“Oh, I know!” I told myself, all full of excited optimism, “I’ll blog about Baby Tristan’s learning process!”
As usual, I didn’t take into account the fact that I’d be so caught up in the process itself that the blogging would take second place. Or third. Or fourth, because the other boys are still active, too! And oh wait, that dastardly Real Life. Oops! Well, here I am.
Tristan’s been with us three weeks now, making him eleven weeks old (on the 18th, when I’m first typing this). His nose has finished unfolding, taking him from baby-face to youngster-face. His hind end has more leg than he knows what to do with, his feet are huge, and his shoulders are trying to decide just how they’ll sit on his body. He’s still got baby belly, though!
We started training on Day One. They’re never too young. It’s just about what you’re asking and what you’re expecting and to some extent how you’re communicating. At the earliest stages it’s not about “this is what I want you to do,” it’s about “here’s some life, let’s explore it!” and “here are your circumstances and daily patterns” and “here are your boundaries.” Not to mention, “This is your potty box” (winter and his initially infinitesimal bladder capacity mean we’re training to a litter box concurrently with his outdoor time).
Along the way, the interaction helps to define (to me) his personality. He is gleeful, toy-oriented, confident, sensible about new experiences, and to some extent already a mama’s boy (puppykisskisskiss!). At this point he otherwise remains just exactly what he’s been since birth—perfectly willing to push every boundary right to the point of “you must be kidding,” which is when he’s finally convinced that it’s not a winning strategy.
Far better to establish these boundaries now, at the point they can become defaults.
So yes, Tristan will be a performance dog, but the things he’s learning now are the same basic things I taught baby Strider the Wonderhound thirty years ago when I lived deep in the Appalachians and had no twinkle of agility, obedience, rally…or heaven forbid, show stacking!
In his very first days, Tristan learned (or started learning) to sit if he wanted to be fed or picked up, to wait in his crate until released instead of dashing out helter skelter. He learned that his name has incredibly high value—always paired with a cookie. (We have a code name to refer to him in casual conversation so as not to dilute that value. It happens to be “Toothmonster,” which tells you the other thing he’s had to learn—”no teeth!”)
He learned that I have value, too, and spent some time following me around our enclosed acreage, making his own choices to keep up with mom and get cookies when he did. (Unfortunately, Human Mom has so much value that he’s also had to learn “no shrieking when she walks away from the crate.”)
In those early days he also learned not to growl at human fingers if they touch his bone, and that if they take his bone, either the bone will return immediately or there’ll be a cookie trade. We’ll work hard to generalize this one because of how reactive he was when we started.
He’s learning impulse control with cookie and toy games—and to release his toys on request. He always gets them back—or in trade for something of excellent value.
And of course he’s done leash and collar work. We’re continuing to add layers to that, escalating the circumstances and difficulty, even while building new skills on top of it (eventually we’ll have come to side—both the left heel position and the ride “side” position—but a number of games will assist with that understanding.)
Most of these things he’s learned while simply being a puppy and going through his puppy day with his puppy play. His humans are the only one bringing true awareness of the activities to the table.
That is, his humans and his packmates, including Mr. McKittypants. They’re showing him the rules, responding with crystal clear consequences when he breaks them. (It was a sad day when he first experimented with applying his little needle teeth to Dart’s Very Important Private Parts.)
Connery escorts him around the yard, chaperoning him and explaining things in a wise uncle way. Dart plays endlessly with him, and Mr. McKittypants owns him, and will stomp around the house in fury, breaking every possible rule, if he’s ready to play with the puppy and the puppy is not *GASP* available.
So only now is Tristan beginning to see games that are preparing him specifically for his performance life. Body awareness games and toy games with rules that will lay the foundation for the obedience and agility to come.
Tracking is something of a different matter. I generally start with article games, building a high value for them so the dog, on track, is searching not just scent but the value of the article.
But I’ve never started a pup this young (I didn’t start tracking until Connery was six-ish, and Dart and Rena were past puppyhood when they got here), and sometimes they create their own path. Tristan has most decidedly already done so! The last time we were out in the tracking grounds, we decided to put him at the start flag of Connery’s track so I could build value for it. Just to see what would happen, our tracking friend also went out 25 yards, putting out some initial cookies and then some cookies with distance between them.
You can see what we got. Won’t this be fun?
Doranna’s quirky spirit has led to an eclectic and extensive publishing journey across genres. Beyond that, she hangs around outside her Southwest mountain home with horse and beagles who compete in agility, obedience, and tracking.
She doesn’t believe in mastering the beast within, but in channeling its power. For good or bad has yet to be decided…
Doranna’s ongoing releases include Nocturne paranormals and joyful new indie efforts–like the special BVC release of the Changespell Saga, and reader favorites like Wolverine’s Daughter and A Feral Darkness. Whee!
Not coincidentally, Doranna’s latest release at BVC has DOGS in it!