Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Miracle Training

As a puppy raiser who starts many young puppies, I hear all the time about what a !!MIRACLE!! it is that the puppy behaves a certain way or demonstrates a particular skill. However, raising a future guide dog has very little to do with ‘miracle training.’

Raising a puppy is not a cycle where a raiser takes a dog into a novel environment and expects the dog to miraculously perform skills which they have never successfully completed.

Raising a puppy and making decisions about that puppy’s training is not an act that relies on faith. It’s not about having faith that exposing the dog to a particular environment will suddenly cause the dog to overcome their struggles and succeed. We don’t raise a puppy believing that things might actually come together if we just put the dog ‘out there.’ If so, expect a train wreck.

I’ll admit that at times, I have attempted miracle training - believed that a dog would succeed when deep down I knew the possibility was unlikely. Most trainers have. But, raising a puppy entirely on a string of miracles, now that’s an ??INTERESTING?? concept…

Sure, raisers sometimes make bad decisions on behalf of the puppy. Too bad, it may have cost you a small setback in training; a few extra hours of work. On the bright side, this mistake probably caused the raiser to train with a more acute sense of purpose and exposed a weakness in one’s training plan. That’s perfectly alright; it gives you an opportunity to break down the experience and address where things went wrong. I know a lot of raisers who don’t ‘get serious’ about raising a puppy until that puppy has made some mistake causing them a little embarrassment. If that’s what it takes to motivate that raiser and change things for them, fine. Raising a puppy is nothing if not humbling.

However, raising a puppy isn't about compounding bad decisions by not only choosing to set the dog up for a mistake but then believing that miracle training will somehow get the dog through the experience. I’m not saying miracles never happen. I've seen dogs that were ill-equipped for a situation and should have had a horrible experience miraculously come out unscathed. But, that’s the nature of miracles – they are bound to happen if you’re around long enough. They are rare, special, and unlikely to be repeated. But, raising a puppy isn't about the belief that a miracle COULD happen again if one just has enough faith.

The problem with miracle training is the emotional toll it takes on both the dog and handler. Being subjected to failure is never easy or pleasant for anyone. Prayer is great, and with some puppies you’ll take all the help you can get, but training is even better!

So, when a puppy raiser takes a puppy someplace and he behaves and completes a skill as desired, IT IS NOT A MIRACLE! It is a carefully planned and executed training exercise designed with the ultimate goal of producing an ideal guide dog; not an experiment to see how badly the dog will screw up. It is hard work and a lot of training. It is not a spontaneous act. Someday, these puppies with change someone’s life, but it will be a puppy raiser’s time, training and dedication, NOT A MIRACLE that got them there.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Conversations with a Puppy

PSSSST! I've got a secret...
For my first blog post, I thought I’d let all the readers in on a little secret. So here it is - the noteworthy, intellectual, and perhaps a little crazy conversations I have with my big brother Merit. Enjoy!

Triumph: The humans keep saying I have an “important” job to do. Merit, do you know what “important” means?
Merit: Yes, I do. What do you think it means?
Triumph: Um, I think it means when you have to get out of the house right away and go potty.
Merit: You’re right, that is an important job.

Triumph: Merit, you should come to school with me forever.
Merit: I can’t go to school with you, Triumph. I’m too big now. I have to go to work.
Triumph: Just don’t eat your dinner and then you will shrink and then you can go to school again.

Merit: Triumph, why is there a mouse in my dog dish?
Triumph: I don’t know, maybe he’s hungry.
Merit: Did you catch him and put him in my dish?
Triumph: Not sure…
Merit: What do you mean not sure?
Triumph: He doesn’t have a head. I only catch the ones with heads.
Merit: Are there any ones with heads in the house?
Triumph: Not recently… Although, I did see a head without a body in your crate…

Merit: What did you learn at training class tonight?
Triumph: The flowers are all gone, the animals have all disappeared and snow is falling; it’s now wintertime.
Merit: Wow, that has nothing to do with dog training.
Triumph: I don’t make the curriculum, Merit. I just listen and follow along.

