We have had Alfie, a 6-month-old Cavapoo staying for the last week. He is training to be an assistance dog for a 12-year-old boy with Autism (Dogs for Autism charity). I have been helping the family train him since he arrived, and he came to us for a holiday.
He hadn’t met my dogs before so that was the first job. Asking your existing dogs to accept a new dog in the house should be done carefully. Doesn’t matter how well mannered and friendly your dog is, having someone come to stay is different to meeting them up the park. So, we met in a field, Alfie on a long line, and let them do a short walk together. Lots of sniffing and not too much bouncing (from Alfie) and all went well – he was in the club! Cuba unsurprisingly accepted him; Bria took a few days to be totally comfortable with a bouncing pup.
Bria is now 3 and we got her at 9 months and Cuba is now 5, so it was a long time since we’ve had a puppy. Having a puppy in the house needs planning. Nothing on the floor that you don’t want picked up and chewed. Check for cables, wires and low shelves to see what pup can get access to. It’s all about keeping him safe and my house. I already know he loves to pick up everything and try to generate a chase game – socks and shoes are a definite favourite. He also needs his own bed space. He came with a crate and bed so wanted to have them in the living area where we all spend time, but also somewhere he could retreat to if he needed to.
After checking he was allowed on the sofa (first place he went) he settled in very well. I put several lovely chew toys on the floor and a few ‘stooge’ old socks so we could practise leaving them! I gave him 3 days to decompress and just relax into the household routine, he slept lots and seemed to be very comfortable.
After this time our training started. We went to lots of different places to experience sights, sounds and smells of new environments. We did shops, rural locations and lots of travelling in the van. The cows and horses were definitely of most interest and he had to stop and watch them for a while. My job is to just allow him the time and space that he can process this new experience and not become scared or overwhelmed by it. Our shopping trip to B&Q meant we could practise walking beside a trolley and Pets at Home we practised settling in a busy place with dogs and people around. This is called ‘park’ – he needs to just lie down in any environment and not move until released – very hard for a youngster. He loves to chase birds, so recall was also on the priority list.
I truly love teenage dogs! I know most people find this age a real challenge, but this is the age where you really get to know your dog. Their cheeky side comes out. They test the boundaries and it can feel like they are intentionally being ‘naughty’. They are not by the way; they are just finding their feet (or paws) in this world. This gives you the opportunity to explore together with a partner that is still so excited about new things, and it’s wonderful to see their confidence building. This time is where you get to find out who your dog is really going to be. You are still shaping them and giving them lots of positive experiences so that they are developing into a wonderful adult companion.
Alfie is such a bright pup, it's a joy to work with him. Everyone we met also seems to agree he is a superstar. I love really getting to know a dog, they always teach us new skills as each one is an individual. I am so proud to be part of his journey to see him become an amazing assistance dog.