Happy Holidays from Feathers and Fur!

2006

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Sam is 9 years old, Lily is just 2, and the birds — Bobby da bird and his sister, Kurt — are 4 years old and newly adopted.

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2007

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Cash: 4 months – Jenna: 26 years – Bobby (in the cage!): 5 years

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2008

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Lily is 4, Cash is 1!

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2009

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Stockings: less than a week old!
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2010

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Cash is 3, Lily is 6, Bobby is 8. (Lily is clearly being tortured!)

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2011

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 Lily: 7 Jenna, regardless of how she acts, is 30 years old.

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2012

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Lily is 8 and Cash is 5, and now old hands at these photos!

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And to continue the tradition this year…

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Lily is 9, Tango is 8 months, and Cash is 6. We’ve come full circle, with a new bird and a 9-year-old dog. As it was in the beginning!

May your dreams be sweet and the feet you cuddle with stink-free!

lily sleeping with us

– Jenna, Sam, Lily, Bobby, Cash, and Tango at Feathers and Fur

Dog Body Language: putting it all together

In the last weeks we’ve gone, in detail, over the major aspects of body language: tail, spine, and facial expression. Today we’re going to look at a few photos in detail and examine all three, putting them together to figure out what that dog is saying in detail.

Note that if you’re on the street and have to make a quick judgement, I look for the following:

1. Is the tail high and stiff? If so, that’s aggression and I need to act accordingly. If not, it doesn’t matter.

2. Is the dog hard staring? Nose down, ears forward, wrinkles in forehead, no panting. Dog looks “locked onto target.” If so, that’s aggression, and I need to act accordingly.

Anything else I can take my time and decide what the dog is doing, and whether or not I should approach.

Got it? Okay! Here are the photos. Make your own guesses, then hover over them to see what I said!

Tail: low. Dog does not want to engage. Spine: In this photo, it's hard to tell. But she's definitely not up and down bouncy (which would indicate play), and it looks like her tail is probably pinched against her butt at the base, which is definite tension and always indicates anxiety. Facial expression: whites of the eyes are visible, ears are pinched against head. This dog's tail indicates she doesn't want to engage, and both spine and facial expression indicate anxiety. Even though she doesn't have the final sign of anxiety -- back molars showing -- I would say she's very stressed, likely fearful of something going on, because there are so many hallmarks of anxiety throughout her body. I'd also say that with that many markers, the fact that she's not panting probably means she's ready to bite.

Like the last dog, this is a small, floppy eared dog on the move. But look at the difference in body language! Tail: High, ready to engage. Spine: I can't say it's relaxed, but there is up and down movement: his butt is slightly higher than his shoulders, even on the run. Up and down movement indicates playfulness. Facial expression: while his ears are back, like the other dog, they're back and relaxed, not pinched. No whites of the eyes showing. His mouth is open (maybe barking?) but no back molars are present. Overall? Tail indicates readiness to engage, spine indicates good emotional state, face is relaxed and happy. This dog is ready to play!

Husky: Tail up, ready to engage. Stance is also squared off, which tells me she's not retreating. Spine: There's no wiggle in that tail; I'd guess that spine is stiff (bad emotional state). She's certainly not in motion, bouncy or otherwise. Facial expression: ears pinched. I can't see her eyes from this angle. Mouth closed (either calm, or ready to snap), nose down (I don't want to be friends). Combine all three? Ready to act but in a bad mood. Ears are pinched and nose is down to say, "I'm nervous and I'm not friendly." This dog is stressed out, and she's ready to deal with her problems. Give this girl a wide berth. Dogs in this mood aren't likely to approach, but she's willing to stand her ground. The terrier: Tail high, so he's ready to enegage. His head is hiding most of his spine, but I can at least see that there isn't a nice C-curve, so at best he's only in an okay mood. Facial expression: ears pitched foward (focused on target, owner and other dogs tuned out), no signs of anxiety. Nose is low: not wanting to be friends. He's panting, so he's not about to bite (but that doesn't mean that'll be true in another second). One paw up: he's either in motion, or would like to be in motion. Combine them: not a great mood, ready to deal with it, ears up and nose down is aggressive "locked onto target" expression. He's not about to attack because he's panting... but I wouldn't trust him, either. These two dogs are in a stare down.

