A blog about dog training and dog breeding…and other sundry matters

Posts tagged ‘puppies’

When Dynamics Shift in a Multi-Dog Household

Athena plays with Gretchen (black and tan puppy) and Tuvok on the long jump

You have three or four dogs in your home, and everyone seems to get along quite well, until one day a minor tiff turns into an all-out dog fight with fur flying and blood everywhere.  That’s what nearly happened in my household very recently.

Until about a month ago, all four of my German Shepherds–three bitches and a dog–played together, although one of the bitches, Gretchen, was separated from the other Shepherds when not playing during the day and night.  She was crated in the house, while the other three dogs stayed on our enclosed verandah.

Then Gretchen went on heat, which surprised me because I expected that she would go on heat at the same time as her dam and aunt.  For convenience, I kept her completely isolated from the other dogs until she came off heat.  One evening I let her out to play with the other three dogs, whom she got along well with in previous encounters.  Athena, the aunt, who used to dote on her, summarily attacked her most viciously.  Fortunately I saw what was about to take place and intervened.

It was then that I realized that life would not be the same in my household among my dogs again.  The puppies have reached sexual maturity and are now competing with the other dogs for food, attention, status, and mates.   In a recently published paper titled Reproductive and sexual behavioral problems in dogs, the researcher, Petra Mertens (2006) points out that although bitches from the same household tend to go in estrus at the same time (which is what I expected at my house), a few higher ranking bitches will enter estrus earlier.  Given Mertens’ research, could Athena construe Gretchen’s early heat as a shift upwards on the social scale for Gretchen?

I am not sure why Gretchen went on heat before the other dogs.  This is her first heat at nine months.  Was it because she had been separated from the other dogs and only allowed to play with them for a few hours each day? My Pomeranian bitch, who is also separated from the big dogs, does not go on heat at the same time as the other females.  Was Gretchen’s heat a result of the Early Neurological Stimulation exercises that I did with her and the other puppies shortly after birth?

I don’t know if I will ever have the answers to these questions, but one thing’s for sure:  if you have puppies in a house with adult dogs, you must pay attention to the group dynamics.  Once those puppy papers burn, around the time of sexual maturity, puppies that were once loved and protected by the adult dogs will become the target of aggression.


Mertens,  P. (2006).  Reproductive and sexual behavioral problems in dogs. Theriogenology, 66, 606-609.  Retrieved from http://www.Sciencedirect.com

Teaching the Down/Stay and Sit/Stay using Clicker Training

It isn’t hard to teach stays to a dog once it understands the difference between “sit” and “down”.  Last week Gretchen had difficulty differentiating the two, but I took her back to basics, and this week she improved.  It was time to incorporate the stays.

I teach sit and down stays concurrently, and have been successful because I concentrate on getting duration first BEFORE I ever try to add distance to the cue.  And, I start with very short durations, sometimes as short as half a second!  This is particularly important when training a young puppy that has a hard time being still.

Gretchen isn’t exactly a young pup:  she’s eight months, an adolescent dog.  Her impulse control has improved significantly, but she is still an enthusiastic learner, and as such has a hard time sitting still for long.  I start off with a half second stay then increase the durations by a second after that with a 1:1 ratio of reinforcement; that is, one click and a treat for every second that she remains in the sit and the down.

Once I had Gretchen successfully and consistently doing four-second stays, I put the behavior on a variable schedule of reinforcement.  That is, I varied when I clicked and treated instead of the usual 1:1 ratio.  So I might click after a two-second stay; next I’d click after a four-second stay and give a jackpot of treats; then I’d click for a half-second stay.  The dog would never know when she’d get her treats, or whether she’d get a jackpot of those yummy steak bits, so she’d hold her stays in eager anticipation.

It’s important when training stays that the trainer doesn’t ask the dog to hold the stay longer than it’s capable.  If I went from asking for four-second stays to asking for a thirty-second stays before I clicked and treated, Gretchen would be confused that I had not clicked sooner and think that she did something wrong. Because clicker training promotes thinking on the part of the learner, Gretchen would break the stay and offer me some other behavior thinking that’s what I really wanted.  Dogs are smart.

German Shepherd Puppy Plays with Her Squeaky Toy

Here’s a short video clip of Gretchen playing with her favorite toy:  a green frog squeaky toy.  The toy’s a favorite among my dogs, but unfortunately it has a lifespan of five minutes (in the jaws of my rottweiler, even less).

