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Puppy's progress

We asked proud parent Peter van Dongen to keep a diary on his new JRT puppy for Agilitynet. He needed no encouragement. From guinea pig to proper dog in a mere nine weeks, this is Sky's story. Like any new dad, Pete has snapped rolls of pictures of his little baby.

We'd booked our new puppy last year. We'd heard that the bitches owner had decided to put her mum Lottie in pup again around Christmas time. We known one of the puppies from the previous mating of the same parents and wanted one just like that - which, of course, wasn’t going to happen!

In the beginning
The first time we saw Sky, she was only nine days old. She and her two sisters were born on a farm in Welwyn.

They were presented to us in a basket! After all, it was nearly Easter! They looked so small! They truly were just like guinea pigs, eyes and ears closed, tiny little pink noses and very little markings.

We decided there and then that we would have one of the two with some colour on them, not the all white one. Luckily, the person who had first choice wanted the white one, so that was okay.

A month later
The next visit was when the puppies were 30 days old. They had grown into larger guinea pigs now. We were amazed to find that the one we had provisionally chosen on the first visit had very short and stumpy legs already, especially compared to the one other coloured pup.

We, therefore, chose the other pup now as definitely ours!

She was gorgeous - very outgoing, nice and clumsy when walking and the breeder’s favourite as well!

Two weeks later
The next visit was when the puppies were about six weeks old. This time around the puppies were proper little dogs(8), running and playing, full of mischief, barking with Mickey Mouse voices, even growling at each other during play. After all, they are terriers!

Most importantly, Sky showed a good turn of speed!so I was very happy with my choice of pup.

Home sweet home
A week later we brought Sky home with us. It was the first trip in a car for her and she made it very clear that she didn’t enjoy that. We had put a new cage on the back seat of my estate car, especially for her, with a nice comfortable bed in it. This went straight in the washing machine later!

Sky met our two dogs, Basil and Monty, on arrival at home for the first time. This gave us some concern, especially as they, being little terriers, can sometimes be a bit sharp to ‘strange’ dogs. However, they understood that this little moving thing was a harmless puppy and were quite good with her. We even got them to pose together for a nice photo!

Over the next few weeks we were in for some hard work and lots and lots of cleaning!

Oh no! Dad’s a vet!
Within the first 24 hours we clipped her very sharp nails and gave her a shampoo in the kitchen sink, just to get rid of the farm smells really, and to get her used to being handled in that way. You can’t begin too soon with those sort of things!

At eight weeks of age we gave her the first vaccination, as well as worming, in the form of Drontal Puppy, a liquid. She didn’t bat an eyelid! Although some of the pink liquid ended up on her face instead of in her mouth!

Over the next two weeks she developed into a proper little monster, but a nice one! We found housetraining not as easy as Ian Dunbar makes it sound in his books! There were plenty little accidents, even though we let her out in the garden about every half hour at least! We have never seen so much of our garden!

We also gave her lots of praise and treats every single time she performed outside, but weeing on the carpet was still easier! We had prepared a large indoor cage for her. In this ‘kennel, we had placed a nice soft bed, a water bowl, a toy and, most importantly, a toilet.

This was the best thing of all: it was an idea from Ian Dunbar’s book Before You Get Your Puppy, and consisted of a cat litter tray, filled with an exactly fitting cut out piece of turf from the garden!

This way we taught her to go on grass from the start. Surely this makes more sense than teaching a puppy to go on paper, if it is never, later in life, to go on paper again! It worked a treat and we replaced it with a new piece of turf every week.

Sit, sit, sit!
As far as feeding is concerned, we started her off on Hill’s Puppy Mini dry biscuits, given in four small meals per day, and water only. Instead of just giving it to her, often we would feed her one biscuit at a time, each of us alternatively, for performing a nice come and sit. This way we could do 50 sits for a reward at any single feeding time! In no time at all she knew what come and sit meant!

Click and treat
We also had biscuits in every jacket or trouser pocket and fed these to her whenever she did something right. This way we always had a reward at hand for any good behaviour offered. I also started clicker training her in small doses. This helped her to learn how to give a paw in about five minutes!

