Where Did “Good Girl” Go?

Selah at 9 weeks. It’s a good thing puppies are so dang cute.

Good grief. How does one keep a puppy alive? Selah is 6.5-months-old. Twenty eight weeks. That means we’ve kept her alive and relatively healthy for 20 weeks now, so we must be doing something right. But… just a moment ago I heard a crunching sound coming from the sun porch. There was Selah with her Icelandic sheep horn (or whatever it is) laying on the ground in front of her in all its glory and inviting a good chew, but she was gnawing on something I couldn’t see. Something throat-sized. I tossed her sheep horn one inch to the left and sure enough, it won her interest, causing her to dump the previous item of interest from her jaws. It was a two-inch stick, obtained from who knows where, and just sharp enough on one end for Meredith Grey to use it as an emergency surgical tool at 35,000 feet on a turbulent airplane. Selah had no doubt been contemplating swallowing that thing.

We call them “Good Girl” and “Good Boy”, and they are. When they are sleeping puppies are so very good and so very cute. But when awake, it’s all bets off. I always love reading the Facebook posts of people who have gone some time without a puppy in the house. Rainbows and unicorns and puppy breath can turn into Monsters, Inc. pretty quickly!

The AKC provides a nice service to owners of newly registered puppies. Every week we receive an email newsletter. “Your puppy is now xxx weeks old. Here’s what you can expect to see.” And, as we should expect from America’s purebred registry service, the updates are developmentally right on the money. Which is why I was not surprised to see Selah chewing on a shiv on the sunny floor of the porch. Or was she hand-carving that shiv for later use? It’s hard to tell at this age.

You see, yesterday (and the day before, and the day before) we’ve been seeing some new behaviors in Selah. She is getting bigger and exponentially stronger. She loves people and she loves other dogs. Though she has understood the concept of a leash tether for some time now (she has been coming along beautifully with a dainty show lead, and she does surprisingly well teaming up with me in our Rally classes), she seems to have forgotten this week how a leash works. It appears she has grown a neck with the strength of a tree trunk, and she does not care one whit about the consequences of gravity when jumping up in the air while tethered at the neck by said leash. Call the circus.

And you see, this fits beautifully with today’s email from the AKC. “Your Bernese Mountain Dog puppy is 28 weeks old! As your puppy ages through adolescence, you will have to train their impulse control to discourage some formerly ‘cute’ puppy behavior.” Do ya think?

Through the years I’ve spent raising dogs, I’ve had enough mentors and trainers walking me through the puppy days to know I needed to train Selah early on a number of impulse control behaviors. Puppies are smarter and more eager to please than we give them credit. Selah learned week one to sit and wait for her food until I give an all-clear. She learned to sit for a treat. She crates up and she goes to “place” (staying on place is a work in progress.) She’s learning to stand for exam in one dog show ring and to sit when I come to a halt in another. My favorite thing is the accidental visual command she learned as a result of her demand barking at mealtime. Fed up with her free concert one morning as I prepared food for the dogs, I simply turned around, leaned back against the counter, and crossed my arms. She paused, and without taking her eyes off of me melted into the floor with a huff of frustration. Now, every time I cross my arms, she drops (slowly) into a down position. Hey… whatever works!

I know there are several bridges to cross yet with Selah. For now, we need to focus on leash greetings. She can’t keep working without a net every time we pass someone on her “new best friend” radar, which is, unfortunately, everyone. Also on the “Coming Soon” marquee is the day her unmerited confidence causes her to look at me when called and bolt in the opposite direction. These are crossroads everyone eventually reaches as “Good Girl” matures and tries on new nicknames such as, “No! No! No!” or… well, other names that should not be used in polite blogs.

A puppy at six to seven months needs to learn and relearn some manners. Impulse control, the AKC email called it. It’s at this age every time I find myself contemplating if I have enough experience to get the puppy through this phase and back to “Good Girl” on my own or if I need to call in the troops. But let me say this: There is no shame in calling in the troops. Every dog is different. Some are a little more challenging than others. And let’s face it – communicating with a dog, not to mention a puppy, is not instinctive for most people. It’s learned. A good trainer is worth their weight (more if the trainer is small) in gold.

Selah free stacks at the end of a beautiful triple lutz (not pictured) upon seeing a neighbor’s dog. If only judges in the show ring looked more like neigborhood dogs… or squirrels.

When I think back on some of our earlier dogs, I am not too proud to admit that there were behavioral issues I either caused, allowed, or was too inexperienced to know I could correct. We raised five dogs (and three litters of puppies) before ever hiring a behaviorist or dog trainer. We were 100% late to the game.

There are no excuses for us, (any of us, really) to have poorly behaved dogs today. The Internet is rife with websites teaching games that produce patience and impulse control in dogs. There are a slew of puzzles we can choose from to mentally exercise our dogs. There are trainers offering on-site classes, who will come to our homes, who have television shows, and who offer free resources on You Tube. There are master classes we can take on line.

And right now I have to take my own advice with Selah. She has some impulse control issues beginning to rise, bless her little 70 lb heart. It’s not her fault. She is tracking exactly as she should. It’s my job to come alongside her and finish what we started… One-on-one leash training walks. Maybe a session with our trainer. Ask, wait, reward, repeat. Good Girl is depending on me.

Published by: When Life Goes to the Dogs

It was my youngest daughter who introduced me to the Bernese Mountain Dog. That first boy, Hero, set in motion all kinds of crazy love. And now, at the end of the day, I often find myself asking... what do these dogs have that is so special? I'm raising three Berners now, navigating the world of social media for dogs, holistic health and raw feeding. Sherman has become a therapy dog; Zuzu may soon follow in his footsteps. Madi, as I like to say, is still cooking. I guess we all need something to put our hands to that makes us feel like we've made a difference in this world. Believe it or not, these dogs help me do just that.

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