As Zoe’s foster dad, guest blogger Bob Dougherty shares tips for raising a successful working dog. Bob is also a K9 officer with Cheltenham Police Department and Adjunct Trainer at the WDC.

As Zoe’s foster parents, knowing that our puppy may have to climb on rubble or search a building for a suspect, it’s important to recognize areas where we can help her gain more confidence. A little training at home can go a long way in helping the WDC training staff accomplish these goals. 

Many things in a puppy’s early life are just “unknown” and not necessarily caused by fear. The unknown sometimes brings about stress which we often attach to words like “scared”. We as caring fosters then try to avoid these situations to make our pup’s lives calm. I am not suggesting we throw our puppies into the deep end of the pool and yell “swim”; I am suggesting that helping the pup understand its world in a safe and patient way is a good thing.

One of the areas my wife and I observed about Zoe was she was avoiding going up and down steps in our house. When she was 10 weeks old that was fine, but when she was 13 weeks old and still avoiding steps this was a problem knowing what she would do in her future. We also observed her reluctance to jump off of elevated objects (i.e., low walls, boxes, low steps).

Using her drive for food, a clicker, encouragement and patience, we worked together slowly and over a period of a few days. Short little gains were the goal. She would climb up a few steps then down a few steps, adding a few more steps with each repetition, until she mastered them.

As for the reluctance to jump off objects, we played a game where she would jump from high to low with as little impact as possible. We do not want small puppies jumping off a 5’ high wall yet, but making them comfortable with the things that challenge them will make them stronger dogs in the long run both mentally and physically.

We also having been working on building her focus and eye contact. Without a dog’s focus on you, how can you expect to communicate clearly during training? So for me, focus comes before I can start teaching other things. In this video, we share a focus session with Zoe and how we incorporate it in teaching skills such as the use of touch pads.