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Early Puppy Skill Building

Here are some of my favorite skills and tricks to train with my puppy in their first couple of weeks at home.

Hand touches – Puppy touches an outstretched palm and then I throw at treat from the other hand on the ground in front of the puppy. By not feeding out of hand I am resetting the exercise so the puppy must figure out where to go and what to do to get the next treat.

Down – Using the treat as a lure I will help the puppy fold backward from a stand in an accordion-type manner into a down position. I help this along by starting with the treat low to the ground and between the pup’s front legs. As I move the treat backwards and the head follow then the pup folds into a down position. Once the pups starts getting this easily, perhaps after a few days or a week I’ll start naming it as “Down” and I will fade the lure.

Stand – Using the treat as a lure I will help the puppy “unfold” back up into a stand.

Sit – Normally I don’t work on this at first as I find it can interfere with shaping other behaviors. It’s a very easy position for my puppy to default to and then they are more likely to wait there to be rewarded rather than try something else.

Look – This is where I am asking for eye contact from my puppy. Usually this is easy to elicit by looking at the puppy yourself and not doing anything else to get their attention. Once they look I will throw the treat on the ground in front of them. Once the puppy is reliably looking at me I’ll add the word “Look” and make sure they are now giving eye contact on the verbal cue. This is also the exercise where I’ll start bringing in the clicker and pairing that with the treat. Once you have “Look” working this can be the beginning of heeling practice. You can see some of the challenges and successes of this exercise with 9-week-old Ned .

Front foot targeting – After I have successfully introduced the clicker I will then use a flat visible object, like the lid of a yoghurt container. I will shape the behavior of the dog touching the lid with their foot by waiting for them to move closer to the lid. Initially I will click and treat for any movement towards the lid. Then as the pup understands the lid is the desired object and become more stringent about my criteria for a reward until the dog is deliberately and reliably touching the lid with a front paw.

Here are some other videos of puppy training with Pumis that may give you more ideas:


Your Puppy – The First Couple of Weeks

From time to time I get the question of what new owners should be working on with their puppy in the first couple of weeks home. There’s an abundance of great training books and online material that if you put it altogether would probably result in an overwhelming list of behaviors your puppy should learn and experiences they should have. However, like us, dogs can be life long learners and we don’t really need to cram everything possible into the first couple of weeks. I like to simplify what we should be working on in the first couple of weeks into what I’m calling the 3 R’s for puppies – relationship, routine, and real world experiences.


I think this is by far the most important thing to work on with your puppy once you bring them home. Obviously you’ve gotten the puppy in the first place with the hopes of having a great relationship. This puppy will be a companion for many years, a team member in whatever activities you plan to do together, and maybe even a dog that helps you with your work or as a service animal. So of course you’ll want to start off right by cultivating a positive relationship.

Every puppy will be different and will adapt emotionally at a different rate to moving away from their first home. Some puppies will want to interact right away and perhaps cuddle with you. Some might really want to run around and play with toys. Others might need some alone time to process what’s going on with periodic check-ins to see if they are ready to interact. Most of all I think you should give puppies abundant opportunity to interact with you in the way that they are most comfortable, and where appropriate reward them for the interaction. Use the early days at home with you puppy to find out whether they really love to curl up close to you on the couch, whether they really come alive once you go outside to play with a toy, whether they really prefer soft toys or tennis balls, and whether they really prefer cheese sticks or crunchy treats. Most of all try to find out the things they feel most positive about and incorporate those into your interactions with them.

The initial adjustment period for some puppies can be a while – maybe a couple of weeks or more – and you will be able to observe the situations that they are ill at ease with. Hopefully you’ve observed your puppy early on either in person or video and have feedback on their typical behavior, so you’ll have some idea of what to expect once they are comfortable. Don’t expect your puppy to be firing on all cylinders in situations where they are ill-at-ease. Also don’t assume that because your puppy doesn’t do something in the first couple of weeks home with you that she will never want to do. For example if your puppy doesn’t feel comfortable getting onto a flat plank right away, don’t assume she’s going to have difficulty with an agility dog walk later on. In fact most initial skill building activities whether it’s for agility or obedience or other activities will not go as well as they should until the puppy is at ease with their environment. And you can’t make a pup love a wobble board through sheer repetition. Really the best thing you can do is just interact and play with your puppy to help them feel more comfortable. Trick training and skill building can always come later on. If feel you and your puppy are ready to move forward with some skills and tricks, see my blog post on Early Puppy Skill Building

Another thing that can crop up around the time you bring your puppy home is an initial fear period. Suddenly puppies seem skittish about noises and things in the environment they were previously comfortable with. Other people and dogs may now be scary and they may back off or run away. Also they start noticing all sorts of things in the environment that they took for granted before – for example, a car going down the street. Fear periods need to be handled with compassion and lots of rewards for ignoring the scary “things” but also being mindful not to help the puppy avoid everything they react to. Through careful observation you’ll be able to find the cross-over point between something that’s a bit challenging but can be worked through and situations that the pup finds too hard to cope with yet. Working through a fear period together will also strengthen that all important relationship and put you on that path to success together.


