You Only Get One Chance to Make A First Impression

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Well that was a blast, we had an awesome group of people here for puppy camp. It makes our job as instructors that much

Jane & Wicca in the circle of tug game.

Jane & Wicca in the circle of tug game.

easier when the people we are teaching are genuinely nice to be around, and boy did we have some fun puppies.  Wicca the Westie was a crack up and she certainly was the proprioception champion of camp when she climbed onto a pile of five stability discs without blinking an eye, or toppling the pile. Somehow we managed to get an ‘all white group’ which consisted of, three Eskies and a Samoyed which was entertaining to turn and see the sea of white fur balls. I bet Luna the Pedengo made a wack of new fans for the breed and we had a really cool Greyhound that tugged like a fiend! That is a skill that  will come in very handy as his agility training progresses. 


Henry tugs with Julie.

Henry tugs with Julie.

 Check out this pic of the Julie & Henry in the tug circle game: “Play-with-any-toy-I-pick-up”.  Many border collies can’t do what 5 month old “Henry” is doing here: he is tugging on a toy he has never seen before, and although this picture doesn’t show it, there was puppies, people, other toys everywhere!


The theme of camp this weekend was “You only get one chance to make a first impression”.  By that I was stressing how important it is to be certain the things your puppy is learning are not things you are going to have to try to “un-teach”  later on. For example, life in the backyard. You may have a fully fenced yard so there is a level of security associated with that.  Each day you go out to the yard with your puppy off leash, you are relaxed knowing he is safe, however, your off leash puppy is learning, with each rehearsal,  to have independence from you. At first the puppy adores you, so he follows you around, tugs on your pant leg and generally is your shadow.  But all of that will change and soon he discovers life beyond the limits of how far you can lunge towards him.  One day he will dig in your garden and you will call him “rover-come.” But he doesn’t.  Now you run over and try to scurry him from your garden.  He play bows with his butt in the air, gives you that ‘look’ and off he goes, running the run that only puppies can run. Zooming around the yard, occasionally doing a drive by of his freshly unearthed mound of dirt in your garden so he can grab a mouthful. Every now and again he give you reason to hope for an end to all of the choas as he drives towards you, but then darts away just as fast, heading towards more adventrue.  The more you call, the faster he runs – -in the opposite direction. What fun for the puppy.

That is a poor first impression of how to respond when being called. Great rehearsals give way to great performances later on in life.  This does not get better on it’s own. It now requires either:

a) a great deal of good dog training to overcome the wonderful reinforcement the puppy has received for all of this naughtiness


b) management of fencing off your garden and never letting the puppy off lead again. 

A far more successful plan would be to guard all first impressions for your impressionable puppy before poor ones get a chance to take hold. A few short months with restricted access to some of life’s simpler pleasures (like off leash running) will go along way to create a dog that listens the first time you ask him to do as you ask.

Isn’t that true of people as well? You know, once if you meet someone for the first time and you think “wow, what a jerk”.  Doesn’t It takes alot of really getting to know that person before you can ever shake that first impression. This is so true of your puppy.  Once he learns he can earn his own reinforcement by ignoring you, it takes a great deal of planning and good dog training to overcome it. The best idea is to not allow the puppy to learn there are any options to you asking him to do something.  Take stock of what impressions your puppy has already developed and see if some of them need to be altered now before the lessons get too deeply entrenched in his relationship with you.

Teaching camps here for 8 days in a 10 day stretch reminds me of how how grateful I am for the amazing group of instructors we have here at Say Yes. Lynda, Tracy, Blanche. Penny, Katie all make my job so much easier. Their knowledge and ability to apply the program, gives me a great deal of confidence, both to have them teach along side me here at home, as well as to have them represent me at seminars all over the world (which Lynda and Tracy both do, so just contact me if you would like them come to you:)). In addition to that though, is the fact that they are just really good people.  You know what I mean, good karma, great to be around, supportive of each other and kind to everyone they meet. It really makes teaching each camp a joy and something I look forward to doing.



  1. Susan your blog is great! It is like being at Say Yes everyday filled with knowledge and inspiration from you.

  2. We are so lucky to have Say Yes in Omaha, NE when Tracy comes to visit! (and soon…. SG herself!) Love the blog, it’s fun to read and there are always lots of little nuggets ‘o knowledge!

  3. What an awesome blog. Thank you so much!

  4. It is so great that you are blogging, I really enjoy your writing. But somethimes I get the feeling that everything has to be so perfect that it is impossible for normalt human beings to manage it. Do you have som advice?

  5. Wanted to ask this is puppy camp, but here goes. My first dog I was blessed with an amazing recall without really even trying too hard. This time around I will tether the pup to me when in the house and not training or in the crate and will use a long line when outside. Is tethering a good idea? Several people on different lists have recommended it. Also, when does the puppy get time to be a puppy in the backyard? Can you let the puppy run around a bit in the yard if you are not intending to do a recall at that moment? Or keep him on the line and let him run in the yard?

  6. You suggested that we post questions to your blog, so here is my question pertaining to weave pole training. Elf is the second dog I have trained to weave by the 2X2 method. I am having a problem that seems to be caused by having created TOO much value in doing the weave poles. If she is not successful in her first attempt at the poles she goes into a frenzy and will throw herself at the poles trying to be correct but of course not being able to be correct because she isn’t thinking anymore. I have decided to remove her option to do the poles when this happens and take her away from them for a while. Am I on the right track or is there something else I can do to settle her so that she can think? She is able to do her poles quite well and fast when she is not in her frenzied state.

  7. A very belated thank you (again) for another extremely enjoyable and educational puppy camp (Nov 2008). This is the 2nd puppy camp I was fortunate to attend and while much of it was a great refresher for me, there was lots of new stuff to learn. I just love your training methods. Only problem (for me) is that I can’t find anywhere/person/school that uses your methods for training obedience. So I am on my own for that but would rather go it alone now than endure the constant corrections that I see/hear others do to their dogs. I simply can’t stand the corrections and force any more.

    Sylvia Dorosh
    Varazs Perm. Reg’d Vizslas

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