By Karen R. Scheiner
All puppies are cute, especially dachshund puppies! But choosing a puppy for competitive obedience and agility, is not puppy’s play. Most reputable breeders are looking for conformation show prospects in their breeding line. However, all litters include some puppies that are not suited for the show ring in conformation. So, if you are actually looking to buy a dachshund puppy for performance events, or want to learn about starting training for a very young puppy, then this article is written especially for you.
CHOOSING A PERFORMANCE PUPPY
All puppies are not born equal. That is to say, aside from their appearances, some are shy, some are inquisitive, and some are outgoing. The cutest puppy in the litter may be the one that is always hiding in the corner. An inexperienced buyer might easily fall in love with that shy little puppy. If they are looking for “just a pet” (translate “couch potato”), then that puppy may be a good fit. However, the puppy who is outgoing, friendly and fearless is likely the best one to choose for performance events.
Remember, we are talking about dachshunds here. Their natural instincts are to hunt and think independently. Tracking and field work comes fairly naturally as it requires significant independence on the dog’s part. However, it is completely unnatural for an unleashed dachshund to stay in heel position with its owner walking around a ring, with no form of verbal instruction. That is the challenge! Therefore, the better the attitude and focus of the puppy from the start, the easier it will be to train for performance.
If you get to choose a puppy from its litter, bring a squeak toy, something that will rattle or crackle (like a small box with treats, or an empty water bottle), a bouncing ball, or other objects that might create curiosity in a new puppy. Then sit on the floor with all of the puppies and hold your hands out. Observe which ones come running up to you, and which ones hide or seem fearful. Squeak the toy or crackle a bottle, and identify which puppies are afraid of the noise, and which will bravely come to investigate. Shake the can and see if any of the puppies back away, or are any of them running to see what=s in it. If you toss a small bouncing ball, which ones give chase? This can give you a good preliminary idea what the puppy will be like as an adult. Choose the puppy with focus and temerity.
Okay, so now your “star” three-month old puppy is home with you. What next? I like to think of foundation training as providing the basic blocks for all other training to be built on. To set the record straight, if you think that immediately enrolling in a puppy training class offered in your area is the right answer, you would be wrong. This is a common mistake of novice trainers. In fact, taking a very young dachshund puppy to formal training can undermine even your best intentions, for several reasons. First, unless you find a class strictly dedicated to small dogs, most puppies enrolled in the beginner class will be large and unruly. They may want to sniff or chase your young puppy, and sometimes the owners cannot even control them! Being chased by a large dog, even in play, can be devastating for a small young puppy. Second, you can (and should) lay the groundwork yourself for the puppy to begin to learn. Finally, and most important, a puppy that is not yet six months old is really too young for formal training classes any way.
I am certainly not saying that you should not train a young puppy. Rather, what I am saying is that you already have all of the foundation tools you need to work with your puppy at home for at least three to four months. Forget the formal training classes for now.
So let’s begin. All foundation training must be fun for the puppy. “Fun” is the operative word here. Stay upbeat and positive. If you had a bad day at work, it’s not the puppy’s fault; no yelling at the puppy! Lots of praise, treats and energy go a long way! I forbid you to say “NO!” to the puppy for any of his behavior. You will shut down a puppy with negativity and create unnecessary stress. For example, if the puppy runs away with your favorite sock, force yourself to say, Agood boy,@ in a high positive tone, and then exchange a toy for your sock. All information in training should be positive with lots of rewards for your puppy. Keep little toys with squeakers or bells in your pockets; have some Cheerios on hand all of the time. PetStages, Zanies, and Kong, are just a few of many brands that make a line of interesting small toys designed for puppies.
Socialize your puppy from the beginning. Get your puppy familiar with noises and the environment. Take the puppy for car rides often. Go to the pet store, a pet-friendly mall, and out to the park. Let other people feed him treats and pet him. Take the puppy to your friends= houses (with permission). Let the puppy play with children, especially if none are in your home. Inspire your puppy with treats and toys, to play with you, to walk with you, and to come to you. Get the puppy used to wearing a collar and a four-foot leash. (Stay away from flexi-leads in the beginning; they have their place in training, but not with a young puppy.) Remember that failing to socialize your puppy at an early age can be devastating later, when you want your adult dog to feel comfortable performing in a competition ring. If you have other dogs that you show, bring the puppy along to sit in your lap when you are not showing. He can watch other dogs and become familiar with different events. The importance of these basic initial experiences cannot be overstated enough.