Evaluating Potential SAR German Shepherd Dogs

I’m very proud of my two puppies.  Today both of them passed the first phase of their evaluation test as SAR dogs.  The test took the form of a courage test where the dogs had to walk on unusual and  uneven surfaces that moved under their feet, then had to crawl on their bellies in small spaces, had to seek out treats hidden in boxes under newspapers and bits of cardboard.  They even had a sound sensitivity test, too.

Both puppies were tested individually.  Gretchen went first and did well, with a bit of coaxing.  Tuvok, however, was the real star.  He showed absolutely no fear, especially while walking on the uneven/movable surface and the tester threw a plastic jug against a metal cabinet.  He went over to sniff the jug!  I was relieved that he didn’t pick it up and run off with it.  He loves carrying things in his mouth.

I’m planning on using Tuvok as a SAR dog, while Gretchen will be my agility puppy.

I don’t know how common it is to have two puppies from the same litter pass their evaluations as working dogs, but right now I’m an extremely proud dog breeder, and I feel satisfied that the work I did with this litter, from they were three days old,  is paying off.

Operant Conditioning allows German Shepherds Retain Skills

The three dogs–Gretchen, Tuvok, and Athena–continue to make progress in their training, although I am so inconsistent in my work with them.  That’s the beauty with clicker training:  what you teach sticks!

This is the first week, since I’ve returned to work in January, that I’ve trained three days, and the week’s not yet over.  That’s huge progress.  The most I’ve ever trained is two days in a week.  Last year this time, however, I didn’t train any of my dogs between January and May.  I did a bit of work with Athena during the summer (when it wasn’t too hot), but she still managed to win the Novice trial in November, with High in Trial (99/100 points).

Athena now has a reliable 30-second stand-stay, and is doing the high and long jumps quite well.  The jump heights are under the required height for her class, but that’s okay for now.  She did two lovely recalls for me today, too.

Gretchen has a semi-reliable 30-second sit-stay.  She does this on leash.  She has an awesome down-stay, too.  I have started doing rear-end awareness exercises with her and her brother, Tuvok.  Tonight I had them walk through the rungs of a ladder that was laid out flat on the grass.

Gretchen’s loose-leash walking is weak, and I realize that I really need to focus on that skill now, while she’s five months old and still controllable.  Tuvok’s isn’t much better.  My problem is that I train late at night when going into the yard after dusk guarantees a feast for the vampires, I mean MOSQUITOS.  I train in the house at night and in the yard during the day (problem is I’m never home during the day).

I’ve started getting up early to train at least one dog before work.  Some mornings it just doesn’t happen.  Yet, I press on and hope for the best.

Motorized Puppy FINALLY Takes a Break

I swear Gretchen has a motor attached to some part of her body.  I’ve yet to find that motor, and I’m still looking for the off button. I never thought I’d see the day when Gretchen, aka Turbo Puppy, aka Motor Puppy would settle down in the house.  

When I let her into the house, Gretchen would pace the house looking for something to play with.  It could be quite annoying, not to mention distracting.  Then she would jump on tables or the tops of dog crates and abscond with a prize–usually a book, pen, or someone’s wallet.

On my day off today, I let her in the house with a bone.  She settled down in my office and gnawed her bone then went off to the laundry room for a nap. She slept for about an hour, until I inadvertently woke her up while trying to capture this historic event on camera.

Gretchen wakes up from her napy in the laundry

German Shepherd Puppy learns “Go to Mat”

Five-month-old Gretchen learned to go place in a matter of minutes.  Here she relaxes on her mat in a down/stay.

Gretchen learned to go mat, or “place” today.  It was very easy for her.  All I did was put the mat on the ground and she got on it to inspect it.  I clicked and treated.  Then I called her off, and used a forward sweep of my right hand to get her on once more.  We did that for a few times, then she started offering me sits on the mat.  Before long she was offering downs.

At the end of the session I unclipped her leash, and she ran to her mat and settled into a down.  Could I get her up?  Not a chance!  As soon as I freed her, she ran right back and lay down.  I didn’t complain, but kept giving her treats while she lay on her mat. 

Gretchen has an incredible amount of energy.  I wish I knew where she got it from, because I’d love to have some for myself.  She’s the type of dog that will squat to pee, then see something across the yard and need to go check it out before she’s done.  So she’ll end up walking in a squat across the lawn, leaving a trail of pee in her wake.

When she’s in the house she’d settle down for all of two seconds before going to check out something in the house (or trying to pull the table cloth off the dining table).  Teaching her to go place has proven to be a great exercise:  she’s willing to settle down in the house on her mat.

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