What is Puppy Culture?
Puppy Culture is a program developed by Jane Killion, professional dog trainer and breeder. It is a comprehensive, organized program for breeders to follow during the first weeks of a puppy’s life.
The first 12 weeks of a puppy’s life are incredibly important. This is an almost magical time when a breeder has the power to change the outcome of a puppy’s life by what we choose to teach him. By doing just the right things at just the right time, we can give your puppy the best start possible.
Making sure that your puppy’s genetic material is excellent is only the beginning. The physical and emotional health of the mother will affect the health of her puppies. Since research has shown that puppies born to mothers that receive prenatal massage are more docile and enjoy being touched, we spoil our mothers with lots of affection and belly massages. A puppy’s predisposition to form deep and meaningful relationships begins even before they are born.
Neonatal Period: 0-14 days
Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS) begins on day 3 and continues through day 16. Research shows that tiny struggles and stresses in appropriate small doses are actually good for puppies and will help them grow into strong, healthy well-adjusted adults. Benefits include greater tolerance to stress, greater resistance to disease, faster adrenal system, stronger heart rate and stronger heartbeat. This is a gift that a breeder can only give their puppies once during the window of 3-16 days.
Transitional Period: 14-21 days
Behavioral markers are used to identify the beginning and end of each developmental period because every puppy is different and these timelines are simply guidelines. The transitional period begins when the puppy’s eyes open and ends when they first startle upon hearing sounds.
Critical Socialization Period: 3-12 weeks
Most people think of socialization as exposing their puppies to as many new experiences as possible while the puppy is young. While this is part of the process, it’s not enough. Our goal is to raise dogs that have the emotional intelligence to connect with you. Emotional intelligence can be taught to young puppies and one of the goals of the Puppy Culture Program is to teach breeders how to do this. There are 7 key things that will nurture the emotional intelligence of a puppy.
1: Communication – giving a puppy his own voice: Communication Trinity – power up clicker, box game, manding, attention/distraction protocols
2: Emotional stability – the ability to recover easily from fear as well as stress (startle recovery, barrier challenges, Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test at day 49
3: Habituation – familiarity with the maximum number of things: Puppy Parties, sound protocols, habituation soundtracks and noises, meeting different people, dogs, other animals
4: Enrichment – the view that novelty and challenges are opportunities for enrichment rather than things to be feared or avoided: novelty items, Adventure Box, off premises socialization
5: Health – physical wellness and motor skills that will allow the puppy to develop in a neurologically and physically sound way: daily weight checks, grooming, vaccinations, deworming, proper nutrition, vet health checks
6: Skills – learned behaviors which allow him to function in human society: recall, manding, simple commands, litterbox training, crate training, leash walking, resource guarding, bite inhibition
7: Love – the desire to seek out the company of both dogs and humans as emotionally positive experiences: shaping emotional responses, Happy and Calm CER (Conditioned Emotional Responses), daily cuddles with humans and mom
This is definitely an incredible amount of work, but it is 100% ABSOLUTELY WORTH IT!!!!!! When you adopt your puppy, you will be just as thankful as we are for this program!
The Reliable Recall is a Life or Death ‘command’ for any dog that will be allowed to run off leash. In fact, if you were to wash away all of the extraneous things we will teach a dog there are literally only three things a dog must know: to go away from the handler, to stay put, and to return to the handler. House training is right up there, as is having a dog who knows how to turn it off, aka Impulse Control. But let's get back to topic.
Why have I not written about The Reliable Recall skill yet? Afterall, I think it is so important we begin working the recall into our puppies as soon as we begin to wean them from their mother! Well, to be honest, I just haven’t thought of it until recently. In recent months I’ve had two internet friends lose their dogs due to being hit by a car because their dog wouldn’t come when called. In one instance during the chaos of trying to get his dog back, the gentleman slipped on some ice and hit his head so hard he awoke in the Emergency Room, which is when he learned of his dog’s fate. Again, just yesterday in Belgium a young female Drent was lost due to the lack of an effective recall, their other dog is still at large. For the record, I also lost a dog in 2014 a few months after rescuing her to similar circumstances. I, for one, hope you never have to use your GPS collar to locate a mangled or dead dog, as I have had to do, to appreciate how important a rock-solid recall is.
