Earlier this month we had a prime training opportunity: a Christmas Market held just two blocks away. With pop-up stalls, crowds, lots of unusual objects, overhead announcements, music, generators, and dancing, the market provides quite a challenge for socialization and environmental stability. We knew that these two pups were not ready for that level of difficulty, so we planned an extra involved week of training, doing almost double what we would normally do in a week. Here’s what that looked like:
We set up a new play yard with as many obstacles as we could think of: things to climb up on, tunnels, tents, uneven/unstable surfaces, waving mylar, etc. First we set the puppy in the play yard while we wandered around doing other stuff, trying not to pay attention to what the puppy was doing. Then we took them out and spent a few minutes reminding them about the food machine game, going from one to another. Then we put the food machines in the play yard and played the food machine game there, whereby the puppy negotiated the obstacles in order to get to the food. Day 1 was all about environmental stability.
This was the Malinois puppy’s first time to Tractor Supply, while the GSP had been there several times over the summer. We wove our way through the lawnmowers and ATVs out front and breeched the sliding glass door. We spent about five minutes inside the store, walking down aisles and letting the dogs approach various displays. Then we went out into the lumber/farm equipment yard, where we spent about ten minutes playing on the various stacks and piles, using the teaser pole game to encourage the pups to climb on, over, and through the “obstacles.” Then back through the side door, through the front aisle and out the sliding glass door to the parking lot, making sure to end with a little toy play out front. Tractor Supply was pretty empty that day, so Day 2 was again mostly about environmental stability.
Here we took a similar approach to our Tractor Supply outing, but this time using the Garden Center at Lowe’s. The Garden Center is not fully outside, but it has a less enclosed feel than the aisles of Tractor Supply. Here again we made our approach through the lawn mowers out front, then entered through the front past the cash register. We worked through the aisles, encouraging the pup to investigate the stacks and shelves, walking across or climbing up so they could explore the deeper reaches of the displays. We walked past the sliding glass door that leads to the main store, letting the pup watch the movement without having to go through it. Then we made our way back out the front door to finish with a couple minutes of toy play. This time there were some customers around so we got the socialization benefit of some human distractions in addition to the environmental stability challenges.
We took each puppy from their kennel and joined the people making their way to the market. We walked along with babies in strollers and people of varying ages. The market itself was a sensory onslaught, with stimulation in all directions. Both puppies made it through the walk (ten minutes or less for each of them). The GSP tended to find all the stimulation exciting, and spent the first few minutes on his hind legs trying to approach everyone/everything. Turns out his kryptonite was the generator—he wanted to avoid it as much as possible. We think it was the vibration that unnerved him, so we’ve added that to our future training objectives. The Malinois had a bit more difficulty with the walk, and although her posture suggested she was pretty overwhelmed she continued to work at it. She would have benefited from working in some lighter crowds during our train up. Overall the day was a success, as both puppies worked the area without shutting down, and we gained some valuable insight into what we need to spend more time on.