Training our Taz - puppy months and dog years

by Liz Beavis

When we got Taz, our little collie kelpie cross puppy, on the first weekend in January this year, she was only 11 weeks old and tiny, everyone we talked to joked about how much she would chew our things and how much trouble she would be. Truly I dreaded having a puppy. I hadn’t had one before, but I had heard that they can be difficult. I would have been happy to adopt an older dog from a shelter and skip puppy-hood altogether, but we wanted to have the opportunity to train our dog to behave around chickens, and maybe to help us herd cattle, so we needed to start young.  


Now that we have had Taz for 6 months and she’s about 9 months old, the puppy times don’t seem so bad at all, and I am glad that I didn’t miss them, its been really lovely to watch Taz grow up so quickly. I credit our relatively satisfaction to several factors. First, we started with a smart puppy, she does want to learn and want to please, she only wee’d inside once in her life before she figured out that wees are done outside, toilet training took exactly one day. Secondly, Taz has looked up to Cheryl (our 12 year old kelpie cross that has been with Pete since she was a tiny puppy) as a mentor from the moment they met. Although Cheryl is herself not always a paragon of obedience, she has taught Taz doggy manners. Taz is the bottom of our pack, she has to wait for Cheryl to finish with a toy or a bone before she can take it. She suffered several warning bites to the nose before she learnt this, and we let dogs be dogs so that Taz learnt her place. Naturally, she recognises Pete and I as higher in the pack order than herself, because that’s how Cheryl sees us, but it was much easier to let Cheryl teach her. 
We also had a little help with understanding what to expect from a puppy, both from an excellent set of dvds that I bought early on, and some personal counselling from Ohio Farmgirl (leader of a very impressive dog hoard, if only Taz could be half as smart as Titan), which made it easier to recognise and deal with each stage of development.
In particular, we were prepared for Taz to be quite timid at first, as she got used to living with us and we needed to coach her through this stage by exposing her to lots of new things and people, but in a non-confronting way, and not to force anything really scary on her. She spent a lot of time hiding under our bed. She has now gained confidence and is happy to explore (unfortunately also happy to visit the neighbours by herself) and bark at the whipper snipper (thanks to Chez for teaching her that one), where in the past she would have hidden away.

We also learnt to use a puppy box, not as a punishment, but as a safe place where she could relax during the day. We use the dog box from our ute, positioned under the veranda, as the puppy box. Taz loves her puppy box, we leave the door open and she often pops back in there if she is scared, or just wants to lie down, she knows that’s her safe space and it obviously brings her comfort as she never resists going into her box when we ask.

We have tried to train Taz at her own pace. We choose one or two commands that we want her to learn and focus on them until she gets them. Taz quickly learnt to come, sit, lie down, stay, get in her box, get in the car, get on her mat, give us five, and wait before she eats. The main thing to remember is that puppies don’t understand “no”, we had to start using positive commands. If we didn’t like what she was doing, we had to call her using “come” or to stop her jumping, tell her to “sit”. For chewing, we tried OFG’s suggestion of “that’s mine” and replacing the offending item with a puppy toy (not sure if she quite got this one, but doesn’t hurt to try). For the record, she has chewed up my prescription sunglasses, and all the thongs (jandles/flip flops) in the house and she has a habit of stealing socks from the laundry basket, and the cheapest way to keep her supplied with puppy toys is to buy an armload of soft toys from an op shop (charity store).
Over the last few weeks, Taz has noticeably calmed down. She still spends all day in her dog box (as much to give Cheryl a rest as to stop her going visiting by shimmying under the gate), and in the afternoons we let her out and throw toys for her (and she plays tug of war with Cheryl). In the evenings she comes inside and calmly lies on her mat or goes to bed in our room without being told. The dvd said that we could consider each month of a puppy’s life to be equivalent to one year for a human child, so now Taz has come through early childhood and gained her confidence and she is equivalent to a 9 year old child heading towards teenager years. The point of this analogy is to say that even when a dog has reached its full size at around one year, it probably is not yet mature in its attitude, more like a teenager, and will not be fully mature until closer to 18 months of age.

I think its really sad to see so many puppies offered for give away at 9-12 months of age. I guess these puppies were not trained or treated appropriately when they were younger and now they are big and the chewing and crazy jumping is not so cute anymore, so its time to get rid of them. Puppies don’t come with a manual, but its not hard to get advice and spend some time helping them to become obedient, happy and settled mature dogs. We never even considered that giving a dog away was an option, so that meant we had to put the time and effort into making Taz, the puppy we chose, into the dog we wanted.
Now that we have got her to this stage is time to think about training her with stock, except we don't have many at the moment!  She is very confident with herding the house cows and their calves, so as soon as we have some suitable weaners in a yard, I'm sure she will learn quickly a few basic commands.

Any thoughts about training dogs?

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