Socialization: quality, not quantity

There’s a theory that has taken the dog training world by storm over the last ten years or so, and it’s this:

The Theory: your dog should see 100 different people a month (or is it a week? I’ve blocked it from my memory) and some similar number of dogs from 8 weeks old (earlier if the breeder can manage it) to 5 months old. If you do not do this or if you skip a week, your dog will DIE. Or something like that.

First of all, as an introvert the very thought of that many people makes me feel faint. Excuse me, I need to go lie down.

Second off, if The Theory is true, it will show itself in the dogs who have or have not been socialized to that extent. SO! Let’s look at my personal examples.

Lily was a rescue several times over; while she had several families, I know for a fact (because I know those families) that while she saw a decent number of people — kids’ friends who came over to play, the people in puppy class — she definitely didn’t see even 5 new people a week after the first week or so.

Cash I had from puppyhood, so I know exactly who he saw. First, he was with the breeder until he was 14 weeks, so he saw her and her family. (Note he was already almost out of the ‘socialization window.’) Then he was with me. We saw my family, three regular horse training clients, annnnnd… no, I’m pretty sure that’s it. Probably a person or two on walks, if I didn’t do my introvert thing and hide when someone was coming.

Doc was found wandering (several times) in residential areas and picked up by animal control. Between whoever his family was, neighbors who found him wandering, the shelter, and his new families he probably saw the most people of all my dogs. It’s a lot of people. Maybe 100 a week, but that seems excessive.

According to The Theory, all my dogs (except maybe Doc) should be hot messes, and yet they all ADORE strangers, whether those strangers are dogs or people!

The last post I wrote talked about hereditary issues. That’s another factor about whether your dog is friendly or not. Were the parents super friendly? I recently went to someone’s house where they have two dogs, brothers, both of whom are hot messes in different ways. The dogs’ parents weren’t friendly. Neither were the grandparents. I’m going to take a leap and say that probably there’s a hereditary issue there.

Finally, there’s experience. This is what I want to talk about most of all. First, I’m going to posit my working theory. It’s more complex than The Theory, and not as easy to remember. Occam’s razor wouldn’t like it, but I think it’s more accurate.

My theory: genetics and experience combine and each dog must be treated differently. Some dogs will be helped by massive socialization. Others will not, either because it will backfire or because they’re friendly regardless. In any case (and this is the main point of my theory), quality matters over quantity.

Imagine for a moment I have a timid dog or puppy, and I’m out with them. Someone approaches cooing over how cute they are and, let’s face it, I don’t disagree. They’re the cutest. My timid gal drops her tail low and wags. She might approach carefully, or maybe even not approach at all. I encourage her to go forward, knowing she’ll enjoy the pets if she just tries it. She finally does, sniffing the stranger’s feet. The stranger pets her and rubs that special spot behind her ears. She rolls over and we all go, “Awww!” She gets her belly rubbed. When the stranger stops she jumps up, all wiggles, and crawls onto my lap. Yay! Great experience! Right?

Is it? Low tail means they’re nervous and don’t want to engage. A low wag means they have anxiety in this situation — it’s the dog saying, “I’m just a puppy, please don’t hurt me! See? I’m cute!” So my dog was saying they didn’t want to engage (be petted), and were worried, but I ignored it completely and encouraged them forward. Like any small child they don’t want to disappoint, so they got petted. They learned that I’m not listening and they have no choice in the matter. Then they ran back to me for reassurance. Was that really a great experience for my dog? Maybe it ended all right, but overall I don’t think happiness is what they’re going to take away from that experience. And yet, it’s exactly what we all do! I’ve even caught myself doing it, on both ends, and I know better!

Repeat this experience 100 times a month (or was it a week? I can’t remember, I fainted), and classical conditioning takes over. See person, get anxious. Even if it’s ending well, the dog is STILL learning that we aren’t listening and it starts out stressful.

For some dogs, this won’t matter. They’re so friendly and happy-go-lucky that they’re going to find friends everywhere regardless of the situation. (Those dogs are going to like everyone even if they NEVER meet anyone during the “socialization phase.”)

