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My Azawakh Raising Protocol

Updated: Nov 30, 2020

I've been running an experiment the past three years. When I say it like that it sounds so clinical, but that's the reality of raising my Azawakh. Take three Azawakh from three different lines and three different countries and three different breeders and raise them with the same protocols and see how they develop. I firmly believe in the importance of genetics in determining personality. Pointing breeds are going to point. Herding breeds are going to herd. Azawkah are going to guard and likely hunt things.

However, when I set out to raise my Azawakh puppies I had several goals in mind:

1) Stable and non-reactive in public

2) Responsive and able to hold a Place behavior on their mat with guests over

3) Can be touched by anyone when I ask it of them

4) Engaged and focused enough to play dog sports

5) Excellent off-switch in the house

6) Dogs that love their pack that are able to tolerate any boarding dog

7) Dogs able to enjoy and excel in performance work

Bonus: Ability to do demo and neutral work in private lessons and group classes

So I'll talk a bit about my process. For my puppy owners, I'll be sending home my Foundations online series with each puppy. If you're not in a position to attend group classes, this series (which is a much expanded version of my below protocols) is available through my store.

Conditioning a Marker: Before I even start the name game, within the first couple days, I condition a clicker and a verbal marker (I use "Yes!"). A clicker or verbal marker is a Pavlovianly (Classically) conditioned. Remember Pavlov's experiment: bell rings, dog salivates. That is what a marker when properly conditioned should do. To condition a marker I do two things. First I toss food on the ground and then mark every time the puppy eats the food. Secondly, I verbally mark when the dog naturally offers behaviors I like (this means I carry food on me a lot when training a puppy). So if the dog sits at my feet I mark "Yes!" tell the dog "Good Sit" while feeding them a treat. Once your marker is conditioned properly, every time your dog hears it they should be expecting food. That's the most important part, positive markers don't work if you don't feed your dog every time you mark, especially in the beginning.

Observational Learning: this works less well when you only have one dog, but one of my favorite methods for teaching a puppy the ropes is by letting my older dogs do the heavy lifting. My older dogs come over to me and sit and get a treat (or verbal praise). The puppy gets ignored until the puppy comes over and mimics the older dogs' behaviors. This is one of the big reasons why I will never raise another puppy without a well-trained older dog to help. After raising three puppies in three years, the more positive peer pressure you can apply, the quicker the puppy learns. Amalu has been incredibly easy to raise. In part because genetically she's very stable. In part because I continue to improve at raising puppies with more practice. But in part because she has awesome examples to follow. Incidentally, this is how I taught Anubi to fetch. He had zero fetch drive but I needed a retrieve for flyball so I let him watch Argos retrieving a ball and over a few months Anu picked up the behavior too.

Engagement Games: everything starts as a game to my puppies. This includes games like It's Yer Choice to heeling games like Choose to Heel to recall games like chase recalls (you run away and get your puppy to follow you and then reward). I desperately want a dog that enjoys learning and working with me and there is no better time to forge this bond than when I have a baby puppy. I want my dog to opt into training and utilizing games like those found in Leslie McDevitt's Control Unleashed: The Puppy Program are instrumental in this process.

Capturing/Catching Behaviors: I am lazy. I do work hard with my dogs, but I want my foundations to be easy and second nature. For this reason capturing behaviors is one of my most utilized techniques with my dogs. The term capture refers to a dog spontaneously performing a behavior and then you reinforcing (verbally praising, treating, etc) it when it happens. So if my puppy is on her bed and she lays down I tell her "Good Down". If I have a treat I'll toss her one. If I don't then I let the verbal praise be sufficient. When capturing behaviors I keep my voice calm and keep it simple "Good" meaning keep doing what you're doing and then I name the behavior as well (Spin, Sit, Down, Place, Come, etc). If my puppy wanders over to me I'm telling her "Good Come Here" (after all, that's what recall is, right? Your puppy moves to you). You can honestly capture some complex behaviors. I often catch Heel when my dogs walk next to my left side. With my own dogs I've captured: Shake Off (a dog shakes themselves to release tension, so I'll use this cue to get my dog to release tension in a tense situation), Roll Over, Speak, Quiet, and more. I probably tell even my adult dogs "Good ____" hundreds of times a day. It's such an easy way to reinforce and maintain desired behaviors.

