August 6, 2014

Puppy classes and BAT training

This past month Vixey has grown and developed quickly. At 16 weeks she weighed 16 lbs and is now almost the same height as Vanilla. She has continued to be the brave, open and loving puppy with a couple boogieman phases added to the mix. I haven’t taught as many new tricks this past month but instead we’ve focused on life skills. After getting all our vaccinations in order we went to our very first agility foundation lesson and got a lot of homework with the cone. I’ll be teaching “out”-command with the clicker and the cone and also use the cone to help her read front and rear crosses. We also started a puppy socialization class which focuses on introducing all kinds of dogs, people and environments to the puppy. In the same class we also make them familiar with different surfaces and little obstacles like a ladder on the floor that they need to walk through or standing on a stool or go over an air mattress. This is great also when I think about the skills she will need for agility or even our sailing trips in the future. 

Of course you can’t learn everything on a class so I’ve tried to make sure that every week we do something new with her. This week’s agenda is to take her to the stables to see horses. Last week it was a nearby dog park to go on a puppy play date. I’m a little weary of dog parks though, so I’m not sure how much we will be going unless it’s to meet someone we know there. I’ve also tried to take her for walks in different places with different people and dogs including next to kids playgrounds, heavy traffic zones etc. She has always done great. But more than any of that I’ve tried to take her to places she can be off-leash. We’ve gone to Mt. Lemmon every weekend for a walk or a hike. She absolutely loves the forest! Our everyday walk around the neighborhood is on nice dirt roads which is great for having her off-leash and teach recall. Also there are cotton tails and quails and other critters that run across the road or nearby all the time so it’s been a great environment to learn to not chase anything.

Vixey in Sedona, AZ
Grand Canyon.
Our only issues have been the boogieman phases which usually involve some barking. For example, just on a normal day home she might all of a sudden realize that there are all kinds of sounds that she can hear from the outside. There have always been noises and most days she doesn’t notice them yet some days she thinks that every time the neighbor’s dog barks she needs to bark back. My first plan was to just ignore that. It didn’t help however, so I now have a squirt bottle next to my desk and it does make a difference. She hates the thing! Once in a while she also barks at dogs she sees on our daily walks. I think its half excitement and half insecurity. When she gets closer and can meet the dog she is great and meets dogs in a very nice manner and quickly gets into play mode with them. So far there has only been one dog that she has been timid about. It was another puppy, a lot bigger and more muscular than Vixey and very high energy and dominant in her play. Vixey did finally warm up to her enough to play a little but you could tell that she wasn’t totally comfortable with her. 

On the occasion that she barks or gets ready to bark to another dog on our walk, I’ve been using a method that is nowadays often referred to as BAT (Behavior Adjustment Training). The basic idea is to walk with the dog ideally using a long lead (I’ve often had Vixey off-leash though) and when you see signs of a possible reaction, ie. barking, you gently turn around before the behavior happens, maybe call your dog and treat. The idea is to replace the initial reaction to a situation with a new behavior like sitting, sniffing, looking away, whatever seems to work best for you and your dog. I’d used similar methods before and even started on with Vixey but never knew the name of the official training method until I had some conversations with the owners of Vixeys siblings. It’s been great for us and has made our recall even stronger. It also makes you have to pay attention to your dog’s body language in order to prevent the situation where reactive behavior could occur. And of course involves a lot of good treats when everything is going great. 

All in all though, I have to say that Vixey has been a really good, easy puppy. She travels great, sleeps through the nights, loves her crate, is basically house-trained with very few accidents, learns amazingly quickly, absolutely loves people, has a wonderful off-switch for a Border Collie and is really the most snuggly, loving little creature I can think of. And the bonus on top of it all is that she is not only best buddies with Vanilla but she has been able to melt Gins heart as well. How great is that! 

PS. I can’t wait for the agility season to start again in Tucson! Vanilla and I have learned a ton of new stuff since our last trial in April!