Left: one of our two new Pittie neighbors!Right: our space is starting to look cozy with plants!
Commercial indoors spaces!
Chai and I started getting used to indoors spaces today: we entered and exited several small stores that allowed me to bring her in, and I carried her through Office Depot and walked her through the Walmart mall corridor (without asking permission; by the time they kicked us out, we had almost made it through the entire corridor).
In the course of our store-outing, we took Chai’s first elevator. The first journey was up. She walked in and rode the elevator without issues and walked out confidently again. Going down, however, she got her tail caught in the elevator door and startled. Bad, bad experience! She hurried out as fast as she could. We are going to spend the next few days trying to counter this experience with good ones!
Left: a clothing store we got permission to explore. Right: in the elevator – before the scary experience!
People socializing continued
Chai voluntarily approached and was fed by 6 strangers today, 2 of whom were kids. She is feeling better and better about strangers – even the ones who are reaching for her from above out of the blue!
Game and Chai went to Las Islas again – lots of UNAM campus freedom, running and exploring, meeting people and dogs!
UNAM: chasing Game to who plays with balls, not minding people and meeting her first Xolo!
Videoing clicker games for a future project!
We continued working on a little project we started a while ago: a platform game that’s meant to teach cue discrimination and location specific marker cues to dogs and an introduction to shaping and luring as well as clear, clean mechanics to handlers – all within a single, increasingly complex platform game. Both Game and Chai get to play as we are building more and more complexity into it. Our platform these days? My suitcase. Lots of shaping fun for little Chai today!
One of the reasons I’m not placing Chai yet? I need her as a demo dog for my suitcase videos!
I’m introducing the shower as Chai’s peeing and pooping spot indoors. I use it as a supersized indoors crate and only let her into the rest of the living space when she has either done her business outside or in the bathroom. So far so good!
We worked on multi-dog recalls today! I love being able to do this anytime I have a puppy joining an adult-dog household. I’ve had multi-dog householeds for a long time – just having Game for a while was an exception rather than the rule. And as a rule, I always have both a multi-dog recall that means, “Everyone come!” (in my case, the cue is whistling) as well a “formal” recall cue for each individual dog that refers to just them.
Formal, multi-dog and informal recalls
I teach the formal recall cue that will be just for the new puppy in set-ups, following my 6-week protocol. The multi-dog recall is different: here, I jump right in as soon as the puppy is attached to my adult dog and will follow them around. Now I can start using the multi-dog recall my adult dog is reliable and familiar with: I whistle – the adult dog comes – the puppy chases them – I mark and reinforce both dogs. Especially if your puppy is still pretty young, you can use this recall even in difficult and highly distractiong situations from the get go: puppies aren’t independent enough to want to be left behind – so when your adult dog comes running, so will day, no matter what!
Initially, the cue for your puppy is your adult dog running. After a few repetitions (how many it takes varies widely and depends on your individual puppy), a cue transfer occurs: the puppy figures out that your multi-dog recall cue always precedes the other dog running towards you, which reliably predicts treats materializing near you. Once this happens, they will start coming back on the verbal cue alone and don’t even need the adult dog’s help anymore! Voilá – you’ve got a multi-dog recall on a verbal (or whistle) cue!
There’s a third kind of recall I use until the formal recall is well established: my informal pup-pup-pup-pup recall. I use this anytime I am not 99% sure my dog is going to come and if it doesn’t work, I don’t sweat it. I still reinforce anytime it does work, of course – and most of the time, it will. However, having this additional informal recall cue helps protect the formal cue I’m building and will ensure that the success rate of the formal cue stays as close to 100% as possible. Once the formal cue is strong, I tend to ditch the informal one.
Video diary time!
In the video below, you’ll see two of Chai’s first sessions of this exercise. At this point, she is just chasing Game. A few days down the line, she’ll figure out that my whistling, not Game, is the most salient predictor of a treat being available near me.
The video below shows the rest of today’s park adventure: lots of people and dog traffic! AND in the end of the clip, you’ll see another whistle recall. This time, Chai shows up first. There’s a tiny bit of latency and she’s trotting, not running – but we’re getting there! The cue is already picking up meaning!
