Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Metaphors Are Meta-Phantastic!

I've noticed that I'm a big fan of metaphors when I'm talking to my clients.  I really believe that almost everything our dogs do, or the ways we can deal with our dogs, has some real equivalent in the human world.

The best way to lock in our dogs' behaviors is to put them on a "variable reinforcement schedule" (or vR+ in science lingo) - make our rewards for their behavior come at random times and in random amounts.   
Metaphor: Vegas, baby!  Gambling is fun (and oftentimes even addictive) precisely because you might win at any time, and the amounts can be different each time.  And when you think about the behavior that is being locked in - "give us your money" - you can see just how powerfully vR+ works on us.  Getting your dog to Sit on command should be a cinch, comparatively.

Often, a good indicator if you're pushing your dog too hard, or if they're feeling stressed by a situation, is if they start nipping your fingers hard when they take food from you.

Metaphor: Horror movies.  Ever notice that when the protagonist is being chased by the killer and they're trying to get into their car or home, they always have trouble getting that key into the slot because their hands are shaking too much?  When we're stressed, we lose control over our fine motor functions. Dogs are the same way.  Normally, a dog has probably more control over its mouth and teeth than we have over our fingers, so if they're losing their normally gentle touch, they could probably use a break for a while.

It's a common issue for people who've recently rescued a new dog.  For the first few weeks, the dog is perfect - quiet, respectful, well behaved.  And then, after 2-4 weeks, it starts growling or nipping at people if they come near its toys, or it starts lunging at other dogs on walks, or starts chewing up the furniture.  But it was so good!  What happened?

Metaphor: Transfering to a new high school.  Ever moved and had to enter a new school when you were a kid?  At first, you don't know who's who or what the rules - explicit or unspoken - are.  So you keep your head down and try not to draw too much attention.  But after a bit, you start to figure out who the cool kids are, the different cliques, which teachers will let you slide and which are hard cases.  And then you can start to let your personality show; crack some jokes in class, show off at recess, start making friends.  Or,negatively, start picking on kids you see as easy marks or disrespecting the teachers.

The same goes for dogs.  Those first few weeks in your home, your new dog is unsure about how you will react.  Do you have rules you are stubborn and consistent about?  Do you care if the dog is being good or do you just ignore it?  And so, after a few weeks, your dog starts to feel more confident about its place in the home, and it's "true" personality will start to come out.  The good news is that you can use those first few weeks as a blessing and reinforce the heck out of all that good behavior, so that when your dog starts feeling free to behave as it likes, it will want to keep acting like a good dog.  Take that good behavior for granted at your peril!)

How is that dogs that start off so super-excited and manic about wanting to play with other dogs that they lunge and lunge against their leash can become extremely aggressive towards other dogs over time?  How did "I love other dogs SO MUCH!!!" turn into "I'll kill you!"?

Metaphor: Lakers Championships.  When the Lakers win a championship and the fans rush out of Staples Center here in L.A., they're all in an incredibly good mood.  They're cheering and yelling, they're high fiving and chest-bumping, "Wooo!  F#%& Yeah!"  And then what do they do?  They get into fist fights and set cars on fire.  Because too much adrenaline and uncontrolled energy has to go somewhere.  And whether it's people or dogs, getting too worked up without any self control is a recipe for violence.  When your dog lets itself get so manic about wanting to play with other dogs and then is continually brought up short by the leash, it gets frustrated.  And if it hasn't learned good impulse control to deal with that frustration, all that energy and frustration turns into negative emotions and aggression - just like a bunch of drunk Laker fans getting into fights with each other. (I stay off the streets after a championship lets out, if you can't tell).

What it all comes down to is that with just a little change in perspective, it's easy to see that humans and dogs are much more alike than we are different.  And more than just helping us to empathize with our dogs, knowing this helps us understand ourselves better, too.  So go chew on a bully stick and mull on that for a while.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"Corrections" aren't.

I've got a bone to pick with the word "correction."  I was listening to a trainer instruct someone on the proper use of a Gentle Leader head halter yesterday.  She told the owner that every time the owner subconsciously pulled tight on the leash, it was giving the dog a correction.  Now, in her mind and in common dog-trainer parlance, she was correct.  She meant that every time the owner pulled on the leash, she was giving the dog an adversive - that she was applying an unpleasant experience to the dog that would probably confuse the dog or make it dislike the halter.  Or perhaps she could have said that she was applying a punishment, which in behaviorism-lingo means a consequence that makes a behavior less likely to reoccur.

The problem is that the average owner isn't a trainer, and "correction" doesn't sound like a very negative term.  Which is the very reason the term came into use in the first place.  Back in the days of jerk-the-chain punishments when a dog did something wrong (days that are still with us), trainers knew that if they told their clients "jerk the leash to punish the dog for pulling" it would sound overly harsh to people who loved their dogs and just wanted them to walk nicely.  So they invented a euphemism, "correction".  "Give the dog a correction by jerking the leash when it pulls."

And it worked.  Most of us don't want to punish our dogs.  But "correction" is downright positive!  If you're kid spells a word wrong, and you give him a correction, i.e. show him how it is actually spelled, then you've helped him out!  And that's just what we want for our dogs, right?

