In terms of dog training, I knew exactly what I was getting into when I drove 1,000 miles in two days to pick up my working-breed German Shepherd puppy: I willingly brought into my home a brilliant, hyper, intense working-class dog who could have had a career as a police dog.
I am a professional dog trainer, so I was extra prepared to handle the addition to our family. Trinket is our fifth dog. She’s the only one of the pack who was not a rescue. My husband always helps me with a new dog, but this time he was out of town for the first two weeks (maybe he planned it?) so I was a single dog mom.
It is crucial to spend whatever amount of time each dog needs in the those first months of her new life to establish a training foundation, which remains for the dog’s entire life. I pared my work schedule back for months to give this little sprite all the attention and training she deserved. No time in her life would be as important for learning than now. She could either learn to trust me and the greater world outside or she could learn fear. Fear is not a viable option.
I drove to pick her up because I refuse to fly a dog, especially a puppy. I asked her excellent breeder to keep Trinket until she was 10 weeks old. I protectively select everything and everyone she meets to ensure that every encounter is as positive for her as possible. Learning can be stressful, so I monitor the stress level and keep it to a minimum.
Here’s what I’ve done with Trinket in the first five days:
Trinket was naturally a bit tired from all of this, so I provided ample nap times as well. She is a bold, resilient puppy. A different dog might not handle this level of intensity.
On her fourth day with me, she was no longer tired. She was the opposite of tired. Her true, feisty nature showed up. She got busy; I got busier. Here is what day four looked like:
5 a.m.: Wake up call from Trinket. She sleeps next to me on the bed. She’s only had two potty mistakes in the house, because we go outside at any sign of her needing to go to the bathroom. Once she held her pee until just an inch outside the door and peed on the doormat!
5:15 a.m.: Back on the bed with lots of chew and squeaky toys. She is UP and ready to play. She tries to eat the book I am reading, so I redirect and redirect some more to the appropriate toys. I also feed her an early breakfast, and only after eating and an hour of playtime does she decide to sleep again.
6:15 a.m.: Trinket is wide awake and ready to play. As I make my bleary-eyed walk to the coffee pot, she decides this is the time to pounce on my slippers (they are quite fluffy). Her puppy teeth hurt! I stop in my sleepy tracks and say one “No!,” which interrupts her gnawing for a second, and at the moment she takes her teeth off of my shoe, I throw her a squeaky toy, which she chases, forgetting about my shoe for about one more second.
We play the redirect game for at least half an hour, because she wants me to know she prefers my shoes.
7:00 a.m.: Second day of clicker training begins. I work on sit, which she has down pat, so I move on to eye contact, and she nails it over and over again. Then we go to the crate and I shape her going in and out of the crate numerous times with the crate door open.
7:15 a.m.: Back in the house playing the redirect game again. She has chew toys all around the living room, and she spends 45 minutes picking one up, carrying it over to a new toy, dropping it, picking up the next new toy, carrying it over to the next one, etc.
8:00 a.m.: I let my mellow Irish Wolfhound mix in to play with Trinket. I hug him and thank him for giving me a few minutes alone!
8:30 a.m.: Trinket is adamant that my slippers are chew toys. Redirecting has lost its appeal. I get dressed and decide it is time for a walk. For the first time, Trinket goes down to the barn with all four dogs out at the same time, all off leash. They help me teach her a recall. She gets slightly tired after 40 minutes outside with the big dogs.
9:30 a.m.: Back in the house and back to her attacking my pants leg. More redirect. More and better chew toys. Finally I get my favorite stand-by ready: cream cheese smeared inside of an old real cow bone.
10:00 a.m.: Trinket is back to being hypnotized by my pants and shoes. I interrupt her this time by picking her up, carrying her outside, and we resume clicker training the crate.
10:15 a.m.: Finally, for the love of God, Trinket takes a nap. I head straight for the Keurig to tank up and see that it is only 10:15 am … it’s going to be a long day for both of us, but I wouldn’t miss these training opportunities for any amount of anything.
P.S. Trinket took a two-hour nap! I am winning!
Annie Phenix supports her four dogs, six donkeys, and two horses with her writing. Sometimes that means no one eats a very good dinner. Luckily for the animals she shares her life with, she is also a professional dog trainer.
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