Updated: Jun 22
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. Using clicker training, Katie significantly changed behaviors they did that she didn't enjoy, such as mouthing, jumping up, and tension around being fed.
Using positive reinforcement training and environmental management, Katie was able to greatly reduce the drama that the adult dogs tended to create on their own at dinner-times. It takes a lot longer to change a dog's behavior using behavioral modification training, which is necessary to change a dog's learned behavior, but training puppies to do a different behavior in the first place is MUCH faster!
Now Katie has these two brassy pups, particularly Eevie. It is clear to Katie that these pups need supervision and training regarding food, and she knows that her life with the dogs as adults will be less complicated if she gets this early training handled well.
It is important to the story to share with you the temperament of the dogs:
Both pups are environmentally bold.
Eevie, living in the company of her siblings, liked to be a bit of a punk. If there was a disagreement happening she was usually involved. Sometimes she started these scuffles, and sometimes she seemed to just join in for fun. She is VERY sure of herself.
A pup like this can be challenging to raise because she will require more active training/shaping than a more easy-going pup would. However, a pup like this has the moxie necessary to handle a lot of guardian responsibility as an adult, so working a little harder right now will be worth it in the long run.
The training lessons must support her inherent bravery and potential towards becoming a great guardian, and she needs shaping to become a dog that is a pleasure for a human to live with. She also needs to learn to be respectful of her canine partner, particularly as it concerns resources, such as where they like to sleep and at mealtimes.
Banks is an environmentally bold pup, but he isn't as socially bold as Eevie and he prefers to avoid conflict. He will be a good working partner for Eevie if his confidence in himself is protected as they mature. If Eevie is allowed to terrorize him around resources, he will become timid, which will encourage her to victimize him further because dogs target weaknesses in each other.
Katie has a lot at stake with these pups; they are her second set of Maremmas, and she wants this to work! Feeding dogs provides a tremendous training opportunity that should not be missed. I'll share with you what has been done so far and will follow Katie W. as she continues to shape her young dogs.
When the pups arrived, Katie fed them both in their stall. Very quickly, Eevie began to give Banks a hard time about food, so Katie fed Banks in the stall and Eevie in the attached paddock. Eevie began to guard the stall, so Katie fed both dogs in the paddock standing between them to break the sightline. There was still a lot of drama, so we moved Eevie out of the paddock, placing her bowl far from the gate to the paddock and around a corner so that she could no longer send Banks evil looks. If Eevie came to the gate when she should have been eating, Katie stood with her back to her, blocking the sightline to Banks. Banks has learned that Katie will keep him safe while he eats, and Eevie has learned that it doesn't do her any good to wander around and that she should eat, because when Banks has finished eating if Eevie has left her bowl, Katie picks up the bowl and Eevie may have just missed dinner.
We chose to give Banks the high-value real estate to build his confidence and to diminish Eevie's inclination to claim that area as her own. Katie waits a few minutes, or more, to open the paddock gate and let the dogs go out in the field to work so that opening the gate isn't linked to feeding time in the dogs' minds.
As you can see in the video, there is some confusion on the part of both dogs, but there is no drama or possibility of drama because Katie has used her environment to control the dogs. She is shaping Banks, and the environment is teaching Eevie some truths. At this point, Banks is still insecure if Katie isn't with him, so the next step is for her to teach him, through shaping, that he is safe on his own. She will do this in small steps; 10' away, 20' away, then in the barn and out of sight, then gone for half an hour.
Once Banks is solid on his own, Katie will feed the dogs and shape both dogs, as Katie S. describes below, and as you have seen in several of my other blogs. This will start with Katie feeding the dogs where they are being fed now, but with the paddock gate open.
Check out this new video Katie W. sent me! In sixteen days she has gone from working with confused, and occasionally anxious pups, to pups that are relaxed and happy as they eat. She has increased the distance between the pups. Eevie is being fed a little closer to the paddock gate, which makes it easier for her to give Banks "the look" or go from her gate to her bowl and back again. Instead, she does her job beautifully. Remember, she harassed banks because she was anxious and insecure, which had that effect on him. Now, both dogs are relaxed and staying on task.