Sure, except that, in dog training, a correction doesn't show the dog the right answer.  It just tells him what he did wrong.  Rather than telling your child the correct way to spell a word, it would be as if you just snapped, "Wrong!" each time they misspelled a word.  Which do you believe would be the more likely result, that your child became more motivated to improve their spelling, or that they would become sullen and not want to try anymore?  The second, certainly, because punishment dampens enthusiasm, and punishment without even pointing out the correct response doesn't just dampen enthusiasm, it kills it.

Keep that in mind in those times that you do use a punishment, however mild, with your dog.  All of us do at one time or another.  Sometimes it's even necessary, or even the best way to deal with a situation.  But any time you do, it is vitally necessary that you immediately show your dog what the correct answer is.  If your dog pulls and you end up jerking the leash out of frustration or old habit, at the very least lure or entice your dog into a proper position and then reward them for being there.  "That was wrong.  This is right." 

Let's build enthusiasm, not kill it.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Krypto Chronicles: Two Months!

Krypto just turned 16 weeks old, which means we've had him for two whole months!  Wow, time flies!

For a while there, I was a little worried that we hadn't gotten a proper Boxer.  Krypto was very easy going and mellow for the first month.  But now, trust me, he's all Boxer.  When he gets excited, gravity has a tenuous hold on him at best.  I can already see the "pogo-ing" in his future that is the hallmark of the happy Boxer.

First, the bad news. Housetraining is still an ongoing project.  The truth is that Molly and I both get lazy and don't keep an eye on him as much as we should.  We have taught him to use the doggie door and he is fairly good about letting himself out, but we need to be better about making sure that he uses it!  As it is, we have an accident about every three days or so.  This is my promise to you, my vast uncountable legions of readers: I. Will. Do. Better. 

(A note on doggie doors.  There's a totally valid school of thought that says that if you train your dog to use a doggie door, you never really know if they're actually housetrained; i.e., if they don't have access to the doggie door, will they still know not to potty inside?  And while that is perfectly logical and maybe even true, I've realized that I've had three previous dogs that all were raised with access to the doggie door and all of them were absolutely reliably house trained.  So, I started training without letting Krypto use the doggie door, but now I've decided to go with personal experience and play the odds.  I'll let you know how it works out.)

The good news is everything else.  Krypto walks quite excellently on a leash.  His only difficult times are if we're walking him and Derby at the same time and Derby gets ahead, he'll often want to pull to get to her.  Which creates an interesting dynamic in that each time he pulls, I stop, so Derby gets farther ahead.  But it works out because eventually Derby gets so far ahead that he stops trying to pull - at which point I reward him by jogging quickly up to Derby.

He sits politely before meeting people and dogs.  (Well, sometimes I have to tell him a few times, but he catches on quickly.)  He rarely jumps on people (a big achievement for any Boxer owner).  He's got his basic obedience down nicely with Touch, Down and his Emergency Recall ("Crime!").  I've just now gotten around to teaching him Stay.  Check back in a week or two to see how he's coming along.  (Like I said in my previous blog post, I've been a little lax on the obedience training just because I know that I can start it at any point.)

After his great experience at the skate park, every time he sees a skateboard, he wants to jump on it, now.  So I went and bought him his own skateboard.  Getting him to push it along and jump on it is no problem.  Now I need to figure out how to get him to keep three paws on the board while pushing with the fourth paw.  Not quite sure how I'm going to approach that...

My friends at Hollywood Paws tell me that there's often studio work for a well trained white Boxer, so I've started teaching him to hit a mark on cue. He's ready for his close up, Mr. DeMille!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Three Kinds of Training

Raising Krypto (my now-four-months old Boxer) these last two months has made me start thinking that "training" comes in three general flavors in these early stages: Socialization, Manners and Obedience.

1.  Socialization
This is the most important - almost all important - if you have a very young puppy (less than 16 months old).  I firmly believe that nearly all the difference between an easy-to-own dog and a frustration-machine is created in the first 3-4 months of life and how much socialization the puppy is exposed to.  Puppies that get a chance to see the world, people and other dogs in all their infinite variations, always in a positive, non-forced way will grow up to be happy, confident dogs.   Dogs that are fearful, aggressive, cowering, anxious... these are nearly always dogs that missed out on proper socialization, and oftentimes the damage is so great that it cannot be erased, only minimized.

2.  Manners
This is the rest of creating an "easy" dog (the part that the "nearly all the difference" in the previous paragraph didn't cover).  Manners refers to what you teach your dog to do without being asked.  When your dog jumps on you and you instantly turn your back on him, so that he learns that jumping will not get him attention, that is Manners. When you notice your dog pick up a proper toy on his own and you get happy and play with him for a few seconds, so that he starts to gravitate towards toys and not your shoes, that is Manners.  In neither case did you need to tell your dog "Off" or "Get a toy"; you're teaching him to do these things automatically.

3.  Obedience
Obedience is having your dog do what you tell him to do.  The irony of Obedience is that is what most owners primarily focus on and ask for, but is actually the least important part of what they actually want!

Good socialization and good manners is really all that is needed to create a dog that most owners would love to have.  Imagine a dog that is happy to meet strangers and dogs, doesn't rush forward or leap up but rather is relaxed and gentle; that plays with its toys and never chews on clothing or the furniture; that is housetrained; that waits politely to be invited before jumping on the couch to snuggle; that walks calmly on the leash.  Sounds like heaven, right?  All of that is socialization and manners.  At no point did I talk about the dog knowing how to Sit, or Down, or do a Roll Over or Go to Sleep, or really doing anything at all because you asked it to.  The perfect dog for 99% of owners is just one that acts polite without being told.