Shaping: this is a method of dog training that is becoming increasingly popular. The idea of shaping is that you decide on a behavior. It could be a traditional behavior such as Sit or it could be a fun behavior designed to build confidence like putting two paws up on a box. Then you mark and reward approximations of the behavior until they have a finished behavior. For instance if I want my dog to put two paws on the box I mark and reward them looking at the box, then them moving toward the box, then pawing the box, then one paw on the box, then both paws on the box. It is a way to end up with beautifully finished and proofed behaviors because it was the dog who discovered the process for themselves as opposed to being told. That being said, it can take quite a bit of time and some dogs just aren't interested in playing that game (some humans don't have the patience for it either and that's okay). Anubi and Amalu are impatient. I've done shaping games like the box game described above but they tend to get frustrated and often wander away. Amidi on the other hand is a shaping queen. I taught everything to her by shaping. Sit - she looked at me, mark. She looked up at me, mark. She looked up at me and her butt moved toward the ground, mark. She sat, mark. When I needed to do some luring work with her (putting food in front of her nose and getting her to follow it into particular positions) as a teenager, she was actually baffled. I actually taught her box turn and flybal with shaping. We set up a jump board and I stared at it. She put one paw on it and I marked. Then I waited until she did two paws and marked. Then I waited for all four and marked. She then played around with other criteria: turn the other way? Jump over the board? Etc. None of which earned rewards. She had the beginnings of a box turn in one second.

Drag Leash: this is a piece of advice I give every new puppy owner. I follow my own advice much of the time (but also tend to have pretty good verbal compliance with my dogs even from a young age). Letting a young puppy drag a line in the house can be helpful in a wide variety of ways. I never want my puppies to be ducking away when I reach for them, so when they are running away or have taken a stolen item some place I can't reach them, if they have a light 4-6' leash dragging behind them, all I have to do is pick up the line and then I don't have to physically control my puppy. If my puppy goes to chase the cat, I can just step on the line. It's a tool that reduces conflict, only used when supervised, of course. I don't want my puppy getting hung up on something.

My Routine Doesn't Change: there are lots of sites that preach taking a week to month off so your puppy can adapt and you can do training and housebreaking, etc. I'm the exact opposite of that. My plans don't change if I get a puppy. A week at the family's time share beach house? Great, 17 week Anubi less than a week off the plane from France is tagging along. Going over for family dinner on Sunday? Great, the puppy comes. Flyball seminar? Yes we only just got back from Tennessee the previous day but baby Ami is attending with me. Giving a lecture in San Francisco? Cool, 11 week old puppy's second road trip (Ami got to road trip to Orlando with her litter before leaving her breeder). New Years family vacation? 12 week old puppy is along for the adventure. Cluster performance event? Ten week puppy gets carried through the agility, scentwork, and rally venues. My life is busy and full of new and novel situations. I find that the best thing for a new puppy is just to live life, have lots of treats for positive reinforcement, and carry your puppy places if you're concerned about vaccinations.

Obstacle Focus: Often when we're training we spend so much time getting our puppies to hold still or come back to us so we forget to focus on teaching our puppies to be calm and confident away from us. I start a Place behavior before I start recall. I want my Azawakh to be able to go to a blanket or mat and relax their, even in difficult circumstances like a trial. I also find that if puppies understand that it's their owner who will dismiss them and send them away, they are much more likely to come back too.

