Breeder-caretakers work hard with puppies to develop problem solving and resilience. We want the puppies to struggle a bit, safely, to learn to use their brain when life throws them an obstacle, and that frustration isn’t cause to give up.
One of the earliest exercises we do is to let puppies figure out how to get out of the pen. Now if you’re a puppy-raiser this might seem counter-intuitive, as you put a lot of work into teaching your pup to respect boundaries. What it boils down to is that at this age, that kind of mental work is beyond the puppies – we could spend the next couple of weeks trying to teach them to wait at a barrier, and I don’t think we would accomplish anything. Going back to our previous discussions about the Critical Socialization Period, what we can do now, that is much more difficult to accomplish later, is to shape the way the puppies see, experience and tackle the world.
Resilience is a key predictor of success for assistance dogs.
The second video is of Aretha tackling the challenge (it is not her first time, but she hasn’t done it very often). She is the quickest of the puppies to get over. Louis tends to get halfway over the barrier and hang out with his hips resting on the bar as he considers his next move. Does he go forward or back? Is someone going to come to his rescue?
The third video is of Freddie who was frustrated by his attempt to get out of the pen. I’ve left the audio in, with all our family background noise, so you can hear:
a) his frustrated vocalizations, and
b) that we’re close by, supporting him and giving him encouragement.
At the end of the clip he backs away from the challenge. Adding space is a great way to decrease the pressure and discomfort of a situation and to start to resolve the feelings of frustration he has. We will use that in training (in breeding, as well as puppy-raising), but I think in this case it’s a great example of how Freddie uses it himself without any interference from us, to let himself resolve the conflict and settle down before trying again.
On his next attempt (not shown) he was successful.
It’s tempting to help out when you see a puppy experiencing frustration, but when you do the puppy can experience “learned helplessness”, and you end up with a puppy who doesn’t try, and who can’t cope with frustration.