Truth be told, I haven't actually put that much work in Krypto's obedience.  Partly because I've been a bit lazy/busy, but also because I know that I can do obedience anytime.  I can (and have) taken a 11 year old dog and teach it to Sit and Get Ready and Touch.  But good manners are harder to teach later on, and socialization can be much, much harder (or nearly impossible in some extreme cases).

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Krypto Chronicles: Don't Get Cocky, Kid.

So, it's been exactly two weeks since Krypto first came to his new home, and I intended this edition of the Krypto Chronicles to be a sort of bragging about how great he's become in just so short a time - he sits politely to meet people and dogs, doesn't jump up, has a great Sit, is working on a good Down, walks very well on leash, plays tug-o-war, isn't afraid of anything, and is even almost totally housebroken.

And then he went and peed THREE TIMES in a single afternoon.  Worse, I only caught him on one of those.  Aargh!  Bad Hudson!  What can I say?  He lulled me into a false sense of security.  So, that's your lesson that you can hopefully learn from my mistake - it takes time to housetrain a puppy.  Even if you think you've magically done in record time, you still don't get to stop paying attention.  Even if a puppy has gone a few days without an accident, that's no guarantee that he's housebroken, just that he's on his way.  But a few missteps can set you back.  Sigh.

Still, all the rest is true.  Krypto really has been great.  The socialization is very much paying off.  We're getting to the point to where almost nothing phases him at all.  Loud noises?  Nope.  Rattling carts?  No.  Babies, elderly people, homeless, giant tough looking guys?  Nope, nope, nope and nope.

Gorillas flashing gang signs?


Forget about it!

By the way, that video was taken about five minutes after Krypto encountered his second-ever skateboard.  I took him to the skatepark again when it was much busier.  The noise and the motion had him just a little nervous, so I would let him walk away from it and then a few seconds later we'd approach again, getting a little closer.  It took a few minutes to get him up to the edge of the concrete.  I knew as soon as we got close enough, one of the skaters would want to come say hi, and after that Krypto would be be fine. 

What I didn't know was that when I tossed some treats onto the skateboard just to get Krypto to get close to it, that he would place his paws on it from behind, causing it to roll and that, rather than getting surprised and jumping off, he just kept his paws on it and started running after it to keep grabbing the treats, which I kept tossing on.

The other skaters started cheering him on, and like I said earlier, in just five minutes, we'd progressed all the way to him hopping onto the moving skateboard.  I think I just found Krypto's signature trick!

Now if I can just get him housetrained...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Krypto Chronicles: Full Disclosure (Hudson hangs his head in shame)

Yesterday, I put Krypto in his pen in the living room while I went into the den to get some work done.  He was quiet at first, but after a while, started whining loudly.  I assumed that he just wanted attention, so I stayed in the den and ignored him.  After several minutes, he went quiet, and about 30 seconds later I went into the living room to reward him for being quiet. 

Turned out he was trying to tell me he needed to go outside, and had peed and pooped in his pen.  Sigh.  I made so many mistakes here, I could smack myself on the nose with a rolled up newspaper.

1) Don't leave dogs in a pen unattended!  That's what the crate is for!

2) By now, I should have a better handle on recognizing when he wants to go vs. his "pay attention to me" whine.

3) By not coming out until just after he'd pottied in his pen, I kinda sorta rewarded him for pottying!  I essentially told him "If you potty, I'll come out from the den."  That's gonna set me back a bit!

4) Don't leave dogs in a pen unattended!

Bad Hudson, bad!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Krypto Chronicles: Sickness!

Krypto came down with a hacking cough yesterday and overnight.  I took him into the vet this morning.  The diagnosis is inconclusive - it could be kennel cough, or it could be a lesser upper respiratory infection.  He's on antibiotics for the next week, and is forbidden from seeing dogs until he's done with his antibiotics or three days after his coughing goes away, whichever comes later.

It's a risk of doing a lot of socialization.  I've taken him a lot of places and he's met a fair number of dogs.  With a lot of exposure to the world comes the chance of catching something.  But ultimately, he'll have this cough for a little bit, but the good from the socialization will last a lifetime. 

He's still full of energy and spunk, so I'm still going to be getting him out every day, just not quite as much for a while so he can take it a little easier.  I'll just be avoiding dogs.  But he still got to ride in a shopping cart today!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Krypto Chronicles: Housetraining

Potty training a puppy is a matter of attention and attitude.  The "attention" part should be obvious by now; you need to always have an eye on your puppy unless they're crated or outside, and you need to be aware of when they've had their food and water so you can make reasonable prediction about when they need to go.

The "attitude" part can be a little trickier for some owners.  Your puppy will make mistakes.  You will make mistakes.  Housetraining does not happen instantly, or even in the course of a few days.  It takes anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month even if everything goes just right.  So you have to let go of expecting things to be perfect, but you also need to be working on making them as good as possible, all the while not stressing about it.  I imagine Zen masters are good at potty training puppies.

