Updated: Feb 3
These five-month-old pups belong to Katie W. Katie is a beginner LGD owner, sort of.
For several months she lived with Rocco and Isla, two adult Maremmas that benefited from some behavioral modification training regarding jumping up and mouthing. Using clicker training, Katie significantly reduced those behaviors, so I consider her a skillful clicker trainer, but Eevie and Banks are the first Maremma pups she has ever raised.
When Rocco and Isla lived with Katie, they challenged her in other ways as well, so the pair of dogs came back to me, and I sent her home with the pups instead.
Since Katie has a history with adult Maremmas that did behaviors she'd rather these pups not do; she is very aware of jumping up and mouthing when it happens with the pups. She also knows that these are typical behaviors for pups. We have discussed what realistic expectations for pups are and what the trade-offs for the pups can be if they are not.
In my opinion, the most essential trait/skill an LGD can have is environmental confidence, so this is our main focus in training pups here on the ranch. With LGDs, there is an early window of time in which it is important to give the pups many opportunities in a variety of settings with increasing responsibilities so that they learn to be as environmentally bold as their genetic blueprint will allow them to become.
In the video, you see Katie's new bold and brassy pups in one of the early days on the property in two of their new fields, complete with their small flock of sheep. I am so impressed with these pups! Watch them tear around those fields! They clearly feel they own that ground, and they just got there! They spent their first night on the property secured in a paddock where they could see this field. They are young enough to be vulnerable to predators themselves, so they were housed safely overnight; that will continue for another month or so.
When Katie opened the paddock gate and walked out into the field with the pups, they were ready to work! Notice that they are patrolling the perimeters of the fields; the pups are not playing; they are purposefully behaving as LGDs. Throughout the video, they go from bouts of work to bouts of puppy play behavior.
Katie's sheep are flightly and may not ever become complacent about the LGDs being part of their lives, but they have learned to tolerate them. Katie has wisely set her dogs and sheep up for success by making the most of her environmental options. She locks her sheep in a stall at night with a wall common to the stall the pups have access to from their paddock. Katie's husband cut a 4'x4' opening in the wall and lined it with wire so that the sheep and dogs could safely get to know each other visually and by their physical proximity while they are in separate stalls. It is a wonderful setup!
In the video, the sheep are obviously not thrilled about the speed of the pups; they keep an eye on them and bunch together for safety, but they don't scatter too far. Katie sees a balance between the sheep and the pups but is ready to make changes in the moment as needed, which is partly why she stays present in the field with the new pups. She also belongs there in case the pups feel insecure in their new situation. I see none of that in the bodies of the pups in the video, but that could change in an instant. They haven't been there very long, so a gunshot nearby would scare them more on this day than it would a week from today.
Katie and I have talked about what is reasonable to expect of the conduct of the pups with her at this age and in their new circumstance. I selected very bold pups for Katie because she has heavy predator pressure. Pups like this can be much more challenging to raise than calm, slow, sweet pups, but pups like that would probably not be as well suited to the level of responsibility on Katie's property.
So, Katie lives with fast-moving, irreverent pups that do behaviors she knows from experience she doesn't want the pups to continue doing. She is willing to do any training necessary to support the behaviors in the pups that she likes. I have let her know that the environmental confidence in her pups must be protected and should be her training priority. If she "corrects" her pups when they make mistakes around her, it will set them back in terms of their confidence in themselves and will negatively affect their trust in her and their ability to feel safe and relaxed around her.
Katie's training task regarding these behaviors is to be very conscious about when the dogs are likely to do the behaviors so that she can change her own behavior in advance of them making mistakes.
For example, when she greets the pups first thing in the morning, they most assuredly are likely to jump all over her if she stands in the stall with them, particularly if she stands in front of them. However, if she greets them briefly and walks with them to the paddock gate, they will settle in alongside her. If she walks in the field with them just a little, they will race off and then come back to her more calmly, with a little more learning brain possibilities that they could have given her in their excited state in the stall.
Katie is ready to reinforce those offered moments of brilliance by using her clicker and treats or her verbal marker and verbal reinforcement or snuggle time. In managing the pups this way, the behaviors she doesn't like are repeated by the pups less often, and they learn how to ask for her attention in a way that makes it likely she will give it.
Dogs do what is immediately reinforcing to them. Katie's pups are quickly learning that if they want her attention NOW, putting their butts on the ground will always work. They have not learned that they will get in trouble if they don't.
Katie has an excellent read on her dogs and excellent timing. I can tell what she has been doing with these pups in terms of managing jumping up by watching the dogs in the video. As the pups come back to check in with Katie, look at their loose bodies and the speed at which they approach her. Katie keeps her voice slow and soft, which helps remind the pups that slow and soft is what she'd like of them. She doesn't change her tone as she, no doubt, is hoping that the pups don't jump on her.
Banks gets his brain back first. He turns slightly away from Katie and lowers his head, offering her the deference and respect we like to see LGDs offer their livestock. Eevie, the pup with the orange back, is the rogue of the two, and it takes her a little longer to remember what Katie likes and what will work in terms of getting Katie's attention.
You can see Eevie's front feet leave the ground. Katie keeps her tone steady and moves just slightly -and that is all it takes. As Katie swings her camera around, we see Eevie, manding calmly as if that's just what she does, after all. She gets lots of calm tactile and verbal reinforcement for this, and then the pups dash off again because, just that fast, Katie is old news. Back to work they go, as they should.
I admire this flawless handling! Training done well looks easy, or as if no training were happening at all. In fact, the training Katie showed us in this video is ADVANCED training. Many people who have owned dogs all their lives don't learn how to do what Katie demonstrated for us here. It is beautiful. Very soon, her pups will conduct themselves mindfully when they are near her because of their increasing maturity and the length of attention span that is possible and because Katie has skillfully "shaped" their behavior. Very cool!