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Right about now you’re probably thinking, “Holy moly! This is subtle stuff!” Yup, and it’s only the tip of the iceberg of body language. Study the photos, study your own dogs, look at videos and see if you can spot it, check out the dogs in the dog park. We want to become experts at learning body language, so that you know what it is your dog is communicating!

This finishes up our series. I’ll keep posting dog body language things as I can (and have time; these are time intensive!), along with anything else I feel like posting! We’re back to our normal schedule next week!

Jenna

New Mommy Problems

On Wednesday, I went and picked up Tango! Over the last few days I’ve had hilarious “new mommy” problems, and I’ve resorted to my dog training to get through them. We might as well talk about them here!

New Mommy Problems (NMPs) occur whether your dog is a puppy or an adult. If you haven’t had a new dog in a while, you’ll probably have NMPs! I’m going to use my recent experiences with Tango, but the same applies to puppies and dogs:

When first bringing Tango home, I wanted to show him to EVERYONE. This isn’t the wisest course of action. I knew that, but I couldn’t quite resist. By that evening he was chewing on my fingers in great imitation of his T. Rex ancestors, and I thought, “Jeez, I’m a little worried about his beakiness…” I put him to bed, and you know what? The next morning the problem was gone! Thus warned, I’ve been much better about putting him down for a nap, whether or not he seems tired. Young animals especially don’t seem tired when they are: they seem nippy, cranky, barky, screamy, hyper, etc. Let your baby sleep.

The second problem came about the next day. He was nibbling on things, but not eating to any great extent. (Of course, he was also sleeping a great deal. Hard to sleep and eat at the same time.) All the bird literature says, “A newly weaned baby bird could relapse. Don’t let them starve! If you have to, hand feed them.” I even brought home hand feeding formula, just in case.

To hand feed or not to hand feed? That was the question! Rather than get anxious about him eating, I once more used my dog knowledge. When I board dogs, they often are off their food for the first day. There’s my dogs to visit and smells to check out and new toys to play with — who has time for food?! In addition, I realized I had a resource and didn’t have to guess: the breeder, who’s sent home many baby birds before, and gone through this many times. So before I got too upset that Tango wasn’t eating, I texted the breeder (Bird Heaven Aviaries in Fresno, CA, and I HIGHLY recommend them!) and asked what might be up. Sure enough, the breeder said to give him a day, and worry about it if it continued. By that night, Tango had snarfed almost his entire bowl of food.

Another problem I had was my own thought process, the same one I’ve seen in many clients. It goes like this:

I need to play with him and his toys, so he knows how to play with them and that he can entertain himself. I need to eat with him, so he knows that the things I’m giving him are food and not toys, and he should eat them. I need to get him to stop beaking. I need to start work on communication. I need work on toweling (where you teach the bird to be calmly wrapped in a towel for emergency and vet purposes), and getting him used to sleeping in a small dog crate. I need to get him socialized and start taking short trips with him. I need to keep him handle-able now that the breeder gave him such a good start, including beak, under the wings, and toes for toenail clippings. I need to get a harness and harness train him. I need to get him potty trained, and start recall. Most of this needs to be done ASAP.

Imagine your work day. Now imagine trying to add ALL this to it. It’s a little daunting, isn’t it? I had to stop myself and look at things a little more realistically.

1. I need to eat with him, so he knows that the things I’m giving him are food and not toys, and he should eat them. and:  I need to start work on communication.

Every morning, as I’m chopping his fruits and veggies, I label what we’re eating. “This is yam. Can you say yam? Would you like to try the yam?” Anything more complex than that can wait for a week, while he settles in. Greys learn language their entire lives. In the meantime, I’m doing minor communication training. At the same time I’m teaching him that this is food; I can take little nibbles of what I chop, and offer them to him, as well. That’s done.

2. I need to play with him and his toys, so he knows how to play with them and that he can entertain himself.

He already knows how to play with rawhide toys, his favorite. We’ve even played tug-of-war. I can start adding one toy for a few minutes in the evening, and very swiftly we’ll go through all the toys in his cage and he’ll know he can play with them. That isn’t a big deal. If I miss several nights, that’s okay.