One thing to remind yourself as you through the process is that any time you catch your dog starting to "go" in the house - that's a success.  Assuming you instantly startled/interrupted you puppy and ran/carried them outside to (hopefully) finish, that was a learning experience for them.  The only failures are those times you just totally took your eyes off your dog and they pottied in the house and no one caught them.  Smack yourself in the back of the head and promise to do better.

I've had a lot of "learning experieces" with Krypto.  Fewer each day, but I'm still catching him once or twice a day thinking about going in the house.  I don't mind those times - they're just the necessary steps on the way to being fully housetrained.  Because now I'm also sometimes seeing him walk himself to the back door on his own!  Or at the very least, letting me know that he needs to go outside by acting fussy and a little whiny on leash.  Good boy!

I've also had a small handful of actual mistakes - four that I can remember, maybe a couple more that have slipped my memory.  Most were just foolishness on my part - I left him alone in the living room to go get some treats from the kitchen and came back about 15 seconds later to find a puddle on the floor.  Once was more understandable - there was a commotion outside the house that I went to check on.  Molly had Krypto, but she followed me  outside to see what was going on, and when we came back in, he'd peed by the front door.  Eh, whatchya gonna do?

(I really should have some pictures of those "mistakes," but somehow it keeps slipping my mind to take a picture of a puddle of pee.)

It's vitally important to maintain your sanity by making liberal use of crating and confining your dog during this period.  If you have your puppy out all the time, you'll go mad with the strain of keeping an eye on him all the time.  Krypto spends a lot of time in his pen and his crate, which has the added benefit of helping him avoid separation anxiety later on. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Krypto Chronicles: Socialization

Here's a partial list of what I've been getting Krypto socialized to. Keep in mind that with each of these, whenever possible, I paired up the experience with the tastiest treats I had.*

*Krypto started off perfectly happy getting pieces of turkey Natural Balance.  But after a couple of stressful times when he wouldn't take them, I started using little pieces of hot dogs.  Now he's turned into a little foodie snob and won't take the Natural Balance at all - he's holding out for hot dogs.  During this socialization period, I want the best association possible, so I'm letting him call the shots, but later on in a couple of months, I'll probably switch back to Natural Balance and tell him it's that or nothing.  NB is just easier and cheaper than hot dogs.

Day 1:
  • Being in a crate in a car
  • Vets and veterinary rooms
  • Being handled by the vet
  • Walking on grass
  • Walking on asphalt and gravel
  • Walking on dirt

Day 2:
  • Lots of men.  I've met a thousand dogs that people tell me "He's afraid of men."  I've met, like, one dog that someone told me "She doesn't like women."  I suspect that this is because women are constantly rushing up to say hi to puppies but men don't nearly as much.  So, I'm taking a special effort to have Krypto meet and be handled by men of all sorts.  Day 2 Krypto mostly met white men and a few Hispanics.
  • Women

  • Stairs (you'd be surprised how many dogs I meet that completely freak out over stairs when they see them for the first time in their adult life)
  • Going inside a bookstore
  • Walking along Ventura Blvd - lots of traffic noises and cars and buses going by.
  • Walking by other dogs
  • Calmly meeting dogs.  I have Krypto do a Sit for me with a food lure before letting him meet another dog.  After a minute of sniffing around, I lure him away with another treat and tell him what a great dog he is and we walk away.  I made the mistake with Derby of letting her play too much with other dogs (and with Trooper and BeBop).  Consequently, she loves dogs but she still gets far too excited about them and rushes forward.  Krypto is going to be a big dog - I want to reward and encourage calm behavior early and often.

Day 3:

  • Even more men.  This time I was in a different part of town and was able to find more people of color.  One very large, bald black man was a little surprised when I walked up and asked him to play with my puppy.  "Why?" he asked suspiciously.  His girlfriend just laughed and said, "What, are you afraid the puppy will bite you?"  I explained about socialization and how it's important to meet people of all races and types.  He was chill.  All in all, I found men with beards, hats, sunglasses, black, Hispanic, Asian and all different kinds of clothing.
  • Even more women.  Black, Hispanic, Asian, short hair, long hair, long dresses, purses
  • Walking on sand (at a local playground)
  • Meeting children at the playground.

  • Playing with a dog.  He met a friendly same-size slightly older puppy at the park.  I dropped his leash and let him romp a bit.  At the end, I lured him away with a treat.  Whenever possible, I prefer a dog to move itself voluntarily rather than be pulled by a leash.  Leash pull = unpleasant association with other dog.  Following a treat = pleasant association with ending play time.

Day 4:

  • Molly's work.  I couldn't take care of Krypto Wednesday, so Molly took him to work with her.  He played with another dog there, and met lots of new people and got exposed to parking lots and even more traffic.

Day 5:

  • The comic shop!  Derby is already a favorite there, and I can guarantee Krypto will be showing up a lot, so better get him started now.

  • The patio at The Counter restaurant while I had lunch
  • Brooms and sweeping - someone was cleaning up the patio and Krypto wasn't too sure about the broom.  A few treats every time the man moved the broom, though, convinced him that all was well.
  • Skateboards - I took Krypto to the local skate park and sat for about 10 minutes while some kids did some tricks near us.  Derby got very freaked out by some skateboarders at a young age, and I want to make sure 75+ lb adult Krypto doesn't have any problem with them.  I'll probably go back several times just to make sure.
  • Sliding down a plastic slide at an empty playground I passed.  Did this on a whim, and gave him lots of treats.  He seemed totally cool with it.

