“To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.” -Anatole France
My puppy “Momentum” turned eight months old last week. This picture was taken during a live training session we did last week for our “Recallers” students…here we where both hamming it up a bit 🙂 At the beginning of each month I put together a plan for my training with Momentum.
You will notice on my graphic I also include something each month I call “new adventures”. This is critical for young puppies but keeps life interesting for all dogs. Below is a video of such an adventure we took in September with Momentum and three of her littermates (and Lynda Orton-Hill’s young poodle “Dare”).
In this case “new adventure time” was a fantastic fun filled training session that was both physically and mentally challenging for the puppies. Adventures can also be exposure to “new” and that may just be “mentally stimulating” to a new puppy, or they can be re-visits to places that aren’t “new” but just fun filled and physical challenging.
A Balanced Approach is Rarely What Your Puppy Needs
As you can see from my graphic above, the emphasis I chose to put on each “skill group” is not at all balanced every month. Some areas may have less emphasis while others have a much larger focus of my time. As my puppy matures the amount of focus I put on each of these four areas continually changes. Obviously, when I start out with a seven week old puppy the focus is almost entirely on “family pet skills” and “new adventures” with the small injection of “body awareness” with no attention given to the other two skill groups. I like to include body awareness at this stage because shaping these skills are fun, it is a great way to fatigue the puppy without “throwing a ball” to wear them out and it lays down a brilliant foundation developing a strong body with great proprioception!
With my training there will be many “family pet” skills (such as “Crate Games”) that will contribute to having an amazing obedience or agility dog…so there will be benefits across these areas of focus. However I am not taking a eight week old puppy and teaching him wing wraps or running a twelve week old puppy through a channel of weave poles or running sequences through uprights or short heights with a six month old puppy. Those things just don’t hit my radar until the puppy is much older.
So for our first month my puppy is learning cool things to help develop a strong relationship between us as she grows up both mentally and physically strong. This kind of plan can easily be called “Creating the Dog of Your Dreams.”
This kind of four-way focused approach to raising my puppies has resulted in me owning a puppy that has grown up to be “the dog of my dreams” ….eight times so far!!! It is also a plan that has resulted in me owning eight dogs that have won US/Canadian and World Championships in agility. So there is no need to “choose” when raising a puppy, if you want a great family pet or a fantastic agility dog. I do believe you can have it all … and this is one plan that has been proven eight times out of eight attempts to be one that can achieve “it all”!
When I make my “Focus Plan” each month I first decide where the balance across the four areas shown in the graphic is going to lie. By my second month with the puppy I am interjecting some “flatwork games” that will be the foundation for great obedience and agility skills. My puppies will do Susan Salo type puppy grids, and at around 6 months learn about tunnels, but other than that they don’t get on any “real agility” equipment until they are closer to a year old. Again, it is a plan that helps the puppy to lay down a fantastic strong and flexible soft tissue framework to help support their bones until the time I do think it is okay to move on to “real agility.”
Elements of The Plan
So what I have to share with you today is my plan for my puppy now that she is 8 months old. Each month when I look at my four areas of focus I consider these four elements:
- The Tune Ups! These are the skills that are in need of “re-polishing”. For one reason or another these skills not as strong as I thought they were. It happens to all of us! Go back and fix what is “sloppy” now before it ends up completely broken!
- The Carry Overs. Here are skills that were in my plan last month but that I didn’t have time to train to the level I wanted.
- The Trouble Shooting Skills. These are skills that will help overcome challenges I see at my puppy’s (or dog’s) current level of training.
- The Brand New Skills. Next up will be the brand new skills I want to teach in the next month. These are the “shiny new things” that people tend to get carried away with. That is why I leave them until last.
Investing In Your Puppy’s Future
Of course a plan is just the start! You still need to get out there and put it into action. Make sure you make it a daily habit to train your dog several times during the day. I like to do one session before breakfast. One session before lunch and one after dinner. Ideally I will get in one or two more but knowing that my sessions are only five to ten minutes long that still doesn’t even add up to one hour a day training my puppy. That one hour investment will pay off hugely down the road. A 45- 60 minute of daily training during the first six months your puppy life is an investment with the payout of an amazing family pet for the rest of his life. It is worth making that investment…it is a return you won’t get anywhere else!
Here is that video explaining my plan for Momentum over the next month…
Your plan can follow this format regardless if you’re training a puppy or an older dog. Looking at my plan over the next month with Momentum, I have a LOT of “tune ups!” You see, I have only trained my puppy for three days over the last month. That is because between Sept 29th and October 28th I have been away from home for all but three days. Of course she has been “trained” but not by me! During two of those weeks Momentum was trained by two of my students (one each week) who were watching her for me. They did a terrific job…Jane Book even trained skills I don’t know how to train! How cool is that? However, the rest of the time I was away my puppy got “trained” by my husband John. Now John loves the dogs as much as I do but they get a bit of a “hall pass” when I am not at home 🙂 So the “training” that happened with the puppy is not necessarily work of my choosing 🙂 Really not a big deal if this happens to you. All things can be fixed with “tune ups.”
“Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.” -Saint Augustine
“Tune ups” shouldn’t be viewed as a failure. The only failure would be if you ignore what you see and rely on “hope” to fix the direction the behaviour is heading. Hope is a wonderful thing but I don’t think much of her dog training abilities! So yes, perhaps by not jumping into the “shiny new skills” may feel like you are “failing”, but as the quote above states … success starts with humility … and oh, puppies like Momentum do keep us humble!
How is it possible that I love this puppy so much when she challenges me in so many ways? You would think the opposite would be true… clearly it isn’t for me. Maybe this is why young girls often love the “bad a$$ boys.”
Today I am grateful for Momentum, who pushes me to make things clearer, not just for her…but for everyone.