Here’s a brief foreword – you are about to read an article on dog training without a single reference to the actual training. This piece is on Habituation principle of educating your pet, and about learning the things we ask our dogs to perform often not knowing what we actually want and how the dogs should accomplish them.
Linked to another living thing for a period of time is a revelation for most living things in a way of learning not just about the other person / organism, but greatly about yourself as most of us just do not have enough room in our lives for someone else, not to this extent in any scenario. But there’s always the TV’s Big Brother for those who’d rather enjoy watching someone else “living” the life.
So Ted the Schnauzer was to become my model / experimental Guinea-Pig for learning and sharing the ups and downs, logistics and benefits of this unique encounter with you all.
I was going to live with him alongside me for a few days. In no way I was intending to let him ruin things for me either, and I would not tolerate any behaviours that were to be considered destructive, dangerous or potentially harmful to anyone. I was hoping to do it in a nice, gentle and humane way, hoping that I would manage not to neglect the dog’s basic needs and treat him in a non- species-specific way. Dogs are dogs and attempting something of this sort should only be done by a person fluent in the knowledge of how to live, deal, react and progress with and around dogs. Be very careful and open to learning the ropes if you are not 100% sure about this.
Purpose of the affair – please try to summarize it for yourself (and for the dog’s sake of course) before embarking on this journey, weigh it up and see if this is something worth committing to as once you look at the particulars of your quest, you might simply re-value other things in your life and leave the dog along rather than trying to change his / her displays of behaviours that you are trying to conquer.
Well, the day has come and poor Ted, my model dog to be featured in this description, was petrified of the sudden change to all his comforts. A short, 3.5 foot leash has suddenly become his only freedom run, and to make matters worse, I am sure he was recalling the first few days of his rehabilitation process with me after he had been rejected as vicious and branded aggressive with a PTS verdict by two behaviourists and a vet. He didn’t have a very happy time with me to start with – the world he was so used to at 5.5 months had suddenly collapsed. All the things he was so badly reactive to (and being a Schnauzer, believe me, there were loads) were taken away from him. Everything he ever believed in and everything that he had learnt about the world around him was taken away from him, in one swift move, and the world that he knew was no more.
“Dogs are given rather a short life span, and subjecting them to more stress by handling is not fair” is a common attitude. This is a complete myth, as having a few days, weeks, or even months spent on working on rehabilitating the dog, you gift them years of happy and stress-free high quality life in my opinion.
You and I have busy lives. And working a dog for hours on a daily basis is something that I can not fit into my life, believe me, even though dog training is something I am paid to do 7 days a week. An easier and much more practical solution can be found / purchased in every scenario, as long as there’s a will…
So by now Ted was well settled into his new home (and he’s probably been with me for about 7 months by now) where everything stayed the same, and at the same time became very different once more. Why, where and when were all the big unknowns to him again, even though the surroundings were remained unchanged. His buddies, his couch, his “come here and lick what the baby has spilled on the floor” is gone again. It is hard to see a Schnauzer’s eyes but I saw the look in his eyes. You get used to it after a while, living with one of those dogs – you have to, and you learn to read them. These dogs communicate in the special way whether groomed or long-haired, dirty or just washed, trimmed, brushed or wearing their protective clothing.
Handfeeding worked well in the evening as well as every single time it was the time to “work” for your keep. They are all always sharp on it, all the dogs living with me – however long ago they experienced this amazing bonding experience, and however much they do it demonstrating their skills at my classes, they all are sharp, fresh and up-to scratch with all the tasks they are put through.
Guess what – the quality of life during that first evening in the house with Ted “the Nutcracker” was almost immediately hugely different. He missed on his barking spats on every opportunity and ignored each noise from outside – I thought he should be itching for it by the evening time as he is simply that kind of a dog – a barker, who most of the time just does it for the sake of it, and I am sure he enjoys the sound of his own loud and screeching noise. And no more checking the horizons for any food scraps non-stop, not following kids around in hope they drop something that never reaches the floor with him around – all gone, all different since the change is our contract.
How do you teach your dog that time alone is a great opportunity to rest and recover, and they should appreciate the gift of being left alone? You just simply can’t. Not those of you who have never tried having a dog attached to you throughout the day, with no time off, having the dog following you non-stop wherever you go, and whatever you do. Bed-time comes and what you do is let your dog off leash and into a crate (part of that Controlled Environment belief) and what your dog would say if he could speak is: “Oh, thanks g**, at last. I miss the times when my owner goes away living me along and I would sell my soul for a spot where I can just curl up and nap”… (So those dogs that can’t be left along – get ready for the big revolution coming up!) The tethering technique does this job for you. It is the side effects of most dog training exercises that we look for, not the actual experience. Let the dog learn and stop trying to teach them what to do and what not to.
