This article appeared in the July 1994 issue of the Pom Registry and is reprinted by permission of the Editor Phyllis Ripley and the author.
It goes without saying that it takes more than a good quality dog to make a good show dog. It takes pizzazz; that extra spark; an attitude that says, "Pick me!" But how is that attitude acquired?
It is never too soon to start conditioning a puppy. If the puppy is one you have bought from someone else, the early conditioning the pup has received may be unknown to you, so the sooner you start your conditioning process, the better. If you have a litter of puppies, or puppies of different ages that you have bred, individual attention for each puppy is critical. All puppies benefit from early socialization, show prospects and pets alike. Your show puppy buyers will appreciate the effort you have put into their future winner; your pet puppy buyers will have a happier, safer companion with whom to live. They will recommend your dogs to their friends and your reputation for providing both physically and mentally healthy Pomeranians will flourish. Early socialization of puppies is never time wasted.
Handle your puppies a lot at an early age. Turn them over on their backs and rub their bellies. In picking up a young, squirming puppy, use both hands. Put one hand underneath the puppy, behind the front legs. Because Poms are so light, you won’t need your other hand until the pup is in your arms, but once there, use that hand to steady and calm the puppy. When you turn them over onto your lap, put one hand behind their head, keeping the other hand on their chest.
The more your puppies are handled, the less they will squirm when they are picked up, because it will be a pleasant experience for them and something they will invite. But Poms can really squirm and may try to wiggle out of your arms. There is never a reason to let go of a squirming puppy, no matter what! If a Pom falls or jumps from your arms, it can be seriously injured or killed. Even adults have had such disasters happen, so don’t take this precaution lightly. Friends who are not "doggy" will think your puppy is adorable, but may not be good candidates for holding your puppy until you are sure it is dependable in someone else’s arms. A policy of mine is to never allow anyone to hold my dogs. The risks are too great.
Children can be terrific at socializing puppies. They love to play and puppies love to play with them. Children have a high tolerance for doing things over and over, which puppies also love. However, no matter how responsible you may think they are, children must always be sitting on the floor on their bottoms when holding a puppy. They must not pick up puppies in any other position. If the puppy wants to walk away, the child must respect the puppy’s desires and allow the pup to go. The puppy has the option of coming back to play, but the child must not chase the puppy. Fur and tails must not be pulled. School age children who understand the rules may be dependable enough to leave with puppies for short periods. Pre school age children must be supervised constantly.
Once the puppy is on its back, lay it on your lap as you sit on a couch or easy chair. The first few times, the puppy may squirm and struggle, but talk gently and reassuringly to it. Tell him what he wants to hear - he’s the cutest puppy in the world. If the puppy continues to struggle, gently but firmly insist that it settle down. No puppy gets to get up while it is struggling. The reward for settling down is being allowed up. If it gets up when it is struggling, you have just reinforced struggling. Guess what the puppy is going to do the next time you put it on its back. Don’t let this bad habit begin!
As soon as the puppy relaxes on its back, brush its chest gently and continue to reassure it with your voice. On its back, the puppy learns to trust you to take care of it so that nothing will hurt it. This is not a natural position for a dog and it must trust you completely. Firmly discourage a puppy that tries to nip the brush or your hands. Unless your puppy has developed a bad habit, a verbal reprimand will be all that is necessary and he will quickly learn that biting and nipping is reserved for play with other puppies. It is never acceptable with humans. An older puppy with a habit of nipping, either out of aggression or fear may need to be grabbed by the scruff of the neck or nose and told, "No" very firmly.
When a puppy has learned that being on its back is a pleasant experience, I begin to clip nails in that position. I just take off the tips of their nails so that the puppy is never hurt, but begins to accept the sensation of having its nails clipped. Later I introduce the nail grinder. All my dogs’ nails are done while they are on their backs.
Eventually, the Poms learn to lie on their sides so they can be line brushed (a subject for another article), but for right now, just brush through the puppy quickly so they get the idea.
This individual attention should be fun for the puppy. He gets a lot of loving hands all over his little body, completely away from the other puppies. Devotion to the pack must be transferred to you. Each and every puppy is special and this kind of attention lets them know that they are. The puppies are also separated in their crates and learn to sleep by themselves so that the dependence on littermates begins to diminish. Once their shots are complete, take them places with you and begin training classes where they will meet other dogs and people.
Since Poms are baited in the ring, Pom puppies benefit from learning to take food from your hands at an early age. Don’t let them pick up their treats off the floor. A Pom that doesn’t bait just doesn’t have a prayer in the show ring, so this training is critical to their future. And certainly all puppies love to get treats. My puppies are started on Nutri-Cal at a very early age. They come running when they see the tube. They know that my fingers will have wonderful treats on them and they get very excited. Encourage this excitement. We want wagging tails and paws prancing in those early training sessions.