3.  I need to get him to stop beaking. and  I need to keep him handle-able now that the breeder gave him such a good start, including beak, under the wings, and toes for toenail clippings.

Every time I pick him up — which is often — we work on beaking. It’s automatic because I don’t want him chomping down on me! He’s figuring it out quickly. As for keeping him handle-able, I like petting him. I play with his toes and tell him how adorable he is, and run my fingers under his wings. It does take me a quick thought: I should play with his toes and run my fingers under his wings. But then I do it once, and that’s all I need. I don’t want to drive him crazy with it, and it’s kinda fun. That’s being done as I hold and cuddle him: no problem!

4. I need to get him socialized and start taking short trips with him.

Like this is a hardship! Yesterday we visited with my mom and sister and Quin — that’s a lot of socializing! Today we had a vet trip and then went to the pet store where he got fawned over. It’s FUN to take a new animal places. I’ll have to keep it up as I go forward, but once a week is plenty, and it’s easy enough to invite over a neighbor for a few minutes, or go knock on a neighbor’s door. But a few minutes a couple times a week is PLENTY. I don’t need to kill myself doing this.

5. I need to get a harness and harness train him.

This is one of the few things I’ll need to set aside time for, rather than doing it as I can. I don’t have a harness yet, but I can wait a few days. Waiting a week isn’t going to set me way back. It’ll give him time to settle in, even. I don’t need to stress about this.

6. I need to get him potty trained,

Just like with puppies, this is going to happen in every day life. I don’t need to set aside time. This will happen as it happens, and I don’t have to think of this as something on my “to-do” list.

7. and start recall.

This I need to make a little time for, but not lots of time. When I notice him coming to me, I say, “Come, Tango!” Right now that’s all he needs, is to start grasping the idea. He’s having to learn so much that adding this other thing is kind of silly. We can even wait a few weeks, and by then he’ll know what his toys are and whatnot, so I can replace “play with toys” with “occasionally call him and lure him over.” Easy peasy!

8. I need work on toweling
I do need to set aside some time to do this, and it should be soon, but I can give him a few days to settle in and myself to get used to the schedule. It doesn’t have to be twenty minutes a night; it can be thirty seconds while we’re snuggling. To make it easier on myself, I’ll probably place a towel on the arm of the couch, so I can grab it easily when we’re there.
9. and getting him used to sleeping in a small dog crate.
This will require first putting the crate out where he can explore it, which I can do in the morning while we eat breakfast. It doesn’t have to be done right away or perfectly. It won’t take him long, either; he’s already been in it once, at the pet store, when I measured him. My sense of urgency is out of place, here.

NMPs further solved!

One of the big things I have to remember is to take things a day at a time, not to overwhelm myself, that I have help and more knowledge if I ask (in the form of the breeder), and that if I screw something up — I can always turn it around. This is a big, big things to remember. People who don’t get their puppies socialized during the crucial socializing months might have a little more work doing it when their dogs are older, but it isn’t the end of the world. It’s just a little extra time and patience. If I don’t have time for EVERYTHING now, then I’ll just know that I’ll do it later. If I mess something up now, then I know that I can undo it later. Deep breath! Being a New Mommy can be hard, but we can make it easier with a deep breath and the knowledge that everything can be fixed!

And by the way, here’s Tango. 😉

Jenna

Barking: when it’s a problem

Barking has been cropping up recently, so I thought I’d give it a go here.

There are three general types of barking: alarm barking, annoyance or nuisance barking, and play barking.

Alarm barking is what your dog does to let you know something’s wrong. Ideally, this is the type of barking we want. When someone comes to my door, Cash gives out several big, booming barks. He does this until I tell him I’ve heard him and I’ll take care of it. (I might say, “Enough,” or “it’s fine,” or “I got it,” or “Cash, knock it off,” depending on my mood. In every case, that’s his cue that I heard him and he can stop.) Note that he stops. That’s the big clue that your dog is alarm barking.

Alarm barking is really handy. It lets you know when someone’s at the door. It lets you know when a burglar is getting in. It lets you know when something unusual is happening — like a deer in the yard or a stray wandering about. It’s almost impossible to train a dog not to alarm bark, but you can train them that they shouldn’t be alarmed by things like squirrels,  joggers, cars, etc, which they probably see all the time.

