A curious puppy is primed to build a huge skill set as a service dog.
This little girl here will not have much trouble learning to pull the dishwasher rack out for her disabled partner.
She might even be able to learn how to load and unload the diswasher.
All because she’s naturally curious enough to stick her nose in there! Curiosity is in my mind second only to attentiveness in importance for choosing and training a service dog.
The next 3-4 posts will stay pretty much with a brand new puppy; that first week or so in your home before you start taking them out and about much. That’s a crucial time for building a deep bond with a puppy, a relationship that will last a lifetime.
Puppies are naturally curious, the lovely little troublemakers! But an SD needs to be willing to notice and mess with anything. I break the curiosity category into 2; curious about objects (becomes retrieving), and curious about sounds (hearing alerts).
Everything is a toy to a new puppy, because everything is new to them. They don’t know what a dishtowel is for, right? So play with more than just doggie toys. Roll a can of mushrooms around on the floor, and reward them for chasing it, pawing it, and hey if they pick it up let ‘em play keep away with it!
Let an SD candidate pup get into your purse, or crawl into the closet and come out with a shoe. Make a game out of picking up anything outside of steak knives! If they turn up with one of your socks, give some happy love and show them how to put it in the hamper in exchange for a bully stick.
“Hide” their favorite toys in a drawer or kitchen cabinet while they watch and show them if they tug the strap, they can open the drawer and get their ducky baby. Reward them for following along (attentiveness) while you drag the laundry to the washer, and get them to play with or move the clothes around–later on they can learn to help you sort the piles.
Whatever object they show interest in, tell them the name so they can learn what it is, and show them what to do with it.
What trainers call ‘labeling’, is essentially nothing more than knowing the plastic tube that smells like vanilla is my Secret Deoderant.
A lot of “experts” say dogs can’t label very well if at all, but I know bettter. All of my Danes associated words with objects well enough to ID them, and go to them. A few would pick them up.
I don’t know why some folks don’t think dogs can label more than a few things like doors or their toys. I had a PET dane (Shabah) with a vocabulary of nearly 200 words. Another reason I love Great Danes! They have way more intelligence than “experts” credit them with.
So when a new pup shows interest in something, let him feel the texture, recognize it visually, learn the smell, accept the taste of unnatural things like metal, the sounds it makes when it moves. Use all their senses. The more senses they use to identify something, the more likely they are to remember the word (and action) that goes with it.
One thing I’ve noticed, about all of my Danes, anyway, is a noise sensitivity. I need to go heavy on getting them used to sounds, and helping them associate what that sound belongs to. 8 wks is about when a development peroid called “fear imprinting” sets in. So a bit of fright at this age can stick in their heads a long time.
Clanging dishes will be in their working life anytime I go to a restaurant. So I’ll be making lots of clanging noises, and if they notice it, I’ll tell them what it is. Clanging, banging, radios, beepings, delivery trucks, you name it they gotta be introduced and acclimate to work in public without being too distracted to focus.
A more passive way to help them accept and eventually ignore “scary” sounds like big trucks or air brakes is background music. Recordings of skateboards, city sounds, construction noise and the like can be played at home while they’re playing or resting or doing things with you.
Played low enough, they learn to ignore the background sounds readily as they concentrate on something else (play!!), and when I turn it up and they aren’t bothered by it, they get big rewards. This will help them keep their calm and their focus on their tasks later in public.
Some sounds I want them to not ignore: tea kettles, pots boiling over, a doorbell etc. When I want them to notice and alert me, I have to make a point of it. “OH do you hear (__)?” click, treat. That’s where it begins.
Teaching them to touch me when they hear it is as simple as luring their little nose with a marvelous treat from where it is to where it touches me. Combining the sound and the touch may take practice as seperate actions, but if you can get them to do it together right away, your hearing alerts will be learned fast!
Some also have had a body sensitivity: they didn’t like things on their bodies. So to prevent that, considering the weight and constriction of a mobility harness in their future, I start the tiny tots right away wearing something like a small tracking harness.
I will want them to pull in harness at times (up stairs, inclines etc), so I use the collar and leash to walk without pulling. This first week with a baby, I just want them used to having something on their bodies. Coats for cold weather, too, help them adjust to the sensation.
But putting the time in now will make for less time formally “training” later.