But what if I have a dog who is really excitable? He knows that when he goes out HE MEETS PEOPLE! He tries to jump on every person he meets (I don’t let him), and he’s SO EXCITED he does nothing but wiggle like crazy when he sees new friends! Maybe this will work out brilliantly. Or maybe I’m over stimulating an already excited dog. Now they walk out the door and the brain turns off — THEY’RE GOING TO SEE NEW FRIENDS OMG CAN’T THINK!!1!1!!

Maybe I have a super friendly dog, but in my efforts to meet 100 people day — hang on, I’m hyperventilating — I let him say hi to the elderly gent down the street. Turns out that guy was attacked by a chihuahua when he was a toddler, and when my dog approaches (because, as previously mentioned, my puppy is the cutest puppy ever) he starts screaming and flinching backward. Now my friendly puppy thinks some people might be unpredictable and frightening, and my would-have-been-friendly puppy has trauma. Meeting people just backfired.

But what about those 100 dogs I was supposed to meet every month? In the wild, a puppy would NEVER meet that many dogs. Possibly not even in his lifetime. But hey, we’re following The Theory (and we’re apparently not worried about disease), so we do it. Some of those dogs are over-friendly and try to play, bouncing on my puppy and scaring him on accident. Others don’t want to deal with a puppy and are stiff or even snap to make him back off. (“That’s okay,” the other owner says. “They’re just working it out!” Uh, I wouldn’t let a stranger yell at one of my step kids for mistaking social cues that are above their age level. Why is it okay when dogs do it?) BUT, not all dogs snap, and some puppies play nicely. Then there’s the leash aggressive dog we don’t even get near, who is essentially screaming threats at my puppy from across the street, which is rather frightening. What’s my puppy learning? Maybe that dogs are unpredictable, and even the friendly ones might be too rough.

I’ve over-stated my point, haven’t I? But now you get the picture.

None of my dogs saw tons of people or dogs. Lily and Doc both had issues when I got them; Lily barked fearfully at men, and Doc was leash aggressive toward dogs. Lily had had a pool guy come into the yard and frighten her; I have no idea what experiences Doc had. They both saw more dogs and people than Cash did.

Cash’s experiences with dogs and people were limited to those I knew well, and knew he’d have a good experience with.

I don’t have a big enough sample here to base real comparisons on, but I can tell you this: of all the dogs I’ve trained, whether they were friendly (to dogs or people) had no obvious correlation with how many people/dogs they’d seen as puppies. Whether or not they were unfriendly to people or dogs had a direct correlation to whether or not they’d had a frightening experience as puppies.

Quality over quantity: it doesn’t matter if they’ve seen 100 people or dogs, if some of those experiences were traumatic. If they only see a few people or dogs and the experiences are all great, that’s pretty confidence building!

So kick back. Invite some friends over. Take your puppy out occasionally. Think quality, so that they have a good confidence base to work from. If you want to meet 100 people a month because you have that many friends and you can know that the experiences will be good — and your puppy is down with that idea — go for it! But if you, like me, shudder at the very thought, don’t stress yourself out.

Now, excuse me. After thinking about so many people I need to go relax on my fainting couch.



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. 😉


Crate training – the basics

I’ve talked about crate training before, but I think it’s time to do it again, step-by-step. I’m gearing this toward puppies, but it applies to dogs. The only real differences are that dogs will either learn a lot faster, or they’ll have some previous crate trauma to get through and therefore move a lot slower. Whichever way it goes, just work at their schedule. (“Their schedule” = getting closer/farther into the crate as they become comfortable with where they are, or staying in the crate longer as they become comfortable being in there.)

When I start crate training, I don’t just shove a puppy or dog in a crate and walk away. We start carefully. I set the crate somewhere they can see it as they’re out and about. Then I toss treats toward the crate. If the pup is nervous about getting within five feet, then I toss the treat so it’s six feet away. When the pup is comfortable doing that, I toss treats five feet away. We gradually move closer.

