If you ever feel frustrated or overwhelmed by your dog's behavior you should focus on one or two behaviors at a time. This will help focus your attention on behaviors that your dog is exhibiting at the present time. I always have a "checklist" in mind when I am working with my client's dog. When I am working with a young puppy, the list might include behaviors like jumping, biting, grabbing objects off the ground on walks, leash walking, come when called, sit, down, stand, etc. Each walk or training session I recommend focusing on one or two behaviors that are most important at that time.
Ever see a dog growling around his food bowl? Ever see those "Funniest Home Videos" shows where a dog is showing teeth while standing over a bone? You have witnessed something called Resource Guarding, a form of dog aggression. This form of aggression is fairly common, but easily preventable. As with all undesired behaviors, I always recommend investing the time in the beginning to prevent a situation from arising, rather than having to work on changing behavior later on. Especially with aggression, once a dog bites someone there is always a chance that he might bite again.
There are certain topics in dog training that come up at least once per day. I find myself saying “Change the pattern, change the behavior” in many situations and I realized that this is a powerful concept that you might find useful when working with your dog. My dog training philosophy is based on changing a dog’s behavior, and not focusing on what the dog might be thinking.
I hope you enjoyed Part 1 of this interview with Jeanne describing her strategies and thought process for getting her Wheaten Terrier, Seamus ready for her daughter's school play. Read on for the last part and find out if all the work was worth it.
Q. In hindsight what would you have changed about the training schedule or goals? I would have started earlier building a relationship between Seamus and Annie in varying contexts. I would have worked more frequently for shorter periods. I would have protected Seamus in rehearsals and taken him outside or kept him quiet when he wasn’t training or rehearsing. Seamus is very cute and loving, and all 127 kids wanted to pet him and hug him and get him to do tricks. Children are Seamus’ favorite playmates but as his guardian I think I should have seen that it was too much of a good thing. He was tired and stressed by the end of the final week and ended up getting a double ear infection in both ears the night before the show.
Q. What was the most important thing you learned about dog training during the experience? The importance of giving Seamus consistency, short training periods, relaxation time (walking, playing), and quiet time. Build on small successes – give everybody something to feel positive about. Be patient – even when you don’t think your dog is getting it, he’s learning. Because he loves people, Seamus is a dog who won’t establish his own boundaries with people (walking away or even growling when he’s had enough), so I need to establish them for him when working in such a high stimulus environment.
Q. Do you think Seamus had fun? Yes, except, unfortunately, for the performance, because he was tired and had an ear infection. I think he would have rather been home that evening. During dress rehearsal earlier that day, though, he was hilarious. He not only went to Annie and sat for her song but then started clowning with her – he rolled over, curled around her and asked for a belly rub, which she obligingly did while singing her song. (I had prepared her that if he did anything goofy and endearing like this, to just relax and go with it. Sometimes he likes to sit in people’s laps – he doesn’t know that he’s a little big for that!) For Seamus, it doesn’t get much better than kids to play with, turkey to eat, and lots of time with his guardian.
Q. Would you do it again? I would. It would be my preference to rehearse in the space we are performing in, if possible. I’d ask for as much rehearsal time as I could get. I’d protect Seamus more – give him a little “star treatment” and let him relax with me away from the kids when he wasn’t training or performing. But all that training was wonderful for Seamus and for our dog-guardian relationship.
Do you have a complex training goal that you have always wanted to work on with your dog but don't know how to begin? There are a myriad of possibilities for training, but sometimes people get overwhelmed by where to begin and never reach their goal.
Dogs of all ages invariably get sick and also can have their bouts with runny stools because of too many treats. I live with an especially sensitive Collie named Ranger that has provided me first hand experience with home health care to soothe upset dog stomachs.
Puppies are incredibly challenging. There is no doubt about this, but life with a puppy gets easier as long as you manage their environment to lessen mistakes and inappropriate behaviors as well as provide enough physical exercise and training. My job as a professional dog trainer involves many roles including teacher, cheerleader (you CAN housetrain your puppy!!), as well as sounding board for problems and troubleshooting.
Shaping is an incredibly powerful concept that you should add to your positive reinforcement vocabulary. Shaping is the strategy of rewarding certain behaviors to increase the chances that they will happen again. You shape behaviors of others countless times throughout the day without even possibly realizing what you are doing. If a friend tells a funny story and you laugh, your friend was rewarded for her efforts and will probably tell you a funny story in the future.
I wanted to share a great example of how positive reinforcement training can help dogs and people. I am always thrilled to hear that more dogs are being trained using this effective and humane method. This is also a way that you can help people and dogs by donating to a worthy cause.