Falka’s progress

Since the last blog about Falka, she has completed her second puppy course, passing a KC Puppy Foundation course. She is progressing really well, although true to her breed, she started to show some challenging characteristics. She is much sharper and has lower threshold for reactivity than Yarpen. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it means that in the society that we live in, we need to be extra careful in managing this.

Firstly, the resource guarding from other dogs. She has made great progress with it and now does not react even when a strange dog is close by when she is fed treats. I have been doing a lot of training with Yarpen as a stooge, where they both get treats while sitting next to each other, each gets a treat separately after I say his/her name. She has never reacted to him in a way which would be obvious to us, humans, but if watched carefully enough she can be seen sending some very subtle signals that clearly show she wants to guard whatever she values. I don’t scold her, but if she “gives him an eye” (a quick glance toward him, with a bit of a whale eye), or blocks his access by moving into his space, she doesn’t get the treat. If she escalates in any way, the treats and my attention are removed altogether. I really am blessed that Yarpen is such a patient and non-possessive dog (having said that, if he’s got something and she comes over and tries to take it, he will growl at her. But it is a polite and low-intensity growl, as opposed to hers “give it all now, as I want it, I’ll bite you if you don’t!!” so I allow this). We still have to work a little on her jealousy over me, but hopefully that will come in time.

With other dogs, I try to reward her every time a dog comes close to us (mostly me, as she is guarding me and food), so that she associates their approach with good things and doesn’t feel that she will lose anything. I NEVER feed or give attention to a strange dog in front of her, unless it’s a carefully managed, set up situation.

To further improve her relationship with other dogs I have let her play with a young husky pup we’ve met in a park. I could observe the pup in a group of other dogs and was quite pleased with her body language. Normally I wouldn’t want her to engage with strange dogs, but I felt she needed some positive experience with some new dogs so I allowed it this once. She really did have a ball and this one play-date helped her enormously. Now when we meet dogs I do allow her to shortly greet them, for which she is rewarded, but then I recall her and engage with me. In total, I would say that she was allowed to play (and I mean a proper play time) with less than 10 dogs in her life. The number of dogs she has met in a “greet and recall” situations would be closer to a hundred.

 

Secondly, we have now entered the stage where her guarding instincts are kicking in. Possibly related to a fear period. She is still friendly with strangers, but only on her terms. She will be happy to greet (sniff, gentle stroke), but any sort of rough play from the stranger is met with defensive reaction from her. This is actually a step up from Yarpen, who did not like strangers at all at her age, so I am not overly worried by this. Of course, we are addressing this, but the main lesson here is for me to be her advocate and not put her in a position where the stranger’s action come first before her wellbeing. For the time being, she is now off limits to most strangers on the street, but spends some time with my dog-savvy friends (most of whom are either professionals or advanced and experienced handlers), where she learns to trust them and is not pushed over her current limits.

 

Thirdly, her walks are now separate from those of Yarpen. When I first started taking her for walks, I used to walk them together quite a lot. Partly because his presence was giving her a lot of confidence, partly because I wanted them to bond. Common walks are a typical method of creating a bond between previously strange dogs. However, over time I noticed this wasn’t bringing desired effects. Yarpen was too sore to engage in play with her, which was frustrating both him (as, if I would allow it, she would still try to tease him to play with her by pulling his ears or biting his ankles) and her (as she just wasn’t getting the attention she needed). Also, it started affecting her relationship with me; where previously she would put play with me over that with Yarpen, now she would leave my side to investigate what he was doing.

 

Fourthly (is that even a word?), we are continuously working on her body awareness, agility and body coordination. This is something I believe is not necessarily innate to our breed (or many other giant breeds), and at the same time is very important for injury free life and success in competition. A simple example: when I first started training Yarpen competitively, I was trying to use food games as a way to increase his motivation and speed (as at the time I did not know how to engage him in play). “Trying” being the operative word here. Games like food chases, or catching food in air don’t really do much, if the dog is more likely to get the food stuck between his eyes without even opening his mouth… So we do a lot of food chases and we started on food catching gamers (throwing treats so she catches them in the air). I also introduced a sound which I make when I toss a treat on the floor (“weeee”) so that it’s easier for her to switch to a food chase mode. I am also using interactive toys, such as treat balls which require her to work out how to get to the food. These things are not something that can be learnt in single sessions, it’s more of a long-term development of skills so I expect this to carry on throughout her life.

 

The journey we are going through now is extremely enjoyable. She is changing extremely fast, both in terms of physical and mental development. This calls for great flexibility on my part, but also makes it very entertaining and engaging. I am trying to use the time we are actively spending together to the limits. Every moment is a chance for training/learning about world. I am definitely seeing the fruits of our work, but at the same time, this work carries with itself a lot of time commitment. We have now joined the IPO club, as well as continue our previous classes. This means that we have structured training 4 times a week, plus obviously, several short training sessions per day (when I say sessions, I mean moments when my attention is entirely devoted to her, usually with some goal in mind, but not necessarily strictly training related. For example a session would be a play session, where I am aware of the duration, her engagement levels and for example the type of toy we play with). Putting this together with Yarpen’s treatment plan which requires 3h commute twice a week, I do feel like a dog-taxi most of the time! And yet I’ve never been happier with the way my passion for my dogs is progressing.

 

Busy puppy

In the last two weeks Falka has been learning all about her new home and getting used to new routines. She’s met her new friends, visited all local parks and started going to work with me (and Yarpen of course). I hate boredom, so I try to alternate between many of our walking spots. She has already introduced herself to our local “dog sports people” at a canine conditioning seminar, as well as our physiotherapist (for now just for cuddles and kisses).

Most importantly, she has started her formal education in a class setting. She is actually attending not just one, but two puppy classes! The more the merrier really… any chance to work in a new environment, surrounded by new people and dogs is a treasure! She’s been doing really well, with some interest in other puppies, but without losing her head. She’s also friendly to strangers, something new to us, as until very recently, Yarpen didn’t care much for other people.

Falka is also visiting vets quite often. Not for medical purposes though! We are lucky to have the Royal Dick Vet School, where we go in for weekly weight checks. At 17 weeks old, she weighs whooping 25kg! She will be a big girl…

Over this time, she has been meeting all the new experiences with tail high up and lovely, inquisitive attitude. The one and only thing which required double approach was the tunnel, introduced to puppies in one of our classes. On the first occasion she was interested in it, but going through it was a little too much. We left it then without putting any pressure on her. By the second go, she went through and, having conquered her fear in her own time, fell in love with the tunnel and couldn’t get enough of running through it!

As she is now in full blown teeth change, we modified our play a little, to protect her little jaws and budding adult teeth. We don’t tug much at all now, with most play being either chase games (perfect for training recalls!) and personal play. The personal play is something that I am really keen on, but as I have messed it up with Yarpen, I am a little unsure about how to go about it. At the moment she chases me, and I gently push her chest while she tries to grab my forearms. I am quite strict on the amount of pressure she puts on my arms, freezing or stopping altogether if she hurts me. She is becoming more and more aware of her jaws, but I fear that still, in the future this might be a bit too painful for me, even if damage would be accidental. We’ll see how it goes. For now I make it very clear when we are playing like this, and when grabbing my hands is not acceptable (i.e. I never engage in this type of play if she starts it by grabbing my hands uninvited).