Note that at this point, when I say “I toss treats,” I usually mean that I’m sitting on my couch, working on my computer, and every few minutes I toss a treat that way. This may last for HOURS. I might as well get comfortable.

Now, this alone will go a long way toward getting a dog used to a crate. As they start going in to get a treat, I add the words, “In your crate,” every time I toss a treat in there, regardless of whether or not my dog goes in. I also add dinner and breakfast to the mix. By the time we’re ready for a meal, the pup is probably willing to take a treat from just inside the crate. I set their food bowl just inside the crate (just outside the crate if they’re not comfortable enough yet to eat inside it), and let them at. I don’t expect them to go inside the crate to eat. Most likely, their bodies will stick out while their heads are in. That’s fine! I’m building up confidence and fearlessness.

As they become more comfortable, I’ll move the bowl farther into the crate. (I may do this all during one meal, by giving them only part of their meal at a time.) Once they’re willing to step inside the crate, I close the door while they eat, and open it as soon as they’re done.

Now, what’s happened so far is that they’ve made positive associations with their crate via treats and food. They’re comfortable around it. They know good things happen there. If they spook easily inside their crate, continue doing this until they aren’t spooky. This is the base from which we want to progress. With dogs who have no trauma and with puppies, this usually takes me 6-12 hours. I typically get a dog in the morning, and by that evening they’re sleeping in their crate.

But wait! There’s another step.

Now they’re going into their crate to get their treats and dinner, no problem. Many dogs will want you to step away from the crate before they go in: that’s fine. Now I close the door when they eat. No problem. Next I leave it closed for several minutes.

If my dog is quiet and calm, then after five to ten minutes I’ll open the door and let them out. Most likely, though, after just a few minutes they’ll whine or scratch. At this point, I tap the crate. If the dog doesn’t stop, I tap harder, creating a little earthquake. Because the dog knows the crate is safe, they relate this new thing to whining, instead of relating it to being in the crate. I might make my bad dog noise, but more likely I’m just going to be quiet. When the dog stays quiet for several seconds, I open the door, block them from coming out, give them a treat, and then let them out. Now they’ve learned that whining creates earthquakes, but being quiet gets them treats and lets them out. (I block the crate to give them their treat so they don’t feel they’re getting  a treat for ‘escaping’, but for hanging out in their crate.)

Step three! I’m going to add toys and good chew things (like kongs filled with peanut butter), and I’m going to keep on with the treats. Now when my dog goes in, I’m going to leave the crate closed for 20 minutes. Every time we start barking or whining, we get an earthquake OR I’ll use a squirt bottle. When they’ve been quiet for several seconds, we get another treat. Most dogs and puppies settle down within this first long session. They know the crate is a good place to be, and they’d rather not get squirted. I stay calm and quiet. When they’re quiet, they get treats. After 20 minutes, I open the crate, give them a treat, and let them out.

I will then immediately toss a treat back into the crate. If they run in to get it, I praise them and give them another one inside the crate. If they don’t, I just walk away. No big deal. What am I doing here? I’m teaching them that they won’t always get shut in, and that everything is fine.

I also take away any really fun chew thing (kong with peanut butter, bully sticks, the favorite toy). It is for crate-time ONLY. That way, if your dog really wants it, they’ll happily go in their crate so they can have it.

Using this method, dogs without trauma and puppies are fully crate trained typically within 12 to 24 hours. Puppies might have a lirtle bit of residual whining, but it’s VERY minimal. When I say “My dog is crate trained,” I mean, “they go in the crate willingly when I ask (even if I might need to straighten up and step away while they go in to get their treat), they stay quiet until I let them out, they aren’t panicky, stressed, or unhappy.”

It takes most people significantly longer to get their dogs crate trained. Most people aren’t professional dog trainers, so assume it’ll take you longer! But if it’s taking days, there’s probably something funny going on. (Most often, the dogs are perfectly comfortable at that stage, and the owners are lingering to make sure. If this is you, give your dog a little nudge along and see what happens!)


