We have a new puppy! His name is Finn McCool (named after the Irish folk hero). He’s a red bi Australian Shepherd and was 9 weeks old when we brought him home on Friday.
This means we have our work cut out for us in preparing our new pup for his future life. For us, this means spending a lot of time around family (including kids) and going on many “adventures” – including hiking, camping, festivals, trips to local events and various dog sports, most likely agility, obedience and scent work.
The first step was finding a good breeder. To me this means someone who chooses to breed dogs that are behaviorally and physically sound and who seriously commits to providing enrichment and socialization from the very beginning. We ended up deciding to get our dog from Jennifer Marks at Ember Skye Australian Shepherds. And as an extra bonus, she keeps tails! (Most aussies have their tails docked shortly after birth).
Priority number one was introducing him to our current dog, Darwin. Finn was a little worried about Darwin initially but that only lasted about 30 seconds. Here is a video of them within 5 minutes of meeting each other for the first time.
Shortly after that, they played a bit.
Since then, Darwin has been a bit of a grumpy old man, but he has been totally appropriate in teaching Finn the rules (for example, Thou Shalt Not Attack My Tail and Thou Shalt Not Jump on Me When I’m Sleeping). Of course, it is also our job to protect Darwin as much as possible so he doesn’t get overwhelmed. They did also play for a bit again yesterday, but it will take time for Darwin to adjust to the new changes (and Finn too).
My current priority is teaching Finn to be comfortable when confined. The breeder already started this for us and he is pretty good at settling in his exercise pen or crate when tired, but he protests when he’s raring to go and we confine him. As long as we are in the room, however, he settles very well in his pen and goes to sleep or quietly entertains himself. I am very grateful that he’s adjusted so well in that way. He’s also only had one accident since we brought him home and that was our fault – we moved him from sleeping on the couch to his pen which woke him up and I think he just had to go too badly to wait. Next time if we move him when he’s sleeping, he goes out before we have him settle again!
We are gradually leaving him for longer periods of time when he is sleepy. We only got him home Friday evening and so far we’ve left him alone for 10 minutes at a time. We could likely push this further, but I would much rather go slow than push it and risk having to correct issues that could develop as a result. I’ve already had two dogs with separation anxiety and I’d much rather prevent it than treat it!
I just started working on settle when he’s excited today. In order to do this, we are basically taking him through an accelerated version of separation anxiety treatment, except in this case, it’s prevention. This means first teaching him to settle on a bed, then gradually moving further away and eventually leaving the house. The first step is teaching him to lay on his bed using the following progression.
- Click and treat for looking at bed
- Click and treat for one paw on bed (then two paws, then three, etc.)
- Click and treat for sitting on bed
- Click and treat for lying on bed.
I meant to get some video of these first several steps, but he learned it so quickly (within a few minutes) that I didn’t get a chance! I did get some video of my daughter working with him in his crate, once he was already pretty consistently going inside (we’ve worked both on his bed in his x-pen and in his crate).
Darwin wanted to play too.
Once he’s consistently lying on his bed, the next steps are:
- Staying on bed with us next to exercise pen with frequent reward
- Gradually increasing the time between treats as well as the distance I go from the pen
- Going out of view for a few seconds at a time
- Touching, opening, briefly going out door (starting with just a few seconds)
- Gradually increasing the time absent, starting with about 30 seconds and gradually moving up to an hour, then several hours
The exact rate of progress will depend on his comfort level and how frequently we work with him. My current goal is to have him up to an hour by the end of the week. After that we should be able to add hour fairly quickly. It would be rare that he would need to be alone for more than four hours at a time.
If you don’t go through this process is your dog doomed to a world of stress and anxiety when you leave? No. Many dogs adjust just fine to being alone, even when thrown into it with little preparation. However, some don’t, and right now we don’t really know why some adjust better than others. If you want to stack the deck in your favor for preventing issues later on, then gradually preparing them for being left alone is a good idea.
Play is very important to me for a number of reasons.
- I really enjoy playing with my dogs and it brings me joy to have a dog that loves to play with me.
- Play can become a valuable alternative to using food as rewards which is particularly desirable in a future competition sports dog but can also be beneficial in pet dogs.
- Play can be a great outlet for them in terms of physical exercise and enrichment and I believe it can build confidence as well.
Finn already has great tug drive (again, thanks to his breeder) so I am making sure to build on this by doing plenty of tug and ending the game when he’s still motivated. We’ve done this with several different toys and found a few favorites (a crinkly stuffed bunny and a fake fur ring with a bungee handle). I’ve also attached another long thin floppy toy to a lunge whip and pull that along the ground for him to chase. He loves all of these games, though his stamina is not there yet, of course, due to his age.
I am also working on retrieve and personal play (playing directly with people, no toys or food involved). These are not as well developed yet, but it is only day three and we still have plenty of time!
Over the coming week I plan on continuing to work on confinement and toy drive. We will also start working on recall and name recognition, leash training, handling and prevention of resource guarding. He’ll also be starting puppy classes!