The Big Puppy in Class

One of the best things you can do for your pup’s socialization and basic obedience is enroll them in puppy kindergarten. It teaches you how to positively interact with your dog to better communicate, teach good behavior and grow a strong bond. We went to Happy Go Lucky Dog Training in Portland, Oregon. I believe training is more for the owner than the pup. Get ready to put in the time, stick with it and have fun along the way! Introducing….Waylon, the Big Puppy in Class.

Waylon all smiles after his first day of puppy kindergarten!

Waylon all smiles after his first day of puppy kindergarten!

 

The first day of class, the instructor separated the room into two sections for play time. Shy dogs who weren’t quite sure about playing (aka smaller puppies) went on one side. More rambunctious ready-to-go dogs (aka big puppies who were going to crush the darling little delicate corgi) went on the other side. We noticed right away some owners were apprehensive about Waylon’s size. Waylon was at least double the size of all the other pups there. That first day only one other dog dared come on the “playful” side, Tucker the Australian Shepherd. Waylon and Tucker were fast friends; rolling around, wrestling and chasing each other showing the other pups how to rock out playtime.

Bernese Mountain Dog Puppy and Australian Shepherd Puppy

Waylon & Tucker wrasslin’

 

Once everyone got to know Waylon and his friendly nature, he became a buddy to every dog and person in class. He was gentle enough with the small puppies that folks soon realized that their quick judgment of his size equaling trouble was just plain wrong. He’s a gentle giant! We know having a large breed dog means dealing with assumptions and nervousness just because of his sheer size. We’ll just keep working on his manners and socialization and show everyone that Berner love.

Proud mama on graduation day.

Proud mama on graduation day.

 

Refusing to Walk as a Pup

To avoid disease, we were told by our breeder and our vet to not walk Waylon in public places until his second round of puppy shots. I was chomping at the bit to get him out into the parks and take long, relaxing meanders through the neighborhood. When the time came after his second shots at 11 weeks old, I was disappointed to find that Waylon didn’t seem to like walking. He had to be coaxed forward with almost every step. My husband and I together were able to get him on some good walks where he only needed a bit of prodding, but alone we could barely get him past the neighbor’s house.

Waylon was timid and spooked by loud cars, bikes whizzing by, and general city sounds. He always knew which direction was home and would pull excitedly when he knew we were headed back. We would soothe him and give him small bits of treats when strange new experiences happened that scared him. Happy voices, love and rewards go a long way! Soon enough, we saw improvement and I’m happy to report at 18 weeks old he loves walking! He’s still a laid back berner at heart and is never jumping up and down when I gleefully say “Let’s go on a walk, Waylon!,” but he prances around excited by new experiences now, instead of afraid. Hooray for growing up!

Waylon at 11 weeks old after his first walk through the neighborhood.

Waylon at 11 weeks old after his first walk through the neighborhood.

Dealing with Puppies with Food Aggression

Waylon's favorite treat: A Pig or Cow Ear

Waylon’s favorite treat: A Pig or Cow Ear

As visions of roasts, gravy and pies dance through our dreams tonight and good smells waft from our kitchens, a post about dog food aggression is in order. Waylon turned four months old this month and by far the biggest behavior issue we’ve had with him is food aggression, otherwise known as resource guarding. From 8 weeks to 12 weeks, we lavished Waylon with delicious chewy treats from pig ears to beef trachea. He would settle down with the treat and go into a zombie like state of bliss, not coming up for air until it was gone or we took it away. And then at about three months old, the growling started. Dun…Dun…Dun…. Gulp.

We first noticed the problem at a friends house. They were very thoughtful to buy his favorite treat: smoked pig ears. As he happily chewed as we visited, at one point my husband got close to our pup and Waylon growled. We were very surprised. I ran to get some food to throw at his side. I read that with food aggression you want the dog to associate you coming close to him while chewing precious items as a positive. Throwing the kibble worked at the time and diverted his attention. Yet, the problem persisted. Soon, we found Waylon would growl and guard lots of things he had in his possession: a sock, a branch, a toy, etc., with the guarding of chewable treats always taking the cake for severity. It was mostly growling, with the intensity rising as we pet him, but sometimes he would lunge aggressively. I can thankfully report that he has never bitten us.

We got LOTS of different opinions on how to deal with this:

The Breeder: “Make sure he knows you’re the pack leader. Enroll in Puppy Kindergarten, it will pay off.”

The Pet Store Owner: “You should never accept your dogs growling. Take the item away and pin him on the ground. Never be afraid to yell at him.”

The Dog Walker: “Just take the item away when he growls. He needs to know you are boss and that you own the item. You choose to give it to him. You can even pretend to eat it, too, so he gets the point. But it’s normal for puppies to be protective.”

The Blogs: “Swap him other items for the item he is protecting so he learns ‘drop it’ and ‘take it.’”

The Friend: “He’s just playing! He means no harm.”

The Vet: “His age is akin to the terrible twos stage of toddlers. He will try to get away with a lot and test your authority. This could be a phase. Be firm in your commands and limits.”

