Talent and Puppies

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Postby pitbullmamaliz » November 28th, 2011, 11:10 am

Talent and Puppies
Posted on November 25, 2011 by dfenzi
http://denisefenzi.com/2011/11/25/talent-and-puppies/

Talent is innate.

In dogs, we increase the odds of having talents through selective breeding. If two dogs show talent for a given ability, then the odds increase that their offspring will also show that talent. No guarantees, but certainly better odds.

At what age will that talent emerge? How will environmental influences encourage or discourage that talent?

Many trainers expect puppies to express their talents from the day we take them home. If the trainer has had prior dogs that showed their talents early, then the expectations will be even higher.

In the sport of Schutzhund, we talk about “sleepy” puppies. That is how puppies are described that are slow to mature; slow to show any real interest in the work required in the sport. But sleepy puppies have a way of waking up if the genetics for work are there. These puppies are something of a gamble, and many in the dog sports want a sure thing. Let’s face it; it can be hard to put energy into a puppy that seems unable to do what others of the same age (or even littermates) can do.

Fast maturing dogs who show their talents early are prized – they are trained with joy and energy because their responses to our efforts reinforce our training. Sleepy puppies are trained less well. We have fewer opportunities to celebrate and more opportunities to express our frustration. The lack of positive feedback for our efforts, and the slow progress that might be made, lead to a vicious cyle. We train less, celebrate less, and give less. With my students, I’ve noticed that sleepy puppies do best with novice handlers. In most cases, they don’t even know they have a sleepy puppy. When the puppy starts to show it’s talent, the owners are delighted as opposed to relieved. The lack of pressure allows the puppy to flourish.

Slow maturing dogs with experienced handlers can be a trainer or breeder’s nightmare. Their owners are frustrated, disappointed, and pushy. They worry….the winner they were hoping for isn’t panning out. If that person spent a lot of time identifying a litter that showed great promise – great parents with a great pedigree, the problem will be even worse. They “did everything right” and the puppy turned out wrong.

As a breeder and trainer, I find myself hoping for early maturing puppies. Not because I believe it’s better, but because I’ve seen what happens to goal driven trainers who develop doubts. They ruin their working relationship with their dogs. There is no worse combination than an ambitious trainer with goals and a “sleepy” puppy with normal ups and downs.

If your puppy is temperamentally sound and you have a reasonable belief that the genetics for work are there, don’t give up on your puppy. Don’t pressure her to grow up faster. Don’t crate excessively to “build drive” – deprivation to force early interest is not appropriate. If you become manic in your efforts to get your puppy to play, you are adding unreasonable pressure that will make her shut down and avoid you. Do not train like a weekend warrior; allowing your puppy to develop her own interests all week (playing with other dogs and chasing squirrels in the yard) and then pull out all the stops when you get around to training.

If your puppy is not ready to work for you, try spending time together instead. Show her the world but interject yourself into the equation whenever possible. Focus on what is right with your puppy’s development. Hand feed but don’t starve. When possible, keep the puppy with you rather than crating. If your puppy likes toys but not tug, sit with your puppy while she chews. Talk to your puppy; tell her how special she is. Convince yourself that she is fabulous…but not ready to show the world just yet.

Remove excessive alternative interests. If your dog focuses on other dogs, remove the puppy from the other dogs, but do not isolate her. If your puppy loves to run up and down the fenceline, block the fenceline. Chasing squirels? Take puppy outside on leash. Intense environmental focus? Keep puppy on leash and prevent interaction with the environment – offer alternatives like sitting quietly with you, looking out and becoming comfortable with your presence and what you have to offer (food, toys and interaction -without strings attached). Keep in mind that the drives you use are the ones you build, so if she spends the week running the fence line and barking at squirrels, you’ll have your work cut out for you if you try to compete with that interest.

Give it time. Base temperament will not change – if your puppy is aggressive, fearful, or nervous, then you’ll need to deal with these issues. But if the base temerament is sound and the puppy is simply “sleepy”, then you’ll have to use other techniques for bonding with your puppy – not work.