Day 6

  • Riding in a car not  in a crate.  While I will have him crated almost all the time in the car while he's still a puppy, as an adult, he'll ride in the back seat like all the rest of the dogs have.  (I know, I should be using a dog seat belt.  I offer no excuses, it's just the way we travel.)  So I want him to have some experiences of being in the car.  Like Derby at his same age, he prefers being down on the floorboard of the front passenger seat.  He was a little nervous about it, but cheese whiz cures all ills.

  • Riding in the car with the top down, as well as watching it open and close.  Again, I don't plan to ever ride around with the top down with Krypto in the car, but just in case, I don't want him getting freaked out and leaping out of the car.  I did this very slowly around the block a couple of times. 
  • The vacuum cleaner.  This was a lot easier than I expected.  He was very slightly nervous at first, but after just a couple of treats he was totally calm with it.

  • Loud banging noises.  I made a metal tether for him, which involves hammering a piece of metal to make a loop in the cable.  Each time I hammered, I gave him a treat or two.  

  • Big crowds of people.  I took him to The Grove, a very busy shopping center in Hollywood.  Lots and lots of people walking by constantly.  Lots of little kids.  Lots of people stopping to say how cute he is.
  • Trolleys
  • Electric wheelchairs
  • Animated fountains of water (like the Bellagio in Vegas)
  • Screaming teenage girls.  Seriously.  Trolleys, honking horns, splashing water, hammering - nothing phased him.  But at the Grove one teen girl sees a friend and screams at the top of her lungs and completely startles Krypto.  I just start popping hot dog pieces into his mouth - hot dog, hot dog, hot dog, hot dog.  He relaxes and we play a bit and it all worked out fine, but good grief.  I'm not desensitized to screaming teenage girls, how do I expect him to be?

Wow.  I know there's a lot more that I'm forgetting.  For instance, there's a lot more dogs I didn't mention.  And probably a lot of other more specific things that are slipping my mind right now.  But the point is that I'm not even close to done.  In addition to just making sure that he continues to meet scores of other people and dogs (but only dogs I feel confident will give him a positive experience), there are so many other experiences I want him to have during the next three weeks.

Going to a gun range
Riding in a shopping cart
Hula hoops - jumping through them, having them fall and rattle around
Pots and pans being dropped and banging loudly
Petting zoo animals of all types
Rain (not sure how I'll manage this)
The ocean
A forest
The carousel at Griffith Park
A train

Please offer suggestions in the comments!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Krypto Chronicles: Days 2-4

So here's some puppy-raising advice I haven't seen mentioned in any of the books: "Try not to have a cold on the week you bring your puppy home."  Ugh.

I won't lie: taking care of a puppy is hard.  Not physically; the actual physical work you need to do is very minimal.  But the mental toll is exhausting: any time Krypto is out of his crate or not outside, I need to be continuously aware of what he's doing.  I keep him tethered to me at almost all times, a strategy I suggest to all of my puppy clients, and which too few of them do - at least until the first housetraining accidents happen ("But I was just in the other room for ten seconds!").  But as my wife found out, that alone isn't enough.

Tethered! You ain't goin' nowhere, pup!

She had Krypto with her at work yesterday and had hold of his leash while she was standing in the hall talking to a coworker.  She looked down, and there little Krypto was, taking a pee on the company floor.   Later, while walking him out for a potty break, she was stopped by another coworker who had a few questions.  She looked down, and he was squatting to poop!  (Luckily, it's a very dog-friendly and forgiving company, and Krypto's puppy cuteness compensates for a few cleanups.)

I've been managing to keep up with his training and socialization and housetraining, while at the same time deal with feeling like my head is a water balloon full of chum-water.  But something had to give, and the blogging got moved to the bottom of the list.  So that's my excuse for the late post, and I'm sticking to it.

Housetraining is going well - I've managed to get Krypto out to his potty patch on a regular basis to avoid most accidents in the house.  On Day 2 there was once where he decided to just hop up onto Derby's bed and instantly start peeing, but I snatched him up with a "Ah! Ah! Ah!" and got him outside.  And then another incident where he started to go on the carpet in the dining room, but I caught that one, too.  Since then, there's been no more attempts to go in the house.  And no pooping attempts since that first day.

For now, I'm content to just get him outside often enough to keep him from going inside.  But next week I'll have to start spacing those out - I need to catch him in the act of trying to inside a few times so that he can learn that's a bad thing.  I'll never yell at him, but my startled "Ah! Ah!" and quickly scooping him up and running him outside is enough of a mild aversive that he'll want to avoid that.  Of course, I need to give many more opportunities to potty outside properly and be rewarded, but past experience has taught me that that alone isn't enough to teach him to hold it.

There's one challenging aspect to potty training Krypto: most puppies need to poop right after waking up and within 10-30 minutes after eating a full meal.  Krypto does neither.  His time period seems to be more like about an hour after waking, and withing 2-3 hours after a meal.  Which makes it much more difficult to regulate and requires a closer eye be kept on him since I can't predict when he'll need to go.  I compensate with a lot of trips to the potty patch where he does nothing.

But there's time.  Housetraining takes anywhere from two weeks to a month, and it's better for your sanity if you assume a month.

One cute moment is when he very deliberately ran to the back door to go to the potty - and ran right into the sliding glass door.