The Puppy Kindergarten Instructor: “Start the first two weeks by just getting him used to you being close to him while he chews the item of value. Throw high value bits of treats next to him on your approach. Let him eat the treats then go back to his item. Don’t touch him. Repeat. We’ll check in after two weeks of this exercise.”

My husband and I have been using the puppy kindergarten instructors advice in the past week since last class, doing the exercise every day, and feel like progress is good. While Waylon is showing excellent socialization with dogs and people and otherwise exceptional behavior, this is not something we want to ignore. When you find an unwanted behavior in your puppy it is important to guide them on the correct path. I’m finding with a bit of research and patience we are making tremendous improvement. I will post updates on the progress of our exercises and the next steps from our puppy k instructor after the next class.

Bringing Our Berner Home: The First Week

When we brought Waylon home at 8 weeks old he was a mere 14 lbs. The breeder met us in a parking lot in Portland so we didn’t have to drive to Eugene to get him. On the 15 minute car ride home he whined a bit but mostly stayed put in my lap and didn’t make too much of a fuss. When we got home we let him explore the yard and the house. We had a crate set up for Waylon in the kitchen, close to our bedroom, with an ex-pen attached. The first two nights, we had to get up with him twice at ungodly hours to soothe him and take him out to use the bathroom.  We started his socialization immediately, introducing him to new people and new experiences everyday.

We were all getting used to our new lifestyle.  Even though I’ve had dogs my whole life, they’ve been raised by my family as a team with my parents taking on a lot of the responsibility. This puppy raising business is a first time time thing for my husband and I as newlyweds. The first month or so we were a bit slack on our obedience. We were just green. Looking back, I feel like we fed Waylon too many treats without asking much in return and gave him too much freedom without confinement.  Despite the reading and preparations there’s nothing quite like just jumping in and riding the learning curve. Working with your puppy on obedience training each day in short spurts makes all the difference.

Choosing the Dog’s Gender and Name

Growing up I had five female dogs and one male dog. I asked my parents why we went so heavily with girl dogs and their response was unmemorable. Something like “I think they’re easier, right?” I had my mind made up that we were getting a female berner for some other unmemorable reason. My husband Trevor and I even had a name picked out already – Winnie. Even though Trevor not-so-secretly wanted a male dog, the best reason he could come up with was “there are better name options.” On a biological level, maybe we felt we would better relate to our own gender.

A berner-owning friend of the family mentioned she thought males were the better choice, saying “females can be a bit more temperamental.” Now conflicted, I emailed the breeder to get her opinion. Her one liner on the subject was “I think the females are a bit more needier.” On our visit to the farm when we met the puppies, the recommendations from the breeder, a long-time berner owner, continued to lean male in terms of the type of dog we were looking for. In her opinion, males are more laid back and easier to train. The only con I got out of the conversation was that they can tend to be more aggressive towards other male dogs. To top it off, between the male and female puppy we were considering, the female was the most rambunctious out of the two litters we met. She was a spunky pup, and while we were ready to go hard playing, training and life-altering for this puppy, we gravitated towards the easygoing male.

We were getting a male. It was decided on the car ride back home from the puppy visit. I was bummed to let go of the name Winnie, but my husband and I were able to choose Waylon with relative ease. We’re big Waylon Jennings fans and had tossed around the idea of naming a future son Waylon. Not long after filling in our family, I get this email : “I really like Waylon for a dog; I was not so sure about it for a baby!  Love  Mom.”

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Preparing for a Berner Puppy

I probably sent 20 emails to the breeder before actually bringing Waylon home. Arranging the first meeting, asking questions and yearning for photos. When the photos came I looked at them over and over. I would fawn over them and insist every person within my reach had a look. How freakin’ cute are berner puppies, though, amiright?

The breeder sent a really helpful document, linked here called Caring For Your Puppy. It includes really helpful information like the car ride home, being with people on the first day, getting a health check, crate training, chewing, collar/leash, food, vitamins, spay/neuter, microchipping, puppy coat, growing spurts, immunizations, worming, joint development, puppy kindergarten, pet insurance, and diarrhea. Phew! That’s a lot of information. The care sheet is geared towards Bernese Mountain Dog puppies but would be a helpful read for any new puppy owner. In addition to carefully looking this document over I read Before You Get Your Puppy and After You Get Your Puppy by Ian Dunbar. I took notes and discussed the finer points of obedience with my husband. The books helped us understand the importance of socialization, house training and bite inhibition with our new puppy. Super important! I ordered a crate, fleece bed, and a few exercise playpens (one for home, one for work) and counted down the days till my new pup would be home. And yes, Waylon is a lucky boy who gets to come to work with me and be a shop dog. More about that in another post!

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This is the first photo taken of Waylon that we have. Here he is just five weeks old when we didn’t know he was going to be ours yet. We met all the puppies that day and were still debating between a boy or a girl. Will talk puppy gender in my next post. Stay tuned!