Keep your normal household routine. Run the vacuum, the washing machine, your hair dryer, the television, and any other appliances that are noisy. Let the puppy watch and listen. Remember, when you are in the obedience ring, you don=t want your dog to be startled by any noises. Get him used to everything from the beginning. These are experiences that cannot be made up later.
Collar and Leash. Put a quick-release collar on your puppy at a very early age and let him get used to wearing it for the first week without anything attached. In about a week, attach a 4- foot leash and try to get him to walk with you. If it’s snowing outside, no problem, just walk him around with the leash in your house. If the puppy won=t walk, show him some little treats (like Cheerios or string cheese) in your left hand, and he will follow the treats. This is not to be considered bribing, but rather motivating. A favorite toy will sometimes work here, too, but dachshunds are famous for being food-motivated. Stay positive and happy. If the puppy takes just a few steps with you, stop and praise. Get excited. “Yay!! Good boy!!”
Occasionally, turn and face the puppy. With the leash on, say his name and Acome!@ in an excited manner. Gently reel him in and offer a treat. If the puppy is bucking, you are going too fast! Take it slow. The purpose of these exercises is to get the puppy to happily walk along with a leash and to learn that coming to you is a positive experience. Don=t even try formal heeling or recalls until the puppy is comfortable walking on a leash for at least a few months.
Toys and Games. Every task should be a non-threatening game for a young puppy. Allow the puppy to carry different objects in his mouth. Put different objects on the floor and see if he will pick them up. Remember, later you will want a dumbbell retrieve (either plastic or wood), articles (leather and metal dumbbells) and gloves to be carried. So start now! You can get plastic and wood dumbbells inexpensively on-line for practice. These are great for puppies – just take them back before they get chewed up. I also use a tiny metal container from Altoids mints that I poked some holes in. (See photo) If you put a few little treats in it, the puppy will smell the treats and want to pick it up, and may even bring it to you! This is a great preview for training retrieve of metal articles, which are not usually favorites. The puppy should get a treat from the can whenever he picks it up. Gloves or socks are great for chasing and Aget it!@ As you can see, all of this is laying foundation for later training skills.
Tug-of-war, or what I call “bouncy bounce” is a great game for interaction. Get a bungie toy – they look like colorful snakes or have balls on either end, with elastic through the middle. The elastic allows the puppy to pull on the toy while you are still holding it. Lightly bounce it up and down while the puppy is on the other end. He will pull harder and love the attention. Some of my doxies love this game so much that (if I let them), they will be bringing the toy to me all day long to pull. This is also great game to play later, with an adult dog, when you are doing warm ups for the agility ring, as it can really stimulate them!
There are certain toys that I never let the dogs take away for individual play, as I always want to be able to pull out a special toy for interaction. In my house, the toy of choice is the stuffingless chipmunk! Made by Skinneeez and also by Zanies, you can find stuffing-free squirrels and chipmunks at the pet store or on-line. They have a squeakers in the head and tail, and the body is like a flat furry animal. (To the dog, it may be a dead rodent, who knows? My older dogs want to bury them under their beds!) Why do I keep the toy from the dog? So that the dog realizes that to have fun with that toy, it has to come from ME. Your puppy should quickly learn that all good things come from you!
One other secret, as a final tip, to keeping your puppy focused on you, the owner. When all else fails, try hand-feeding. That is, instead of just putting the puppy=s food dish on the floor, where he can casually feed himself, you intervene as his “helper”, so to speak. You can either scoop the food out of the bowl with your hand, or just keep your hands in or near his dish, making him aware of your presence. At least for the first few weeks that he is with you, you should try this. This will reinforce for him that you are the source of his food and his fun – after all, what else is there in life? Also, a puppy who is used to being hand-fed or seeing your hand in his dish, will never growl or in any way perceive that his food source is being threatened, when he is older.
There should be one person in the house who regularly feeds the puppy and is the primary caretaker. That is the person that the puppy will be most bonded to. Parenthetically, if you have a child who is to be the “handler” for obedience or agility, then the child should try hand-feeding the puppy. Early on, this can create a major difference in how the puppy responds to you and whether he is willing to work for you in the performance ring.
The suggestions in this article are intended to serve as a springboard for your own ideas and games as your puppy develops. They are not exclusive, as there are a myriad of ways for socialization, playing games, and getting ready for the performance ring. Just always remember to keep it fun, stay upbeat and positive. Above all, enjoy your new puppy!