Sofa so good!
The second vaccination was given at ten weeks of age, which is safely possible nowadays. This made sure we could go out and socialise her as soon as possible, as well as join puppy classes. We also repeated the worming every two weeks.

At the age of three months we first used Frontline Spot-On to prevent fleas. She soon settled in at home and enjoyed her many toys.

She also christened our new sofa - bad timing or what? She got lots of play from Monty and developed lots of respect for Basil! This was not without the odd growl or ‘air snap’ from our older beast though!

The best place of all to settle for an hour or two was mummy’s lap, while dad taught her a bit of respect and proper puppy behaviour. In fact, it has to be said that we both put in a lot of hard work to get Sky to fit in with the new situation and lifestyle. We noticed that she picked things up very quickly, which of course also meant that she picked up bad habits from the other guys, such as jumping up and down impatiently at feeding time!

Puppy classes
During the next few weeks we went to puppy classes every Wednesday and started to teach her basic obedience, in addition to what we had already started at home from day one. At 12 weeks of age she was doing a nice come, sit, down, stand, foot, wait, go-on and leave! Not bad for a start. All we had to do now was to ‘proof’ it and to develop it from there. Walking on lead was the big challenge and still is now, I must say.

Would she come back?
During the normal day at home Sky had a lot of good times with Monty and we tried to get Basil to tell her a few tricks of the trade. Every day at lunchtime we go to the woods nearby and from straight after the second vaccination we have been taking her there. She soon ran off the lead with the other guys and proved to have the best recall of them all! After all, we practiced it enough! Soon she started to wait in a sit, together with the others, at the small road we cross in the woods, before being released.

Branching out or in?
One of the best things is that she has not chewed a single piece of furniture (yet?) as there are plenty of chew toys around. She adores tuggers and chewing aids, as well as the old door mat - okay, okay we let her have that - but that’s it.

The other favourite thing is bringing in branches and twiglets from the garden  and chewing them indoors. I have never seen the Hoover as often as in the last few weeks!

Agility can wait!
As far as agility is concerned, we have taken her to the odd agility show now to get her used to travelling in the car and to seeing and hearing the exciting noises that she will hopefully get a lot of in the future, and to socialise her with as many people and other dogs as possible.

Now that she has reached four months of age, we can take her round the rings as well, which will help further. The exercise area is full of exciting and interesting things!

We are planning to keep on going with basic obedience training in the next few months, before we will do anything to do with agility. We will gear the training towards exercises, likely to be appropriate for agility, but hopefully avoid the temptation to start too early with real agility training. It never harmed Basil to wait - she was 5 years old when we started! - so Sky can wait a while as well. Hopefully she will then be able to go on a bit longer and be a bit more mature before we get her into the frantic world of agility training.

Guinea pig, puppy or rat?
Her appearance has changed so much! She started off as a small guinea pig, then grew into a fat little puppy. When we got her home that fat disappeared in two days and she started to grow legs! Over the weeks her coat has come out into a nice little ‘rough’ on her face and wavy hair all over. We’ll see how she ends up but for the moment we like her just as she is.  This doesn’t include the time just after a bath though, when she looks more like a wet rat!

Over the next few months we hope to continue the good progress Sky has made so far
and we’ll report on any changes and particular training exercises we use.

About the author
Peter van Dongen qualified as a vet at the Utrecht Veterinary school, The Netherlands, in March 1990. He worked in a mixed practice in Louth, Lincolnshire, UK, for 3 years, before moving to Borough Green, Kent, UK. At the same time he limited himself to small animals only. Since December 1996 he has run a branch practice in Allington, Maidstone, Kent.

In May 1995 Peter started agility (after years of just thinking about it!) with his Jack Russel Cross 'Basil' (a bitch!), then five years old. Since then they have qualified for many finals, including Crufts and Olympia. Basil, Peter's first agility dog, is now an Advanced dog and still going strong at the age of nearly 12 years! Basil has won the coveted Crufts 2001 title in the individual Mini agility.

Peter passed the British Agility Club Instructors' exam in October 1999 and has since done the British Agility Club Judging Workshop. He now competes, judges and instructs in agility.

Peter regularly writes for agility magazines and web sites and is the official British Team Vet for the World Agility Championships.

Peter and his wife Carry still live in Borough Green with their three dogs and two cats.


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