Syn @ 13 weeks

Apr 25, 2011 | Syn's Story

Syn is turning into a young dog before my eyes. Her legs are growing an inch a day and she has paws that would do justice to a St Bernard.

She’s also getting smarter – and dumber – and easier to live with – and harder. For the moment (before she starts seriously teething) I can afford to leave her out of my sight long enough to brush my teeth. She goes into her crate and sleeps through the night without fussing. She puts paws up on the car bumper to be lifted into her car crate. She rides so well in the car that I’ve occasionally forgotten she was there. She walks politely on a Lazy Leash. She can entertain herself long enough for me to do the dishes or get some computer work done. She can find the dog door to get outside from anywhere in the house. She rides around the yard (firmly seatbelted in) on the front seat of the Gator with her nose pushed forward in the classic dog-with-her-head-out-the-car-window pose.

On the other hand, she goes outside to pee and sees a feral cat – then screeches as if she’s amputated a paw and comes running back into the house. By the time she gets to me she’s feeling better enough to scold me for allowing the cat in the yard.

She is eating twigs regularly and then occasionally throwing them up – on my bed.

Without Stitch to exercise her, she gets the rips fairly often, and then she bites too hard. But not much.

To go with the curly body language I was talking about earlier, she’s started submissive urination, so we’re studiously ignoring her when she starts to “slime”. The only way to get attention or get your crate opened is to stand on your own four paws. Upside down or curly doesn’t do it.

For now, I’ve solved the problem of what to train per meal by working on these four things.

I’ve been working very hard on getting eye contact back and she’s doing very well. We start every session with eye contact. I’m paying attention to her whining, her paw stamping, her lying down, and her scooting backwards. All these things were helped by me putting my legs out to either side to form a chute in front of me when I’m sitting down, so she has to come into the chute to do the job. The chute seems to calm her a bit and reduce the dancing, so now she’s being rewarded for specifically making eye contact and doing NOTHING else. We’re up to a pretty solid 6 seconds.

We’re playing a combination exercise-and-Come-and-contact game. I sit in the middle of the room, toss a treat over THERE, she runs to get it, I call SYNSYN, which I’m going to use for come-a-runnin’. As she approaches, I click and toss a treat in the other direction, repeat ad nauseam. This way she gets practise in an emergency sort of recall, and exercise in that she’s running the entire length of the room about 20 times per meal. Then once in a while I call SYN COME and she comes whipping in to me, sits, and makes eye contact. I click that, give her a treat, then toss another one over THERE and we start the running again.

Next we do some retrieving. She’s eager to grip whatever I hold out to her – mostly pens, pencils, syringes and fingers so far, though we’ve also worked with clickers and toys – and she’s got a solid 3-second hold, though she frequently thinks she needs to have a paw on the object while we’re holding it.

Relax is a tough behaviour for her. We work on it sometimes when we’re watching tv. When she’s nearly asleep in my lap I occasionally hand her a treat for being relaxed. In the training sessions, though, we’re working on getting her over on her side with her head down (this is a grooming position) with a bit of shaping and a bit of luring. The first day I got her over on one hip. The next day she went over voluntarily. The third day I got her off one elbow as well (head up). The fourth day I reminded her of the difference between this and the real down. Tomorrow I hope she’ll come off her elbow on her own.

When relax has caught up to the rest of Level 2, we’ll start rotating through the behaviours again.

Oh, and her trick – not cheating any more, though I expect to use Bang later. I’m teaching her a real trick – doing a figure 8 around my legs. The first day I lured her all the way around both legs, in and out. The second day she could do the last quarter by herself. Today she needed a hint to get started and a hint to finish, but she did the entire middle part by herself.


Nice to know I’ve learned something in the 6 years since Stitch was a puppy.

Syn came in from the yard this morning joyously tossing something, chasing it, tossing it again. She was having a WONderful time. A niggle of concern began somewhere in my throat, so I put on my glasses. Yep. Fur. With long stringy unfurry bits.

The back half of a mouse.

