Oh, sure, they look calm here, but the cycle of dog and cat crazy zoomies repeated itself several times a day while we weathered the snow storm here in Charleston, South Carolina this past week. Locked together in an apartment with no escape other than the occasional trudge through the ice and snow for relief was… OK, I’ll say it, “maddening!” If you came here to read the pretty picture of a Trainer’s life with pets, and how she saw this as the opportunity of a lifetime, to have dedicated time to be with her dogs and cat, switch channels, my friend. Ear muffs if you want perfection or pulled punches. This is a tale of real horror!
Last week, I told you I’d pull back the curtain on real life training, sharing with you my refreshed commitment to enriching my pets’ lives and my own with training them regularly, “Ten minutes minimum, three times a week for each pet” I proclaimed. A no-brainer. Easy, right? …Ehem. It should be made even easier when locked indoors with them. What better way to channel all that excess energy they had from limited physical exercise. My clients hear me preach ad nauseam about the benefits of, even the crucial need for, mental stimulation for our pets. Just like us, they need to work their brains every day to stay healthy and happy. Added benefit, it can be even more tiring than physical exercise! “So, C.C., tell us what kind of training program did you put together for them?! In between training sessions, did you opt for up-cycled items from around the house for enrichment or go with interactive toys for keeping the critters engaged and exercised?” FAIL! No plan. No purposeful execution.
Mamma C.C. was flat in bed with a cold turned bronchitis! Yea! WOOHOO! Party at my house of autoimmune collapse. No, pity, please. Cheers and adulation, instead, for The Boyfriend and his six month old Hound mix, “Freedom.” The Boyfriend kept us all from poking our eyes out, taking the kids out for regular walks and making sure we didn’t starve. I wanted to cry from the mess of shredded dog toy stuffing smashed into every nook and cranny of the house, dogs jumping on me for attention and head ringing from Freedom’s bellowing howl during play and fits of misbehavior. My youngest, 3 year old Jasper, was all too eager to revert to his obnoxious teenage ways partying with Freedom while I was down for the count. Still, I had to admit, he was happily occupied, and Valentino and Annie, my older dog and cat, were relieved to be relieved of their usual sibling duties of keeping Jasper in line.
By day four I was vertical again and something unexpected happened. “Guerrilla Training,” as I like to call it, came into play. Much like “guerrilla warfare” it is the use of hit-and-run training tactics by small, mobile groups of irregular forces operating in territory controlled by a hostile, regular force. See photo above. Surviving in the hostile conditions of my home required Stealth Timing, Capturing Behavior and outwitting Extinction Bursts. I ended up eating my own dog food and training way more than the minimum promised!
It’s been said many different ways, but I was pointedly reminded by these circumstance that with our pets, training is taking place in every interaction. Either your dog is training you, or you are training your dog. Once the fog in my head began to clear, I mustered up the energy to embrace this truth and make the most of all the cuckoo that was unfolding before me. Instead of reacting by pulling the covers over my head and moaning, “Guys, stop!” as they chose to play (of all places in the apartment) on my head, I sat up, softly asked Jasper to “Settle (a skill he knows)” and gently took hold of each dog’s collar with my arms far enough apart for me to keep them from interacting further. Any stillness from either of them was praised heavily, again with a calming voice. Soft, slow belly rubs for a bit followed. Continued calm behavior on the bed was reinforced by letting them enjoy snuggle time. Any return to rowdiness, they were immediately removed.
Quick, real-life training scenario, yes? In that moment, I was glad I had previously dedicated time to teaching Jasper that “Settle” means to toggle his own off switch and relax. Management via separation of the two rascals was key and knowing proper handling skills to not increase excitement or create tension between the dogs or between me and either dog was important. Raising my voice would have simply activated them further. Pushing them away would encourage play. I wanted calm, so I had to be calm, ask for calm and focus on getting that response from the dog who knew how to give me that behavior on cue. Through the “Social Facilitation” I’ve mentioned previously, Jasper and I were able to show Freedom that settling down would be rewarding for him as well. Years ago, Pat Miller pointed out to me that head petting is far more activating to a dog than softly stroking the body. That tiny difference in how I chose to interact with the guys that afternoon, added up to a big communication win in directing the outcome I was desperately looking for. Thanks again, Pat! Lastly, if and when… oh who are we kidding, when the dogs did eventually start playing again about an hour later, they were removed from the room to show them that their behavior of being rowdy on the bed made them lose access to good stuff, the bed and me.
So, my friends, we are all training our dogs. It’s our choice of what we want them to learn from us. Stay calm, guide them, reinforce (reward) the behaviors you want to see more of. Do not reward behaviors that drive you batty.
Here’s another commonly asked about behavior example. Does your dog Demand Bark? What is Demand Barking? It is when your dog barks at you asking you emphatically to do something. This is the type of extreme barking that can make you develop an embarrassing twitch. Your dog is demanding a response from you, and the vocalizing does usually makes something happen, right? Don’t reward him by engaging with him (facing him, eye contact, talking to him). Make a different choice which will result in what you want him to learn, less barking, more quiet. Turn away the moment he barks at you. Go out of the room if need be and close a door between you. He offers a moment of silence, even the briefest moment, turn back toward him and praise softly. Do detective work next time to be able to predict when he might demand bark again. Set him up for success next time with a pre-planned training scenario. Train him to sit when he wants something instead. Occupy him with something to pre-empt another demand barking episode. Help him get more energy out to avoid boredom; more mental or physical exercise or both. Figure out what is going on ahead of time and decide your plan of response so you will not be reacting in the moment. It’s all choices!
Hope this was helpful!