The more common type of barking is annoyance or nuisance barking. This is the barking that happens when someone’s at the door, and the dog won’t stop. It also happens for things they shouldn’t be alarmed about: squirrels, cars, joggers, etc. This can be annoying for family, friends, and neighbors, and it stops you from knowing when there is a problem. Remember the boy who cried wolf? Exactly.

Nuisance barking starts typically when a dog is just growing up. Around 8 months to a year of age, dogs would start exploring outside their little living area. They would see something new — “Oh my gosh! Those leaves are blowing!” — and bark to let the other dogs know. The other dogs would look at the leaves, look at the barking pup, and say, “You fool. Those are leaves. Knock it off.” In this way, the pup learns what actually is a problem, and what isn’t a problem.

We can do the same thing. When your dog enters his or her barking phase, there are various things you can do about it.  In no particular order, you can:

  • Let them drag a leash around, and tug on it when they start barking.
  • Call them over and offer them a treat for coming, instead of reprimanding them for barking. (I find this has only limited usefulness.)
  • Put pennies or rocks in a can or bottle (or a chain in a pillowcase) and make a loud noise when they bark, escalating to throwing the bag/bottle/can against the wall near your dog if you need to. (Don’t do this with highly anxious dogs.) (Just because your dog barks doesn’t mean they’re anxious. Most of the time, they aren’t.)
  • Give them a quick poke after you’ve checked out the window.
  • Go to where they are, make sure it’s nothing, then ask them to sit. Give them a treat for sitting. (I find this works much better than calling them, especially for answering the door.)
  • Use a squirt bottle to squirt them when they bark.

Note that in each of these cases, you should see why your dog is barking, then tell them to stop, THEN act out the consequence/distraction.

This will teach them that they should bark at unusual things, but stop when you ask them to. If your dog persists at barking at normal things, then cut out the bit where you look at what they’re barking at, and just start fixing it as soon as they start barking. Interestingly, this makes for calmer dogs: even though they may get in trouble for barking, now they know that all those things in the world are no big deal, and they don’t need to grow into anxiety.

Finally, we have play barking. Play barking is what (mostly young and herding) dogs do when they want to play or want you to engage with them. Some of this is natural; if you’re playing with your dog and they’re barking, try not to worry about it. (If you HAVE to stop it because you live in a condo or something, then stop playing, wait for your dog to settle down, and start again.)

If, however, your dog is barking to get you to play and you can’t, then it’s time to break out the squirt bottle. Very seriously, tell them, “No,” or, “Not right now,” or, “I’m busy,” or, “Get a toy,” or anything you’d like to tell them. When they start barking again, do any of the following:

  • Squirt them with a squirt bottle.
  • Put them in time-out until they calm down in their crate or another room.
  • Ask them to lay down and stay.

In each case, provide a more appropriate toy that they can entertain themselves with. Young dogs especially have to learn how to entertain themselves, and the way they do that is by you re-directing their energy to an appropriate thing.

In all barking situations, make sure you don’t get frustrated or raise your voice: if you do, your dog will think you’re barking back!

Now go, enjoy, and have a quiet household!

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Tango is now 13.5 weeks old, and taking his/her time weaning. That’s fine: it means s/he’ll be calm and confident when I do get him/her! These pictures are from last Friday. Tango and Quin, and Tango with his/her sibling!

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Jenna

Tango video

Things have been a wee bit crazy here at Feathers and Fur, with boarding and visiting Tango and weddings and deadlines and the general run of life, when life decides to run you around.

The last post up was a personality assessment of Tango and T’s sibling from two weeks ago. I went to see them again yesterday, and many of the same traits held true! Tango’s sib is still beaking hard, Tango still likes his/her neck scratched and is still wary of new things, but the good work of their breeder is also shining through: Tango’s sib isn’t beaking AS hard, and once out of his/her cage, Tango becomes a happy little explorer, thrilled to be petted and cuddled and find new things.

All that said, here! A video, just for you.

I’ll try and get more dog content up here next week. By then, some of my craziness should be over!

Jenna

**Edit: Note that in the end, the bird referred to here as “Tango’s sib” actually ended up being Tango. Going back through these posts, I chuckle that I didn’t realize it early; Tango was constantly climbing on me and demanding attention!