Crate Training
I realized that I left out an important detail in my Day 1 blog.  Krypto was whining in his crate at the start of the night, and as I mentioned, we were short on sleep, so I used a technique that I do not recommend to all puppy owners.  I covered the crate (which was next to the bed on my side) with a blanket so that all of his visuals were blocked, and then, when he whined, I thumped the top of the crate hard.  A few seconds later, he whined again, more hesitantly, and I thumped it again. He didn't whine after that.

This is a technique that I would never recommend for a dog that showed any signs of timidity or was easily frightened.  But Krypto had none of those signs - he was a happy, confident dog who didn't startle easily and when he was, he recovered very quickly.  Even so, if he had continued to try to whine after a third thump on the crate, I would have stopped.  If a punishment doesn't work by the third try, you should discontinue it - you'll either inure the dog to the punishment or just freak him out more than he already was.  As with any punishment based technique, used with caution.

The second night my cold was hitting full force and Molly was on Krypto night patrol.  He decided to whine several times that night and Molly opted to play it safe each time and take him out.  He peed each time, but I actually feel that his whines were more of the "attention-seeking" kind and not his lower-pitched "I have to GO" kind.  But safe is safe.

Last night we cut off his water a full two hours before bedtime (we'd just done an hour previously), and I did a crate-thump at the start of the night again, and he slept through the night without a peep!

This is the single most important part of raising a puppy.  Everything else can be put off if you want.  You can potty train a dog at any point in it's life.  Ditto for crate training, or teaching them manners, or to sit, or not guard food.  But a dog's socialization period starts closing off at 12 weeks of age and by 16 weeks it is done done done.  After that point, overcoming behavior problems caused by poor socialization is a major endeavor that can take anywhere from weeks to years.

Simply put, I have four weeks to expose Krypto, in a positive way, to everything. And I mean everything.  Every kind of person - every race, every age, gender, height, weight.  All kinds of clothing (long dresses, uniforms, hats, sunglasses).  Hairstyles (bald, long hair, dreadlocks, afros).  Homeless people.  Traffic of all kinds.  Sounds (loud engines, radios, honking horns, obnoxiously loud Harley Davidsons, even more obnoxious deep bass thumping car radios).  Barking dogs.  Dogs of all shapes walking by.  Different surfaces (sand, grates, gravel, rocks, grass, linoleum, metal).  Other animals (cats, horses, goats, squirrels).  And everything else (brooms, air blowers, blowing bags in the wind, skateboards, shopping carts, carousels).

The list is infinite.  Obviously, I can't expose Krypto to literally everything.  But if I expose him to, say 1000 new things and they're all positive and fun, then eventually he'll get to the point where when he encounters the 1001st new thing after his socialization period has ended, his automatic response won't be fear but instead will be curiousity.

And it it takes that much work to make that happen because of one simple fact: in the wild, curiosity about new things is not a survival trait.  The natural state of any animal when faced with the unknown is fear.  It's the same for dogs as for wolves as for lions as for us.  And it takes real work to overcome that natural instinct.

Next: Socializing Krypto.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Krypto Chronicles: Day 1 videos!

Remember how I said Krypto wasn't exactly a fan of the leash?  Behold.

Stopping to play a bit between vet visits:


By the time we were at the second vet appointment, Krypto was about dead on his four little feet...

Humans boring.  Must stay conscio....zzzzzz

Finally, meeting his new sister Derby at the end of the day...

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Krypto Chronicles: Day 1

We drove up to Lancaster Sunday morning to pick up Krypto from Utopia Boxers.  We'd already met him the previous weekend here in L.A., but that was in a much more chaotic environment with a lot of other dogs and the rest of the litter around.  This was the first we saw of him all on his lonesome, and right from the start he was just perfect.  He was playful and energetic and social and totally into my treats.  The only "downside" was, man, he did not like having a leash on him for the first time!  He bucked like a bronco in a rodeo, but I knew he'd calm down about it before too long.

(Tomorrow, I hope to put up video from his first two days.  Check back to see him expressing his disapproval of the leash.)

Anna of Utopia Boxers gave us a very thorough rundown of his diet, the vitamins he's taking, suggested supplements, and a whole booklet of advice and shopping sources.  While I've always been, and will continue to be, a proponent of rescue, I do have a greater appreciation of the value of a good breeder.  Anna had already worked to get Krypto acclimated to the clicker and, more importantly, started on crate training and some early socialization.

Soon, it was time to take Krypto on the hour long trip back to L.A. in his crate in our back seat.  Very quickly into the trip he decided to make it known he did not appreciate being separated in the back seat.  Man, those puppy howls and barks and whines really cut through!  

So, there's some different approaches in dealing with problem behavior like this.  The first and most important rule is that you can't acknowledge the dog when it is barking, howling or otherwise making a pest of itself, otherwise it will just learn that being obnoxious works.  Now, ideally, we would wait for the dog to be silent for two full minutes before turning around and saying hi to him in the crate - two minutes is the length of time it typically takes a dog to forget what it was doing.

However, it can take a frustrated dog a LONG time to give up crying long enough to be quiet for two minutes, and when those yelps and whines are cutting into your head like a dentist's drill, five minutes can feel like an hour.  So, instead, we set a much more modest goal of just 10 seconds of quiet.  Even so, it took ten minutes of us completely ignoring him before we got those 10 blissful seconds of quiet, at which point I instantly turned around and let him out of his crate to come sit on my lap.  But, wow, those were a hard ten minutes!

