Puppy Tips

As far as raising a puppy specifically for IPO, there are a lot of conflicting ideas and theories. In my experience, the key is to keep corrections to a minimum and to slowly introduce the puppy to as many experiences as you can. Here are some general ideas/suggestions:

1. Get a crate
Far from keeping the puppy "caged", this is a bed for your puppy, a place of safety, peace and quiet and food and chew toys. Keep in mind, dogs are den animals, they like small places to curl up in. In the beginning, throw a dog biscuit or treat in to entice your pup in, and occasionally hide a few pieces inside. Soon your pup will be going in quite happily. You will also need some peace and quiet periodically while knowing that your pup is in a safe place.

2. Get a clicker
And learn how to use it - the best way is to go to a class and watch other trainers using the clicker. Reward-based marker training is a great way to start and experiment with your puppy - you will learn the importance of timing and begin to hone your skills. Even if you move to other methods later, the skills you learn with the clicker (such as timing) will be crucial with all training tools.

3. Go to puppy classes
I would recommend selecting a class where they don't let all the puppies off leash together. You don't want to risk a bad experience with a boisterous larger puppy. A good class is excellent socialization and teaches the puppy from a young age that there are going to be other dogs around him all his life, and they are no big deal. In addition, joining a class will require that you take specific time out of your schedule to spend with your pup at the earliest stages of his life. The more positively based classes are best for a first time IPO handler. They help build confidence in the dog - avoiding harsh corrections helps build a good relationship between the pup and his owner. You will also learn basic dog ownership skills and theories of training.

4. Socialize, socialize, socialize
Take the puppy everywhere with you. Take him to lots of places and see lots of people and objects, if your puppy is a little timid, do this gradually, don't overwhelm him at a park with numerous dogs off-leash. In the early stages, keep in mind that moving slowly with good experiences is more important than proving what a wonderful temperament he has! Socialization for IPO pups is more about exposure than actually interacting with new things. Ideally we want the pup to grow up and ignore everything around him because he has already seen it and it's no big deal. Don't encourage or reward the pup if he is showing fear, growling barking or backing up, in any new situations. Give him plenty of praise and/or food when he steps forward. Later in life, the benefits of socialization at a young age will evidence themselves in how well your dog works under distractions and off his home field.

5. Don't leave toys with the puppy all day
Encourage your puppy to play with toys, but do not leave them with him. You can leave bones or stuffed kongs to keep him occupied when you are at work, but reserve balls for playtime with you. You will want the dog to view the ball as a reward and you as the "fun person who has the toys" to help you with your training later on.

6. Get a prong/pinch collar
Contrary to first thoughts, this is not a medieval torture device but a useful method of controlling a big strong dog, which your puppy will grow up to be. Get an experienced person to show you the correct way to use it. I generally use a prong collar as soon as the puppy is strong enough to pull me around (generally, around 6 months old).

7. Enjoy your puppy
Have fun and take lots of photos and don't get too hung up on the details, do some basic obedience, sit, down, stand, article indication and most importantly focus. Do some scent pads and short tracks and encourage playing with balls and a leather rag. Then let him grow up, repeat step 4.

8. Find a mentor
Choose a trainer/handler whose dogs work in the way you would like your puppy to work, watch them and ask questions and try with your own dog. Choosing one mentor helps you to get a start without being confused about all the conflicting advice. As you learn, you can tailor the methods to suit you better.

9. Find an IPO club that suits you
Get in touch with the club contacts for several clubs nearest you and see which one fits your style and personality. Each club in your area will have a different "feel" to it and will promote different training styles. Aim to stay with one club/training director until your dog achieves IPO1 (likely around 2-3 years with focused effort), so that you both learn one style and have consistent training towards your first title.

10. Get a wide leather collar/harness
So you can start rag/prey work with your club, and your puppy will be comfortable. Building solid prey drive (i.e., the desire to catch/capture a moving object such as a rag or a tug) will be one of the first building blocks of his protection training. In my experience, the harness is preferable to the leather collar because it does not restrict the pup's breathing when he is in drive - keep in mind, this is another area where we are building a foundation of good experiences (and choking is not much fun).