Here’s the part where I know I learned something. I quietly got up, got a fistful of kibble and a Kleenex. I called Syn over and, as she was coming, I dropped the kibble on the floor behind me. She spit out the mouse and was gobbling frantically as I went to pick up the remains. She finished her kibble before I was finished my job, but I QUIETLY and CALMLY and REASONABLY said “no” (our Zen cue), and she immediately went back to see if she had maybe missed a kibble.

Mission accomplished.

And… oh look, she found the front half. Isn’t that PRESHUS!

So I cleaned that up too, and then watched as she went back to her toybox/dogbed and searched it with all the moves of someone who had just misplaced her cellphone. Dang, I just had it in my HAND! Where could I have left it?

Guess who won’t be licking my face anytime in the near future.

We had some visitors last night. I’m not sure if she was going to do her submissive leaking thing or not – she approached the front hall in an upright manner, not slinking, not looking like she was going to roll over, and not in any way working on a more aggressive grumble (which seems to come before a leak when confronted with strangers – I’m big, y’know, I’m tough, you better be careful… eek, don’t hurt me, please, I’m just little). Nevertheless, just as she approached them, I “dropped” a couple of kibbles on the floor behind her. By the time she’d cleaned them up, the strangers were just people, and people are fun.

Eye contact is coming along nicely since I’ve been concentrating on getting rid of the dance moves. She extrapolated from the leg-chute I was using the other day into thinking that I’d like her sitting as close as possible to me when she gives me contact – well, yeah, that’s wonderful!

The figure-8-through-my-legs trick is almost ready to be presented (new puppy class tomorrow night. On the off chance that she doesn’t freak out at the new puppies, figure 8 is one of the things I can ask her to do to convince her she’s got a handle on the situation). She just needs a hand target to get started now, but she can finish it on her own.

I almost bought her a beach ball the other day. She has a huge tennis ball that she pushes around, but needs something bigger to practise for treiball. In case we ever get a chance to play treiball.

She immediately recognises the side-to-side version of the Come Game, drops her butt and starts ripping back and forth. Usually I call her with an “emergency” call (SYNSYN!) Once in a while I call her with a “real” cue (Syn, Come) and she comes, sits, and gives me eye contact. This game is a headslapper. Why didn’t I ever think of this before?

For Relax, she’s not going over on her side voluntarily yet, but last night I was able to lure her onto her side on the couch and get her head down as well. Once she’d been rewarded for that position 8 times, she was able to hold the position for 2 seconds while I moved the treat away from her nose and back to it.

That’s it for luring. I’m going to try shaping it next.


Shaping Syn to lie down on her side worked – sort of. It’s a pretty quiet behaviour for a young active pup. She understands right away that she needs to roll her hips, and it only took five or six clicks to get her off her elbow as well. Getting her head down – that’s another story.

She almost understood what I wanted. At one point she rolled up onto both elbows and put her head down between her front paws. That’s not what I was looking for, but I clicked it anyway. It didn’t help, she didn’t repeat it. Finally I shaped her off one elbow and started luring her head down from there, which was working pretty well until…

She jumped up to think about what we were doing, then downed, then turned her head to her left instead of her right. I clicked that, and she immediately rolled right down onto her right side. Usually when a dog is shaped to do a behaviour one way, that’s the way she’ll do it forever, but Syn, I guess, figured if it was correct to roll onto her left side, she might as well try rolling onto her right side. Anyway, I clicked it, and three clicks later she stared putting her head down. I was so surprised I forgot to click, and she HELD her head down until I got around to it. What a strange, awesome little person.

But she’s not allowed to lick my face until next Christmas.

We got a nice clean 10 seconds of eye contact today. It wasn’t cold, it took her four clicks to get up to 10 seconds, but it was nice when we got it, and it says my work on curbing the dancing and singing is working nicely.

And we’ve worked our way up to a sort-of 3-second hold on a Chuck-It handle. She gives me 2.9 seconds, lets go, then grabs it again for another 2 seconds. Consistently. Tomorrow I’ll remember Chutes and Ladders and not just watch her do this: one, two, threeletgo, one, two, click.

When she’s holding, though, her mouth is nice and quiet.

