Puppy Diary: Raising a working dog
Date published: 23 April 2014
Kato is learning to trot at the side of a bike
Puppies grow and develop incredibly quickly.
Kato is now five months of age which means his brain now has the characteristics of an adult brain. For the last 13 weeks I have been building up his experiences so that his socialisation to people, dogs and novel situations is very thorough and although this will continue throughout his life, the early grounding has laid a very positive foundation. It means that he will be able to accept and acclimatise very quickly to future novel situations.
Kato is already well into his training programme. He has started every exercise that he will need as an adult working dog. Some of these exercises are important for both pet dogs and working dogs such as retrieving, staying on command, walking to heel and returning quickly when called. However, one of Kato’s favourite exercises is tracking, which we started when he was just 14 weeks old. In competition a person walks in a set pattern approximately half a mile long dropping small items such as a bottle top along the way. The track is left for up to three hours before the dog is brought to the start of the track wearing a tracking harness and a line. He has to follow the scent trail and lie down on each article he finds so that the handler can recover the article.
The scenting capability of dogs is remarkable and although the human cannot see any signs of the track the dog is able to follow the footsteps and find the tiniest of articles dropped by the track layer.
Most of the work Kato will be performing requires a great deal of both mental and physical stamina and if we are to have an advantage over other dogs Kato needs to be in peak condition. We are fortunate in that we have a water treadmill which is excellent for building muscle fitness. However, to build heart and lung function plus endurance I still make good use of exercising dogs at a steady trot alongside my bike. Kato is not old enough to engage in any hard physical exercise but he is able to learn how to trot by the side of my bike for short distances.
The photograph shows Kato having his first cycling lesson on Anglesey show ground where there are a lot of grass tracks and no traffic, making it really safe.
To date Kato has been in towns, along busy roads, to a motor show and dog shows. He has met hundreds of people and dogs and learnt to swim in the sea. Every week we have introduced him to something different and on some occasions he has been away for the weekend sleeping in the van. Every time we go somewhere different we make sure we have Kato’s training bag so that I can continue his training in a strange place which helps him to transfer the skills he has learnt at home to any location. The training exercises include:
- Walking to heel
- Retrieve to hand
- Stay in a down or sit
- Change position (sit, stand, down)
- Send away
- Recall on a whistle
- Touch target
- Emergency stop
- Tuggy play with an out
- Jump to a marker
The more Kato learns new skills and the more his brain is mentally stimulated the better he becomes at learning and retaining information.
It is all to do with the mylination of the brain and the formation of neural pathways.
The optimum time for this to take place is from birth to five months of age, which is why I put so much time and effort into educating very young dogs – and of course because it is great fun.
On Track Dog Training School