A little while later, we put him back in his crate and we went into Round 2, which was a repeat of Round 1: 10 minutes of crying until we got about 15 seconds of quiet and let him out.  But the third time showed real improvement; five minutes of crying before we got 20 seconds of quiet.  And by the fourth time, we got 30 seconds of quiet after only two minutes of whining.  Progress! 

We had two vet appointments set up for Krypto that day.  The first was with a orthopedic surgeon who diagnosed our dog Derby's various dysplasias.  Boxers are prone to hip dysplasia, and we wanted that checked out.  He passed Krypto with flying colors.  Yes!

The second appointment was with our normal vet.  By this point Krypto was falling asleep on his feet from the huge day he was having.  Watch for hilarious video tomorrow.  Another clean bill of health.

Finally, we got him home.  Now, there's a lot of things that you should have before bringing a puppy home that first day (I'll cover this tomorrow), and Molly and I had all of them, except for the most important thing you should have: a good night's sleep.  We'd been up late the night before and were both exhausted.  Molly got a nap first while I watched over him, and then she spelled me while I crashed.  Thank god for teamwork.

We set up a potty patch for the superdog in our backyard and he took to it right away.  The only accident happened while I was asleep - Krypto started to poop in the living room.  Molly tried to interrupt him and scooped him up and ran him outside to the potty patch - and was rewarded with a handful of puppy poop for her efforts.  And then he didn't even finish going!  About half an hour later, though, she took him back outside and he pooped where he was supposed to.

He whined a bit whenever put in the crate, but just for a few minutes and for shorter periods each time.  We made sure to scatter treats in his crate and gave him a peanut-butter stuffed bone when he was in there, and to put him in when we were still hanging out in the room with him, so that he didn't associate the crate with being abandoned.  We also had a penned off area in our living room set up so we could put him someplace he could move around while we could still keep an eye on him. 

The rest of the time, we kept him on leash and attached to us.  This is something I tell all of my housetraining clients - the only way to keep track of your puppy at the level you need to during housetraining is to have it physically connected to you.  And almost every single one of my clients tries to shortcut it at some point, letting the dog run around unleashed for a little bit - and every time they end up with a little puddle when it was out of sight for just five seconds!

The day ended up with him in his crate in our bedroom.  We'd cut off his access to water about an hour before and took him out to pee just before bedtime.  He cried for a little bit but we were strong and then he crashed after just a few minutes.  He did wake us up at 12:30am and again at 3am needing to go out - there's a difference between a puppy's "Pay attention to me!" whines and "I need to pee!" whines, but it can't be described in words; you just have to hear it. 

In any case, I expect him to better the next night.  Before the end of the week, I expect him to be sleeping through the night.  But in the meantime, I'm making sure that I have slippers, a treat pouch and a robe ready for those midnight trips out to the potty patch!

Next up:  Krypto's first foray into the great wide world, and a new puppy owner's required shopping list.  Also: videos!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Picking Up Krypto

Well, off to non-auspicious start.  We totally cleaned and puppy proofed the house two days ago - way ahead of schedule. And then proceeded to spend yesterday turning everything into a mess!  No time to clean up before we go get Krypto.  Good thing we have our x-pen ready to put her in while we clean like crazy as soon as we get home!

Picking Krypto

There are several qualities I want in a puppy.  Health.  Energy.  Exuberance.  Fearlessness. Socialness.  Curiosity.  Toy drive.  Appetite.  With these qualities, I can shape a puppy into a happy, well-behaved dog.

Then there are the more, um, shallow qualities.  I wanted a white male Boxer.  White because I've always wanted a white dog I can name Krypto.  A male because hopefully it will be easier to raise with our female.  And a Boxer just because I love the breed.

A Boxer is not an "amateur's" dog!  They're ridiculously high energy and will get into trouble whenever bored.  They're not even the dog of choice for dog professionals.  They're wilfull and will try to find ways to subvert whatever you're trying to get them to do.  (Lie on a bed?  What if only half my body is on the bed?  What about just the tip of my paw, does that count?)  A border collie will learn everything just as fast and not try to mess with you at the same time.

But a Boxer is a dog for a person who loves, loves, loves dogs and loves to train them.  They'll keep you on your toes constantly because they constantly need physical and mental stimulation.  They will find the loophole in the rules you've set down and get into all sorts of trouble - but they'll make you laugh the entire time.  You can't be lazy or sloppy with a Boxer, but you'll never stay depressed with one around either.  And personally, I'll put a Boxer up against any ol' border collie any day when it comes to learning and smarts.  Bring it on!

You have to be careful about white Boxers, though.  The gene that produces a white coat also carries the chance of deafness.  One quarter of all white Boxers are born deaf - which is why the AKC and other dog clubs will not accept white Boxers in competition.  They don't want to encourage the breeding of genetic defects just for aesthetic purposes.  As a potential buyer of a white Boxer, though, this worked in my favor, because all this means that white Boxers sell for much less than standard fawn or brindle Boxers.  (Essentially, they're sold "at cost" - about a third the cost of the other pups.)