Chai’s strangers-are-okay protocol
Chai also voluntarily approached and then got fed by 4 strangers during today’s adventure, 3 of whom were kids. The confidence-around-people building continues – despite moments like the ones in the video above, where people just reach for her because she is cute. Go puppy!
In case you are confused: these videos are not from the day I’m publishing them (July 3, 2023) but from Chai’s 17th day with me (April 23, 2023). It just takes time to edit videos and transfer my hand-written notes to my blog, and I haven’t kept up. I want to keep Chai’s diary chronological, so bit by bit, I’m catching up! While Chai is 6.5 months old today, the day I publish this post, she was only 4 months old when these videos were taken and I started writing this post. Time is a strange animal!
We went back to the same park today. This is going to be my main focus: I’ll come here (or a similar park) every day for exposure.
It will likely mostly be this particular park becaus not only is it close – this is also Mexico City. Which means something different will be happening every single time I go. I can keep one criterion consistent (familiar environment) while all the others vary: new and different sounds, smells and stimuli every time.
Today versus yesterday
The biggest difference that stood out to me after yesterday’s outing: Chai walked by herself all the way (about 5 minutes) to the park. Yesterday, I carried her and only put her down anytime something interesting was happening – she wasn’t able to walk coordinatedly on a leash on a sidewalk yet.
Compare the video above to yesterday’s video! Do you see differences? What are they? My thoughts are below – but think of your own answers before you keep reading! . . . . . Ready? My thoughts are below. . . . . . I am impressed by Chai’s remarkable improvement between these two days: being able to walk on a leash to the park and back? Reorienting when feeling leash pressure? WOW! And that person (okay, they were doing things well by not reaching for the top of her head, but still! So much more confident!) The initial confidence around dogs has improved too.
We’re still eating kibble in public (I may have used about 5-10 pieces for the same reasons as yesterday) and understand the meaning of the tongue click in a new and exciting environment. I only introduced the tongue click in the house, yesterday. She’s doing SO well!
The Coping Dog has been named Chai (thank you, Chris!). Apart from leaving her home alone on Game’s morning and evening walk, I also took Chai out to the park on day #2. I wanted to see where she was at. After all, this was a 3.5 months old Border Collie puppy who hasn’t left their house and yard in 1.5 months. I knew she knew how to stay home alone and how to be crated – but that was it. She had also never worn a leash/collar/harness (unless the breeder put one of the above on her as a baby puppy – I wouldn’t know). So I bought the first harness I could find in her size, put it on, carried her through the corridor of the apartment building (we don’t want any accidents on public floors!), and put her down in the street. The first clip in the video below starts right after the first time I put her down right outside the apartment building in Mexico City. The car washing/vacuuming place is right next door.
I would then pick her up, carry her towards the park (a couple minutes walking from my AirBnB, but Chai didn’t know how to walk in the street yet). Almost every time I put her down, I took a photo or a video. The video below is a chronological compilation of the stimuli we met and her response to them.
Apart from physically (!) stopping an incoming child from throwing themselves at her, I did not intervene. I just observed (and recorded for you all). I wanted to gather information before approaching our remedial socialization in a more structured manner. So if people wanted to touch her – touch her they could. (Not something I’d usually permit.)
After watching the video above and before you keep reading, think about what this video, in combination with what I have told you about Chai’s past and breed, tells you about her. What kind of dog is she? I’ll share my thoughts below – but think about it yourself before reading them! Do you agree with my assessment? Disagree? See additional things I don’t see? Don’t see some of the things I see? Let me know in the comments! .
Ready? My thoughts are below.
Chai is remarkably curious and resilient. Even though she missed a large chunk of her puppy socialization period (and was NOT born in Mexico City – she is not a BIG CITY puppy!), over and over again, curiosity wins over insecurity. I see lots of exploratory behavior. She crouches down quite a bit as well, and we see tucked tails, yes. But she just keeps bouncing back to being curious again – as curious as one can be when suddenly finding oneself in one of the world’s largest cities! The noises don’t bother her. She is curious about dogs and a little shy around people, which, as long as no one tries to touch her, shows up as ignoring rather than approaching them (live and let live). She also isn’t bothered at all by the harness I just slapped on her right before carrying her out the door and by the 5-meter line she is dragging and that keeps touching her body.