As mentioned, here at Two Gun, we start teaching the recall when we are weaning pups from mom at feeding time. We use their insatiable appetite to our advantage, and even use some good old-fashioned Pavlovian conditioning with a whistle while they are eating. But let’s assume your breeder didn’t do this, or you have an older dog you need to ‘get right’. For that older dog I’d recommend tossing the ‘command’ you have used, after all Fido only knows to blow that cue off. The verbal cue I prefer to use is ‘here’, but you could use ‘hot dog’; it really doesn’t matter so as long as you are consistent with the cue you choose.
Mindset & Learning
Before we roll our sleeves up and get to the meat and potatoes of teaching a reliable recall, I need to segue for a moment to discuss the mindset of the dog. This is important in all training, but with the recall mindset can really work against you, since the dog is, or will soon be, off-leash, and your ability to physically control him goes to zero. These generalized mindsets are more or less like a heater with a rheostat that gently moves from one end of the spectrum to the other without clearly defined detents. ‘Calm’ is where a dog can really soak up a well communicated message. A calm dog is a dog that can really learn. Next is ‘Alert’, which can also be a useful training state, however it is better the dog be at the calm end of alert so that they are not being reactive to their environment. ‘Alarm’ is when the dog has become reactive and this can apply to virtually anything - a kicked pinecone, a squirrel, etc. an alert dog is not paying attention to you it is paying attention to whatever has its attention. This is not an effective state of training and why impulse control is so important. The last state is ‘Fear’, and this state is also useless to you as a trainer/handler. A dog in fear will withdraw, not meet your eye-contact, etc. Old School obedience methods can get you there (E.g. generous use of choke collars and heavy handed handling techniques), worse yet Old School field training methods (E.g. high-stim e-collar use, toe-hitches, and ear pinches) are almost guaranteed to put a dog in the ‘fear’ state. There is no place for this, and any methodology advocating for its use should be abandoned immediately. So now we have a deeper appreciation as to why the calm dog is pretty much in all ways a better dog.
The Recall Game
With a young pup all you need is a friend or family member and maybe even a hallway. Sit an arm’s length apart each with a small pouch of ‘high value’ treats nearby. One person starts with the pup, and the other a treat. If you have been working on impulse control, then you have been playing the name game. Pup knows his name being said and looking to you is a good thing. So, the person without the pup says his name, cues ‘yes’ once the pup’s attention has been gotten then takes the treat and instead of giving it to pup, uses it to lure the pup to their lap. Once pup begins to follow use the cue ‘here’. Use the cue once and only once. If pup isn’t wanting to follow your lure you need two things: One: a much better/more exciting lure, and two: put pup on a leash so you can gently encourage him to come into to you, never reel him in like a fish. But don’t go giving a ‘command’ and heaving on the line, you must let the dog decide (read more on this in the next step), besides this is only a game. Now, wash, rinse, repeat five to ten times every day, twice a day for at least a month. Pup will love this game and is very likely to just start running between you and your helper. When this occurs it’s time to only treat the pup once he has offered a more acceptable behavior such as sitting or standing still – your choice. No ‘command’ or cue needs to be given for this at this time.
We want this to be fun for pup and adding too much structure is a sure way to kill the fun! Now that we have this working well, begin by adding a little bit of distance each session. If there is any drop in performance just go back to when pup was last successful and start again from there. Once you are unable to use luring effectively or you have outgrown your hallway it’s time to move to the back yard – probably a place where pup listens very little. Our challenge now is to break some old associations for that location and generalize the association with ‘here’ we have made in the hallway. You should close the gap down, and have him on the longest lead you have, at least 12’. That may mean joining two or more shorter leads together. Please, never use a retractable lead. Once he gets this, you can really have fun with this game and try playing it in new and novel places. Once pup has it down really good you can start gradually upping the distractions. Just be careful to not go to fast and keep it fun. If you get frustrated, just stop.
