The Education of Mr. Sweet Cheeks, aka CALVIN – part 1

Calvin is a seven month old male dog. He was sold to his first owner as an American Pit Bull Terrier, but he is obviously a mix. The wool around his neck and withers is only one big clue, let alone his ear set, long body, over all appearance, and gorgeous marking/coloring.

He just moved into his second home about one month ago, and so begins his new education on life!


Today was our first walk together, and what better place for education than the MSU campus! When I am getting to know a dog, and learn who I am working with, what they are coming to the table with, I have no expectations. Well maybe one, please don’t burn the house down. Other than that I want to observe without judgement.

As far as temperament goes, he is sweet (hence Mr. Sweet Cheeks), affectionate, loves to be touched and pet and loved on, and an overall happy adolescent dog. He is not pushy at all, he is not overly excited with touch, and surprisingly to me for a seven month old dog, super duper appropriate. When you tell him that he is such a GOOD BOY, and go to pet him, he will come up and parallel park in front of you, put his paws on your feet, lean into you, and then give you the sweetest kisses ever, with a happy happy tail! Very sweet boy!

Today was more for observation, a little work, and to see if he could modulate his own arousal with distractions. I also wanted to see if there was any ‘oops’ things going on, outside of normal flaky adolescent development.

Walking and Sidewalk Passing –

Calvin is like walking an alien! Everything is new to him, everything a wonder and interesting. He has had very little around town socialization, or consistency with exercise until one month ago, so literally EVERYTHING is new to him. He didn’t seem to have context for today so he just took it all in. This shows an amazing amount of trust to go out on campus with a virtual stranger, and know on some level it would all work out.

Campus was busy today with the new school year already underway. While he was ‘up’ and curious, he was never overly aroused. He showed no caution, no concern, no overly stimulated anything. He walked squarely on all four paws, easy ears, soft eyes, light panting (it was warm), and looking at everything.

We passed skateboarders, bicyclers (both polite and rude I might add), women, men, people in wheel chairs, slack liners, frisbee golf Teams, and hacky sackers. People moving slow, moving fast, people coming right into our space, and others giving us space. He showed interest in everything, but easily walked on and never fixated.

He didn’t seem like he wanted to meet and greet with any one person, he just wanted to keep moving, so we did.

strategies for walking and sidewalk passing –

If the sidewalk was too busy I would make a smooch noise and he would reorient (with ease) to me, YES + reward, and then we would step off about 10-20 feet while continuing to walk forward.

If a fast biker was coming our way, there is plenty of lawn space to move onto, so we did. We gave WIDE berth to anything coming our way that was faster, louder, or bigger (groups of people). He moved on and off the sidewalk with ease.

I used the Freedom Harness with double clip leash from 2hounds Desgin. He liked being slightly in front of me and slightly off to my left. He never pulled hard for anything, and was comfortable in this space while walking. The only time he did pull was at the little spring creek by the duck pond, water is definitely not his thing, and he was clear there would be no tip toeing through the creek today. Something to work on in the future.

The 3 D’s – distance, duration, and distraction. When I am out and about with a dog I always take note of the 3 D’s, and how a dog is dealing with them, and where they need some assistance. Do they need more distance from something or can they work with less? How are they handling the distractions, are they too much, or are they OK and functioning fine? How about duration, are they functioning well with the amount of time you have them out and about, too long  or too short?

strategies for the 3 D’s –

Distance – Calvin needs a bit of space from people, bicycles, skateboards in order to maintain connection. Because he is so new to everything, and is so curious, 10-20 feet of space while moving keeps him comfortable and smooth. So stepping on and off the sidewalks and making moving detours kept him very successful without any hiccups. Distance is his best friend right now, he feels more comfortable and smooth with distance from distractions.

Distractions – He was in the heart of distractions today, but the distance he had from each one kept him successful. He was able to re-orient with a smooch noise, with ease, and would place himself in a sit in front of me, even with people and life going by on all sides of us. So distractions are good, as long as there is appropriate distance.

Duration – we walked up to campus and around campus for about 45 minutes, he invested in a few scents on posts but nothing overly so. He seemed smooth and easily and never became agitated with this duration of a walk. We settled in at a shady area by the duck pond, and worked on hand touch, sit, and down with duration. He was able to focus easily, and work smoothly, and never checked out. His stamina for physical exercise and mental work is awesome! The boy has grit for sure. We then walked back to his home, and he had the same level of enthusiasm for walking as he did on the way up. And again, distance helped duration be very successful.

I didn’t do much work as far as formal positions today, but I did do some because I wanted to see if he was willing to engage with me, and if he could focus on me while out and about.

strategies for focus work while out and about –

Simple, keep it simple so he can learn what is successful and how to achieve it. We worked on hand touch today, something simple and easy where he could be successful and I could start working on get it + mark it with YES + reward it. I presented the palm of my hand, and when his nose touched it, YES and reward. The timing of YES is right when his nose was physically on my palm. He thought this game was spanky and fun!

He knows the position of ‘sit’, but I wanted to see if he could sit with people on other sidewalks around us, or ducks behind us, or cars going by, or just cuz. He was able to hear, understand and sit even with all of these distractions, with ease. YES + reward and a big fat love session, because the boy loves to be loved on.

We just started the position of ‘down’. Nothing fancy, just luring into the position and then rewarding while in this position for about 10 seconds. This is a new and week behavior but something I will work on more next time. That he was able to do this at all with the distractions shows an amazing work ethic and trust.

There were a few things I noticed that are worth mentioning, could be the newness of everything, the lack of consistency in his previous home, or his age.

Eliminating – Calvin would not poop while out and about. He may not be used to pooping next to someone while on a lease.

Water – Calvin doesn’t like water crossings, even from a sprinkler, so we will work on this slowly over time, so he can learn to drink while out and about, and hydrate himself.

Paw orientation – Calvin is right pawed and favors orienting off of his right side, he only oriented off of his left side once, we will work on balancing this over time so he is a bit more ambidextrous, and things coming at him off of his left side won’t cause startle reactivity.

Play – he loves human interaction and play. When we stopped by the duck pond, he showed his happy adolescent self and was bouncy and playful and full of it. Awesome! Teaching him fetch should be in his future so he has an outlet for physical and mental play that is structured.

So stay tuned, I hope to keep his story updated for the next couple of weeks or so. Send him lots of good vibes and wishes while learning about his new life, there is already lots of love, which is awesome! ~ Nancy












7 Comments Add yours

  1. Good boy, and a sweet one. Good luck!

  2. Nikki Brown says:

    He and his new human are in very capable hands. This was so informative. I’ll want to keep all of it in mind when out and about with my dogs and also when I have “sleepovers” with others’ dogs.

  3. mtwaggin says:

    I am finally finding time to read this from the start and glad I am. He is adorable and this tips you have remind me so much of the work we have done with you. Bless your heart and on to read part 2!

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      So glad you are following along. His story and new education are pretty cool, and I kind of have a crush on him. He is a charmer!

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