Thankful, Grateful and Blessed

This crew of 10 is 7 weeks old! They met their families a couple weeks ago and I’m pretty sure it’s fair to say they didn’t disappoint ūüôā The pups sailed through the weekend effortlessly since it wasn’t stressful for them to have visitors or be handled because they’ve been getting prepared for all of this from the very beginning of their lives. Mama Gracie soaked up all the love graciously too.¬† She’s very laid back and happy to show off her babies, but likes to remind their admirers that she likes attention too. Speaking of Gracie, she and I are a brand new St. John’s Ambulance Therapy Team. Gracie went through the assessment process effortlessly and won the hearts of our assessors very quickly. She and I will be teaming up to visit local nursing home, hospital and schools.¬†

Most of this crew is joining their new families in just over a week. We have one little girl who is staying for our 15 week program to continue her foundational imprinting, and then she is going to be trained as a psychiatric service dog. We look forward to the feedback as she goes through the comprehensive training and we’re already so proud of the change she will make in one very lucky lady’s life.

The pups and I continue to have full days. The pups are learning to love going into their crates and sleeping in there for short periods of time. It’s a work in progress to help them learn to love it, but families will appreciate what we’ve introduced so far. It’s not about putting them in a crate with a toy, shutting the door and walking away (or putting ear plugs in). It’s about helping them understand that it’s not a scary place, that it’s in fact their own safe place that they can go to when they need a break, a nap, or just hang out with their favorite toy. In order to establish this, we can’t just put them in there and walk away and let them cry it out. It takes time, patience, and consistency and lots of creativity on our part.¬†

We’ve been for several rides in the van – either as a group or in small groups or individually.¬† They have all become very comfortable and most of the time they explore for a few minutes and then curl up and fall asleep, missing most of the actual ride. But that’s just fine, that’s exactly what we want so they’re comfortable and easy to travel with.¬†¬†

Puppies have been exploring outside as much as possible too. They need to be able to explore, to pick things up with their mouths and learn about them, run through the grass, hear the wind, birds, vehicles going past as part of their development process. Of course we are always supervising them and remove anything unsuitable that goes in their mouths, but if it’s grass or leaves or sticks, we let them play until it becomes an issue. Unstructured play is so crucial in their development. This is where so much learning happens and natural brain connections. We have been doing a lot of training with them, and of course it’s very important but we wouldn’t have well developed pups if they didn’t spend the majority of their day just being playful puppies. As I type, I’m yet again reminded that I could just as well be typing a blog on healthy child development… the same rules apply. At the end of the day, we’re both mammals and our brain connections are made the same way.¬†

Training wise, pups are very good at “sitting” before being pet or picked up. It’s pretty impressive to walk to their play area and after they initially stand on their haunches to see over the partition, many of them automatically go into a sit, as they’ve learned that sitting gets them good things (attention or a treat). They are all very quick to “come” when called and offer a sit when they reach us.¬† We’re working on laying down, standing, and waiting as well.¬†¬†¬†¬† A new one this week is “place”. This one will take longer to master, but we’re planting the seed and they’re becoming familiar with what’s expected. All 10 puppies effortlessly go up and down a short flight of stairs, which will make transitioning to homes with stairs much easier.¬† It won’t be long until these little balls of fluff are big, and carrying them around won’t be a desired task. The earlier they can learn to do things such as stairs, getting in and out of vehicles, and walking through doors independently, the better it is for everyone!

Hopefully Thanksgiving Weekend brings you time to remember what you have to be thankful for… regardless of our situations, there is most definitely ALWAYS something to be thankful for. The two biggest things that come to my mind is (1) my kids – who are the reason we brought Glenannon Station Retrievers into fruition. In order to be home full time so I could be a constant figure in their lives, we paired a love of goldens with my experience in early childhood development & helping families. I will admit, it isn’t always easy. Running our breeding program and looking after a home and family does not equate to big suppers waiting ¬†on the table, well organized home,¬† and having everything looked after all the time. I am certainly not the stereotypical version of the stay home mom and my teenagers especially will be happy to tell you that meals are often plain and laundry often not done. The truth is, without our kids, I likely could find that perfect balance of working from home and being on top of everything within our life. But, what good would perfect balance be without the 4 kids who make our house a home. Our kids are the reason we’re doing this, they’re the reason it’s harder to do… but most important, they’re the reason we are so very thankful for this not-picture-perfect but absolutely blessed life we have.¬†¬†