This is all about introducing your pup to the everyday routine of when she’ll be fed, when she goes out to potty, when she goes to sleep, and so on. It might also include regular times when you go out to play or spend time in a kennel when Mom is busy and so on.

First let’s deal with eating. Many pups may not be as hearty eaters for the first day or two at home. Some deal with it just fine and others take some extra time to adjust. At this stage puppy should be on 3 meals a day, if they are between 8 and 16 weeks, and you should be feeding the same kibble or other food that they had eaten since weaning. If possible food should be offered at roughly the same times each day. The first week at home is not the best time to start transitioning to a new food unless the puppy quickly devouring their food for several days in a row. If your puppy is fussy or not eating their full meal try to help them by making sure they are in an restricted area where they cannot wander off or find toys to play with.

Sometimes it helps the puppy to have you there in the area, but do not hand feed your puppy. Put the food out for 10 minutes and remove any food that is left after that. Present the same amount of food at the next mealtime. Healthy puppies will shortly regain their appetite and be eating a similar amount of food as they were in their first home. If pups are taking 5 days or more to return to normal eating habits you could try mixing in a high quality canned food. It’s also fine to introduce some high quality (protein and or high fat) foods for training treats.

For first time puppy owners potty training can cause the most anxiety. Really the key is giving your puppy ample opportunity to go to her designated spot and to make sure it’s a routine that happens first thing after specific activities – coming out of a crate, waking up from a sleep, after a meal, and after a play session. Accidents will happen but making a big deal about it will not help your puppy learn what they should do. Only consistent routines and consistent praise when they do the right thing will work.

Crate training in my opinion is one of those necessities that helps you deal with other things, such as potty training or keeping your dog safe in a vehicle. Sometimes your breeder may have started crate training where the puppy is used to sleeping in a kennel at night perhaps with a litter mate or two, or even on their own. Or maybe you’re starting from square one. In either case a new crate and a new environment will likely be strange and unsettling for your puppy. Do start getting them used to their new crate from day one. Feeding your puppy in their crate or giving them something safe to chew in the crate can be one way to help. Another way to help can be crating them in the same room as your other dogs if they are also crated.

I don’t recommend being too terribly hard core about making your puppy stay in the crate alone for extended periods for the first few nights if they are obviously distressed. Having the crate in your bedroom or sleeping on a couch and letting them know you are nearby can help. However, once puppy is feeling more at ease with her new home you can expect them to be in their crate and should probably anticipate a few nights of interrupted sleep aka break out the earplugs. Do expect things to be more difficult if your pup is the only dog in the house and she is crated away from everyone else. The same goes for keeping your puppy alone in an x-pen in a separate area during the day. As social animals pups will want to be part of a doggy or human pack and you may need to find extra incentives, like something safe and tasty to chew, for them to be happy in an isolated environment. I would also start with a short duration and work up to longer periods over time.

Real World Experiences

Our day to day lives involve a lot of things that pups can start getting used to right away, such as traveling in a car, going out to stores or coffee shops, or even being at a dog show. Often times your breeder will have transported your pup by car to vet appointment or social outings so they may be familiar with the sensation of traveling by road. You should have a secure and appropriate sized kennel for your puppy to travel in the car. Even if they have traveled in a car previously expect that they may be unsettled in a different car and crate. With patience your pup will get used to car travel over time. Note, it is particularly important not to leave small puppies unattended in cars in situations where the temperature can rapidly rise and they can get easily overheated.

One of the dilemmas of getting socialization before the pup’s full vaccination series is complete is finding appropriate places where pups are welcome but they are not necessarily in close contact with other dogs. Busy parks or dog parks should be avoided during this period not just because of the risk of encountering unvaccinated dogs, but also because of the potential social issues where large numbers of dogs may come together without a lot of supervision. Instead fairly controlled environments, such as pet stores, can be ideal. Your pup is likely to encounter store clerks who are absolutely infatuated with puppy cuteness and may offer treats as an enticement to interact. Hardware stores, depending on their dog policy, can also be a great place to visit with the wide aisles and lots of interesting noises. Coffee shops or other cafes with outdoor seating can also be appropriate place where you puppy can meet and greet friendly strangers and gets to observe traffic, people arriving and leaving, potentially strange sounds as the doors open and close etc.

