My goal with this blog is for you to enjoy your time here. Most of the posts talk about my experiences raising my two yellow Labrador Retrievers, some are just for fun, and others share the best dog related information and products I have found.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Part 1: Raising two Labrador Retrievers "at the same time" - A few things we have learned

I mentioned before that, over the course of the past 15 months, I have been blessed with my fair share of "dumb luck" saves. The rest has been hard work with many fun and rewarding moments. I hope the ones I've shared recently have brought a smile. There are a few things now that I may take for granted but on a closer look are worth highlighting as keys to how we made it this far with our sanity intact.

Crate Training:

  • Do - From the get go we knew we were going to crate train the dogs - and crate trained they were much to our sanity and survival. It gave them a safe place to be at night, a place they couldn't get into trouble, a place they could relax for a "time out" when they needed it.
  • Don't - We thought that at 8 weeks old they should be in the same crate together, but soon found that the scars from them chewing on each other were not a good thing. Not to mention that the racket they could make together was not conducive to a good nights sleep at 4am in the morning.
  • Do - By 10 weeks old they were in two separate crates. We kept them in the same room but put a visual barrier between the crates. They are still crated at night even now, except now as they no longer whine at night their crates sit at the far end of our bedroom. A simple "Go to your crates" tucks them in at night. Sometimes when Shelby's extra tired he'll put himself to bed - it's the cutest thing.
Training time:
  • Don't - Initially I worked with the dogs together a lot. It saved time, it was easier for me, it seemed to be good for them, but don't be fooled like I was. They started depending and looking to each other instead of me.
  • Do - Quickly I saw my error and put in the extra time to train them separately. Shelby is always better by himself even today with obedience activities like "heel walking". You want your dogs to be taking all of their cues from you not from each other - or another dog for that matter. The rewards in doing this far out way the extra commitment of time and energy - trust me!! When five dogs a head of them are charging out into traffic and you call your dogs back, you want them to know that you are more important not the other five dogs they were following.
Feeding Time:
  • Do - With two dogs it was easy to imagine how crazy feedings would get if an organized routine wasn't established from the start. So even as puppies, especially once we started our first obedience class at 4 months, they were sent to their beds for "down stays" before they got their food. I would not touch their food bin until they were lying completely down and had stopped whining. Once their food was served they had to acknowledge me by looking in my direction if only for a second. Then a calm "release" freed them to go to their dish. To this day that is our routine for any and every meal, even those away from home. It may be a "sit stay" vs. a "down stay" but they must wait while their food is served and they must wait for a "release" command before going to their food. This has been a good "self control" teaching moment that has carried over to many areas of their life.
Toys through teething:
  • Don't - The one good thing our first vet recommended was to not allow the puppies to play with rope or cloth toys and to not give them rawhide bones. The reasoning behind this is that they don't know the difference between cloth and rope they can chew and the rugs, socks, scarves and other personal items you wouldn't want them chewing. She warned that with rawhides puppies can obstruct on them resulting in painful and very costly surgery. Chewed rawhide also is awful close to the texture of leather shoes so don't blame the dog for chewing your $100+ shoes if you have given them rawhides to chew.
  • Do - We gave our dogs the edible "Nylabone" bones and got through the worst of their teething stage with these. At seven months they got their first real raw bones. We only give them beef femur bones and they have to clean them outside. I prefer the long bone section, and our local butcher will cut it in half for us. The bone marrow is good for them and the connective tissue and meat on the outside is a real treat as far as they're concerned. Their teeth are always cleaner when they're done - Bonus! After they've chewed them clean I drop them in boiling water for 60 - 90 sec. to sterilize them, then they can become inside the house as chew toys. The dogs love them even after they've been cleaned and sterilized and will sit and gnaw on them in the evening. Some owners I talked to swear by "bully sticks" but say they do smell and can stain carpet if chewed indoors. I personally didn't want them to not be able to bring a chew toy inside and once started those were definitely not coming inside our house.
Barking at strangers:
  • Don't - Avoid harshly reprimanding your dog for barking or growling at strangers that approach your house. Even our people loving, well socialized, Yellow Labradors will bark to alert us if a stranger is approaching or walking outside the gate of our drive. They even let us know when the very familiar and well liked neighbors are stopping by for a visit or quick chat. This is often very frustrating and it's hard to not get annoyed.
  • Do - Jan Fennell, in her book "Tales from a Dog Listener", offers a better approach and tells her readers to "thank your dog" and then call them to you. This lets them know that it's not their responsibility to worry any further after alerting you. Although the reasoning behind her approach is not completely accurate, (Read: Bones Would Rain from the Sky) the objective is rock solid. We often follow it up with a "leave it" or "that's enough" or "quiet" command. If necessary we send the dogs inside for a down stay on their beds if we're at home or, if we're on a walk, turn and walk a few steps away rewarding them once they turn their attention to us and away from whatever / whoever has set them off. Pat Miller has a great article on this, "The 'Gift' of Growling", that was published in "The Whole Dog Journal". It's available for download from the website.
Taking your dogs "out to eat":
  • Do - One of the ideas that came to me when the dogs were puppies was to have a blanket for them when they went out to eat with us. This has been a stroke of genius that two others in the community have adopted with the same success as us. It really was nice to give them a well defined boundary. One they understood with a simple "go to your bed". It also keeps them, even now, from licking at or lying in "under the table drippings" - Bonus!
  • Don't - There's nothing more annoying than not being able to navigate the patio due to rude, over excited dogs. Don't be one of those owners. Just because dogs are allowed does not mean their allowed to be rude - and that includes being rude to other dogs.
I'm sure there are a couple other things that have become a part of our routine given that we have two dogs and as I think of them I'll comment on them. I hope the ones I've presented above help those of you who are starting out with two as well or those of you considering it in the near future. My only disclaimer on this is that some of the rules and boundaries we have at our house are because we live in a neighborhood where we want to be conscientious of those around us, we want to share the limited open space respectfully with others, and we want the dogs to be able to politely join us out in the community.

Part #2 continued here.

Part #3 continued here.

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