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Early Days with a Conservation Puppy
Ranger on a rollercoaster
Rebecca Ross and Ranger.

It has only been a month since I first blogged about Dogs for Conservation, but oh so much has happened since then! I have had incredible highs and devastating lows in this short period of time.

Of course, the main “high” has been the addition of our new Golden Retriever puppy. Ranger was donated to us by the breeder and comes from a long and impressive line of working Goldens, including search and rescue, cadaver, field trial and hunting dogs. The trip to Georgia to pick him up from Lyn Parsons was a happy occasion and the puppy has settled into my life quite nicely.

The most important job was deciding on a name for the little guy. I wanted it to mean something, and reflect the mission of Dogs for Conservation. After many weeks of research and Internet surfing, it was my husband who came up with the name Ranger. In Africa, the men and women who work on wildlife reserves are known as “game rangers.” They work very hard and often risk their lives to protect rare and endangered wildlife and habitat. The name seemed fitting as soon as I met him!

Our first week together went very well. I started some short-but-sweet training sessions with him and got him used to the flow of our household and its inhabitants. He was completely fine with my chickens, but slightly obsessed with my rabbits, so that required immediate and consistent on-leash training with lots of positive reinforcement for calm behavior, which is paying off nicely.

He also began to accompany my other dogs and me on our twice daily walks on the 35 acres we call home. This is bonding time for everyone, great exercise and wonderful environmental stimulation for a young puppy. He is exposed to different terrain—cattle guards, lakes, long grass, rocky areas, etc.—which will go a long way toward his training as a conservation dog. I also believe that being exposed to other well-balanced adult dogs really helps in how a puppy sees the world and how he is going to react to new and potentially scary things.

Five days after Ranger came home, we lost one of our older dogs who had gone in for surgery to remove a cancer-ridden spleen. The surgery proved too much for him and he did not survive the night. Although we knew it was a possibility, it still came as a blow.

The following evening during his 9:00 backyard potty break, Ranger was bitten by a copperhead snake that had been hidden between two rocks and the cover of darkness. I immediately woke my sleeping four-year-old (my husband is in Africa until November) and we headed to the clinic. Ranger screamed for pretty much the next 12 hours. He was bitten on the chin, and had severe swelling and pain. The next few days were spent recovering from the bite and getting spoiled, which, of course, is very un-working-dog-like!

Kammo living the good life (left), and a snakebit Ranger

Despite these few rough patches, I have managed to keep my head above water. I can rest assured that our old dog Kammo had a good, long life that included daily long farm walks and swimming in ponds up to the end. I’m also thanking my lucky stars that Ranger recovered from his bite without any physical or emotional trauma, and is progressing well through his early training.

I spend each day taking him to new places, meeting new people and challenging him bit by bit to help mold him into the dog we hope he will become. I am posting regular videos of his training on the Dogs for Conservation website and Facebook page, so feel free to watch and learn from our progress and our bumps in the road. And, please keep your fingers crossed that he will forever steer clear of snakes!

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Rebecca Ross is a wildlife biologist, wildlife rehabilitator, dog trainer and zoo manager based in Brenham, Tex. She shares her life with four-year-old daughter Camryn, four dogs, four rabbits, twenty-something chickens and a husband who can usually be somewhere in the skies over southern Africa. Rebecca writes a monthly blog for The Bark about training her first conservation dog, Ranger.

Photo of Rebecca and Ranger by Hani Freeman.

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Submitted by Barbara Heidenreich | May 30 2012 |

Hi Rebecca!
So nice to catch up on your adventures in training via this blog. I am especially pleased to see the nice work on training Ranger to be calm around the bunnies.People often underestiate what is possible when you train with positive reinforcement. I look forward to the next blog.
Barbara Heidenreich
www.goodbirdinc.com

Submitted by Rebecca Ross | June 8 2012 |

Hey Barbara thanks for the comment!! Ranger's "weakness" when he arrived was the bunnies, but you are right in that it took very little time to reverse his behavior with positive reinforcement. It is imperative to his training that he not chase ANYTHING, because once he is out in the field working he needs to work and not be distracted by OR disturb local wildlife!!

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