy to learn from.
If you ask any dog trainer about their pet peeves, they are almost guaranteed to mention some variation on the following scenario. A stranger asks to pet your puppy in training. You agree, but say that the puppy needs to be polite for the petting because they are in training. You ask the person to step away if the puppy jumps so that the puppy learns how to greet strangers calmly. “Oh, I don’t mind!” they assure you, laughing and actively encouraging the dog to jump on them. “I just LOVE dogs!” And every trainer thinks sourly, “Well, I mind, and now you’ve just paid my puppy to jump on people who might not love dogs as much as you do.” (Seriously, please don’t be That Guy.)
The best thing about being surrounded by strangers who are dog trainers is that they don’t do that. None of them! Which means that it is drastically easier to teach a dog to be polite for greetings, because they will be paid for being rude zero percent of the time.
For the first few days of our trip, Bright got so excited by greetings that she tried to greet by leaping up at people frantically as soon as they started to pet her — not uncommon for a high energy six month old puppy, but also not a behavior that I want to see more of. Pretty much everyone at a dog sports trial has treats within easy reach, because we are all dog trainers. It only took a few very short training sessions to convince Bright that (a) 100% of people she ever meets will have cookies hidden somewhere nearby, (b) they might give them to puppies, and (c) they only pay puppies who sit.
A sitting fiend was born!
By the end of the first week of our trip, she was very pointedly walking up to people, planting her butt on the ground and staring at them like, “I was good, pay the cookie tax.”
And bless them, they did.
I went to Tennessee with a frantic jumper and came home with a dog who begged to be petted by assertively sitting “at” people until they acknowledged how good she was being.
Overall, I am so happy with how well Bright is settling in. Since I am seven weeks behind in posting this, I have more than one blog post’s worth of news to share, so this is just a quick snippet from the begining of our trip. Stay tuned for more Bright updates soon! I will be posting lots of videos and blog posts as I raise her so you can follow along with her progress as she grows up.