Leash Pressure Work/Countering Opposition Reflex: In mammals, there exists a reflex called opposition reflex. Essentially, if you come up and push on me, I'm instinctively going to push back. This exists in dogs too, so you put a leash on your puppy and the leash goes tight and your puppy is instinctively going to pull against the leash the opposite direction as hard as they can to try to make the pressure go away. They don't understand that if they move toward the pressure, it will stop. They're not being stubborn. They just don't understand.

Amidi's breeder does a practice where she ties bailing twine to the litter of puppy's collars and lets them play with each other. Thus when one of their litter mates starts tugging on their bailing twine the puppy has to learn how to yield and go with their sibling. It's my favorite way to teach a dog how to yield to leash pressure and overcome opposition reflex. To this day, out of over a thousand dogs, Ami was the easiest dog I've ever leash trained.

For puppies that haven't had that experience with their litter I will put on a leash. If they are going out to go potty, I will just follow them around and keep the leash loose. If I am actively training and working with them, I'll attach a leash and when the puppy reaches the end of it I'll stop and keep the leash tight and wait until the puppy gives to the pressure from the leash and moves toward me instead. Then I praise and treat and repeat. Thus the puppy learns when the leash goes tight, move toward your person to loosen it.

Crate Training: ideally this is done at your breeder's house before the puppy comes home. In Anubi's case, he was well crate trained but then had to fly in his crate for 14 hours to home and was quite a bit hesitant about crating after that. I like to start with short sessions, toss treats in, have the puppy eat them and then come out and then work up duration. I also finding giving them a high value chew can be helpful. But the big thing is I want to practice crating my dog while I'm home and doing things around the house (not just when I leave) for three reasons. 1) if my puppy needs a nap, I can put them in their to let them rest. 2) they have a safe place where they can't get into mischief when I am busy and can't watch them. 3) if they understand that you're not going to leave every time you put them in the crate, they will be less prone to separation anxiety in my experience.

Duration and No Reward Markers and Release Words: Once my puppies understand what they're doing right, I start helping them understand when they're making the wrong choice. So they jump up, I mark that with No (just like I mark with Yes! for when they do something right). My marker is matter of fact. No doesn't mean they should duck and hide. It just means they made they wrong choice and should try a different behavior. I find giving them both a 'hotter' and a 'colder' option in regard to giving them feedback frustrates the dogs less and helps them succeed more often.

I build duration (Stay) in tiny chunks. My puppy holds a Sit. I reward. Then I reward again. Then I release. I teach my dog that if I say Good, that means keep doing what you're doing. Which means I ask to a Sit and treat. Then I tell them Good and treat. Then I tell them Good and treat. Then I tell them Okay, which means they're released and can get up. I gradually start building up the amount of time the hold the position and support them less often with Good.

I also teach my dogs to hold a position until released. They're walking by my left leg in a Heel position and I want to tell them they can leave to go sniff, I tell them Okay. I want them to understand they can get up from a Sit? I tell them Okay (other common choices are Free and Break). If your dog is always the one who chooses when they leave a position, it's much harder to get duration.

Off Switch Games: I find this is less important with Azawakh who have a natural off-switch (they aren't play, play, play 24/7, they'll naturally take breaks). However, puppies have a very hard time transitioning from a high state of excitement (also called arousal) to a low state of arousal. Thus, the more that you can practice transitioning going from high energy to low energy, the better your puppy will be at this. My favorite way to teach this is to play and get your puppy all excited and then ask for a calm behavior (usually Place or Down). I wait for my puppy to settle and then as a reward they get to play again.

Alu calmly chills while a dog lunges by her

Preventative Resource Guarding Exercises: I have found many Azawakh puppies go through a resource guarding phase and if it is handled well then they don't continue the behavior as they grow. Resource guarding is where your dog feels the need to claim and warn away anyone (people, dogs, etc) who tries to take their resources. A resource can be anything the dog finds valuable: food, bones, treats, toys, their bed, the couch, a person, another dog, etc. One thing I will never do is punish the warning growl. If you punish a warning growl, you extinguish that warning behavior and next time your dog is more likely to move straight to biting.