The ideal scenario for experience outside your home is where there is a variety of stimuli but it is not too crowded. Puppy can remain on the fringes and in their comfort zone, interacting as they desire. I like to save other favorite but more crowded venues like public markets (in areas where pets are permitted) until after pups are fully vaccinated and have had a few weeks at home (somewhere around 14 weeks old). If you decided to bring your puppy to a dog show I suggest finding a neutral place for her to hang out with the rest of your pack that is a distance away from other dogs and the main action of the show. At this early stage encourage human interactions but remain quite selective about interactions with other dogs and pups. The last thing you want at this stage is a frightening encounter with a dog that isn’t puppy friendly.

You’ll notice that I haven’t included puppy classes on my list for the first couple of weeks home. Certainly there can be risks bringing pups together that are not fully immunized, but I think the biggest risk is in having unpleasant or frightening experiences with bigger, more dominant puppies. The “puppy” classes nearly always have a component of free play time, which I liken to giving a preschool class a box of legos and asking them play nicely while the teacher leaves the room. That’s not to say you should avoid all puppy interactions as your puppy gets older, but be selective making sure puppy playmates have appropriate manners and are of a similar size, where possible. (See my blog post on Young Dog Exercise Guidelines for more information on appropriate playing.)

If you do want to try and find puppy socialization opportunities after the first couple of weeks I recommend researching classes suitable for puppies in your area to find out if they separate younger and older or bigger and smaller pups and how they supervise activities. The other option is waiting to start classes until your puppy is a bit older – maybe 16 – 20 weeks – where they have learned some simple skills at home and are ready to tackle a beginners obedience and rally class. By then the focus should be working with you and not being distracted by the environment and other dogs. This option may be suitable if there are other dogs at home or other puppy play dates available to you.

Conditioning for Your Dog – How Not to Be a Weekend Warrior! – Part 1

In order to do strenuous activities with our dogs such as agility, flyball, lure coursing, dock diving, herding, or even being a running companion they need to be in good physical condition. Just like humans who participate in sports our dogs also need to be cross-trained and have a good level of general fitness to excel at their sports and minimize injuries. In this first article I’m going to concentrate on 3 simple and easy to accomplish activities that require no special equipment, just a little planning and time. This blog post applies to adult dogs. For puppies the amount and type of exercise needs to be reduced depending on age. See my previous blog post on Young Dog Exercise Guidelines for more information.

Walking and Hiking

If you do no other fitness activity with your dog this should be the one. Most of us do quite a bit of walking already but with a bit of attention to detail and mixing things up a little this can become a core part of your dog’s conditioning. Ideally the best conditions for walking your dog is a softer surface – think forest floor or perhaps beach, but almost certainly a surface with some variation to it. The surface could include slopes and small ditches and perhaps fallen logs or other debris. The variability of the surface is important for a few reasons. Walking on uneven surfaces help your dog develop the muscles that will stabilize and help protect vulnerable joints. Secondly it preserves and can help proprioception, which is the dog’s ability to sense where their limbs are and to move them appropriately in any type of environment. However, if your only nearby option is flat pavement this is still helpful, especially if it can be supplemented by trips to a park or beach.

It’s also ideal to let your dog vary their speed and use a full range of motion. Probably the best way to do this is finding a quiet and safe walking trail where your dog can be off leash for periods of time, particularly if they are prone to pulling or straining on leash. This can only be done if they have a reliable recall and remain under voice control. The benefits of off-leash need to be weighed against the risks of environmental hazards or encountering aggressive dogs or even other hikers who don’t want interactions with dogs. In a hiking situation where my dogs are off leash I let my dogs jog and move ahead as long as they remain under voice control. Once I hear signs of nearby hikers I will snap on the leash. For the most part during walks my dogs are on leash using a Y-shaped harness that promotes the best possible range of motion and keeps them secure. Also, although I allow my dog to move at a variable speed during the walk I do not promote them running ahead at top speed in an uncontrolled way such that they lose connection with me and are not as mindful of their environment as they should be.

The speed of your walk isn’t as important as walking regularly and with lots of variation in terrain and distance. Some days should be on flat trails and others on hills, making sure not to do multiple days of hill climbing in a row if possible. I would aim to walk my dogs on the days of the week they are not doing strenuous training sessions or doing other conditioning exercises. A typical routine might be 20 – 30 minute walk 3 – 4 times weekly and a 1.5 – 2 hour hike 1 – 2 times weekly.

Controlled Running on the Flat

I like to think of my dog running on the flat being equivalent to a human jogging around a track. I called it controlled running as it’s really a warm up or cool down exercise or a conditioning exercise with some duration where my dog is not running at top speed. For example, it should not be the Mach speed of a chasing game that your dogs may have in your back yard.

