Puppy preschool

Today Sunshine attended her third puppy preschool session in my local town. The last time I went to puppy preschool, it was 1998. A lot has changed since then, and for the better. We’ve gotten so much out of these classes. Here are all the things we’ve been practising so far:

  • Sit
  • Drop
  • Crawl
  • Rollover
  • Heel
  • Recall
  • Mat training
  • Socialisation off lead and on lead
  • Going through tunnels.

We’ve also been discussing strategies for mouthing, jumping, barking, toilet training, eating (Sunshine inhales her food so she now eats out of a muffin tray to slow her down), pack leader communication, separation anxiety and so much more.

As Sunshine is tremendously food-oriented and a very quick learner, she has picked up most of this really easily and is often used as the demo student because of her willingness to do almost anything for a treat! 🙂

Still, she’s an individual and has her areas that need extra attention. For her, these have been:

  • mouthing behaviours (biting us in play), but these are easing with age
  • barking at us over the baby gate while we eat (this was stopped very quickly with just two sprays from a water spray)
  • recall (she’s not particularly motivated to come when called)
  • she hasn’t been happy with a collar or harness from day one
  • and she is so far pretty terrified of the tunnel.

All in all, we are thrilled with how she is going. She is still very much a baby (still only 15 weeks) and training is an ongoing process and we feel that the training she has done so far, plus all the socialisation she’s had out and about (from boating to school visits), has given her a solid foundation for a wonderful life as part of our family and perhaps yet as a therapy dog.

I can’t recommend puppy preschool enough!

Kindy and School Visits

Sunshine has made two visits to classes in the past ten days, first to my son’s prep class and then today to his old kindergarten. Because I can’t take photos in these locations, I’ve given you a cute pic of Flynn on his last day of kindy instead, as well as a snap from the first day they met.

Both the teachers of this classes were keen to have Sunshine along and it was a great experience for her too. She was really gentle and calm, even when she was enthusiastically ‘mobbed’ by little hands and took it all in her stride.

For us, this was a fantastic opportunity to introduce Sunshine to the plethora of sensory input classrooms have to offer, from the smell of classrooms, to the sound of bags in bag racks, the feel of many textures of floorings (wood, rubber, concrete, grass, garden, carpet), desks, chairs, school bells, play dough (which she tried to eat!), food scraps in bins, and the feeling of many hands on her all at once.

Today at kindy, she got to walk through a fairy garden boardwalk, and I took treats along to keep her focused on me while we practised ‘sit’ and ‘drop’ in a room with 20 people and lots of distractions. Fortunately, she is incredibly food-motivated so getting her attention isn’t hard.

It was a wonderful grounding for future visits and both teachers have invited us back again.

Puppy’s Early Days

Whenever you bring home a pup, you are bringing home a baby animal who needs love, reassurance and time to adjust to her new life, and this is the same if your dog is to be a therapy dog of some kind or a family pet (or both).

For human children, we are told that 0-5 (birth to age 5 years) is crucial for setting your human up for life. (Hey, no pressure!!) Similarly, your dog’s first 6 months lays the template for all future experiences. For a pup to grow up into a well-rounded, confident, well-mannered citizen of the future, it is imperative that you get her out and about in the world to enjoy as many different experiences as possible and that each of these situations leaves a positive imprint.

This is not the time to expose her to frightening people or situations. Sometimes, you can’t control this and if that happens it’s crucial that you remain calm and confident to demonstrate the appropriate response.

You might like to take advantage of cafes that allow dogs, trips to Bunnings (you can put pup in the trolley), parks (but be careful of dog parks as they can be hotspots for dog aggression), the beach, suburban streets (we live on acreage and realised Sunshine needed exposure to more populated living spaces with barking dogs, tradesman, traffic, bicycles etc.), outdoor escalators, boats, farm animals and chickens, and lots of children. Our six-year-old gives Sunshine tolerance to noise, racing cars that fly down the hallway and bang into walls, squeals, balloons, yelling, movies and television, school bags etc. You can take her on holidays with you, in the car wherever possible, to visit the vet regularly for weigh-ins, worming and treats, to the hydro bath and pet store, to visit family and friends, and your child’s school may welcome class visits too.

And of course, your baby needs time just to be a baby, growing bones and ligaments, new teeth and nerve coverings. It’s a big job growing a little pup into a big dog! And it goes by so quickly.

Train your own therapy dog

We take inspiration from the Australian organisation, MindDog, which “assists mental health sufferers to procure, train and certify psychiatric assistance dogs.”

While Sunshine is unlikely to progress to this level (though you never know), we take heart in this organisation’s wholistic approach to empowering both human and animal along the journey.

If you are looking to train your own assistant dog, their article “Choose the Right Dog” is an excellent place to start.

The Journey Begins

This was the first day I met Sunshine, at seven weeks of age, May 2018 on The Gold Coast. There were only two puppies left in this litter, both girls. I climbed in with them and let them jump all over me and chew me and slowly I felt a stronger pull towards the one in the yellow ribbon, though I couldn’t have told you why, exactly.

After I stepped out, and the one with the yellow ribbon came to the edge to see me off, I really noticed that yellow ribbon and it seemed like a sign. Our nearly six-year-old son had declared weeks earlier (three months on from the devastating loss of our nearly twelve-year-old Golden Retriever Daisy) that we would get another “golden” (Golden Retriever) and “her name will be Sunshine”.

“Look!” I said to the breeder. “She has a yellow ribbon! It’s Sunshine!”

Still, the breeder wasn’t going to commit. I left that day, knowing that she wanted to give another woman the first pick of the two pups that remained. I tried to let go of attachment to the idea that Yellow Ribbon was meant for us.

When I went returned, the other woman was at the house and had chosen her pup. It was the one in the purple ribbon. “She just ran straight up to me!” she said, and I smiled, thinking, “I knew it!”

Yellow Ribbon was meant for us.