It's easy to want to tell the dog No! and just take the resource away but breaks their trust. Instead, every time you go up to your puppy when they have a resource, bring them something (a treat, a toy, etc) and give it to them. This way your puppy gets used to you approaching being a good thing instead of something to guard against. When I actually want to take the resource, I'll just trade my puppy in the beginning. Jean Donaldson's "Mine!" is a great resource on this but the big thing is I want to practice it before it becomes a problem.

Preventative Reactivity Exercises: This is huge with me for my Azawakh because they are very prone to leash and barrier reactivity. I literally do this before I teach them their name. I like to teach my puppies to look at something scary and then back at me and reward. This can be done through the engage/disengage or Look at That! games. That way, when my dogs enter their teenage secondary fear periods and dogs suddenly become very scary and threatening, they have a foundation to fall back on and behaviors to offer instead of barking at the other dogs.

Play Dates: I love puppy only daycares where puppies have to have age appropriate vaccinations and where they aren't going to be run over or over corrected by older dogs. All of my Azawakh experienced this and it was good for them. As puppies, most breeds are young enough and still dog social enough to enjoy daycare (remember, dogs get less dog social as they grow up). Many places puppy only daycare isn't an option.

In those cases, I arrange play dates with people in my group puppy classes, friends who have puppies, and people who have older dogs who I know will be polite and won't suddenly get offended and pin or snap at my baby puppy. I want them to have positive experiences with dogs. I also don't want them to practice being overly pushy with other dogs, so I intervene if they are getting to much for the other dog (it's your job to control dog to dog play).

Practice On the Go: Once my puppies can successfully do all this at home then I start practicing it out and about. I try to be very mindful of my individual breed. My Azawakh isn't going to want to lay down as a stranger approaches - it's too vulnerable a position. My Azawakh isn't going to want to sit on cold grass - it's too uncomfortable. I do eventually teach them how to do these things, even when they're hard, but not until they grow up some more and trust me that they can do something even when it's slightly unpleasant.

I remember that dogs don't generalize well. So, just because they can Sit in my living room doesn't mean they can Sit in my backyard. Or at puppy class. Or at a rally trial. With dogs you have to approach each new situation and location as if you are going to teach each behavior (Sit, Down, etc) from scratch. I think about generalizing like taking a snap shot. I take a snap shot of a behavior in each behavior until my dog has an entire photo album built up of that behavior and they understand what Sit means anywhere in any situation. Again, your dog isn't being stubborn. They just don't understand.

Training Classes: I teach group training classes. I still enroll my puppies in them every single time. There is no better distraction work for a young puppy. It is an excellent way to meet other puppies, adults, and often children on positive terms as well as learn how to bond and focus on their human and ignore distractions. I will always enroll in as many training classes as I can with my puppies because they make such a huge difference in socialization. Always look for a trainer who understands your breed and is going to tailor their expectations to the individual puppy.

Favorite Equipment:

  • Martingale Collars: I like to train my puppies on what I want to walk them on as an adult. This means martingale collars and slip leads. My favorites are from If It Barks.

  • Slip Leads: I use slip leads when I know I am going to be taking my dog off leash more often than walking them (play dates with other dogs, etc). I love the biothane ones from CSJ Creations.

  • Crate: I use a wire crate most often at home because they tend to be cheaper. I'll start with a small puppy crate and then as they grow switch them into a 36" (for girls) or 42" (for boys) with the divider in place. Ruff Land Kennels are expensive, but safe for car travels.

  • Beds: I get so many beds for my dogs: bolster beds, poofs, and cave beds. I find if my Azawakh is pacing or whining, it's often because they don't have a bed available. With such little natural padding I have had Anubi develop pressure sores in a crate when he didn't have enough bedding.