Ideally controlled running is done on a fairly flat surface with a long perimeter where you are promoting even extended striding. A school sports field or other large field is ideal, but a backyard or an exercise area at a show site can also be used. If it’s a warm up in an area that my dog are not as familiar with I will jog around the area and ask my dogs to keep pace with me for 5 minutes or so doing at least one change of direction. Often they will carry a ball or a toy as a reward for participating in the activity, but I do not use the toy to help bring up the dog’s arousal level in this activity. If controlled running is done as a cool down or purely conditioning activity I will extend the duration to 15 or even 20 minutes finding the largest possible area to work with. It is also possible to train your dogs to run around cones or posts set at progressively further distances apart so they are doing their controlled running independently.


Although not always possible year round in many parts of this country, swimming is an excellent cross-training activity to fit in whenever you can. In addition to the fact it is not weight-bearing so provides relief for joints, swimming can really help cardiovascular fitness. And once they learn many dogs love it.

Swimming pools can be great as they provide an environment that is generally hazard free and can be temperature controlled. Even if you don’t have your own pool, in many parts of the country there are dedicated swimming pools for dogs that are undergoing rehab or just doing swimming for fitness. Lakes or safe beaches without currents are also great during the warmer months and can be a great way to develop the enthusiasm for swimming. Dogs can start off retrieving in shallow water and get progressively deeper as they get accustomed to it.

Generally most of the swimming I do with my dogs involves swimming to and retrieval of a floating toy in a pool. As this is a fairly high intensity activity I provide a platform for them to rest on from time to time and I limit the sessions to about 15 minutes. In a beach or lake situation where the time between each retrieval is longer that sessions could also be slightly longer.

One of the dangers to watch for with swimming is excessive swallowing of water. Taking in some water while retrieving a toy is expected but some dogs may be overexcited and take in large volumes of water or even think the water itself is a toy, which can be dangerous. Also, even with hardy breeds a few minutes of sustained swimming in water that is too cold can be harmful. Most often your dog will let you know when conditions are not right for them but it’s always err on the safe side.

So as you can see conditioning doesn’t need to be a whole extra complicated set of exercises to add to your and your dog’s routine. If I need to choose between a conditioning activity, such as hiking, and training, such as an agility session, I’ll always choose conditioning. Probably my ratio of conditioning time to training and completion sessions runs around 6:1. A typical conditioning routine might be the following: a shorter walk 3 – 5 times weekly, longer hike 1 – 2 times weekly, controlled running on the flat 1- 2 times weekly. In the summer I will substitute swimming for shorter walks when possible.

Young Dog Exercise Guidelines

I often get questions about how much exercise puppies should do at various stages of development, and I thought I’d share with everyone since the answers aren’t always easy to find. I think it’s fine for pups to do the occasional longer walk on leash once they reach 4 or 5 months old, especially if it helps in socialization and it’s broken up by stops at a coffee shop or other frequent rest periods. Also, they don’t need to be limited much in puppy play and free exercise in the yard by themselves or with other pups of the same age as long as they can opt out when they seem tired (play with older dogs should be limited though). Directed play, like fetching a static ball should also be limited to very short intervals until older. In general here are the guidelines I’ve gleaned from research I’ve done over the years:


Skills, e.g., Jumping, Weaving, Contacts

Strength, e.g., Retrieving up hill, Core Muscle Exercises like”begging”

Body Awareness, e.g., Backing Up, Walking thru ladder, pivoting

Endurance, e.g., walking briskly/trotting 20 + minutes daily, jogging, etc.

Under 6 Months

None, I would avoid too much bending; wings, cones or speed bumps can be used instead of jumps

None, keep walking mostly on the flat

Keep the duration short and make it fun

Limit leash walking or directed hiking for pups under 6 months – a reasonable rule of thumb is 5 minutes per month of age daily

6 – 12 months

Contact training can begin; jumps can be increased gradually from wrist to elbow height; bend work can begin gradually at low heights

 Can gradually  start up to 3 x  weekly


More regular walking for longer periods is okay at this stage but no jogging

12 – 18 months

Weaves can be started around 12 months; full height jumping can begin once growth plates have closed (usually around 14 months)

 Can be increased to daily


After growth plates have closed around 14 months dogs can gradually work up to their adult endurance activity level; continuous swimming and water retrieve could be started now

Beyond 18 months

Can be daily with limited repetitions

 Can be daily


Limit intense endurance training, e.g., running several miles, to every other day.

B Litter Boys Days 5 & 6

As the boys grow stronger and more mobile it’s fun to compare the stats between them and the A litter. Mr Navy and Ned were born a little smaller and remain a little smaller than any of the puppies in A litter. Time will tell, but perhaps they’ll be close to the size of Uncle Beezum in MI. The biggest puppy took only 5 days to reach 1 pound vs. 6 days in the last litter, but overall the puppies are on a very similar track. Bella is also recovering well, dreaming of Frisbee, agility, and hiking again.