Katie has increased her distance from Banks as he eats because he was becoming dependent on her presence to feel safe as he eats. She has other things to do! The goal is for her to be able to leave him while he eats, if she chooses to, and have Banks continue to be comfortable.
Katie S. is just slightly ahead of Katie W. in her training of her pups and her skill set, but not by a lot. In a nutshell, Katie S. started with two adult dogs. She had them for several months; then one came home, and two four-month-old male pups were partnered with her remaining adult Maremma. Katie went from living with two adult dogs to living with three dogs, two of which needed a lot of training, training she had never done because her Maremmas came to her as adults. One of the pups was a good fit, but the second pup was not, so he came home to me. I then sent Katie home with two female pups that are siblings to Katie W.'s pups, which means that they are challenging! And now Katie is training four Maremmas, three of whom need lots of training. One of the female pups was a good fit, and the other was not, so I brought her home. Keep in mind that all these changes with Katie's dogs happened within about a month! When the first set of pups went to her, she was nervous about the responsibility of training pups herself, but look at her go!!! Wow.
It might be helpful to clarify the names of these pups/dogs. Meadow and Aspen are Katie's original adult dogs. River and Lupine are the two male pups. Cedar and Sage are the two female pups.
This is a portion of an email Katie sent me on 12/21, just a few days after we brought the second female pup home:
I just wanted to let you both know that everything is going so great. Cedar is one cool pup. She owns everywhere she steps. Even when she's unsure of something, her default is to bark and protect or to sit and gaze at it. I haven't seen her run away from anything. Yesterday she went into the forest for the first time, and she was so relaxed, even with passing traffic, that she initiated a play session with River in the tall grass. Early this morning, I looked out my window and saw all three of them playing. Aspen had the zoomies. So sweet to watch.
River and Cedar are a good match. Nobody is the underdog. Cedar is so much calmer now since Sage left. Less jumping and biting, and she is extremely trainable. We are still working out the kinks with mealtimes. I've been harnessing her and working with her to teach her to stay at her bowl, eat her own food, and not approach the others while they eat. Separating her doesn't work because she refuses to eat. I'm sure we will transition away from the harness soon, but it's a nice bridge for now.
I hope it continues this way! I hope Lupine, Sage, and Meadow are all doing well!
It was a deal for all! (all the changes in swapping out pups) I feel much more prepared to shape and train now. And I think Lupine is so much braver because of his experiences here. And Sage got to go on an adventure! And Meadow is going to be a training seminar example dog this spring! Sometimes we just don't know how it's all going to work out, but it always does.
More from Katie S.:
I loved these (the blogs I shared with her about feeding). They inspired me to do some clicker work around mealtimes. I only did one clicker session. Aspen is now waiting patiently at his bowl for the puppies to finish eating (he gets treats and snacks while he waits, but he will wait for many minutes in between food reinforcers). I cannot stress how huge this is. He used to constantly quietly creep up on them while they were eating because he eats so fast. And it was hard to manage that while also managing keeping the puppies from harassing each other.
Now, nobody has to be separated, and I don't need the leash for Cedar anymore. I can send Cedar and River back to their bowls, even if I am not close enough to stand between them (if I am over by Aspen giving him a treat). These dogs are so extremely trainable. I find that I can fix problems in 1-2 training sessions and then just maintenance.
It's only in the past couple of weeks that my pups have stopped driving me crazy :P It wasn't always so harmonious, and I had to bite my tongue more than once to keep from rebuking them (with my face splattered with mud). I struggled during the days that I had the two Rosy pups at the same time, so I can relate. Progress was just slower in those few days because there was more chaos. But there was progress!
And the saga continues......I'll share more of their stories along the way.