I am bonding with Lyra through work – that is what I do and she is amenable to it. My husband is bonding with Lyra through time and play- he takes her places, holds her constantly, and spends lots of time admiring how cute she is. We will both end up with an excellent relationship – mine will take us into competition, and his will give him a devoted and loving pet.

I find that Lyra isn’t very interested in work at some times of the day. That’s fine; I scale back my expectations at those times and we do activities where she can succeed. I will shorten her lesson or switch to a different activity. Sometimes that activity is sitting together doing not much of anything and watching the world go by. That is training – we are building our friendship outside of work.

Lyra has shown me a few specific talents that will aid us in work. I’m delighted with their presence, and I use them as points of bonding – telling her (and the world!) how proud I am for these early emerging skills. She also has some areas that are relatively weak compared to my student’s dogs or other puppies I have owned. That’s fine too. I will work to develop these areas over time – not obsessively, but here and there as we grow together. I am aware of these potential areas for improvement, but I do not focus on them. When I see progress, I am ecstatic and I tell her!

What good would it be if Lyra were a finished product at a year of age, with no ups and downs? It’s hard to celebrate success if you didn’t contribute to it. That doesn’t mean I appreciate the challenges as I go through them, but I’m secure enough in my training to know that we will both improve over time. Maybe we won’t reach all of our goals, but we’ll do our best, based on who she is and what I know at this time.

She is the dog I have, and I love her. I take pride in her talents and I have a realistic assessment of her weaknesses. Indeed, I selected her knowing that my needs would create some training challenges (see: http://denisefenzi.com/2011/10/02/selecting-a-puppy/) On balance, she has a terrific package, and it’s my job to develop the whole thing. Focusing on what is positive about her, regardless of her working ability, allows me to do what pet people do so naturally – love their dogs unconditionally.

Pet people are on to something.
"Remember - every time your dog gets somewhere on a tight leash *a fairy dies and it's all your fault.* Think of the fairies." http://www.positivepetzine.com"

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Postby TinaMartin » November 28th, 2011, 1:12 pm

This was a good read!
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Postby TheRedQueen » November 28th, 2011, 3:42 pm

I read this the other day and really enjoyed it. For the first time in a long while...perhaps for the first time ever, I have a dog that is "sleepy". Puzzle is not what I expected after we decided to keep her...she's very slow to catch on to training things, and isn't as interested in being *with me* as the other dogs are. I adopted Odd this summer to balance out her lack of drive/interest in training...and he's more what I'm looking for in training. She however, is not going anywhere, and I'm scaling back her training to make it more fun for her. (she likes it, but not all of the time like the others). I can focus my energy on Oddie...and push him like I want...and it lets her relax and go with the flow. lol
"I don't have any idea if my dogs respect me or not, but they're greedy and I have their stuff." -- Patty Ruzzo

"Dogs don't want to control people. They want to control their own lives." --John Bradshaw
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Postby furever_pit » November 28th, 2011, 8:09 pm

Interesting article.
I agree with several of the points presented and actually prefer to allow my own puppies to "just be dogs" for many months before any real work begins. They get leash skills and some obedience as well as a tracking foundation, but other than that I let them explore the world and just have fun with it.

On the other hand, early maturation rates are definitely something that you can breed for. The same way that slower maturation rates occur through genetics.
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Postby SisMorphine » November 29th, 2011, 3:48 pm

Teeny was a "sleepy" puppy. Showing no interest in work until she was a little over a year and a half when she started to tug a little bit, and she didn't show her true self until a month before her second birthday. I'm glad I waited her out because this fiesty little bitch is everything I wanted. Well worth the wait :)
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Postby pitbullmamaliz » November 29th, 2011, 4:39 pm

Lys, I actually thought about Teeny when I read this!
"Remember - every time your dog gets somewhere on a tight leash *a fairy dies and it's all your fault.* Think of the fairies." http://www.positivepetzine.com"

http://www.pitbullzen.com
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Postby TheRedQueen » November 29th, 2011, 4:46 pm

Will Princess Teeny Beans send some of her magic down to Maryland for Puzzle (currently sound asleep on the couch).
"I don't have any idea if my dogs respect me or not, but they're greedy and I have their stuff." -- Patty Ruzzo

"Dogs don't want to control people. They want to control their own lives." --John Bradshaw
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Postby TheRedQueen » November 29th, 2011, 5:57 pm

a follow up article!

http://denisefenzi.com/2011/11/28/sleepy-puppies/

Holy cow.