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?

tango 6.13.13 2

tango 6.13.13 9

<– 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.

tango 6.13.13 13

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.)

tango 6.13.13 10

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.

tango 6.13.13 4

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! 😀



**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!)


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!


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!



Life stages

For the first time in nearly a year, I missed a Friday. Can you forgive me? *grins*

Anyway, let’s talk about something ALL dog owners go through, often without realizing it: Life stages.

When I talk about “life stages,” I might be talking about one of two things. I use the term incorrectly about half the time: I should talk about “developmental stages” and “life stages.” Bad dog trainer! *grins*

This week, I’m going to discuss life stages (using the correct term!). Next week, we’ll tackle developmental stages!


I often hear people say, “I got a puppy because I read it would be good to help my older dog get younger, again.” This is sort of true. A dog under 6 will get younger again. They’re likely to have bouts of playing and enjoy (or tolerate) parenting a puppy. A dog over 6 will have to defend themselves from a puppy, with extremely occasional bouts of playing. It will force them to get up and deal with things, but not in a positive way. If your dog is over 6, be aware that you’re going to have to act as referee unless you get an older dog, one that is out of the puppy life stage.

In general, if you have a dog and you’re thinking of getting another one, look for a dog that’s only one life stage different from the dog you have now. They’ll get along much better, and make your life much easier! Keep in mind too the variation in stages. If you have a dog just leaving the parent stage, don’t get a dog just entering the babysitter stage: that’s more like two stages apart than one. Think about how you’d feel at the ages described below!

And speaking of the ages below, I’ve done my best to approximate what your dog is thinking and feeling with a similar human age. Ignore the idea that 1 human year = 7 dog years. It’s really quite inaccurate, except as a VERY rough guide to what physical issues your dog might be having.

The List of Life Stages:

  • Puppyhood & adolescence
  • Young adulthood (the babysitters!)
  • Parenthood
  • Grandparenthood

If you look at dogs, whether domestic or wild, you’ll see four main stages. These compare to human stages: childhood, teenage/young adult, parenthood, and grandparenthood or elder. You can think of them similarly!

Despite the fact that different breeds have different lifespans, they all hit the stages at roughly the same time (give or take a year). Something to keep in mind as you read is that a dog might be in the grandparent life stage, but still revert to puppyhood momentarily if they’re feeling frisky. This is the fun of having a dog! Even elderly dogs have the ability to revert for short periods of time, and make us laugh. So if you’re thinking, “But my dog isn’t always like that…” Well, no. I’m talking about how they behave most of the time in each stage.

On to the life stages!

1. Puppyhood & adolescence: Birth – 1 year (human equivalent: birth-18 years)

Welcome to the first year of your dog’s life! Lots of changes happen during this year (see next week’s developmental stages), but during it all, the fact is this: your dog couldn’t easily take care of themselves in the wild. When I say “couldn’t easily,” I mean “about as easily as a ten year old human.” Not easily, though it might be feasible in horrific circumstances, and wouldn’t likely result in an emotionally or mentally healthy adult.

We’re going to look at this age range in greater detail next week, but for now what you need to know is this: your dog’s brain isn’t fully developed. They’re dealing with limited mental capacities and hormonal influxes. Have patience! This is their childhood and teenage-hood. We don’t expect human children or teenagers to remember details, make good choices, learn rapidly, or understand what to do in every situation. Don’t expect that of your dog, either. During this stage, they’re appropriately focused on learning, having positive body language, and driving you crazy. Are they driving you too crazy? have patience, or talk to a dog trainer! (Email me and ask some questions if you need to. Advice is free.)

2. Young adulthood (the babysitters!) Year 1-2 (Human equivalent: 18-24 years.)

In a pack of dogs, your dog wouldn’t be going on hunts. It’s unlikely they’d be having puppies. They WOULD be staying home, taking care of the younger puppies while the adults were out hunting. They would be playing and getting into trouble, and going on the occasional short hunt. They would be the babysitters. Your dog is now the equivalent (depending on breed: smaller breeds age quicker) of 18-24 year old humans; legally adult, but not with much life experience. This is my favorite time of a dog’s life! They’re taking on some adult responsibilities, but they’re still young and malleable, and their brains are fully formed (if filled with hormones). They learn new things quickly, and because their role in the pack would be changing anyway, they take to new rules easily. I love this age!