Tango! Assessing personality in young animals

I was going to have an actual dog post today… but then I went and saw Tango for the first time yesterday! So this is dog-and-bird post instead. Or maybe I should say, “Personality assessment” post.

No creature is the perfect creature; they all have quirks and oddities. The real trick is figuring out which quirks and oddities you can live with! It helps, of course, if you know something about the body language or behavior of the animal, but even if you don’t you can extrapolate.

Now, while extrapolating, you need to be aware the animal may be having an “off” day, or going through a stage. Listen to the breeder. The breeder is the one around them all the time. If you describe your personality and household, and the breeder suggests a baby, give that a lot of weight. That said…

The baby greys were both timid of me when I first got there, but that’s to be expected. Birds aren’t puppies, and they aren’t automatically friendly! There were two of them, a few days apart in age and most easily identifiable by the lack of feathers on the back of the younger one’s neck. See?

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<– Lack of feathers

Feathers –>

The older bird was more wary of me, settling back into a corner and growling. I ignored it to give him/her a chance to see I wouldn’t hurt them. The younger bird after just a second’s hesitation started exploring. S/he came running over to beak my fingers (relatively hard; I quickly got a little piece of cardboard to substitute for my flesh!), and the older bird finally calmed and snuggled against my arm, watching the world.

Eventually, the older bird napped. The younger bird continued to run around, beaking periodically. This doesn’t concern me: beaking is like teething. They don’t know that we don’t have plush, downy feathers to protect us from their beaks, and learning to be careful is just part of birds growing up. (In fact, this is where a lot of people go wrong: they panic because the beaking can hurt during this learning period, and instead of just fixing it — like substituting better toys and keeping their fingers away from the bird’s beak — they react poorly, accidentally encouraging it, or give up entirely. Puppies have to learn the same thing, and people do the same unhelpful behaviors with them, too!)

Over the course of about thirty minutes the younger bird figured out that I didn’t want to be beaked hard, and started softening up. A very good sign; this is quick learning! S/he, hilariously, did his/her best to climb my arm as well. One foot on my arm, one on the towel, and looking perplexed about what to do next. S/he tried to grab the towel on the other side but couldn’t reach, and tried to stretch her/his wings and get up that way. None of it worked, but it was funny watching him/her try! This little bird was very active and unafraid of almost anything: only a few times did s/he growl (greys growl when they’re worried/angry). Eventually, s/he wore him/herself out and — much like a puppy — collapsed in boneless sleep.

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About that time, the older bird woke up. S/he started out preening the freckles on my arm very gently, and then beaking my fingers. S/he was very, very gentle about it. I did take my hand away after a little while just for training sake, in case s/he goes through a harder beaking phase. But because s/he was gentle and not quite so assertive in his/her mannerisms, I gave her/him a longer chance to taste and check things out. (This isn’t needed in puppies, but birds use their beaks and tongues like another hand; exploring, checking texture and firmness, etc.)

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The older bird didn’t move as quickly, taking her/his time in looking around. S/he became more alarmed when we moved things around, growling frequently and sometimes even charging, beak open. Once s/he charged me, forgetting s/he’d been snuggled up for the last forty minutes, and when s/he got to me s/he grabbed my finger — gently — and held on. I had a good chuckle. S/he seemed confused as to why her/his tactic didn’t work. S/he also charged Justin, the breeder, once. Justin leaned down and said, “Oh, no, don’t bite the hand that feeds you!” S/he didn’t actually grab or beak that time, just paused and looked at Justin, then calmed down and made cute noises and did some exploring.

With each new change s/he became slightly alarmed and then settled down again. S/he was alarmed at being petted, but calmed down and let me scratch her/his head and under her/his wings after a few minutes of practice.

Shortly thereafter, the younger bird woke again, and the two of them wandered around, picking up shavings here and there, practicing flapping (the younger bird more than the older bird), preening each other (the older bird more than the younger bird) and checking stuff out. Once more, the younger bird would check things out while the older bird would growl first, and be brave after a moment.

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So, if I take all this information, what do I get assessment-wise?

