From 6 weeks to 13 weeks, a puppy learns crucially important behavior from its mother, other dogs and puppies, and from its human parents. Certain important behaviors include how to communicate with other dogs, how to handle loud noises, what things to avoid and seek, and how to calm themselves down. Some dogs, unfortunately, are a world apart from where they should be socially and behaviorally because during their early development period they entered the life of a rescue dog.
Not all rescue dogs can tell you the same story, but for our dog Chase, his beginning was not optimal. From 6 weeks to 14 weeks Chase was floating around from home to home on Craigslist, entering a new family every 1-2 weeks. Most of the families he encountered did not have time for him, did not make any effort to train or nurture him, fed him a poor diet, and they did not tend to his medical issues with haste.
When we first brought Chase home he was 14 weeks old and recovering from puking up a whole sock (that's huge for a puppy) and also a UTI (Urinary Tract Infection). He was nervous and confused and he hardly knew what to do with himself. The next few months he tried to eat just about everything including leaves, mulch, our base boards, and our hands.
He was afraid of us and that only slowly changed. Chase didn't want to be cuddled or held for MONTHS. He was always on alert and was satisfied with a scratch on the side of his head.. but nothing for too long. Despite his obvious fear of us he also exhibited a severe amount of panic when we would leave him, even when just popping into the post office and leaving him momentarily in the car.
Over time Chase learned that we were with him for the long haul. He learned that no matter how hard he fought us, or bit us, or avoided us, we weren't going to give up on him.
Now Chase is a different version of the same dog. He's incredibly loyal to us and will come running anytime we call him. He has learned quite a few tricks and is easy to teach. He has stopped eating things and instead smells them. He LOVES going places, like the park or the local trails. And around Binge and myself, he is the smartest, sweetest, funniest dog. He will cuddle with us on the couch and sometimes surprises us with his awareness in situations. He is a lot less stressed than he used to be...
But there is more for him to learn. Chase just started Basic Manners. It is the same course that Bowie recently completed at our nearby Good Dog Rising academy. This is a big step for Chase because strange dogs and strange people still cause him a lot of anxiety. He will venture up to people or dogs if they ignore him, but he does not enjoy being approached directly. If you intend on being a friend of Chase, you have to become familiar to him and he has to be able to trust that you will not hurt him.
This class specifically will help Chase to practice many of the skills that he already knows (sit, down, stay, loose leash walking, giving eye contact, recall, etc) around intense distractions like other people and other dogs.
We have had one class so far and Chase did exceptionally well. The room is set up with chairs, mats, and dividers in between dogs. Chase still needs extra space, but he seemed calm and quiet during class, and calm and fulfilled afterwards.
Because I was asking so much of Chase I made sure to use only high value treats such as salmon, peanut butter, and rabbit. By using extra delicious treats you ensure that your dog is paying attention to you and that they will have some kind of good experience to go along with the training.
Chase is learning positive reinforcement training. At our first lesson I focused on getting Chase to give me eye contact and rewarding him every time he looked at me. Next we practiced loose leash walking and I rewarded Chase every time he gave me eye contact while walking. When your dog learns to pay attention to you, you can teach them just about anything. It's such a great basic skill for any dog to learn.
I have to say that I am SO PROUD of Chase. He did an exceptional job at his lesson and rode home with a stupid grin on his face. I'm convinced that dogs can smile. He spent the rest of the night sleeping side by side with the little bro Bowie doggo.
Hopefully this class will be the start of many good things to come for Chase. If he excels in this class, I would love to enroll him in additional classes that will challenge him in other ways and continue to help him build his confidence.
Just a little announcement- Bowie graduated Advanced Manners at Good Dog Rising. He's super stoked and sophisticated now. We might need to start calling him Sir Bowie.
Take care and have a great weekend!