My Azawakh Raising Protocol

Updated: Dec 1, 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