Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Training a puppy

Meet Astro. He's a three-month-old Australian Shepherd. He left the breeder - and the only family he's ever known - three days ago. In about a week, he will go to his forever home, where he will be trained by his new owner to be her service dog. But this week, he's learning how very different life is when you move from a farm to the suburbs, leaving your Mom, the other dogs, and your old life behind. So here's what we're working on:

  • Crate training. The only problem so far is that Astro has a voice and is not afraid to use it. He wants to be with people every waking hour and that's not realistic. He howls/whines/barks if I'm not in the same room with him. And he's LOUD! We're working on extinguishing that behavior. Other than that, he's perfectly happy being crated. I move the crate around my house during the day. A puppy shouldn't care where the crate is ... only that it's his safe place. At night I move the crate to my bedroom, where he sleeps contentedly all night.
  • Potty training. Astro is great about relieving himself outside on a 4-foot leash without dawdling. As soon as he is finished peeing or pooping, I tell him he's a good boy and give him a treat. He hasn't used my house as a bathroom yet. Why? Because I anticipate his needs and make certain he has regular opportunities throughout the day to potty outdoors.
  • Sit. Astro came to my house knowing how to sit. Now he's learning that sitting makes praise, food, and play happen. Sit taught as a default behavior to a puppy can mean that you will have a dog who never jumps on people or barges headlong through doors, tripping up anyone in the way. Sit also teaches a young dog patience and self-control. 
  • Leash training. Unless I'm playing with Astro, he is on leash or in his crate. Why? Because a puppy needs boundaries. From day 1 he's been learning that my house is not a playground and what rooms he's allowed in. He's learning how to walk on leash with a person attached and four Labrador retrievers to maneuver around. His leash training extends to the larger world, as well. He hasn't had all of his vaccinations yet, so I don't take him anywhere dogs gather (like the pet store). But I'll take him to places like Lowes or Home Depot, the local firehouse (firemen invariably like dogs), BassPro and Dick's Sporting Goods. In my town, these kinds of places are dog friendly but never have a lot of dogs in them.
This morning, I added a short down/stay to Astro's repertoire, as you can see in this video. That's my 9-year-old Lab, Murphy, overseeing the process.

In the photo below, you see Astro's introduction to eating his dog food out of a Kong. I measure his food for the whole day each morning. He gets a Kong full of dry food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with the remainder used as training treats throughout the day (I always have a pocket full of his food, in case he does something brilliant that I want to reward).

In a few days, Astro's board and train with me will be over. Check back to follow his progress as he goes to his new home, his new family, and a big life as a service dog in training.

Questions about service dogs? Get in touch.


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