Triumph: Some of my friends are yellow and some are black.
Merit: Yes, you’re right.
Triumph: And some are brown. The brown ones are the best! But I like the yellow ones too, even if they're a little red. I like everyone really.
Merit: ??
Triumph: I’m black, but I shouldn't feel bad about it, one day I’ll be brown, just like you.
Merit: ??
Triumph: But first I need to jump in the mud, and then find some rabbit poop to roll in…

Merit: What happened to all the toys I had?
Triumph: Which ones?
Merit: All of them. There’s only one left in the box.
Triumph: If there’s only one left then you’re not missing all of them.
Merit: Don’t be smart with me Try!
Triumph: OK I’ll be smart with myself then, but I think you could use my help. This is basic math.
Merit: You’re a real funny girl.
Triumph: I’m smart and funny? Wow, I must take after you.
Merit: How sweet. Now go find my toys.
Triumph: All of them???

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

'Birth Order'

We often compare how raising puppies is like raising your children. Just like birth order effected how you raised your children, experience also effects puppy raising. Think about that first puppy (or baby). Every day was a special celebration. You were excited about everything and left nothing to chance. That second puppy (or baby) was also a great joy, yet in many ways a very different experience. And then the third, fourth, fifth... puppy (or baby) and well…let’s just see if our experiences are anything like yours.
FYI: This is intended as a joke. We love all of our puppies and work our hardest to help each achieve their full potential.

Lukas - 15th Puppy
Effects on Set-Up:
1st Puppy: You had the crate, exercise pen and toy bin all set-up the moment you heard your puppy had been born.
2nd Puppy: You rushed home to set-up following puppy visitation day. T minus 7 days to arrival.
Nth Puppy: No need to set-up, you’re still working up the energy to take it down after the last puppy.

Stryker & Sully - 25th & 26th Puppy

Effects on Preparing for the First Night:
1st Puppy: You start sleep training weeks before the puppy arrives home. A little mind-over-matter and you’ll be an expert at waking up every 2 hours.
2nd Puppy: You don’t bother adjusting your sleep schedule. It didn't do squat last time anyway.
Nth Puppy: Piddle Pads and Sleeping Pills are now your best friend.

Brewer - 1st Puppy
Effects on Puppy Toys & Gear:
1st Puppy: You purchase every recommended toy in your puppy raiser manual and color coordinate all their collars, leashes and vest.
2nd Puppy: You check to make sure the toys aren't broken and the collars & leashes aren't snagged, then discard only those still hanging on by a thread.
Nth Puppy: Pink looks good on a boy – Right?
Quinn - 23rd Puppy

Effects on your Worries:
1st Puppy: At the first sign of distress – a whimper, whine or bark – you run to the puppy and soothe them.
2nd Puppy: You ask nicely for “Quiet” but when all else fails, “Shut-up” is right in your back pocket.
Nth Puppy: You train your older dog how to drape a blanket over the top of the crate.

Praxis - 22nd Puppy

Effect on Treat Giving:
1st Puppy: If a treat falls on the floor, you put it away in your pocket and toss it in the trash later.
2nd Puppy: 10 second rule sounds good.
Nth Puppy: Your puppy eats grass, bugs & wood chips anyway, so you’ll just consider it as frosting.
Barron - 11th Puppy

Effect on Housebreaking:
1st Puppy: You set an alarm and take the puppy out every half hour, whether he needs it or not.
2nd Puppy: You take the puppy out every 2-3 hours, IF needed.
Nth Puppy: Here’s the door, there’s the lawn…no further explanation required.

Maizy - 19th Puppy

Effect on Training:
1st Puppy: If there’s a training class offered within 90 miles, you’re there.
2nd Puppy: You've got the basics down, now it’s time for some competition training.
Nth Puppy: 5 minutes squeezed in while you wait for the water to boil in preparation for making dinner.