Older bird: At least when new people are around, s/he is a little more cautious and wary. If s/he has problems, they will likely be of the fear-aggression/fearful variety. Anyone who takes him/her home will have to work on acceptance of new things and learning that aggression isn’t going to work. S/he’ll need a little extra encouragement and TLC. S/he is more cuddly and likely to preen, both very lovey behaviors. S/he likes to threaten, and if it works could become a problem. But s/he is also very gentle, and there’s no reason threatening should work.

Younger bird: At least when new people are around, s/he’s far more active. This is the clown, and the more assertive bird. S/he’ll need boundaries, but will probably take new adventures in stride: no big deal. S/he’ll definitely need more work understanding rules and beaking behaviors, and be more likely to get into things. Because s/he’s more confident with new people around, s/he’ll probably want to be the life of the party — a definite plus.

What the breeder said: The older bird is outgoing and typically the one more likely to interact. What this tells me is that we have one set of behaviors with new stuff, and one set with old stuff (or s/he was having an off day!). Confidence is probably key: when s/he feels confident, s/he’s outgoing. This means that work will need to be done with her/him to make sure we build that confidence in all areas.

What I want: I want a bird I can travel with. I want a non-screamer. I want a bird I can hang out with, cuddle with (not natural for greys), snuggle with (not natural), who will be able to be independent when I need to work, who can get along with lots of people. I want a bird who will hang out with me and my friends, no big deal.

Matching: Either of the above birds would work.

The pros on the older bird are that s/he’s very gentle, the breeder says outgoing, far more of a snuggler, interested in preening and other lovey behaviors, was calm enough to let me scratch under the wings. S/he also got very interested and listened very closely when the breeder spoke to her/him, which shows an interest in people/words rather than the spaces around her/him. The cons are that s/he’ll need some work learning to accept things, and might need more adjustment time if we travel. S/he’ll probably need more socializing work, too, to associate new people with good things. S/he may not be much of a talker around strangers, which makes it harder for vain-me to show off my awesome bird. (Let me be clear: this is a bad reason to have a bird. But I’m aware of my faults, and I might as well be aware of this possibility, since it will affect my emotions!)

The pros on the younger bird: s/he’s very outgoing and will likely take travel, people, etc in stride. Most likely this bird will happily talk with a bunch of strangers around. S/he was also hilarious to watch and play with, a general clown. S/he was definitely able to entertain him/herself. When I was persistent, s/he began to learn gentle beaking. The cons are that s/he was always on the move: no snuggling until s/he konked out, and as soon as s/he woke up s/he was active again. S/he is likely to get into more things, given how much s/he was already climbing on my arm and whatnot. Boundaries will need to be set, and we’d have to continue work on gentle beaking and, until s/he’s out of this phase, be careful with strangers.

Since I can train bravery and socialize easier than I can train calmness and snuggling, I decided the older bird is the one I’d like. That said — I’ve met Tango!

I’ve spent the last twenty-four hours reviewing things from yesterday and looking over pictures and videos. Tango is about 9 weeks old (8.5, the breeder said, but I count 9.5, so only time will tell!), and adorable. The younger bird was starting to try and climb my arm (perch), but Tango didn’t. As noted, s/he wasn’t as active in general, at least yesterday while I was there. Weaning means eating on their own, perching on their own, and able to fly. The breeder said he’ll start giving them weaning food in the next few days, so they’re on their way! Hopefully Tango will be coming home some time in the next 3-5 weeks. Hopefully I’ll have time to go visit before then!

Here are adorable videos. Tango is the bird preening, while T’s sibling is flapping like crazy:

Tango is the one in the back, and if you listen closely you’ll hear adorable bird noises:

Yay! I have an adorable baby bird! 😀

Jenna

 

**Edit: I was able to take both Quin and my Mom to visit Tango and sib in the following weeks, and discovered that the older bird — the one I’d decided was Tango — was consistently fearful. Given the number of people and dogs I have in here, and the amount of traveling I do, I decided the younger bird was probably better, and that is the Tango you hear about now!

Developmental stages

Last week I talked about life stages and what to expect (and how to pair dog ages, if you’re getting another dog). This week I’m going to talk about developmental stages — the first few years of your dog’s life. (Note: once your dog is out of the developmental stages it doesn’t mean they’ll stop changing or testing. Most dogs shift a little bit every 6-8 months, just to see if the rules have changed. Don’t be surprised when this happens!)

