The Journey of Finn – Settling In


Finn is finally back!  The blog had an unexpected hiatus because my mother was in the hospital for several days at the beginning of September.  The good news is she is back home now and doing well.

General updates

Finn turned 16 weeks on Friday.  Adolescence starts around 5 – 6 months, so he is approaching the end of puppy hood.  This makes me sad, but I also know we’ll be able to do more with him as he gets older, so I am looking forward to that as well.  In my last post, I focused a lot on his puppy biting and socialization.  In the last week or so, the puppy biting has noticeably improved.  He still does it, but it’s less frequent and less intense.  I haven’t changed anything about how I handle it, so I think this is primarily a factor of age and increased maturity and self control.

Finn is also no longer shy!  Socialization paid off and now he is excited to see everyone.  In fact, he now runs to the end of the leash and bounces on his hind legs to try to get to people and dogs (more on this later).  Darwin (our older dog) is still shy, however.  He barks (well, howls, he is a hound, after all) quite a bit when people come to the house and sometimes when we see people in public.  Usually this is when he is startled or they look weird – recently he reacted at a boat launch when a man approached carrying a kayak.  Anyway, this means that when Darwin is around and worried, there is a risk that some of his behavior will rub off on Finn.  Therefore, we have to work extra hard at making sure Finn is comfortable around the people.  I do this by trying to minimize Darwin’s response (rewarding him for calm attention toward me) and letting Finn visit the people whenever possible, since he enjoys meeting new people.  If he can’t greet them, then he gets food from us instead.  He and Darwin are also getting along much better!  They play every day and sleep near each other on a regular basis.  The adjustment period took about one month.

Self Control and Energy Management

I am really big on self control in dogs (and people too!).  Finn is an Australian Shepherd.  For those of you that don’t know the breed, they are herding dogs.  Herding dogs are extremely intelligent and have a huge amount of energy.  They need a job and can become very intense and easily out of control if they are not taught to mange their energy levels.  However, this is not limited to herding dogs – many of my clients have dogs with similar temperaments.  These are the puppies that leap at you, teeth bared and growling, then clamp on and bite.  Hard.  They may chase after you and nip at your heels, leap at you over and over again, grabbing at your arms, hands and clothing or stand and bark and growl at you.  (One of Finn’s favorite “games” is to jump on the couch, put his paws on my shoulder and play tug – enthusiastically – with my hair.)

Although in some rare cases, this is true aggression, it many cases this is just a very intelligent, very high energy dog that doesn’t know how to handle their emotions and energy level.  In performance circles, these dogs are called “high drive” dogs.  They get easily frustrated and bored and turn to their family members (humans, dogs, cats) to vent their frustration and excess energy.  For people whom are not used to this behavior it can be very upsetting and scary.  It is exhausting and stressful even for those of us who are familiar with the behavior and know how to address it.  The good news, though, is that you can address it.  In fact, these dogs can often become fantastic companions because they are so eager to engage in the world around them.  However, if you don’t help them learn to manage their “drive” it can lead to a number of problems including aggression.

Here are some things that I am doing with Finn to help him learn to manage his “drive”:

  • Teaching Finn what TO do
    • Go to place.  We continue to work on this (see previous blog post ).  We work on duration (length of stay), distance (from the dog) and distractions.  We practice this 1 – 2/day.
    • Kennel up.  He also gets lots of practice with going into his x-pen or crate on cue.  This makes it a “happy” place for him so when he have to leave him there is content.
      • If I go near the x-pen or crate, he will usually go in and lie down.  I reward this almost every time.
      • Once he is there, I reward him periodically if I am nearby – maybe every 2 to 10 minutes.
    • Heel.  I am just beginning to teach him heel.  This means he walks at my side, on a loose leash, focused on me.  When I move, he moves.  When I turn, he turns and when I stop, he stops.
    • Sit.  We work a lot on sit.  I want Finn to sit quickly even when he’s excited.  To practice, I get him a little excited, then ask for a sit and reward with food or play.
  • Real world training
    • In addition to setting aside specific practice sessions, we also incorporate his training into daily life.  For example, I might:
      • Send Finn (and Darwin) to his bed when he is getting overly enthusiastic with Darwin
      • Ask Finn to heel past other dogs and people
      • Ask for a sit when Finn starts jumping and biting at me
  • Finn is still in the early stages of training, so if he’s too excited and distracted he won’t be able to do what I ask.  In those cases, I use management instead (for example, putting him in his x-pen).  In the meantime, we keep working on the training, so it will be useful in more and more challenging contexts.
  • Play
    • We play tug and fetch daily.
    • Each session is interspersed with impulse control practice – he has to sit in between tosses and also sit when he loses his grip on the tug.  Sitting restarts the game.
  • Interactive food toys and bones/chews
  • Brain work
    • Brain work refers to training or other activities that challenge, engage and entertain your dog.  This is at least as important as physical exercise – in some cases, it’s probably more important!
    • I am preparing Finn for obedience and agility competition (and probably nosework too).  Tricks are another great option for challenging your dog.
    • For those of you with performance dogs, I am currently working on pole wraps (running around a pole or jump standard), pivots (on an upside down dog bowl) and back up.  He already has a pretty good hand touch and I’ll be teaching a object target soon as well.
      • The pole wraps are useful for both agility and obedience and get the dogs used to working at a distance from the very beginning.
      • Pivots and back up teach hind end awareness.  Dogs don’t usually pay much attention to their back feet, but this is something they need for agility.
      • Pivots are also used to help dog find and stay in heel position.
  • Walks and adventures – Bring your dog with you on walks and explore new places with them!  Staying in the same old yard or neighborhood all the time gets very boring and they really benefit from the physical exercise, but also from the change of scenery!

What challenges do you have with your puppy?  What topics would you like to see addressed in future blog posts?

Picture of Kristina Spaulding

Kristina Spaulding


  1. Thanks, always nice to see the real life experiences. A nice walk I discovered is Sanders Preserve in Scotia on Sanders road. Funny, it is only 4 miles from my house but in search of nearby places to explore for Penny we found a nice place that is an enjoyable walk for people too…

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The Science Matters blog provides practical science-based information on dog training and behavior in addition to personal, heartfelt stories about loving and living with dogs.   For a more detailed summary, take a look at the first blog post here.

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