The First Day is a Big Day

This entry is part 3 of 25 in the series Service Dog Training
Yes, your face WILL stick like that.

Yes, your face WILL stick like that.

A California puppy haiku:

Snow is weird and cold.
OMG! You can eat it!
Ow-wow-wow brain freeze.

Due to a lucky “break” in our cold snap, Mindy experienced only a 70-degree drop in temperature when we arrived home late Monday night. I took her out to urinate on the new paving stones installed for her toilet (GDB puppies learn to urinate on concrete, for the easy of urban work later) and watched it freeze beneath her. Brr!

Fortunately she’s a Labrador, so it took her a bit to realize she was cold. She was showing signs of paw pain outside, though — her little feet were not conditioned for this — so I’ve been carrying her to the toilet and back, even when she’d rather play in the snow and eat dead plant stems and other puppy stuff. Frozen paws are a legitimate risk in this weather.

"I'm not stupid. I found the warm spot." With her antler chew.

“I’m not stupid. I found the warm spot.” With her antler chew.

There’s a phenomenon trainers call “winter puppy syndrome,” describing how many puppies brought home during the cold months experience delayed housetraining and reduced socialization, due to cold weather. Puppies (and humans!) don’t want to go out frequently for toilet breaks, and humans are less likely to take pups out for walks or social outings.

Well, I’m not going to deny that we’ve had some toilet accidents already, though I think that has as much to do with the 9-week-old bladder as the frigid weather. But we’ve started our socialization! I chose for our first visit our local feed store, the Wanamaker Feed & Seed, because it’s a fascinating old feed building with wooden floors and a bazillion smells, and because they’re rather less likely than the average retail establishment to freak out if she has an accident inside. (She didn’t.)

First, we had to ride in the car. Mindy was rather unimpressed with the car crate on the way home from the airport last night, which I supposed was partly due to the spatial separation between human and crate and partly due to the fact that the car takes a while to warm up, because it’s cold outside! (She likes her plastic crate beside my bed, but it’s warm and close and stationary.) So I decided today to stack the deck in my favor, because being calm in the car is going to be a must.

So I filled my beta unit Pet Tutor and hooked it up to the crate.

[video_lightbox_youtube video_id=”IFuu9pc3bs4&rel=0″ width=”640″ height=”480″ auto_thumb=”1″]

This was also her first experience wearing her puppy vest, and I wanted her to associate it with good things happening, too. It must have worked, because she didn’t so much as look at it again.

I clicked (via the Pet Tutor remote) on the drive as well for a quiet, calm puppy. It’s easy to forget how tiring learning can be, especially learning from scratch. The drive wasn’t long, but I guess all that concentrating wore her out, because soon she settled really well. Really, really well.

"We're here! Are you ready for your first socialization outing, Mindy? ...Mindy?"

“We’re here! Are you ready for your first socialization outing, Mindy? …Mindy?”

She woke up and we went in, and Mindy absolutely blew me away.

At this point she’d had one formal clicker session ever. Two, if we count the Pet Tutor in the car crate. She’d got just the basics of a nose target started and while I’ve reinforced sit, I haven’t even tried to put it on cue yet. My goal for today was simply to let her see a new place, with me feeding for staying close to me.

Our first outing. Aw.

Our first outing. Aw.

Mindy not only figured out that walking on my left produced a predictable stream of kibble, she figured out that sitting quietly while I spoke with other humans earned attention and kibble, too. She became a puppy statue while I spoke with the employees about clicker training and guide dogs. She was curious about things, but she was focused and attentive and generally awesome.

She met four people (“just please pet her only when her paws are on the floor, not while she’s jumping up”) and walked up and down the aisles with me. I was focusing so hard on clicking only when her head was pointing forward, because GDB puppies are not supposed to watch their handlers while walking (for obvious reasons!) that I wasn’t paying close attention to the environment, and at one point I stopped right beside the open bins of dog treats! Mindy stayed next to me, and you betcha I clicked and treated that one.

Overall, I couldn’t have been more happy with a first outing. She was a rock star. I know it won’t always be like that, but wow, what a start. She was amazing for about twenty minutes, which is a ridiculously long session for an infant puppy, and then we quit while we were ahead.

But she had her first piece of training (other than settling in the carrier) last night. She was wide awake after her loooong nap on the second, longer flight home, so she got to explore the house a bit and then she had her first clicker session. That did wear her out so we could finally go to bed. I do have video of it, which I’ll share after I get it off the video camera.

And no, I won’t be sharing two posts a day for long! There’s just a lot to cover in this important (and fun!) introductory phase.

About Laura VanArendonk Baugh CPDT-KA KPACTP

Laura was born at a very young age and started playing with animals immediately after. She never grew out of it, and it looks to be incurable. She is the author of the bestselling FIRED UP, FRANTIC, AND FREAKED OUT. She owns Canines In Action, Inc. in Indianapolis, speaks at workshops and seminars, and is also a Karen Pryor Academy faculty member.

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  1. I can’t imagine complaining about too many puppy posts 🙂

  2. Mindy sounds like a delightful puppy, and oh those puppy eyes…

  3. Love love love these posts! So useful for new puppy owners (and adorable, too).
    We are adding a Great Pyr puppy to our family on Friday, and I’ll be doing clicker work with her from the first day. I’m also making a list of places to take her for socialization outings, aiming for one per day, and remembering the goal of making each one positive. 🙂

  4. Oh! I think something just clicked for me (ha! “clicked!”)

    I don’t know why, but at first I thought I was only supposed to used the clicker during formal training sessions a few times a day, but I’m now thinking that I am supposed to use it all the time as the primary means of letting Maggie know she did the right thing? Always use the clicker instead of saying “good dog” outside of training sessions? And always have the treat bag on me right now? Is that right or am I interpreting that incorrectly?

    • It’s not necessary that it be the primary method — praise is certainly a valid form of feedback! But anything where precision matters (in this post’s example, a nose pointing forward instead of looking up or back to me) is something I’ll want to click, for more accuracy, rather than mark verbally.

      But overall, you can feel free to “catch” your puppy at any time with praise, petting, treats, etc.

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