My conclusion is that Chai is going to grow up to be a fine city dog. I see no Border Collie weirdness despite the fact that this would be perfectly understandable even in a Border Collie puppy who DID get all the socialization opportunities in all the right moments. As far as I can tell, Chai is a remarkably stable animal who, if unsure of something, sits and watches rather than running away. And when she is not scared? Then she’ll approach and explore! She may have taken a break from the world for a month and a half at her previous owner’s house – but she’s back at it now and I’ve got a feeling she’ll be quick to catch up and no worse for it. I am impressed, and suspect that this little boucy one is going to make someone very happy!
Thoughts on puppies (especially this one), outings and food
I was not planning on using food in this outing unless I needed her to come back to me (because she’d otherwise try and cross a street in front of a car, for example). In this situation, I’d squat down, tongue click and offer a piece of kibble for returning (which she’d take and devour). We probably ate around 10 during a 25 minute outing. (Those “about to go into the street” or “about to trip someone with the long line” or “reached the end of my line – what do I do?” moments). This is important to me because I do not want her to learn and check in with me nonstop – I really want her to see all that is out there and process it without being distracted by food. She’s a Border Collie – engagement will not be an issue for her. Environmental sensitivity might – so I am keeping the food distractions to a minimum and plan on doing so again tomorrow.
I’ll leave you with a couple pictures I took along the way as well. Same outing:
Left: watching park life. Middle: watching kids playing soccer. Right: tired after the outing!
PS: Chai is a foster. If you’re looking for a young Border Collie, keep an eye on her posts!
We stayed home alone on day #1 for 10 minutes and on day #2 for an hour. No problem for this superstar puppy! I wasn’t too concerned about it because I knew she had already been able to stay home at her previous home – otherwise, I wouldn’t have gone straight to an hour.
With new puppies, I try and leave them for at least 10 minutes every day until they are about a year old. (Unless there is separation anxiety in the puppy – in that case, I would slowly work on it.)
For most puppies I have worked with, staying home alone, when started early and integrated as a normal everyday event, won’t be a problem. The trick is to start on the very first day you’ve got them – when they aren’t yet attached to you! – and then stay consistent. Your value in their life increases with every interaction, which is why you’ll have to keep leaving them home alone every day (or most days): this is how we increase criteria!
Here is the video of The Beautiful and Terrifying Nature of Things’ first entire hour home alone – no Game, no Chrissi:
Apart from starting early, another trick for leaving puppies home alone is to make it a habit to always close the door behind you when you leave a room: go to the bathroom? Rather than letting the puppy follow you, close the door. Same with the kitchen, bedroom … any room that has a door. Do that from day #1, and staying home will come easier to your partner!
The (not so) blank slate: what the puppy brings to the table
The laws of learning apply to all puppies equally. Also, every puppy is different. Both of these things are true: sadly, things are rarely as black and white as we control-loving dog trainers would like them to be.
I was pretty certain my neighbors hadn’t done strategic socialization before the puppies left their nest. However, they likely grew up in a family environment, around young children, cats, ducks, and their dogs (apart from the dam, they have a small male that looks like a Miniature Schnauzer/Chihuahua mix). That’s a good foundation!
As soon as they were ready to explore, on their own time, they started venturing out into the alley with their mother, a little bit braver and further every day. This is one aspect of growing up free-roaming I love: it’s up to the puppies when they are ready to leave the nest, and how far they are willing to go. Their humans just let them be.
Out in the alley, they would meet passers-by and the occasional dog or neighborhood cat. They were also always able to retreat behind the safety of their gate, and had a mom who’d defend them fiercely against passing strange dogs (but not against known neighborhood dogs) until they were between 6 and 7 weeks old, when she intervened to a lesser and lesser degree.
