Pete’s Problems

So, as I drove away with Pete, I formulated a plan for bringing a potential 8-pound unhousebroken chainsaw into our busy household!

My first priority was giving Pete a long, proper “Leadership Walk“.  When introducing a new dog to your household, it is imperative to walk him or her in a calm, follower mode for a long, long walk, including any dogs from the household that will be its new pack members, and ideally, your human family members too.  When you get back to the house, walk calmly inside, people first and your doggy pack following.  This is what I did with Pete, then I walked all around the house with him on leash, correcting any moves toward marking, toward chasing the cats, or snapping at people.  The most important safety rule I made very VERY clear to my three kids and husband too:  You can feed Pete treats but do NOT try to pet him!

He stayed either in a crate or leashed to me until bed time that night.

Bed time was difficult, because like many tiny dogs Pete was not used to sleeping  alone in a crate.  Since my intent was to retrain him for a new home, I wanted to teach him this skill so he’d be a more flexible companion, suitable for many types of new owners.  Also, the insecure type of dog benefits from learning self-esteem – that he can do things on his own, without clinging to their chosen person!  (And, that includes the skill of sleeping alone, in a crate.)  I put the crate inches from my head next to my bed and he fussed quietly (sometimes not so quietly) until about 2 a.m. when he finally surrendered.  I started by leaving his leash on for corrections through the wire sides, but that quickly stopped working.  I tried making a “sssh” noise, but that worked very little.  He needed to be forced to “calm”.  So, I opened the door when he’d start whining and stressing, and poke him in the ribs, causing him to curl head and hip toward me, sinking into the wooly blankets I’d tucked in there.  I pointed at him and loomed over him sternly saying “No.” quietly but firmly, not moving an inch until he surrendered and lay down.  This worked quite well finally!  The next day he practiced staying in the crate quietly with the same correction, and by the afternoon, he was doing great.  That second night was very quiet.

Pete detests losing sight of me.  He cries loudly even if I go outside for a few seconds to grab something out of the freezer, so I consistently open the door, point at him and say “No!”.  Because he is a really responsive, sensitive guy, this has helped a lot.  A tougher dog would likely need a squirt from a squirt gun, or a leash correction, or a forced lie-down and settle command, but…that tougher sort of dog usually does not fall apart when their human disappears for seconds either!

I had very recently worked with some clients on their problem with marking in the house by their male, long-hair Chihuahua, and had written this post on housebreaking, and leg-lifting in the house, afterward, so I had some ideas fresh in my mind for helping Pete with the marking issues.  Mostly the solution isn’t terribly clever, it just comes down to:  Supervision.  Supervision, and correction in the act.  Correction means giving him a tap on his side and sending him away from the area with a gesture, and a stern posture.  I am lucky with Pete in that he’s extraordinarily sensitive to any kind of correction.  Within a day and a half of extreme supervision (leashed to me for the first day, then following his every move for the second two days…) he’d given up thinking about marking.

Part of breaking the dog’s urge to mark the house is calming the dog too.  Marking is a sign of insecurity and excitement, both which are high when a dog joins a new household with five people, three indoor cats and three indoor dogs!  As with so many behavior problems, the Leadership Walk was  the most powerful my first priority Pete’s first priority in his rehab.

This is getting long, so I’ll talk in my next post about the most interesting and challenging part of Pete’s rehab – teaching him to never, ever use his teeth on people.

Fix my dog

Recently, I was talking with a friend whom I’d been helping to train her dogs.  Her younger dog is especially difficult for her to walk on leash, but after showing them how to leave the house calmly, and to walk properly, the dog easily switched into a calm, follower frame of mind.

A few days later, my friend reported that it was wonderful to walk her amazingly improved dog, but then a few weeks later she started to report that the dog had reverted to pulling her and ignoring her.  Another few weeks later, she reported that she was utterly fed up, and was looking forward to sending the dog off to a doggy daycare where the dog would finally maybe be “fixed” because of all the off-leash exercise.

It is true that some off-leash running, sniffing, leg stretching is vital for a dog’s mental and physical well-being.  Every walk should ideally be mixed with something close to twenty minutes of on-leash walking, ten or fifteen minutes of off-leash playing like fetch, swimming or other games, then another twenty minutes or so of on-leash walking to finish the outing in a follower state of mind.

Wearing the dog out with too much unstructured running with other dogs, such as in dog parks, is actually detrimental for dogs.  I had a hard time believing this at first, until I watched the dogs first hand, and did more study.  The mental discipline of walking beside or behind a pack leader is more tiring for a dog than just careening about, following every scent, or chasing and wrestling with other dogs.  Some of the dog-to-dog play is very, very good for them, obviously, but if it is sandwiched between the disciplined walks, they will be actually more calm and worn out than if they’d had only off-leash play.

Too many people think of training their dog as “fixing’ their dog.  There is often a mindset with dog owners that the dog has a flaw and that things would be fine if it could be “fixed”.  I’ll tell you simply:  the solution lies in changing your own behavior. The great news is, that you aren’t a helpless victim of a “bad” dog!  You CAN change your own behavior, and thus re-balance your dog’s mind.

When acting in the role of leader for a dog, if you have the mindset that “she ALWAYS does that”, or “he’ll never be able to walk by that dog without attacking” – you’ll be tense, you’ll be weak, and your dog will fulfill your expectations.  Remember that you are the leader, you set the expectations and you set up the outcome.  Dogs live right in the moment.  Relax, stand up tall, envision exactly what you want the dog to do, where you want him to be, then follow through and do not give in until you get that.  Don’t give up and blame the dog.  If you are thinking:  “My dog is doing what he always does, I just can’t stop him”, or “She can’t help it, she’s afraid of small dogs running up to her”, then I can guarantee you that you,  are also “doing what you always do”.  That might mean you’re getting angry, frustrated, tense, or simply just giving up, thinking you’ll never accomplish what you want.

Don’t give up.  Don’t blame the dog.  Review yourself:  Are you calm, relaxed, assertive and confident?  Are your shoulders back, are you breathing easily, feeling positive, envisioning success?

Have fun