General 

First off, discard all that nonsense you hear about 1 human year equaling 7 dog years. I was thinking at one point that it might, eventually, average out… but I know lots of 13 year old dogs, and none of them act like a 91 year old human. It’s just silly. Second, know that your dog is a young’un until they’re 2 years of age. Before that, they’re making stupid life choices. This is okay! They’re growing and developing! Don’t worry about it. It’ll all shake out, as long as you’re firm, consistent, and loving. Also, keep in mind that these are general rules for most dogs. Your dog will probably break a few of these rules as it grows. That’s normal, too! Finally, this isn’t a “what to train your dog at this age.” This is more of a, “This is what your dog is going through/capable of.” Ready? Okay!

Developmental milestones:

  • Birth – 8 weeks
  • 8 -12 weeks
  • 12 weeks (3 months) – 6 months
  • 6 months – 8 months
  • 8 months – 1 year
  • 1 year – 1.5 years
  • 1.5 years – 2 years

Birth – 8 weeks (Human equivalent: birth – 2 years.)

At 8 weeks, most people bring their puppies home. Now, puppies only open their eyes and become mobile at 6 weeks, so they’ve only had 2 weeks of some socialization with other puppies and their parents. They are juuuuuust starting to explore the world. Before 8 weeks, they should be with mom. Their brains are not even remotely fully formed, and the skull still has a soft spot. They are nursing, sleeping, and pooping, and this is the way it should be.

8 – 12 weeks (Human equivalent: 2 years – 4 years)

You’ve probably brought your puppy home at 8 weeks. If you haven’t and the breeder is okay with it, leave them with mom and dad for a few more weeks. (Up to 16, as far as I’m concerned! But 12 would be awesome.) Between 8 and 12 weeks they start to get mobile and independent enough to play with the other puppies. The other puppies (and mom and dad) would spend this time letting them know when they’re biting too hard or playing too rough, and that they shouldn’t be too annoying. (If you brought them home, YOU have to do it — and we don’t communicate well with puppies, who haven’t learned to read human body language yet.) They’re also sleeping about 20 hours a day. They’re mostly denned, cuddled up with their siblings, and sleeping. (This is where crate training comes in.) Sleeping gives their brains time to build more brain cells so that when they are awake, they learn more easily. Speaking of brains, don’t think your puppy has one. Oh no! They have a quarter of the brain power they’ll have some day. No, wait, not nearly that much. Know that you may or may not be successful in teaching them to do something: really, you’re just keeping them from developing bad habits. If you tell your puppy consistently not to chew on the baseboards, you’ll have to keep telling him until he’s 8 months old. Then one day the switch in his brain will flip up, he’ll stop teething, and he’ll say, “Baseboards? Why would I?” If you don’t tell him to stop chewing on the baseboards, though, then it will become a habit. He’ll hit 8 months, stop teething… and keep chewing on the baseboards.

At this age, don’t expect much of your puppy. They’re a bundle of fur and cuteness, and enjoy that while it lasts! They’ll mostly stick close to you, and enjoy that while it lasts, too!

12 weeks (3 months) – 6 months (Human equivalent: 4 years – 8 years)

There’s a lot going on here, but the way you deal with your puppy pretty much stays the same. They’ll hit some fear stage within here: don’t worry. Just protect and encourage your pup and they’ll work through it. They’ll also become independent enough to start wandering off on their own, so curtail outside-without-a-leash habits if you’ve fallen into them! I prefer waiting until now to start trying to teach them much, and when you do teach them it needs to be almost solely with positive reinforcement. Dogs would be extremely tolerant with puppies at this age, doing little more than occasionally putting them in puppy time-out (holding them down until they calm down) or yelping/grumbling/walking away when the puppies are too rough. There’s lots of face licking and love behavior that goes on from parent to puppy, so we should be following dog parents’ guidelines and do the same — with treats, praise, and pets instead of face licking! The more your puppy thinks the world is pretty great, the more confident they’ll be as adults.