In short, dogs under two years keep puppies occupied and play with them: they are babysitters. The babysitter isn’t invested in how well your children deal as adults. They only care about keeping your kids occupied for the night — but they’re excellent at that job!

3. Parenthood: 2-5 years (Human equivalent: 24-45 years)

By 2 years of age, your dog is old enough to be participating in hunts (ie, trustworthy according to other dogs, if he’d been raised in a pack), and old enough to breed. They’re also still young enough to keep up with puppies. The best “breeding years” are right now.

“Parenthood” continues until they’re around 5 years old. Until then they could breed if they wanted to, and they still act like parents. These dogs deal with puppies (under 1 year of age) very tolerantly, with great put-upon patience and occasional play. Their biggest job is to teach manners.  After 2 years of age, dogs start caring about things like manners and politeness: things the babysitter doesn’t care about! The older the dog, the more they care. Unlike the babysitters, they don’t have the stamina (or interest) to play with the puppies except occasionally. They teach manners and polite social interaction: that is their biggest job. (The younger the parent, the more play you’ll see.)

4. Grandparents: 6 and up (Human equivalent: 45 and up)

By the time your dog is 6 years old, they are a grandparent. “What?!” I hear you cry. “But my dog’s going to live to be 16!” Yes, but they wouldn’t in the wild. In the wild, your dog would be very lucky to have survived to 6. They’d be old, in wild dog standards.

In the wild, your dog would be past their prime, if only just. They are starting to deal with arthritis. Things will get worse as they get older. In the wild, they would now be a liability. If they weren’t killed, they’d likely be driven off. It’s horrible, but it’s true. Because of this, at this age your dog will start to get what I call “old dog syndrome.” It’s this: “I don’t want to play. I don’t want to be jumped on. I want to nap. GO AWAY, PUPPY. Do not even THINK about driving me off: I’m a force to be reckoned with!”

If your dog is 6 or over, they’re not likely interested in a new puppy. They’ve done that! They’re past that age! A 60-year-old human doesn’t typically want a baby: a 6-year-old dog doesn’t typically want a puppy. These are the dogs that need to be protected from the crazy younger dogs. Normally, a babysitter dog or a parent dog would do that. In their absence, that’s you.

Those are our life stages! If you have an older dog who enjoys going to the dog park, keep a wary eye out for younger dogs who might jump on them. Your job is to protect a grandparent stage dog!

If you have a younger dog who enjoys going to the dog park, steer them toward other younger dogs. They’ll play and have a fantastic time, and no one cares yet about manners!


Possibly-Tango is 7.5 weeks old now, and lookin’ cute! (This is the real bird, not just a random image I pulled. :D)

tango 3 edited at 7 weeks 5.25.13

Puppies and stairs

I saw this super cute video, and had a good laugh — especially since I’ve boarded quite a few puppies lately who are still struggling with stairs!

(I cannot seem to embed the video, but click here to see it!)

The girl filming, by the way, does a phenomenal job of encouragement and praise. Just FYI. 😉

Now, if you don’t have a dog to teach your puppy how to use the stairs, here’s one method:

1. Pick your puppy up and carry her down the stairs.

2. Set her on the very last step.

3. Praise and treat and cuddle and love when she hops off.

4. Repeat, this time starting two steps from the bottom.

When you’re at a point where your puppy is being cautious, stay at that level until they’re comfortable going down the steps. Then add another.

The steeper and more narrow your stairs, the longer it will take your puppy to learn. They’re growing so fast that they can barely remember where their feet are, much less navigate down a flight of stairs! Have patience, and enjoy the cuteness while it lasts. Soon enough they’ll be barreling up and down them at full speed!