Are we talking about fixing dogs here? We talk about connection. Literally! Reinforcement of that connection may well be the fix that we suddenly stumble upon. It can come in different packages, and be very different from dog to dog and from owner to owner. You get back as much as you put in – maybe the saying that we all have heard before, but this is still the truth behind a perfect dog. Perfectly connected dog whatever the situation! So when the setup changes, this connection should vary in the way that the total picture, the perfect dog performance, remains just that, perfect. Trust, reliability, dependency, security and comfort in each other are all parts of it.
Happy owner and happy dog is what all owners want when they bring dogs to classes. But what the dogs feel is often different – dogs feel bad on-lead, and better off-lead. So turning that around, getting them used to it is one of our aims too.
I dropped a piece of food near the dog crate with a full-on Rottie in it recently, and was amazed to see that even though we have never covered ignoring the distractions with that dog, he never even barged to get up or try to pick it up. Would he munch it otherwise? No doubt he would, but he was well used to minding his own business. I am not sure what Ted would do, even though he’s a graduate of the “don’t touch anything until you are allowed to” academy. But I know it won’t hurt him to over – proof it and I will definitely keep dropping stuff near his crate once he’s on his bed rest for awhile.
This is certainly something worth mentioning. Just now I had to take a shower and therefore leaving Ted without supervision or leash was not an option. As I was getting ready to carry on in just a short while, I had him with me upstairs and hooked the leash on the door handle inside the bedroom. So the controlled environment continued. About 10 minutes later, I was out of the bathroom drying my hair with a towel. And the dog was sitting by the door looking at me trying to adjust to what was happening. The face on him was the one I want to share with you. It said that he was understanding… something. His eyes were full of meaning, thoughts and belief!
What about an external reference, when someone gives you their opinion on how well you have done with your dog, say, after it’s been rehomed, or fostered by you for a few days. They ask, and what about that dog chasing cats? And you think “What cats? Does he really do that?” Two dogs boarding with me these days are as good as it goes around my cat, even though they have one poor cat’s soul savaged between them. Did I experiment to see how they’d react to my cat after knowing that? Surely not. Luckily, Teddy already does not chase the cat or react to it in any way. He also ignores my parrot, and is very calm with and around my kids. He’s already learnt to act in this manner. That leash did the job with them all from the start. But now I am watching him picking up on my vibes, learning to adjust to my biorhythms, way of life and habits further.
Another thing – it is funny how you tend to apologise to your dog each time you trip over the leash without him even noticing… They are so much more to us than pets…
Meal times are interesting now – you have your dog brought to the table, placed where you want to, and controlled without shouting, pointing, watching… And then you start thinking: Where is it that you do want your dog when you eat? What is it you want him to do whilst you eat? You have to work it out before demanding the “right” response from the dog!
Everyone visiting us now questions me on what’s going on and why that dog is tied up to you all throughout your Pizza, drink and a card game? A detailed answer is not a must, so have fun with it, just as I did!
How long do you reckon it would take your dog to figure out that whatever happens outside of you two does not have anything to do with him as it is all simply off limits, out of his reach permanently (well, until he learns that it is not for him anyway)? I have done this a lot, I have tested, and re-checked this game with numerous dogs to make sure I know the way to convince them that whatever happened once (say, not being able to pounce on a dog walking past) would happen again. This is how things are from this moment on – this is my message to them.
Car drive – the dog is fastened in the back by a coupler-leash.
Training client’s dog in a park – Ted is tied up to a bench nearby.
Eating with kids, food on floor, small room – Ted in his crate.
Out with the family – Ted at home groomed and looked after by our dog-minder.
Ted has now been on his best behaviour for 2 whole days. Not all of it voluntarily I have to admit. All the quirks that I would want to change in him or despised from the start were actually prevented, predicted and modified to become perfect, or almost perfect behaviours. Some- just because he knew he wasn’t going to be successful at, say, stealing George’s (my older dog) chew or just going and checking on the kitchen floor just in case kids have dropped something again. Some- because I just helped him, or did the whole thing for him. We worked as a team, and I could say that we made a good team, two of us made one happy, non-shouting or getting upset owner, and one dog with an impeccable behavioural repertoire.
Give yourself a reason for doing what we do. Do you want the dog / s to learn to behave in certain manner because of… or for what purpose. Is there a mention of the dog’s needs and interests in this description? Be wary as if the answer is not, you shouldn’t be sailing away into the unknown – you either benefit from it together, or look for an alternative solution. Tether the dog if he, as a result of it, may have fuller and safer life, or the two of you could enjoy lazing about on a park bench once the response has been set! He’s going to learn to pester you less, or not steal or raid counter-tops, or spend hours waiting for that postman sitting on the window seal too. Go for it. But ff you think you would be able to leave the dog on his own for hours at a time and not walk him at all, see him less and have a peace and quiet in the house as a result of it – you are misinterpreting what this is all about, and are neglecting his needs, interests and motivations, and you are the only party benefiting from it. Pack it in! This is not the way forward!