Sunday, August 28, 2011

10 Simple Principles that all Jack Russells Live By

I hear all the time how difficult JRTs are to train and yet I find them one of the simplest and uncomplicated dogs I have every worked with. They function on a couple of basic and unwavering principles and once a person understands these principles it makes training them an enjoyable, all be it entertaining, experience.

1) Jack Russells are fun loving dogs. They are ruled by their inner Freudian "Id" so to speak and want to be doing whatever is most fun. To convince them to do what you want all you have to do in convince them that it is the most fun activity in the world and only lucky lucky dogs get to engage in it. And, well, wouldn't luck have it you are looking for a dog to do it with right then and there!

2) Jack Russells want to be with you, they NEED to be with you. They can be social creatures who will learn to tolerate, and even enjoy, the company of other pets but what they really want, above all else, is to be with you. Once bonded they live by the mantra "if it's good enough for you it's good enough for me".

3) Principle #2 makes Principle #1 much easier to teach as whatever you are doing is, by default, possibly the most interesting thing in the world so if you look like you are having a great time doing it they will likely want to join you and there is your window of opportunity to engage them.

4) Jack Russells are sensitive. You may not notice it under their bristly, some times stand offish, exterior but if you punish them, discipline them too harshly or at the wrong time, or simply are not aware of the effort they are making to please you they will stop working for you. Period.

5) They have an amazing sense of fairness. Be fair in your requests, expectations, and corrections and they will respect you for it.

6) Jack Russells do not do delayed gratification. When they want something they want it now. Make sure you do not delay rewarding them or they will start to loose interest.

7) They work on a simple value system, they will happily give you any item you would like if you provide them with an item of higher value. Similarly, if they are doing something fun and you are doing something more fun, they will want to do that thing with you - every time.

8) Learn to laugh. These are happy, intuitive, dogs by nature and if they sense you are angry or frustrated (with them or anything else) they will also become angry or frustrated. If you have FUN, they will have fun and keep working for you and with you.

9) "Mistakes" happen, don't dwell on them and neither will they.

10) And possibly the most important principle I can think of. Jack Russell are like a mirror and will reflect back at you exactly how you are interacting with them. All dogs are like this to some degree but Jack Russells take it to the extreme so be very aware of exactly how you are feeling when you are working with them - if you do everything with them out of love and respect for them they will do everything out of love and respect for you.

I understand that not everyone who has a JRT had the luxury of getting them from a good breeder who instilled proper foundations but most of these puppy games will work in one modified version or another for any age of terrier.

When we start teaching our puppies as early as 3 weeks old we start ingraining all the important things we feel are necessary to having a happy balanced and highly trainable terrier. By keep my interactions with the puppies 100% positive and super fun (doesn't matter if they just bit me with razor sharp puppy teeth or not) I am starting to build the foundation of "people are fun to work with". When my puppies hear me come into the whelping room they start calling for me, and as soon as I step into their area they are crawling on me and under me, leaping up to give kisses and looking for attention and interaction. Every time I am with them we have fun, and lots of it.

As they age (around 4 weeks) I start working on recall. We teach them that and that while exploring and going off on your own is interesting, what ever I am doing when I call you is going to be WAY more fun. I always call them over in a very happy tone and play, snuggle, wrestle, and reward coming back to me. We reinforce this as they age by having treats or special toys and calling puppies in groups and as individuals for rewards. While this may seem like a basic, and easily trained command, to some JRTs are notorious for having poor recall and more often than not these early games help to produce the end result of an adult terrier that possesses excellent recall skills because it truly believes that whatever people are doing just HAS to be more fun than what they were doing.

We also play tug and exchange games. Playing with one toy, dropping it, switching to the next, dropping it, and then switching back. Doing this shows them that while toys are fun, toys attached to people are AMAZING. All my terriers when I am playing with them if I drop a toy will pick it up and try to shove it back in my hand (or face depending on how close they are to eye-level) to get me to continue the game. If I don't they will often abandon that toy and follow me around to see what fun thing I might be up to next.

We start trade games. If a puppy has a toy (never food as it is too high value), we trade them for a yummy yummy cookie by sitting down 2-3 feet away and calling them over. If they bring the toy with them that is fine, they will have to drop it to eat the cookie and then you can distract them by moving excitedly away from the toy. I never take the toy, or even bother to pick it up really at this stage, I just want them to leave what they are doing and come check out what I am doing. As they get a little older I start going over to where they are playing and putting my hand, palm up with cookies in it, on the thing they are playing with. At this stage most of my terriers will abandon the toy in search of more food which they are sure I have. Some will want to take the food and them steal the toy and run away at which point I follow them, slowly, and once I get to them I drop some cookies right in front of their nose. If they eat the cookies I will drop a few more an inch or so away, then a few more inches, and so on until we are about 2' from where we started. By this point they have often left the toy behind and are focused on the new trailing game. One of the ways you can use a puppy's short attention span to your advantage.

