Pre pickup 3 days old
Well, the day is drawing very near to our first visit to the breeder of our Golden Retriever puppy. All things going well, there will be another two visits - one when they are 7 weeks old to temperament test the male puppies, and assuming there is a suitable pup, another to pick him up a week later. They are nearly 4 weeks old right now (they were born 5th of July), so only starting to develop their personalities and a touch too young for any testing (the youngest recommended temperament testing is at 5 weeks old). However, there should hopefully be some indication of how they will grow up - I am looking for a calm but curious and confident puppy, and we may be starting to see (or not) that at 4 weeks of age.
Whether or not I can see a potential assistance dog among the males, it will give me a good chance to see the breeders setup, how she socialises from a young age, and talk to her about a whole bunch of topics, from feeding, to vaccinations, pet insurance and supplements. I also am going to ask her whether she would mind simply clicking a clicker every time she puts down a dish of food for the puppies (and leaving a clicker with her for that reason), so that it starts the association from a very young age and makes sure he won't come to me scared of the clicker. I'd recommend she starts with it fairly heavily muffled for the first couple of days to ease them into the sound. A pup whose virtually always known that a click means food/reward from nearly all their days of eating solid food is a headstart for me when it comes to training! I hope she is comfortable with the idea, although if upon meeting her she doesn't seem like the sort to be flexible like that I just won't ask. I bet she hasn't done it before with her litters, although I do know some dogs of her breeding have gone far in obedience I somewhat doubt it was done all by clicker.
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In many parts of the dog world, the clicker is still a bit of a fad. In service/assistance circles it is pretty much irreplaceable and has completely supplanted the old jerk/praise method of dog training. The accompanying 'old' ideas of dominance and submission also generally find little play in clicker circles. There is only one dog training club here in Canberra that uses clickers, and of course (typical!) it is way over the other side of the city. However, it is very well worth it to get extra instruction, and more socialisation to places, people and other dogs. My only worry will be my physical capability. When I trained my previous dog up to novice level, I was completely well - it was many years ago. These days I **certainly** cannot run, so I am not sure how I would keep up with a class. The other physical issue is that I have bad days, and would be occasionally missing lessons, and they insist on only one handler, so my husband couldn't take him. I guess it would be a matter of contacting them and talking about it. I would assume they would make me start in a beginners class, and all things going well, it should be easy for my boy if he is the typical receptive golden pup and has already learnt a lot from me by that stage.
I will be using either the old or new (depends if I feel rich enough to buy the books!) Training Levels by Sue Ailsby to shape his early training as soon as he gets to me at 8 weeks, as well as individual instruction from a professional trainer here in Canberra. I hope the trainer will be willing to work with the Training Levels, as they are crafted well for assistance dogs. I am also planning to get our CGC (Canine Good Citizen) through the Delta Society, before declaring him officially an Assistance Dog In Training. Before then he will simply be an Assistance Dog prospect. My previous dog Clipsy passed a very similar benchmark they called a "Good Companion Dog" which gave us a large discount for our annual dog registration fees. So I can't see a CGC being hard at all, especially with the power of the clicker behind me this time. If only I had the clicker with Clipsy!!!! I'd imagine we would pass the CGC sometime around a year old. I'd also like to get him certified as a therapy dog, although that is only a secondary aim in all of this - he may not be quite right as a therapy dog anyway. Hospitals and the like aren't the healthiest place for me to be because I have a somewhat dodgy immune system, however it would look good on our 'team' resume, and we could go to 'less' infectious places.
I've picked out the vet I would like to use although I haven't contacted them yet. Some research online scrambling around various dog forums has told me they are well thought of, so I think they are the ones for me. I think I have decided on my pet insurance also.... I am not as sure about this though. They are quite pricey, but apparently pay up without messing you around. However, we are talking AU$500/yr type of pricey, well ahead of the other ones around... reviewers say that they think it's worth it for peace of mind, but hmmm, not sure yet. If my dog lived to 14 years old, that is AU$7k. That is a hell of a lot of money, enough to pay for a hip replacement myself virtually. Nothing else though I guess, no ear infections, skin infections, pneumonia etc. The insurance doesn't even cover parvo! Quite a list of exclusions, which I made sure I was familiar with. Still, I think I may go with them, I'm just not convinced.
I've been explaining some of the basic concepts of clicker training to the husband recently - like shaping, capturing and luring. Whilst just messing around he showed himself to have great timing and should be great at helping me with things like the "Come Game" in the Training Levels. Whilst he will be around to help me sometimes, I will generally have to rely on myself for the training. Having said that however, I want him to have a good understanding of what we are attempting to do, so that he can support our training by the way he treats the pup, and how we bring him up together. I definitely do not want to have him punishing the puppy for any infractions (I know he isn't going to, I trust him in this), as I do not believe that would be at all useful and would probably make training more difficult. I would much prefer to train the puppy not to do something, rather than punish him for doing something when he does it. A positive working relationship between animal and handler is much more productive and creative for everyone involved, throwing negativity in there stunts the animals eagerness to learn and openness to accept new ideas. Not to mention punishment is often ineffective. My husband is relatively new to the ideas of clicker training (as am I really!), and whilst he isn't completely convinced about the necessity for all facets of clicker beliefs, he is ready to follow my lead.
Well, this has been a rambling collection of thoughts. I really am so very excited about meeting the breeder and seeing her dogs, this is hopefully the start of something very good for me. We're staying the night in a nice B&B in the Blue Mountains as the hubby hasn't been there and it isn't a huge distance from the breeder. Should be a nice little getaway! Be prepared for vast multitudes of photos upon my return.
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