Gentle readers, I have been horribly remiss in keeping this blog up to date. A combination of Big Changes at work, plus harvest season at home plus the general chaos that is life with two dogs (especially when one of them is a puppy) has rendered my brain incapable of thinking much beyond the immediate needs of the present.
Banner is now almost 5 months old. He graduated from a local puppy class in September and was voted Most Likely To Succeed. It was a very fun puppy class, albeit totally focussed on home obedience. This translates to "it doesn't matter HOW the puppy sits, just get him to sit."
There's nothing wrong with that but I caught the two instructors giving me The Look as I worked to get a fast, straight, tight, tucked sit with Banner while the rest of the class was waving cookies in the air and shouting "SitSitSit!" It was clear after the first session that I had been pegged as "One Of THOSE People."
Again, not a bad thing - I knew when I signed up for the class that it was not a competition based class and I didn't care. At that time, Phoenix was making it clear that he wanted NOTHING to do with his new brother and I wanted to have Banner around friendly puppies his own age at least once a week so he didn't grow up thinking all dogs were snarky asses.
As luck would have it, the ink was barely dry on the three-digit check (holy crap, when did puppy classes get so expensive?) when Phoenix decided Banner was the coolest thing ever and they became best buds.
The class was good for Banner and I on several different levels. Beyond the obvious "meet new people and make new friends and let Banner play with adorable puppies his own size," it gave me a chance to work with him in an extremely challenging environment and establish interaction with me as more rewarding than interaction with other puppies.
Some nights this went better than others, which I expected. I didn't feel badly about allowing him to play with the other puppies in the course of the evening. After all, he IS a puppy! With the class behind us, and with Banner having shown me that he is socially and environmentally confident, I'm backing off on letting him play immediately with every friendly dog we encounter.
This is hard.
I love to watch dogs play. I love to watch their subtle body language. Dogs who play together frequently are masters as reading one another. Their play is a choreography of leaping, chasing, pausing and spinning. It's fun to watch. It makes me smile.
I don't mind that Banner plays with Phoenix at home. They are pack mates. But I don't want Banner thinking that classes and shows are a never-ending playground where he gets to entertain himself by romping with every dog he encounters.
And ignoring me in the process.
At 5 months, knowing that Banner is a sound, confident, socially adept little guy, it's time to reduce the amount of reinforcement he gets from playing with other dogs and being cuddled and cookied by other people. If I want ME to be his primary reinforcement in life in general and at obedience trials in particular, I can't continue to let him treat the world as his own private theme park where he gets everything he wants just because he wants it.
Yes, he will still get to play with other dogs from time to time. Yes, I will let other people pet him and give him cookies. Good heavens, I'm not the Obedience Nazi. I don't live in a world where other people are never allowed to interact with my dog because heaven forbid, if you give him a cookie he might not listen to me in the ring!
Dogs are social creatures and I have never required my dogs to live in isolation. I like seeing them interact with my friends and I like to interact with my friends' dogs. But now those things need to come with requirements - wait to be released to go visit, work with me a little longer before I release you, play with me even though people are walking into the building, etc.
One thing I was very pleased with during the puppy class was Bann's ability to work with me amidst the chaos of other puppies running amuck. No, he wasn't 100% perfect but did a good job of choosing me over them most of the time. I don't think I'm more fun than another puppy, when it comes right down to it, but I DO control the things that he wants and I'm kinda fun in the process. And he's figuring that out.
I'm on vacation this coming week and hope to write more about Bann's training. As I'm writing this, he and Phoenix are rolling around on the floor by my chair, playing bitey face. Apparently the goal is to see how much of your brother's head you can put in your mouth at any given time. Yeah, Phoenix is winning. Banner seems delighted.