Puppy Prodigy: Watson, English Golden Retriever


Watson was a one of a kind pup when we met her and her littermate at 6 weeks of age at Tanglewood Golden Retrievers. Her breeder, Joanne Cava has been breeding dogs for 40 years, Her passion for the Golden Retriever breed began with the purchase of her first female Golden from Ursula Lanino, of Oakhill Goldens, in 1977. Ursula introduced Joanne to the world of showing Goldens and to this wonderful and versatile breed. Joanne developed a breeding philosophy of top quality, not quantity. At Tanglewood, she strives to produce highly intelligent, structurally sound, healthy, loving puppies suited for multi-purpose households. Watson was a petite little girl but caught our eye with her sweet and fun demeanor. She was food, toy, praise and love motivated, but not overly so. She was chosen as our newest puppy prodigy for Larry and Tammy in Washington, D.C.

Fundamental training began at 6 weeks of age while Watson was still at her breeders. We worked on obedience, socialization, desensitization, confidence building and name recognition. Spending time with her began to form a bond between us and Watson.

Our puppy prodigy pups typically come to our house around 10 weeks of age, we choose this age mainly to continue their socialization between their litter mates while also working on their bite inhibition. When you get a puppy at 6 weeks of age the puppy doesn’t learn proper bite inhibition, this is how they learn how hard to bite when they play. When they are playing with their litter mates, the other puppies will whine or whimper if the puppy bites too hard teaching the puppy what is socially acceptable in the puppy world.

The breeders we work with will also begin the puppies crate training. Crates are a fundamental tool to use for all dogs, providing them with structure and a secure nesting spot. Watson was a champ from the start and didn’t make a peep in the crate. We feed Watson in her crate the first week to make the crate a positive place to be. Anytime she was outside of the crate we always kept a leash attached to her. We do this for several reasons, one it makes us faster than our puppies so if they go to jump or chew on anything unwanted we can reach them faster. Also it gets Watson used to the brand new feeling of the leash around her neck to make training less stressful.

The first week we built in food drive since she wasn’t overly food motivated. We used her kibble to train with and had her work for her food, keeping our training sessions to two minutes at a time. The first week we worked on name recognition, we do this by letting her eat out of our hands while repeating her name. That way she associates her name with a positive. The first few weeks having a puppy we don’t name any commands but simply free shape behaviors and use marker words. The first two weeks we only used her name Watson, good, and Keen.

It is also important to expose your dog to as many surfaces and textures at this age so that they aren’t nervous later on. While working on her place work in the house on a dog bed we would tether her 2-10 minutes at a time while giving her a bully stick while she hung out on her bed. We want them to learn that good things come to you if you hang out on your bed, so if you stay there rewards come to you. We avoided high dog traffic places the first few weeks until she received her second booster of vaccines and because she wasn’t ready for a higher distraction area. We only socialized her with dogs that we were familiar with and in controlled situations. It’s also important to not set your puppy up for failure, so if they aren’t performing behaviors in a controlled environment then do not take them to a more exciting environment and expect them to behave.

Watson went through a fearful stage of development while she was with us around 12 weeks of age. Trash cans, loud noises, moving unfamiliar objects, and more all startled Watson. She would tuck her tail, or jump out of nerves. This can happen with any puppy, and it is important to handle the situation as a leader vs a comforter. When your pup acts nervous this is a great training opportunity to work them through it, build their confidence and respect for you as their comrade in life. We use high value rewards (such as chicken, dried liver…the smelly stuff) and slowly walked towards the object that would make her nervous and mark and reward any motion towards it. We also used various places around these objects or when a your noise would frighten her to build her confidence through having her figure out how to get on something that was a different texture and height, while also helping to focus her in on the behavior at hand vs the scary object/noise. We played with her in between two trashcans, we took her into Uptown for walks countless times, we over exposed her to these situations yet took it slowly and had fun while doing so. When you pup is nervous do your best to not coddle them, instead show them the lay of the land and guide them through it! This is important to all pups, and definitely for Watson who would be living in Washington, D.C.

