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Mandi's Blog

Puppy Raising, Preparation, Training, and More!
  • Writer's pictureAmanda Venturino

System Updating. Try Again Later.

Updated: May 10

When Beck was a little more than 4 months old, I decided that it was time to introduce her to enrichment feeders for meal time. So I got out the Bob-A-Lot wobble ball, filled it with her dinner, opened the trap door and set it down in the back bedroom for her to play. But she stood there and stared at it. As it wobbled back and forth she teetered around it completely confused and a little scared. I spent the whole session tottering the wobble ball back and forth releasing the kibble for Beck. I tried enticing her to touch the ball and play with it so she could tilt the kibble bits our for herself. No interest. I admit I was disappointed.

When Halli was about the same age, John bought this toy for her. She was ecstatic! The moment I set it down, she knew exactly what to do. I would leave her in the morning in the back bedroom with a wobble ball filled with her breakfast. She would push it around all morning! And when she was finished she would pick it up and toss it around. I admit--this was the second wobble ball after the first was damaged beyond use. I love Halli's drive and excitement. She is curious and interested in small critters. She loves using her brain to figure out a task and she's highly motivated! I was really hoping Beck would be the same way.

At first I figured, we'd just try again tomorrow. She'll eventually figure it out, right? But I started thinking about the different stages of puppy development. The ebb and flow of fear periods, exploration, and even personality development. Much like toddlers, puppies do not learn in a perfect linear fashion. It's not like the pick a task, get it, and move on to the next task. There's regression, and stubbornness we often pass of as forgetfulness. And then puppies and toddlers both need to learn how to link motor skills to perform a task. So, I said to myself, don't give up just yet. Instead, Pivot.

The next evening instead of giving Beck the wobble ball, just to watch her struggle to understand the concept, I gave her Nina Ottosson's Puzzle Game. The moment I set it down, Beck eagerly went to work. Her tail couldn't wag fast enough as she nuzzled flippers, scooted blocks, and pawed the circle around revealing kibble. She LOVED it! In fact she took to this toy faster than Halli did at her age! I smiled as I watched her, so proud of herself for finding all the food. You could see her beaming.

After a couple days of watching her build her confidence and fine motor skills, with the puzzle game, I figured it was time to try to wobble ball again. Would Beck still not get it or perhaps she was ready for the challenge? As I hoped, she flourished! The moment I set the wobble ball on the floor she was eager to explore! Tail wagging with fervor, she kindly bopped the toy with her paws, depositing kibble out of the trap door. She was so pleased with herself. It might not have been with the tenacity of her mom, but she understood the assignment. With more practice, she'll be a pro in no time!

Over the next few weeks I offered Beck a snuffle mat and the Kubatis puzzle toy. This one stumped Halli for a short while, but when Beck laid eyes on it, she figured out what to do in less than a minute! I was surprised!

And suddenly all my fears about Beck meeting my expectations melted away. She excelled where Halli hadn't and take a few more sessions where Halli excelled. But overall, both girls show drive, endless curiosity, and motivation to finish a task.

What did I learn? The pivot worked! By giving Beck a comparable but different task to perform with a similar goal, she was able to grasp the goal of the game. But more than that, she learned confidence, perseverance, and how to manipulate objects with her paws and nose to search. By pivoting we both avoided the inevitable frustration that would come by forcing Beck to continue to explore a wobble ball she just wasn't getting. Sometimes redirection is necessary with puppies or even grown dogs. Consider a task you want your puppy to master, but instead of forcing the full task on them, break up the skills into small digestible bits. Try teaching side skills that will translate to parts of the task you want them to master. And if it's not quite working, regroup and try something else. Don't be afraid to take a break from teaching the task for a couple days. You can always try again later. Building a positive association with you during training is so much more valuable for your puppy's long term success.

So, if you're not seeing the results you hoped for on a given task, try pivoting.

Puppy Pawrent Challenge: Consider a behavior or command your puppy just isn't grasping. Then brainstorm some side tasks you can teach your puppy that will confidence towards the one you want them to really learn.

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