I always make sure to work with my puppies individually and with their litter mates or other dogs around. I want them to learn that I am the most fun thing in the world. I want them to truly believe I play all the best games and know where all the best toys and cookies are stashed. I want them to remain playing and engaged with me even as their sibling try to steal them away. I keep sessions short, fun, and sweet. While I may allow a litter mate or other dog to come over while I am playing with one puppy I will move them off when they got too close so the puppy I am playing with does not feel they need to drop what they are doing and tell them to "back off" themselves.

I protect my puppies at all costs. As young puppies they will naturally turn to me for security when they are scared or uncertain. A puppy who hears a strange loud noise in the yard will run over to me and then cock it's head, or bark, in the direction of the noise from the security of my lap. When I see one is getting picked on by a litter mate or other dog I will call them over and then "shoo" the other dog away. I teach them early that when you are with me you are safe and if you are in my 2' bubble of protection I will fight all your battles for you. This not only builds a bond that lasts the life time of these terriers but also curbs any aggression issues related to insecurity that a terrier may be prone to develop in it's future. Now this is not to say I allow my puppies to run over to me and pick on their litter mates from "high ground" on my lap, I set those puppies down beside me and move away. If they continue to jump on me it tells me that what looks like bullying is really insecurity so I pick them up and take them to do something else with just that puppy and I. Usually by the time we return whatever situation that made them so uncomfortable has passed and they are happy to go on being fun, social, puppies.

These are just a few examples of the things we do during the first 9 weeks of life with our puppies. I am sure that there are many many more I have forgotten to list but for me these are some of the core ones that address the most common problems people seem to have with these little white dogs. While I am adamant that these are most certainly not a dog for everyone I also hope that everyone who finds themselves living with a Jack Russell, for one reason or another, can learn to enjoy and experience the breed the way we have been so very fortunate to.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

One more checkmark on the Bucket List

It has always been a dream of mine to one day perform with my dogs in one of the world famous "Superdog" shows. Having grown up watching them as a child I was always in awe of the amazing canine athletes and as I aged I was even more in awe of the amazing people who handle and train them. Over the years I have kept an ear to the ground waiting to learn how I could get an opportunity to audition and this year everything just seemed to come together. I discovered that a long-time flyball friend of mine got her start in the sport due to Superdogs and was an integral part of their operation. I told her about my life-long admiration of this show and she worked her magic and facilitated an audition during the Saskatoon Exhibition shows this year.

Although we have a number of dogs that would be suitable for the show I chose Kiwi as my partner. Anyone who has met her and fallen, spellbound, for her enchanting ways will understand why. She has a presence, an energy, that far exceeds her athletic abilities and is impossible to ignore. Before the audition she only had the most basic of agility and disc training but her self confidence and trainability made me confident in my decision.

We arrived on the first day, Kiwi excited to be out in such a public venue and me a little nervous as to what was in store. It did not take long however for us to settle in and the familiar faces of my friends Courtney and Sam turned the nerves to excitement as I prepared to fulfill a life-long dream and check one more thing off my "bucket list". The whole week went by too quickly in a blur of people, dogs, new friends and laughter but some highlights stand out above all else:

The first time Kiwi did "Pat and Chat" after the show and I watched over a dozen people swarm around her, hands outstretched and petting every inch of her body. Even I felt a little claustrophobic in that setting but Kiwi, ever the social butterfly, soaked it all up and looked for more. The 8 more sessions of this to follow over the next 3 days did nothing to dissuade her of her notion that all people were put on this earth to love her.

The first time I asked her to run an obstacle course, complete with tunnels (an object she had never seen before) and she executed it with few errors - all of which could have been easily corrected with better handling.

Bringing Brynne on Thursday to expose him to the atmosphere and doing the final Pat and Chat of the day with him. He laid down on the podium and accepted all the attention like he was born into it, even handing out the occasional "kiss" on request to squealing and delighted children.

Stepping out onto the stage for my first show in front of 2500 people with Kiwi, looking out into the crowd and having only a brief moment to reflect before Kiwi hit her tug at full force and brought me back to reality.

Performing in my first Superdog relay event with Tov, my wonder puppy, and having her perform flawlessly - focused and unfazed by the large crowd. Time and time again I marvel at this little dog who was never supposed to be.

Making so many new friends who share similar passions to my own and meeting so many amazing trainers who skills and experience I will be drawing on for years to come.

It was a whirlwind and thoroughly exhausting week but I left on Friday happy and fulfilled and so very very proud of my dogs. I hope that there will be more opportunities in the future for us to perform with this amazing cast of canines and trainers but if "now" is the only time we have we certainly made every moment of it count and I would not trade in a single second.