The following originally appeared as a breed column in the AKC Gazette.
A PBGV might not be the first breed you picture when you think of a future performance dog, but Alice is a puppy with big plans. My hope is that she will grow up to compete in agility, scent work, hunt tests, tracking, obedience, rally, barn hunt, and lure coursing while also serving as a demonstration dog for my training business and working as a therapy dog. Agility and scent work are my primary sports, but I’ve found all of the others to be complementary to this activity. At six months, Alice still has a long way to go in training but the account below is a summary of my training notes on her progress so far.
Alice was born on April 8 into a litter of four puppies. Her mother Muse has had two previous litters and had a very easy delivery, with minimal help needed from the humans. For more detail on the protocols used to raise Muse’s litter, I recommend the online breeder education available through Avidog.
The early days of puppy care are mostly Muse’s job, but between Days 3 and 16, the puppies experienced Early Neurological Stimulation (www.breedingbetterdogs.com) and Early Scent Introduction (www.avidog.com). During Scent Introduction, the puppies were exposed to a variety of scents, including some they will experience later in life like scent work odors and live rabbits and rats.
When the puppies’ eyes opened and they began responding to sounds, they moved from the whelping box to a larger day pen that was approximately half sleeping/ playing space and half potty area. In the evening, they moved into a smaller pen in our living room. This pen also had a potty area, but didn’t require sleepy puppies to go so far to access it. The smaller pen also starts introducing the concept of being active during the day and quieter at night.
The day pen included a rotating group of enrichment items like toys, fitness equipment, and safe household items. Visitors were welcome and the puppies got to meet a lot of people. At four weeks, we began to offer the puppies solid food and to take them outside for short sessions in an outdoor play area. By five weeks the puppies were solving simple puzzle toys for some of their daily food, taking off leash walks outside, and doing some simple clicker and scent work training. At six weeks, leash and crate training began.
Months 3 and 4:
In early June, I made my final decision as to which puppy would be joining our pack. Alice’s littermates starting moving into their new homes in the middle of June and I starting doing more individual training and work with her. I use Susan Garrett’s Recallers program as the foundation for all of my training, so I started working Alice through this program at eight weeks. Alice was fed three times daily until six months, so I took advantage of lunch time as a daily training session, hand feeding her lunch one bite at a time as a reward.
During her critical socialization period leading up to sixteen weeks, I also tried to take her to new locations almost every day. Alice experienced several dog friendly stores, some pet therapy visits, an RV trip to a dog sports training camp, as well as starting to attend puppy classes in two locations as a working demo dog. We also started working on tracking and scent work during this time.
Our pack consists of twelve dogs, so incorporating Alice into the group had to be done slowly. Over time, she found out who the best playmates were and how to tread lightly around grumpy older dogs.
Alice is now four months old, so her socialization outings can include AKC events. In August she got to practice hanging out in a crate at dog shows and agility trials, a skill she had already mastered while I am teaching classes. A performance dog needs to be able to handle the long days and what can be boring down time at events without getting worked up and using all of the mental and physical energy they need to perform well. I like to teach puppies how to just be at an event long before they begin competing. I will often use a remote treat dispenser like a Pet Tutor to reinforce good crate behavior without having to stop what I am doing.
In August, Alice competed in 4-6 puppy conformation at a large show. The breed ring isn’t my favorite activity, but I wanted to give her a good experience at a dog show without a lot of pressure to perform, so this was a nice opportunity. She also earned a trick dog title by video in August, which I hope will be the first of many performance titles.
Alice’s socialization outings continued at least several times per week. My main focus in training is still relationship building and focus, but I started to introduce some agility ground work like wrapping a cone and touching a foot target. I am not in any hurry to put puppies on real agility equipment, but like to teach the basic handling cues on the flat first. Alice was doing tracks with turns and had strong odor obedience for Scent Work. At home she had quite a but more freedom since she was reliably housetrained and passed the worst of the chewing stage.
At six months, Alice competed in her first Scent Work trial and qualified in containers and interior. She worked well, but can be a softer dog at times so I will be working hard to protect her confidence and not ask for too much too soon in new places. Given just a few minutes to acclimate to a new place, she is generally pretty ready to go. Alice is strongly motivated by food and will play tug with a toy in most situations if I make the toy fun enough (rabbit fur helps). She is doing tracks that are getting close to TD length and is progressing nicely on agility flatwork. I won’t consider competing in agility until she is at least two and probably closer to three, but tracking and rally novice are in the plan for 2019.