Betsy was born on June 28th, 2015 at Stirling Collies. Her mom is a pure AKC German Shepherd and her dad is an AKC 1/4 German Shepherd and 3/4 Collie. We’ll get Betsy’s AKC papers after we prove we’ve spade her.
We picked up our new girl on August 24th 2015 at 10:54 PM. She flew in on Delta flight #1624 from Stirling Collies in Minnesota. We had to fill up some paperwork while she looked on still locked away in her carrier. We finally got her into the van and drove to a grassy spot in the parking lot. We put her on the leash and had our first meeting with our new pride and joy.
She was very alert but a bit timid in our first meeting. She stayed timid for about a month. I forget Ky’s first months which is one of my main motivations for starting this blog. The books and internet articles have helped me remember much. I forgot how new puppy’s seem like they learn everything perfectly and stay right next to you. And then they become more curious, confident, and stubborn. Multiply that by 10 for a German Shepard. It does make training more of a challenge but the fully trained dog is an absolute delight to have around. From the articles and books I was questioning if Betsy might be a dominate dog. After reading the exact signs I realized that no, she does not have a dominate personality. She’s just a German Shepard with a strong personality and with proper training she won’t have any problems with aggression at all.
She was so distressed at being placed in her crate that we waited for about a month until we started using it. We let her sleep in bed with us for a few weeks too. Once we transitioned to the crate I was once again amazed at how quickly a dog takes to having their own personal den. As a human I want to think it would be a terrible experience to be locked away and confined. But a dog takes to it like a mouse to cheese. She hardly ever whines or complains, and she totally runs to her crate when we say ‘go to bed’. Of course the behavior is always followed up with a treat.
Speaking of treats, this is a complete change from how I taught Ky. I only ever used treats for one command- come. Praise was the only reward I used, and she turned out great. I admit I also used some of the more compulsion training techniques like a choke chain to teach heel. Our entire technique has changed after reading the book Let the Dig Decide by Dale Stavroff. Also the internet has a plethora of videos and articles about using positive motivational techniques. Sure Ky was consistent while still being observant and ultimately deciding how she would behave. Maybe I just got lucky with Ky. I want Betsy to turn out just as smart and let her decide the proper course of action just like Ky would but we’ll do it using this new kinder gentler approach. Now we just have to learn how to keep from over treating and letting Betsy get fat (so far she’s not as she seems to have a growth spurt whenever that belly starts to get a bit big). Intermittent rewarding seems to be the answer. Possibly some clicker training might also help, but we haven’t started that yet.
The first command we tried to teach Betsy was ‘look’. It wasn’t as easy as I remembered with Ky. She didn’t like to make eye contact and even with many treats, the response was inconsistent. Our next commands were sit, drop, up and free. I like adding ‘up’ in there as it is a nice transition from drop and back to sit. These commands continue to be our primary focus. She had them down in the first month but not consistently. Even at 4 months we continue to work on consistency and ‘stay’. I want to stop using stay eventually as sit and drop should mean ‘sit and stay’ and ‘drop and stay’ without the need to say the word stay. For consistency training we are adding distractions, distance, and duration. We got about 30 seconds of stay in the house and varying degrees of consistency in the back yard, front yard, on walks and at the park.
If you check out the vocabulary page we have worked on every command except for heel and yard. We use ‘close’ on walks to mean stay close and no pulling. She does nicely and mostly does not pull. Patience and turning around / changing direction has kept her paying attention to us and keeping the leash loose. I’m saving heel until we’re ready to focus on it and ensure we’ll get success right at the beginning. I think she’s still a bit too young for a formal heel and I just want her to enjoy her walks for now. Later she can learn ‘heel’ perfectly from the beginning without learning any bad habits. I absolutely loved how Ky could heel off leash and am hoping for the same from Betsy. We are also saving ‘yard’ for later. It’s a bit advanced for her to learn her boundaries just yet. Right now we just call her to come and make sure she does when she approaches a boundary. Yard is such a nice command though when you don’t really need them to ‘come’ but rather to just stay in a boundary. We could go to somewhere new and I could call out to Ky ‘Yard’ whenever she approached a boundary. Within a few minutes she knew just how far this new yard extended and would stay within the limits.
A German Shepherd / Collie mix has a huge amount of energy. Our goal is to teach her fetch (go get it) to help with expending that energy daily. I never wanted to teach Ky fetch. When we’d visit the dog park I’d witness the other dogs playing fetch resemble crack addicts. Nothing else in the world mattered other than the fetch toy (like an addict with their pipe). I loved how Ky was so aware of everything going on around us and I’m hoping to figure out how to give Betsy that same awareness while still learning to play fetch.
Betsy has done well with fetch in the house. I’ve learned that the toy and the game are the only reward and no treats are offered as they are just a distraction. She does great with tug, she does great to bring back the toy, and ‘leave it’ is getting better. We have designated certain toys as the ‘tug’ toys and others as the ‘leave it’ toys. Consistency outside the house is still a distant dream. We decided not to worry about that too much right now as winter is coming and we won’t be able to get outside much soon and we might as well wait until spring. We’ll focus on a rock solid leave it in the house for now.
I did formal training with Ky 3 times per day, morning, noon and evening. I waited to even get a dog until I knew I could devote my time to her, and my circumstances had changed to where my job was just 2 miles from home and I could come home everyday for lunch. I’m doing the same 3 times per day training with Betsy along with informal training all day long. Jenny is doubling that as she is also doing formal training 3 times per day. At first Jenny was disappointed as she thought Betsy obeyed me better than her. I pointed out that Betsy obeys some commands better for Jenny and others better for me, and most are about exactly equal.
We had very few accidents in the house in the beginning. We have only had one #1 accident in her crate when we left her for 6 hours which was way too long. Most of the time she does very well and we blame ourselves for not supervising her or reading the signs. #2 accidents are rare but #1 happens more often than I’d like. Sometimes we’ll let her out and she doesn’t go and then 5 minutes later she goes #1 in the house. From my research it seems like it’s just bad training. We need to be more consistent with the crate. If she doesn’t go when we let her out, then it’s back in the crate for 20 minutes and then try again. If we are not actively supervising her then it’s back in the crate.