Based on the response to my Talent and Puppies post, there appears to be quite a bit of anxiety out there over slow maturing puppies.

I’ll share my sleepy puppy story with you to give you hope. Mind you, this is just one dog, and yours could be different. Or not.

Cisu was my sleepy puppy.

I imported her from Finland sight unseen. I had “fifth” pick of the girls… that means not much choice at all.

Cisu’s puppy test showed the following:

No retrieve or interest in the crumpled paper. No following of the stranger. No tug. Fascinated by a metal grate in the middle of the room. Calm and comfortable when held by a stranger, but not interested in people.

The breeder told me that his impressions of Cisu were more positive, and that he felt she was coming up in quality each day that he observed her. He also told me that puppies from a prior litter were slow to mature, and most did not show much talent for work until after they were finished teething. Indeed, I had seen the puppy testing video from the prior litter, and much of it was abysmal.

I waffled about whether or not to go through with bringing Cisu to the United States – those were not promising test results. On the other hand, what I really needed for my breeding program was a very strong and powerful bitch for schutzhund, and I believed that Cisu’s pedigree held a lot of promise for those qualities. She also appeared to be a stable and thoughtful puppy; both qualities I was specifically looking for.

When she arrived, she did not play fetch and she did not tug. I found her personable, but not terribly interested in me over the alternatives.

For the first six months, she could do no schutzhund protection work – she was completely disinterested in playing tug with a stranger (the beginnings of protection). I could train her in obedience with food, but her attention span was quite limited, and her environmental interest was high. She was not a flashy worker, and she did not show any particular interest in becoming one.

I don’t know when the change took place, but after a while I found myself with the opposite problem in obedience. Her toy drive kicked in. She was over the top excited to do work with me, but still that did not carry over into Schutzhund. Her interest in protection training remained weak. I was beginning to wonder if my schutzhund prospect was going to end up an expensive and lazy pet.

And then it all came together. It wasn’t overnight; it was a gradual process over time. Between the ages of about one and three years of age, she became stronger and stronger, until as a “mature” adult no one would ever know that she had been the sleepy one. Indeed, she had become a powerful and high scoring working dog.

As a brood bitch, many of Cisu’s puppies showed a similar pattern. Slowly and over time, they became faster in agility, driven in protection and more focused in obedience. They were not “born” with high drive and natural willingness to work, but they did develop it. Out of 11 puppies, most are titled to very high levels of achievement in their given sports, yet few showed extreme promise at eight weeks of age.

To this day, I’d describe Cisu as downright lazy in the house – her base temperament has not changed. I do think that temperamentally calm dogs often show their working drive more slowly than temperamentally lively dogs. Cisu also continues to have many other interests besides me, but when I ask her to work, she gives 110%. In my book, that’s good enough.

Cisu is now nine years old. She showed today, so I taped her Utility run so I could include it in this post. Rather than uploading the entire thing, I’ve only included the signal exercise – heeling is where you can learn the most about a dog’s working drive in obedience. Forgive my five point handler error – I forgot the pattern and went the wrong way.

You can say many things about Cisu’s work, but “sleepy”? No, I don’t think so.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DwQj9Fxl3w
"I don't have any idea if my dogs respect me or not, but they're greedy and I have their stuff." -- Patty Ruzzo

"Dogs don't want to control people. They want to control their own lives." --John Bradshaw
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Postby pitbullmamaliz » November 29th, 2011, 6:15 pm

Wow. Amazing run!
"Remember - every time your dog gets somewhere on a tight leash *a fairy dies and it's all your fault.* Think of the fairies." http://www.positivepetzine.com"

http://www.pitbullzen.com
http://inaradog.wordpress.com
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