When our litter of puppies was born, we couldn't believe our luck.  In a litter of seven, there was only one male.  And he was all white (except for his ear and his eyebrow)!  In a life filled with lucky breaks, I'd gotten one more.  The universe had just handed me the exact dog I wanted!

As the puppies got older, the news got even better.  Krypto was the largest of the litter, and the first to open his eyes.  And he wasn't deaf!  He proved to be the most explorative of the puppies, often ending up behind couches at the breeder's home.  And when the rest of the pups were afraid to step onto the shiny, smooth linoleum, he fearlessly bounded onto it.  We wasted no time in letting the breeder know we were interested in him and wanted to put a deposit down as soon as possible.

Last weekend, the breeder brought the litter to L.A. for a Boxer Club event.  Now that they were seven weeks old and had their first shots, it was time to start exposing them to some of the world.  We took Derby with us and she met Krypto.  They played and got along marvelously.  Krypto was everyting I'd hoped - he was face-lickingly friendly and loved to explore and chase toys and calm around other dogs.  We overheard someone say, "He's really the pick of the litter.  It's a shame he's white."  Oh, no, it ain't!  Cuz that made him ours!

So we're picking him tomorrow - but first we have to make sure we have everything we need and our household puppy-ready!
(I'd have included video of Krypto, but blogger isn't cooperating.)

Thursday, April 11, 2013


In four days, on Sunday, April 14, my wife Molly and I will be picking up the newest addition to our pack, an eight week old male boxer puppy. He is nearly all white, except for one brown ear and an adorable arched eyebrow over his left eye, giving him a constant "Fascinating..." expression. This has prompted some people to want to name him "Spock," but I have known forever that if I ever got an all-white dog, I was naming him after Superman's dog, and so I would like to welcome everyone to meet...

Krypto the Super Dog!

For the next several weeks I will be blogging the process of selecting, preparing for and raising a puppy. I will show you my mistakes as well as our successes. I actually have several clients right now who have gotten (or are about to get) puppies at this same time, too, so hopefully this will let them see that, despite the mistakes and problems that everyone faces, it can be done. Solidarity!


A brief bit of background. Late 2011 and 2012 saw the death of our two boxers, BeBop and Trooper Thorn, about 9 months from each other. It was a tough year. Luckily, we had a third dog, Derby the World's Happiest Dog, which helped us through the sad times.

Happiest Dog Ever

Derby is now a young adult at 2 1/2 years old and (almost) perfectly behaved, so it seemed time to bring a boxer back into the mix. After some consideration and soul-searching, for the first time ever we decided to go to a breeder rather than rescue. We're huge supporters of rescue groups, but we knew that A) we wanted a puppy, B) we wanted a purebred boxer and C) we wanted to minimize the health risks that come with boxers as much as possible. (Derby was a rescue - but she came with hip dysplasia in both hips, and elbow dysplasia in both elbows, as well as a kneecap that was loose.  It's a clear case of shoddy manufacturing, I say!)

And that meant find a high-quality reputable breeder.

(A note on puppies. A puppy isn't right for everyone, or even most people. Puppies take a lot of work, more than most people realize. What is a much more practical and rewarding option for most people is to go to a rescue group and adopt an adult - 2 1/2 years or older - dog that is already trained and has the temperment you want. Far too many excellent dogs are given up through no fault of their own. And I tell you honestly, a rescued dog knows you rescued it - you'll never have a more loyal friend.)

Finding a reputable breeder is not easy. I have pretty much zero experience with finding or dealing with breeders. Molly and I soon found out that there is no easy way online to distinguish between a reputable breeder and a "backyard breeder".

What's the difference? A reputable breeder's primary motivation is to improve the breed. They have a champion dog (or a few), and they carefully search for other owners with compatible other champions, looking to create litters that have the best qualities of both parents. They keep careful notes of the health of all ancestors, and are very selective about who can buy the puppies. Typically, they have only litter of puppies available at a time as each litter takes a fair amount of research to get started and work to keep in optimum health and development.

A backyard breeder, on the other hand, is breeding dogs in order to make money selling the puppies. Consequently, they will often own quite a few dogs and will have more than one litter going at a time. They have no real incentive to keep track of all the ancestors, and less incentive to ensure the welfare of the puppies in their new homes. A backyard breeder may care a great deal about their dogs and produce fine animals, but many do not, and it's a crap shoot for the buyer.

If minimizing the risk of hip dysplasia, cancer and heart problems is a high priority for you, as it was for us after losing our two dogs, a high quality reputable breeder is a must. There are no guarantees, but it was worth it to us to play the odds.

As I said, though, it is very difficult to tell one from the other just from looking at a website, and there's no reliable way to search for one, since every backyard breeder will present themselves as totally reputable. Our first attempt found us a woman that seemed excellent online, had several glowing reviews and was very pleasant on the phone. But once we arrived, we could tell that she wasn't for us. She owned both the mother and father - which meant that she wasn't searching around for the ideal genetic match for either. The puppies were being whelped in a barn in less than ideal conditions. And both mother and father seemed to have timidity problems. All in all, a disappointing but educational experience.

Luckily, I was able to turn to my friend and mentor Janine Pierce of J9's K9s Dog Training, who was able to do some reseach and gave me a list of several recommended boxer breeders. And lucky day, the last one on the list had a litter of puppies on the way! Tomorrow, "Selecting the Puppy"