  • Coats: If you live in any place where it gets cold, you're going to need apparel for your Azawakh. As adults, my sighthounds get a rain coat and a winter coat from Sofa Dog Wear. A single layer fleece vest by Gooby. Pajamas by SH Specialties. And a double layer fleece coat from Smokey K9 Designs (a fellow Azawakh lover). I also pick up puppy coats from her.

  • Treats: You can use whatever you want but my go-to is string cheese and hot dogs because they're so much more economical than dog treats. I do use lamb lung as a high value dry treat though.

    • Treat Pouch: I like a treat pouch with a small profile that is easy to get treats in and out of. I quite like this PetSafe one.

Consistencies Across my Azawakh's Upbringings:

  • Multiple group classes starting within a week of bringing them home. These include Puppy Preschool, Puppy 101, Puppy 102, Control Unleashed, Agility, Scentwork, and whatever other classes I can get my hands on.

  • Puppy specific daycare up until 5 months. (Amidi was tired of this by 4 months. Anubi did general day care until 8 months).

  • Training CAMP - a three week intensive program through y last work where dogs worked with up to six different trainers to learn, generalize, and proof behaviors. At the end of each day they went home. (Amalu didn't get this).

  • Off leash adventure walks starting before their flight period (testing the boundaries, more interest in the environment) at 5 months.

  • Exposure to trials and dog shows as much as possible. (Anubi didn't get this until 8 months, Amalu was more sporadic because of COVID).

  • Handling classes. (Amalu didn't get these because of COVID).

  • Exposure to boarding dogs. (Amidi got substantially less of this because I wasn't doing much boarding at the time - it shows in her lack of comfort around other dogs).

  • All of the above protocols.

Take Aways and Comparison to my Goals:

1) Stable and non-reactive in public.

All of my dogs can walk down the street, even downtown Seattle, calmly and with minimal stress. Anubi is the least comfortable in dog sport venues - likely because he wasn't exposed to them until 8 months.

2) Responsive and able to hold a Place behavior on their mat with guests over.

I don't test this often because I'm a hermit and hate having guests. That being said after some fuss when people first enter, they will settle and hold their Place.

3) Can be touched by anyone when I ask it of them

I don't expect this as teenagers at all times, but my dogs will accept being touched. They often don't like it, but they are completely safe for vet exams (we've done unsedated hip x-rays, which is uncommon) and Ami genuinely likes most new people.

4) Engaged and focused enough to play dog sports

This has been so much easier than I ever expected. I find my Azawakh fun and eager sports dogs with their only challenge being environmental sensitivity under pressure.

5) Excellent off-switch in the house

I set this goal but I really didn't need to, all my Azawakh came with brilliant off switches. If I don't excercise or work them for a few days Anu and Am are prone to pacing, but it's very very manageable.

6) Dogs that love their pack that are able to tolerate any boarding dog

Anu and Alu are rock solid with this. I love it. Ami has never been fond of dogs (I think perhaps this is genetic) and I didn't do much boarding when she was a puppy. She tolerates boarding dogs but mostly ignores them rather than engaging. And she will loudly and overly correct a dog, which will likely forever be a work in progress.

7) Dogs able to enjoy and excel in performance work

My dogs' titles largely speak for themselves. I have double digit breed first titles on my dogs. I have top five placements in the American Sighthound Field Association, Large Gazehound Coursing Association, United Kennel Club, American Kennel Club National Owner Handled Series and Fast CAT, and the North American Coursing Association. But more importantly to me - my dogs love playing sports and getting to go out and engage their brain and body.

Bonus: Ability to do demo and neutral work in private lessons and group classes

I lucked out in this regard. All of my dogs help me when I am working with training clients. There are situations that some dogs are better than others. Anubi is brilliant at neutral dog work with reactive dogs. I don't use Ami for that purpose unless I really need to.

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