There were five puppies, and this is how I see their baseline temperaments on a scale. Note that my scale only goes from the shiest to the most curious puppy in that litter. It is not a scale of all puppies, or of puppies in general.
The parents’ temperament and stress levels
We also know a little bit about the parents’ temperaments: the mother is neutral/friendly towards all people outside the home. She’ll bark briefly when someone enters her yard. She is neutral/friendly towards known dogs, and slightly suspicious of unknown ones. The father (assuming he is who I believe he is) is confident and mellow around all dogs and all people.
Genetically, this is a nice combination for a free-roamer or a pet dog: mellow and neutral, leaning towards confidence from the father’s side; no exuberance or red flag behaviors in the parents.
I don’t think either one of the parents has a particularly stressful life. They have lots of freedom, plenty of food, and a routine that rarely changes. This should result in a good in-utero experience for the litter. (Mothers who are stressed during the gestation period are more likely to produce pups who are prone to depression, anxiety, and social deficits. This is known to be true for rodents1,2,3 and assumed to also be relevant for other mammalian species such as humans and dogs.)
Two sets of experiences for Puzzle
I wanted Puzzle to have two sets of experiences: one set would prepare her for a potential pet dog life, and the other one would allow her to thrive as a free-roamer and scavenger. The second set was taken care of by the environment she lived in and the freedom she had. I focused on the first set. I wanted her to experience living inside a house, being left alone, being crated, mat work, walking on a leash, being in busy places with lots of people, being in stores, being handled and carried, being dog-neutral and dog-confident as well as people-neutral and people-confident, starting housetraining, getting used to traffic noises and other city sounds, being inside moving vehicles.
Not all of these experiences fall under the category of socialization – some of them are more general pet puppy skills. I also did not get through all of them while I had access to Puzzle. However, I think we did pretty well, given the fact that we only had a few weeks together. The aspects I’m going to focus on in my next two posts are socialization to dogs, and socialization to busy urban spaces/feeling neutral and confident around strange people.
(1) Weinstock, Marta (2016). Prenatal stressors in rodents: Effects on behavior. Neurobiology of Stress, S2352289516300133–. doi:10.1016/j.ynstr.2016.08.004
(2) Cabrera, R.J.; Rodríguez-Echandía, E.L.; Jatuff, A.S.G.; Fóscolo, M. (1999). Effects of prenatal exposure to a mild chronic variable stress on body weight, preweaning mortality and rat behavior. Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research, 32(10), 1229–1237. doi:10.1590/s0100-879×1999001000009
(3) Soares-Cunha, Carina; Coimbra, Bárbara; Borges, Sónia; Domingues, Ana Verónica; Silva, Deolinda; Sousa, Nuno; Rodrigues, Ana João (2018). Mild Prenatal Stress Causes Emotional and Brain Structural Modifications in Rats of Both Sexes. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 12, 129–. doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00129
I noticed that Hadley seems a little wary of kids. I think he has been well socialized to dogs and people at his breeder’s place, but probably hasn’t come across many (if any) children. It’s important to me that he get along well with children, since I know how hard it can be to live with a dog who used to be reactive to them. I constantly have to read Phoebe’s body language when we’re around kids in order to either reinforce calm behavior, play LAT or curve around them. I thought it would be nice to start Hadley out on a path to a friendly relationship with tiny humans.
My motto for a potentially hyper-vigilant and easily over-stimulated breed like a Border Collie is: quality before quantity. I want him to have several distinctively positive experiences with kids rather than lots of neutral ones.
So when I took him out the other day, I looked around and saw three kids playing with a kite in the fields. Hah! I carried the little rascal over there, put him down at a distance of about 60 meters, let him look, and counterconditioned with liver pâté. Alican, the youngest boy, turned out to be a big dog fan. He came over and asked if he could meet my puppy, and I instructed him on how to greet Hadley in a safe way. Soon, he could feed Hadley treats, and Hadley would climb on his lap, wag his tail for Alican and lick his face. Alican’s brother also came over to meet Hadley and got to feed him treats as well. After a few minutes, we left and I took Hadley back into his crate, where he slept the well-deserved sleep of adventurous puppies.