Scout - 12th Puppy
Effects on Vacations & Travel:
1st Puppy: The first time you leave your puppy with a sitter, you send the puppy with a 10 page instruction sheet, every item they own and then you call and email every 12 hours.
2nd Puppy: Just before you walk out the door, you remember to grab a bag of food, some toys and jot down your contact information.
3rd Puppy: Ring the doorbell, hand over the leash and inform sitter to only call if they see blood.

Gypsy - 3rd Puppy
Effect on Medical Emergencies:
1st Puppy: When the puppy swallows stuffing, squeaker, rock, stick, coin, etc., you rush the puppy to the vet and immediately demand an x-ray.
2nd Puppy: When the puppy swallows stuffing, squeaker, rock, stick, coin, etc., you carefully watch them for a few days waiting for it to pass.
Nth Puppy: You've seen so many things go in one end and out the other, nothing’s really a surprise at this point.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Food Bowl Myth

I've heard rumors of this mecca to which ordinary dogs travel. Most call it a Food Bowl, but to me it is pure myth.

The myth says that food gods descend three times a day and use their magical powers to grow kibble in a shiny silver bowl. If you drool, beg, stare and whine loud enough, the gods will hear you and you shall be fed. I have searched in vain to locate this magical place but it appears I landed in the only house on earth without one! I thought I had discovered it, however, the only thing growing in the shiny silver bowls I found, was water. What a jip!

After nearly a week of unsuccessful attempts to locate the Food Bowl, I consulted my wise mentor, Merit. He nearly fell off his Place laughing so hard - How Rude! When he regained his composure, he informed me that his magic bowl did not arrive until he was eight months old and that even when it did arrive, it only produced a small percentage of his daily rations and the price... even more torturous lessons involving #theskillthatshallnotbenamed {Impulse Control}. How will I ever survive in this crazy place?

You see, my human has this philosophy that if I have to earn my food, then I will work harder and extend more effort toward my training...
I must concede that she is right - Don't tell her I said so. It took me awhile to give into the idea that food isn't free around here, but now that I'm on board, I am learning quickly and picking up many new skills. At only 7 weeks old, I am already staying on my Place with distractions, targeting with my nose & paw, and doing Sits/Downs/Stands and finding Heel position all on a verbal only command - Yep, I rock! I must admit that training has become a lot of fun and I get more excited each day to use my brain to think harder and learn more. As long as I'm hungry, I will always have time for more training, and since I'm a lab I guess that means I get to have this much fun FOREVER!

I can't speak for other dogs and their Food Bowls, but this pup is happy to remain in a place where the Food Bowl is just a MYTH.

1 Days Food to Training Ratio - Merit (L), Trust (R)
*Trust earns hers one piece at a time. Merit works for small handfuls.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Mismark Misfits

Let the puppy proofing begin!

This week the Mismark Misfits (currently a group of one - me, Merit) is adding another member. My puppy raiser just can't seem to resist us 'dirty puppies' so when the opportunity arose to add another mismarked Labrador puppy to the OccuPaws' training program, she couldn't volunteer fast enough.

However, in order to ensure that each of her trainees get ample time and attention, there is only room for two full-time puppies. Unfortunately, this means Praxis will be moving onto another puppy raiser. Given that he is VERY dirty, we have decided to name him an honorary member of the Mismark Misfits. He is welcome back anytime and already has plans to visit when I am away for other training. On the bright side, his new puppy raisers will also be getting a baby puppy soon. This means Praxis will finally get his shot at being a big brother. It's the best job ever! I hope I prepared him well and was a good mentor along the way.

As for me, I wasn't real sure about getting a baby sister. "The Boys" have always ruled this house, making our environment a blur of noise and dirt. But, given my new baby sis is already dirtier than I am, I figure she's probably ok. She is a Black and Tan Labrador, whereas I am a Brindle Labrador. Where I have speckling of tan on my feet, chest, face and butt, she has solid tan markings.

Merit @ 8 wks
New puppy @ 6 wks
My puppy raiser has always claimed that my extra coloring is what made me extra smart and extra special.
BUT, my new sister has more color.
Does that mean she'll be more smart and more special??
I think I'm going to need to step up my game. Bring it on little sis!