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Adventures in bonding with my dog

I've decided that I need to spend more time just playing with my dog. He's got fantastic self control, so I can relax my standards on that (hard for me!) and just focus on having fun with him. To that end, mid-morning today I brought Albee outside onto the lawn next to my office and did some playing with him with the wombat-on-a-string. He was a bit lethargic (still tired from day care yesterday), but engaged in the game and had fun chasing and tugging it. (Several students watched us from a distance, laughing.)

In the middle of our game, one of the Deans appeared with her toy poodle on a flexi-lead. She blithely let him toddle right over to us, despite my saying, "My dog tends to be too exuberant for most small dogs." Sure enough, he stared and started to get wound up (pulling forward, stiffening, bending his front elbows a bit in preparation for bouncing) and the little dog gave him some fearsome bared teeth. I moved him away, which (of course) made him start barking. Once we'd gotten about 15' away, though, I pulled out the toy - and he actually played with me! It was pretty amazing.

After he lost interest in playing with the toy, we went for a brief walk. We ran into one of my dog-loving coworkers, an older man. He came up and tried to greet Albee by leaning over and reaching toward him, which made Albee tuck his tail and dart backwards. I let Albee eat treats out of my hand, then put some treats in my colleague's hand and let Albee eat them out of there. Albee allowed the guy to pet him while I fed him treats, although his tail stayed droopy.

When my colleague stopped petting him, I asked Albee to "go touch," a behavior I taught him over Easter weekend when he was acting skittish around my dad. He rapidly learned that he could approach, nose-touch the scary person, and then turn to me for a treat. As soon as I asked him to play this game, Albee's tail flew back up into the air and started wagging. He loved it! (My colleague thought it was a hoot, too.) My colleague even did some more petting of Albee, and his tail stayed in the air. Huzzah!

I like the "go touch" behavior better than having the stranger feed the nervous dog because I think luring can lead a dog to get closer than they're actually comfortable. Once they realize they've gotten too close to the scary person, they get scared and either flee or try to get the person to back off. By shaping the dog the choice to get close without using a food lure, the dog is fully cognizant of what he's doing and is constantly making the choice to go closer on his own in order to earn the reward.

One of the things my KPA instructor, Carolyn Barney, said quite a bit is "Don't lure fear." At first I thought, "That's weird." But I'm now in full agreement with her statement. Better to let the dog make the choice as he's comfortable doing so than to put him in an uncomfortable position.

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
beachdog
Apr. 25th, 2012 08:21 pm (UTC)
Good tip on go touch. but how would one train my leapin' lizard to not go and don't touch? She thinks everyone loves her and jumps up on everyone.
rumorofrain
Apr. 26th, 2012 01:50 pm (UTC)
There are lots of good ways to teach your dog not to jump on people. Here's what I'd recommend:

1. Keep your dog on a short leash. As people approach, ask them to please wait until your dog is sitting before petting her. When they've stopped, ask her to sit. If she can't focus, move her further away from the exciting person and try again, or lure her into a sit with food.

2. Take a handful of treats and let her nibble them out of your hand as the person pets her. The fistful of treats (or "human Kong," as one of my clients calls it) will keep her anchored in a sit. She can't be eating the goodies AND jumping on the person - they're incompatible behaviors.

3. As your pup gets better at this, space out the treats instead of feeding a constant stream as people pet her. Let her make the choice (just for one second!) to stay in that sit. If she breaks her sit, immediately remove her from the person (or, if you're practicing this with a friend, have the friend immediately stop petting and walk away). Butt on ground = petting and treats; butt off ground = no petting and no treats.

I did this with my dog, who wasn't a jumper but was VERY excited about meeting new people and wanted to run up and snuggle them and forget I existed. With some practice, my dog will now go greet people, then immediately turn back to me to check in (and see if he's getting a treat). He doesn't get a treat these days unless he's greeting a REALLY exciting person, but he's now able to engage with them, then disengage and check in with me, which was my goal behavior.
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