The next time I took Hadley out to potty, Alican was hanging out in our street – he had been waiting all afternoon for Hadley to come back. Hadley was also happy to see him and let his young friend give him belly rubs. Hadley was a little tired at that point, and Alican gave him a gentle puppy massage – belly, side, ears, legs, paws. Hadley was completely relaxed. I’m very proud of this puppy, who learned to to trust and relax around his first young friend in only a few minutes of socialization time!
There are two things that worry me a bit though. Hadley, at 10 weeks old, tends to growl at strange dogs and hide behind his humans when we encounter them on the street – Tom told me about several encounters he had with strange dogs. Tom and Hadley also encountered kids playing land hockey, and Hadley was run-away-level scared. I haven’t had this particular problem, because I never leave the house without treats, and usually retreat in time and stuff him with treats when I see his body get stiff because of something he sees – countercondition, countercondition, countercondition!
Phoebe was similar when she was little. I did lots of desensitizing, counterconditioning, and played training games like LAT, but it either wasn’t enough, or her genetic predisposition to nervousness was too strong – she’s still a wary adult dog.
The sensitive period for puppy socialization is between 3 weeks and about 3 months of age. (1) The people, animals, things, sounds and surfaces puppies have a sufficient number of positive experiences with in that time will be considered safe by the puppy once it grows up. Neutral experiences are not enough, and negative ones (and fear response is a negative response!) are detrimental. For example, if a puppy does not learn how to appropriately behave around adult dogs, they might have poor social skills for the rest of their lives – or need a lot of training time later in life. If they don’t get to have positive interactions with children, men with hoodies, or skateboarders, they might develop aggression towards them later on. A puppy who is scared of a particular kind of person, animal or situation at this age is likely to become more scared as his senses get sharper and his fear response grows further – unless he gets to make positive experiences with these particular people, things, sounds or situations that outnumber the scary ones.
Knowing that puppies generally don’t “just outgrow” their wariness, I’m going to tackle this problem systematically before the molehill grows into a mountain:
It’s time to get a hockey sticks and a pucks, so I can countercondition and desensitize Hadley to that particular stimulus. I’ll also get the skateboard out (maybe teach Hadley to ride it himself?) and enlist Alican’s help with the scooter. And as far as leash encounters with strange dogs are concerned, my dog friends will have to step in to practice safe and happy encounters!
When I took Hadley out at noon today, we met Alican again. He was on his scooter, so I asked him to show it to Hadley. He dropped it in the grass at a distance. Hadley went over to explore. Then I lifted it up. Hadley checked it out again. Next, I moved it back and forth in the grass, where it was less noisy than on the pavement. Hadley looked relaxed. Next, I asked our young friend to slowly ride the scooter up and down at a little distance. Hadley looked interested, but not scared, and I fed him liver pâté and other delicacies. I then rode the scooter myself, and Hadley followed without worrying and without trying to attack it. Yeah!
This had only taken a few minutes, and since our young friend was there, I asked his help for a different task – for a restrained recall. I’ve been working on the beginnings of a whistle recall. This time, I got Alican to hold Hadley, walked away for about 5 meters, whistled, clicked and reinforced with yummy treats when he got to me. Oh, what a happy puppy, running as fast as his little puppy legs would carry him and throwing himself into my outstretched arms!
The four-legged family is going to grow! Tom is getting his Border Collie puppy this weekend. I’m excited: I get to help train little Hadley, and I get to cuddle him, and look after him sometimes … Tom, on the other hand, is the one who will take him out when he needs to pee in the middle of the night, and clean up after him if he has an accident in the house. Now if that’s not the perfect deal, I don’t know what is 😉
Hadley will be loved and well cared for, and he’ll grow up to be the most well-socialized, happy, friendly canine citizen he is capable of being. <3 I’m excited! And I love being with a dog person 🙂
Marie, Hadley’s Breeder, took a pick-up day picture of all the puppies and their new families. This is Hadley’s picture. He is 9 weeks and 4 days old.