The 2nd is my husband (1st and 2nd come in no particular order haha). He works so hard to give us everything we need, both at his paid job and at home. He works long days, and then comes home to help with the dogs, the kids, the household, and still makes sure he’s on time at almost every sporting event our kids have or to take our kids on a hunting excursion. All the while practically standing on his head to lighten my¬† work load.¬† He is here for us, unconditionally, all the time. I definitely don’t thank him enough and I’m sure he often feels the work he does is unappreciated, but it couldn’t be farther from the truth.¬† I couldn’t do … and wouldn’t want to do… this crazy, unperfect-but-blessed life with anyone else.¬†

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend Everyone… I hope you too can dig deep and find what it is that you’re thankful for.¬†

Success Is What Happens When Small Efforts Are Repeated Day In & Day Out

Our days are getting very full here… and they’re going to continue that way as these pups get older. We’re having sight and sound play, imitation TV school, water play and rides on a flutter board, practicing going up and down stairs, being introduced to new rooms, eating out of many different dishes, and best of all- one on one time giving the pups little massages. 

It’s interesting for people to watch our videos or check out our blogs and see what our pups are doing, but I know people also wonder (and some have even asked me) why in the world are we doing all this extra work ??

 I have several reasons for doing what we do, the 1st is that there are far too many dogs who are re-homed or end up in shelters because they’re viewed as “bad” dogs who don’t obey their owners. Dogs optimal brain connections are made during the first 4 months of their lives, so those first 8+ weeks they spend with the breeder should be prime learning & socialization time, otherwise they’re 50% behind by the time they join their families. That’s a lot of catching up to do in the initial 2 months they spend with their new families, on top of adjusting to a new home and all the training that should be taking place in weeks 8-16. That’s a lot of extra stress that the puppy will be put under & a lot of pressure for their new families, when they could be spending the time getting to know their puppy while picking up from where we left off vs. starting everything from a blank slate. 

Another reason for putting all this extra work into our puppies is that we’re trying very hard to raise our pups as if all of them are going into service training.  If a dog is going to be trained for a specific job, we need to set him/her up for success by laying the ground work initially. My theory is that if we set our standards high, no matter what kind of life our puppies go on to live… pet pups, emotional support, therapy or working service dogs, they’ve all received the same initial imprinting and made the same essential brain connections, so they’re ready to be the best they can be. Of course we know not every dog has what it takes to successfully train as a service animal, but by giving them this fantastic start in life, the ones who don’t quite make the working training circuit will still absolutely have what it takes to live a happy life with an excellent foundation as a family pet or therapy dog.  

What we do isn’t magic or a onetime fix… the puppy families who bring our little ones into their lives must continue the work we’ve started. When pups have a foundation in place, their families won’t need to put in hours and hours each day… all that’s needed is consistency to work with the pup a little bit each day, being consistent with rules, rewards, and lots of love. The rewards for pup and the puppy family will mean health and happiness for years to come… and hopefully fewer and fewer dogs labelled as bad & destined to live in shelters. When small efforts are made day in and day out we can’t help but be successful!! 

Puppy School…

My kids will be more than willing to tell you that I don’t like them to have a lot of screen time. I believe unstructured time, using their imaginations and moving around in and outdoors is the ideal way for them to grow and learn. I did not buy into digital games and toys that supposedly helped my kids learn… we simply shut off the TV and went outside to play and explore. So, imagine their reactions to me when I tell them I’ve just finished TV time with the puppies- teaching them to learn how to sit, lay down and stand up. In fact, my youngest’s response was actually something to the tune of ” No fair, the puppies get to watch TV & learn stuff and you’re ok with that but you sure don’t let me do that.‚ÄĚ Well… this is partly true. One of the ways that puppies learn is by imitation and repetition. So, I could repeatedly ask one of our older pups to sit, lay down or stand up, all the while holding one puppy at a time while keeping its attention on the dog… but I likely don’t have to explain how difficult and tiresome this would be. The founder of the Empowered Puppy Program actually developed the idea to record puppies in a series of short videos acting out these different positions, and she found that by watching the videos of them for several days in a row, the puppies learned the commands much quicker than puppies who were taught only verbal commands and hand signals. Many puppies have the “sit” command figured out by day 5 of watching the video! These little pups will have a head start on their training long before they go to their new homes J In defense of my own rule about less TV and more unstructured, imaginative play‚Ķ Puppy School is only a short amount of time each day for the puppies. They’re getting the majority of each day to be dogs and explore, play, sniff, and chew!  It’s all about balance J

We will build on all of this and the videos will become more complex as the puppies get older. This is just the beginning of imitation training with the puppies. 