The Higgins Recall
Wait, what!? Yes, that’s right, you aren’t done, you still have work to do, and the next step is the Higgins Recall. If you have an older dog that has a sloppy recall and is familiar with being on a lead, you could start here and use the Recall Game from time to time to help up the fun of being called in, but the game is a wonderful thing for young pups. Either way, this highly effective method is simple to learn and use. If your pup already has a grip on ‘here’ this is going to be a good tool to use for when you don’t have a helper or need to work ‘here’ in some new or novel situation so there is definitely merit in learning and using the Higgins Recall. First, you will have needed to familiarize pup with the Higgins Leader Walk. The Higgins recall relies upon having pup on a lightweight check-cord approximately twelve feet in length and having some patience. I’ll quickly explain the video. Pick a quiet distraction free place to walk pup using your check cord. Allow the dog to walk freely and once they are out a little way simply give the cue ‘here’ and only see what pup does. If you have been playing the Recall Game odds are, he’ll come right on in. When he does give him a ‘yes’ and once he is in be sure to offer praise and possibly a little reward. But if he doesn’t, that’s okay as we want the pup to make the decision to come in on his own – this is the critical step. So, pup didn’t come in. Depending on your dog, don’t be afraid to take your time before gently ‘nagging’ the line and calmly repeating the cue when pup turns to you. Also, don’t be afraid to vary the amount of time between cue and ‘nag’ if needed, the dog will come in, we want to be careful to avoid establishing an association where the 'nag' is the command to come in. The only part I like to add is ‘yes’ once pup is really moving in since we have built a strong praise association with that cue. This is one of the few times it is okay to repeat the ‘here’ cue, but soon enough the extra ‘here’ will be dropped – you may not even need it. Once pup is coming in reliably it’s time to take this act to a new location, then to another, and then begin to layer in distractions. This is why the Higgins Recall is so important. It offers you the ability to safely build the association with ‘here’ without the need for help, and more importantly in multiple new locations. No matter what, keep this exercise short - maybe five minutes is all you may want to go with in particular with young and/or softer tempered dogs and ten minutes if you can keep the session moving and upbeat. The recall must ALWAYS be a taught when you are not in a rush, having a bad day, whatever. Coming in to you needs to be much like winning the lottery for the dog. If you can’t be in that place, you will be better served to skip or cut the exercise short. Okay, so now pup is recalling like a champ, here, there, and everywhere, and you feel it’s time to ‘go off leash’. Think again.
You are now ready to move on to the advanced level of the Higgins Recall, and it’s the one thing an e-collar is used for, but only at very low levels. Simply put, your dog needs to be used to wearing an e-collar before employing it. You will want to put it on a fair bit before you plan to use it and take it off an hour or so after using it. Vary times some, we do not want to create an association here where the dog will only recall with the e-collar in place. Find the lowest setting on the collar where the dog acknowledges the momentary button being pressed, it is likely to be well below what you can feel. Now go back to a quiet place where the dog has been successful before, carefully lower the check cord and allow the dog to drag it. Give the cue ‘here’ and if he doesn’t come in, in stead of giving the gentle nag, simply press the button and if necessary, repeat the cue. Your dog may realize that he is free. At this point your job is to kneel down, smile and wait. If he comes in, give a ‘yes’ and praise once he is in. If pup just stands there, offer the ‘here’ cue again, and if nothing happens, a moment later tap the button again. Whatever you do, don’t panic, rush, or run towards the dog or check cord – just be calm, and smile. Be very aware of your tone of voice, be inviting. Be patient. He will come in, and when he does praise him. Also, be sure you have line of sight on your dog when using the e-collar, you don’t want to tap the button if he has already started in or if something unusual is happening, you could make a association you really don’t want. Like before you will need to work this up over time, using new places and distractions. Once pup has that down, start over and leave off the check cord. Then once pup is iron clad you may consider not using the e-collar. Be prepared to “step back” a step or more, as setbacks can and do occur. Progress can come quickly, or it may hit a snag once you learn of a distraction pup really has trouble with. Take your time, be patient, be positive, be upbeat. Soon you will have a dog who will run in, straight in, every time.
A quick checklist
I'm just a guy suffering with an infatuation with gundogs since childhood. Fifty some years later this is what you get.