Again, with one puppy at a time, show the puppy that you have something for it. Call its name and the instant the puppy looks at you, reward it for its attention. The puppy needs to make eye contact with you. Teach the puppy that you are the object of its attention, not the food. The food is the reward for his attention.
Tiny bits of cheese work very well as bait. They are sticky and can be gobbled quickly so that you can continue the training without waiting for the pup to chew up his treat. You want him coming back for more.
At first, reward the puppy for looking up, no matter how it’s standing. Gradually, even with the second bite, encourage the puppy to stand on four feet. Give the command you are going to use, either "Stay" or "Stand" and withhold the bait until all four feet are on the floor. As time goes on, you will make minor corrections in how the puppy is standing, but only as he can handle it. You will begin to ask him to stand still for longer and longer periods. Make the baiting sessions lots of fun with lots of encouraging words and happy talk. There are no corrections here. As long as the puppy is taking food from your hands, he can’t loose. As you talk to the puppy, you’ll see that it will start to use its ears. The tail must be up.
Puppies that like squeaky toys can be excellent show dogs because when they don’t feel like eating or you have run out of bait, pat your pocket with the squeaky and you’re back in business. Letting puppies play with and chase toys is great fun and has good long-range benefits.
These early sessions can be off lead, because there is no real need for control. You will find though, your work off lead will be a real asset when it comes time to use the lead because you will already have what you need most - the dog’s attention. He will be happy, enthusiastic and wanting to please you and the lead will be incidental. It will only be there to guide the puppy. When puppies are bouncy, they can be guided and taught to behave. When you have a deadhead puppy that doesn’t care to play, it can be extremely difficult to teach that puppy to show.
In teaching the puppy to gait on lead, play is again the best teacher. Toss a squeaky toy and let the puppy bound after it. Call the puppy’s name as you are walking and when he looks up, toss some bait ahead of where you are walking to encourage him to move out ahead of you. Running is not corrected now. We just really want the puppy to be happy.
Gradually, as the puppy learns to walk out on the lead, let the lead guide the puppy into walking in a straight line. Learning to walk in a straight line yourself is extremely helpful! (You know what they say, the first thing to know before training a dog is to know more than the dog!) I tighten the lead enough to guide the puppy when we are beginning a gaiting pattern, but as soon as he is moving, I give him a slack lead and simply use bait or call happily to him to keep him looking up. A loose lead is the most desirable way to show a Pom. It shows them to their greatest advantage.
The squeaky toy can be an excellent tool for getting ears up in the show ring. Sometimes a dog will tire of food when it’s in the ring, but the squeaky introduced at the right time can bring him around. Let the puppy play with the toy and squeak it. When he baits for it, praise him. Throw the toy around and let him go after it. When you are in the ring, however, save it as a last resort. Don’t squeak it the entire time you are in the ring. This not only disturbs all the other dogs, but also the judge. The more you squeak the toy, the less effect it will have on your puppy. Don’t over-do a good thing! You’ve probably seen the handler who squeaks a toy from the minute he walks in the ring until he walks out. But what’s the dog doing? Looking bored, of course.
Introducing the puppy to the table is much the same as the bait training we just did. Put the puppy on the table often. Play with him there. Feed him there. This is a good time for Nutri-Cal. Let him mouth the squeaky. Let him get very comfortable being on the table. Show him where the edges are and be sure you are very, very close. Never walk away, assuming that the puppy will have sense enough not to jump. Keep one hand on the tabled puppy at all times.
When your skills at teaching baiting on the floor have developed a bit, begin using the same techniques on the table. Hand stacking is begun and perfected here. Teach the puppy early to accept having his legs put into position and its bite examined. You are above the ground, so keep the puppy on lead to prevent accidents. Eventually he will be groomed on the table also and you’ll be transferring the good experiences you have taught the puppy on his back in your lap to the table.
A mirror behind your grooming table can be a great help. You can quickly assess the puppy’s outline as it’s baiting, your skill at hand stacking, as well as those final grooming touches which may "make the difference".
Above all else, don’t let anything negative happen on the table. A judge once said gave me a piece of advice: never give shots on the table. It makes sense! We don’t want our little "stars" to think someone is going to pinch them when they stand up! What could possibly be more impressive than a Pom that stands up proudly, posing like a statue and baits on the table? He’ll make a good and lasting impression on the judge, I think! Your few minutes of examination on the table is your time to impress the judge. Make it count!