She did the figure-8 trick three times in a row this evening with just a voice cue.


Since we’re doing so well on the introduction to Relax, this morning we went through a bunch of tests in Level 2. This is stuff I haven’t exactly been working on – per se, but I’ve been working all around it, and sure enough, each behaviour is supporting other behaviours, just the way it’s supposed to! Nice when a plan comes together!

We got a sweet and easy 30-second floor Zen, and 10 seconds of eye contact (though she started out sitting and jumped up at 8 seconds, then back into a sit – she never broke contact). I want that without the jumping up, but for now it was a clear pass. 40′ recall, yes.

We started getting her to move away from hand pressure for Handling. That was a new concept, but we worked it just like giving to pressure from the collar, and once she figured out what I wanted, she was pretty good about it.

10 seconds of Down Stay? HA HA HA HA

In the evening we went to the first of another set of puppy classes. There were 2 other puppies, a Maltesy and a Beagly sort. At first they were all afraid of each other. After a few minutes, the Beagly pup started greeting people, and a few minutes after that, Syn started venturing out from under my chair as well.

Then a Finnish Spitz arrived – 7 months old, 30 (?) pounds – because he’d missed the first session of the previous set of classes. He was completely at home, a nice dog, but overpowering for Syn, who got up the courage to crinkle her nose and then bark/snap/yipe at him to tell him to get away from her. He responded by moving off but forgot himself frequently and came back.

I ignored her when she was doing this, lured her out in front of me with a hand target, and then clicked her for sitting, for downing, for looking at him, for doing her figure 8 trick. She was perfectly willing to do all these things, but retreated under the chair and snarked again when he came too close.

After a while I decided she was getting to the point of over-reacting, so I started tapping her on the head to distract her before she had a chance to curl her lip at him, then rewarding her for remaining calm. Soon I was doing “THIS is for the Fink, THIS is for Syn” with them.

She ALMOST got comfortable with the other two pups. She went over a couple of times to investigate the Maltesy pup, who was lying down under her dad’s chair (growled at the Fink a couple of times). The Beagly pup was a little too confident for Syn, but I think next week she’ll like him a lot.

It isn’t often one gets the chance to seriously affect a dog’s future personality twice in one week. Last week Syn could easily have been taught to be spooky, and this week she could just as easily have been taught to be “aggressive”. By remaining calm, building her confidence, letting her express her concerns, and rewarding her for acceptable behaviour, I hope I’ve avoided both paths.


Hey, this dog training stuff is really cool!

We went on another trip today – 3 hours to my mom & dad’s (and their old, noisy Mini Schnauzer), then a hotel, and the rest of the weekend will be spent in her crate in the truck while Stitch and I are at a Rally trial, then another 3-hour drive to my son and daughter-in-law’s place to spend a day with my new grandson, then another 3 hours home.

I wasn’t looking forward to the Mini Schnauzer because his barking is very scary for a pup. When we arrived, I went in the house for a few minutes until he got bored and wandered off, then I went out and got Syn.

Old Jimmy didn’t bark again, and was so exceptionally polite that Syn only spent a couple of minutes under my chair before she started wandering around looking at things in spite of Jimmy being nearby.

Then my mom took them both out in the back yard. Alone, just the 3 of them. At first Syn cried and scratched at the door to come back in the house. When that didn’t accomplish anything, she sat on the step and watched mom and Jim wander around the yard. Finally mom started calling PUPPY PUPPY. Well, that looked too much like the Come Game, and Syn is a sucker for the CG, so she raced the whole length of the yard to bounce around mom for a few seconds. Then she realized how far she was from the door-back-to-me, and how close she was to Jim, so she raced back to the step. By then she had the rips, so she raced back and forth four more times, and by then she was OK with Jimmy joining her, so the two of them raced around the yard and had a great time.

I knew it would come, but I’m still thrilled to see it.

If you recall, the first few weeks I took Syn out my front door to pee. I realized today that that really paid off. She now pees every single time we walk out my front door, AND every time I take her out of the car. Excellent!

I’m a happy camper.