Now to figure out a way to make a video for my 12 year olds math homework …

Nature Vs. Nurture…

We’ve all used and heard the term “nature vs nurture‚ÄĚ… describing where it’s more apt someone gets their personality and behaviours from. Research on the brain is showing us definite genetic markers that are passed from parent to off spring… but more recent scientific research is also proving that we can shape destined behaviour into a more balanced temperament by modifying the environment. We are aiming to do this with early conditioning and training.

We’ve already started this process with the Early Neurological Stimulation we begun when the puppies were only 3 days old. We added tiny bits of stress to the puppies and helped them recover from it and understand that it’s ok and normal to feel this way, and it passes quickly, life goes on. Approximately a week after that we started putting them in the water.  When the pups are in the water, we are using words like “calm” and “relaxed” when the puppies are showing us that behaviour. This way, they can connect a word to the way they’re actually feeling. And as they get older, when we ask them to relax or calm down, they will actually understand what it means. While they’re in the water, we are using simple massage techniques which promote relaxation and this gets continued when they come out of the water and are being dried off. With so many puppies in the litter, I find myself looking forward to the puppy massage sessions, because it’s a chance to give them each undivided attention. By their reactions, the puppies enjoy it just as much!

This week we’ve added Sights & Sounds play into our training regime. The aquatic conditioning and massage are continuing and with this new play experience, our days keep getting fuller and fuller! It’s been really interesting to make note of the different reactions the puppies have to the noise and light stimulation. The best was Miss Pink who sat next to a piano which was on continuous play mode and she put her little head up and started howling along with the music. Of course, no phone in my hand and the moment was over by the time I got the record button pushed. Some of the puppies crawl all over the toys making the sound or lighting up, others just sit and watch and there’s even a few who don’t seem to care one way or another that anything extra is happening. All of it is being recorded and noted and is giving us more clues into who each of them is. We will have our personality scent testing report cards back any time now too, and then we can start really shaping individual temperament. Our calm pups will learn how to become more alert and our excited puppies will learn strategies on calming down. 

Water Babies….

This crew turned 2 weeks old on the weekend.  They have their eyes fully opened now and their ears are beginning to open; they’ll be able to hear by the time they’re 3 weeks old. They have all figured out how to walk and it’s quite entertaining watching them manoeuvring around the whelping box. Now that they are associating our smell with our faces, they are eager to make their way over to say hi when we walk in the room.  

Yesterday was the very first time they were introduced to water. Using only a baby bath tub and a small amount of water, puppies were placed in the warm water, one at a time.  Aqua conditioning is a fantastic method of teaching calmness and confidence to puppies. It’s also a great way to introduce them to massage and help them work through tiny bursts of stress & teach them to overcome it with a positive outcome. Some of the puppies fell asleep! They only stay in for a short amount of time and then it’s cuddle time while they’re cozied up in a towel. This also helps to establish a bond with the pups.  

We’ll continue using the baby tub for phase 1 of this, but as puppies grow, we’ll be using a larger pool so we can use the aids of flutter boards, life jackets, and even stairs in the water to continue to condition them in the water. Research has shown that the puppies exposed to this conditioning have zero issues with motion sickness in vehicles as they get older. Also, as puppies grow, water provides low impact exercise which helps to strengthen muscles and help proper growth plate formation.   

We’re nearing the end of the first scent introduction for the puppies. In just a few more days we’ll have this completed and will compile the results for our assessors. Each puppy will receive a little report card about their individual results, which will ultimately be the blue print for each puppy. We will then be able to teach according to their unique personalities and shape their temperament accordingly. Each of the puppies will be sent home with their report card and a training package so their families can continue the work we’ve set a foundation for.