Upon completion of her time with us Watson heeled beautifully both on and off leash, recalled well out of structure, off leash freedom and play, wrapped around to heel position, sat at side when stopped when walking, respected door frames, had extended down/stays in the house (30 minutes +), had calm indoor behaviors, fully crate trained, house broken, well socialized with other people, dogs, cats and various environments. Watson loved to play with other dogs, with you and ball, loved training sessions, and was a sweetheart that was a joy to be around. On Saturday, August 26th we packed up Watson and headed to Washington, D.C. with Alces and Carmella too.

From Sunday August 27th to Wednesday August 30th KeenDog trainers Katrina Kensington and Ashley Rodriquez spent time transferring the training over to Waston’s new owners Larry and Tammy. We really enjoyed getting to know Larry and Tammy, both were phenomenal people. The first day we went to their house was actually the first time they personally got to meet Watson! Everything prior was through videos and pictures. They were so happy to be finally meeting her. We loved how they had all of her new dogs supplies waiting for her. Our favorite item was her little name tag that read “Dr. Watson” they named her from one of the characters from Sherlock Holmes.

Our first training session began with working on the walk with just a mendota leash. Along with the walk we also covered marker words, keen, and her recall. Larry was a natural with Watson and took to the walk instantly. Everyone took turns around the block and then we needed a water break so we moved on to door manners, we have our dogs sit before they go through any main door frame. So before Watson was allowed to venture into her new home we had he sit while the five of us went first through the door, and then we released her by calling her with her name instead of keen. We do this because we don’t want the pups to go flying into their new home all excited, using her name gives her directions when entering a new environment. Right when we walked through the door there was this cute moose, Watson went right up to him and started licking him as if he were another dog. We worked some more in the house on recalls and place work and then we put Watson up for a nap and discussed any further questions. Then we headed out to eat with Watson to a wonderful Indian restaurant. We brought along a bullystick as she had a big training session, she then laid down while chewing on her stick while we got to know Larry and Tammy further.

The first evening in D.C. after training most of the day we took Watson back with us to provide her with some familiarity and to venture around the capital with her and our dogs as a nice way to spend our last evening with this sweet girl that we have bonded with since she was 6 weeks old. We went home and picked up Alces and Carmella to bring them around to all the historic sights.

We walked around the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, and had a blast with the pups. Everyone loves them and took lots of pictures and videos. Watson was a champ and was beautifully behaved even after such a long day of training. We drew a huge crowd of about twenty when they were fascinated that we had three dogs all sit next to each other leashless and with great focus.

The next day we woke bright and early and did another training session with Tammy and Larry. We met at Starbucks and this time did the lesson with the ecollar. We started with down stay work and then once we were done chatting moved on to the walk and auto side sits. Once we got back to their house we then covered the potty bells. Watson learned that ringing these bells when she needs to go potty so that someone can let her out so she doesn’t have accidents in the house. We called the training session on a positive note and then put her up for a nap.

We did another in home training session that afternoon and then spent the evening walking around the city in the Georgetown area. We used Alces and Carmella as distraction dogs. Watson grew up with these two so they were high value friends to her. We found a park that we could do some recall out of play. After a few recalls we then went into structure mode and had Watson weave a figure right around Alces and Carmella. Once everyone was nice and tired we decided to end the night on working with her downstay at a delicious Italian restaurant. We ended the night and that night was the first night Watson got to spend the night with her new owners.

The next day we had plans to take Watson to a park, but Mother Nature had other plans. So we improvised and did another training session in the house working on wrap around heel position, boundary training with their workout room, and trick training. Later on that day Watson had a vet appointment in which we attended to and then she spent the rest of the evening at home while we had a nice last dinner out in D.C.

The final day we meet one last time to recap on all of her skills. We did the walk, recall, door manners, and even worked on her avoiding jumping into the pool (boundary training). She had her last play session with Alces and Carmella before we set off on the road back to Charlotte. Watson was the perfect fit for Tammy and Larry’s lifestyle, she will be missed by many people but is in the perfect hands. We all enjoyed working with Watson and watching her progress into a well mannered pup.

Until the next puppy prodigy adventure…

Katrina Kensington & Ashley Rodriquez, KeenDog Trainers