They’ll also be able to start learning some basic social skills as they near the 6 month mark. “No jumping,” “be even more gentle,” “no barking” are all things that will become problems and your puppy will have the capacity to understand not to do as they get older. Hooray! Your puppy’s brain is also far enough along to start learning some basic commands reasonably easily, like “walk beside me,” “sit,” “stay,” etc. These need to be taught with positive reinforcement. Finally, your dog will become potty trained within here! They are teething, though, so keep crating them when you aren’t around so that chewing things doesn’t become a habit.

6 – 8 months (Human equivalent: 8-12 years)

The brains are getting there! But hormones are about to kick in. These are the golden months, when you puppy is starting to “get it,” training is coming along more easily, and they are still being adorable, sometimes idiot, puppies. Your puppy’s brain is also far enough along to start learning some basic commands reasonably easily, like “walk beside me,” “sit,” “stay,” etc. These still need to be taught with positive reinforcement. Your puppy will continue to slide in and out of fear stages, barking stages, and other things. Take them in stride and try not to make a big deal out of it. Deal with each as it happens, and know that unless it’s severe, it’s a phase.

8 months – 1 year (Human equivalent: 13-17 years)

The brain is pretty much formed, and the hormones are kicking in! In dogs, these hormones aren’t as bad as in humans. (That comes a little later.) This is my favorite age: they learn quickly, and in a pack of dogs they’d be starting to take their place with the grown ups, which means their role is changing. If you’ve had problems before now, this is the time to push for change: your pup is hardwired to accept it! This is also when you can start with reprimands: ie, a tug on the leash when they walk too far ahead, and that sort of thing. If you’re using it in conjunction with praise (and you’re not being abusive about it!), it won’t harm your puppy’s developing psyche. Other dogs would start giving a young pup at this age a little nip, and stop being so tolerant of errant behavior. We can do the same! Your puppy will stop teething somewhere in here, but chewing still burns off a lot of energy. They won’t stop needing chew toys for months (or years), but they will begin to leave off your furniture, if you’ve been persistent! If you are going to have your dog spayed or neutered, you want to wait until a year of age. This is so the testosterone will tell their bodies to stop growing, and the hormones will do what they need to do. Some people even wait closer to 18 months. As far as I’m concerned, waiting longer is always better.

1 year – 1.5 years and/or 1.5 years – 2 years (Human equivalent: 18 – 24 years)

At this point, the size of the dog seems to matter. Small dogs age faster, whereas big dogs may take longer to mature. But sometime between one and two years, your puppy will grow up. If you’re going to have problems, this is likely where it will crop up, and if you work to nip them in the bud, you’ll see them appear and ease off over and over in different variations for about 6 months.

Do you remember being 18, on your own for the first time, legal, and able to make your own decisions? I bet not all of those decisions were the greatest, right? Your dog is the same way: technically an adult, feels like an adult, ready to stretch their boundaries and muscles, noooooo life experience to draw from. If you start seeing aggression, anxiety, or anything else like that, read some books or call a professional. These are slightly more difficult stages to handle, and can go wrong. On the other hand, if you see the first tiny inklings of something and stop it then, it can be easily solved.

Note: it’s really hard to see that your baby isn’t perfect. When Cash was 2.5, he finally went through the ‘adult’ phase. (He blossomed later than usual!) We would go to the dog park and I would see his tail come up and spine stiffen as he approached another dog. I kept thinking, “I know that’s aggressive posturing, but… I also know Cash is a wuss! He can’t be aggressive!” I kept thinking this until about four dogs told him off, and I realized I was making an awful mistake: trying to convince myself I wasn’t seeing what I was seeing, because “I knew my dog was a wuss.” Once I realized that Cash was still my wonderful, wussy, adorable dog, and he just had an attitude problem, I started correcting his aggressive posturing, and it went away. If I hadn’t been able to admit that there was a problem, though, it would have become a BIG problem. Acknowledge what you see, and act on it. It doesn’t make your dog bad: it only means your dog is growing up and testing things out. It’s our job to stick with them and teach them which things are appropriate!

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Possibly-Tango is 8.5 weeks old now, and looks something like this! (Note: this is not actually Possibly-Tango)

Photos by Papooga

 

 

At this age, Possibly-Tango is starting to explore, play, and check out the world! Likely within the next week s/he’ll learn to perch. Woo hoo!

 

Jenna