Mama Sally: Believe it or not, but sometimes this column is the hardest one to write every week!! Part of that is because so much of dog training is very specific, and so I try to keep things general so that any dog and owner can use the information that I’m providing. Sometimes that’s more challenging than you would think!
For virtually all of us with difficult dogs, professional help is going to be needed in some form or fashion. Some dogs come into the world with issues, and are fractured at birth. Some just are not properly socialized by their breeder and can be excessively shy or anxious. When we have dogs who are damaged through neglect or abuse, they aren’t “ordinary” rescue dogs. They are dogs who are fractured, and may need very specific help in picking up the pieces. It’s often a very slow and long process, and not every owner can sign up for that sort of work with a dog. A professional can help you make positive and progressive steps based upon the dog’s progress.
Sometimes, those damaged dogs can’t ever be fully functional “normal” dogs because of what’s happened in their lives. However, an experienced professional who is caring and kind can really help make things go better for you on the homefront. So many dogs who aren’t “normal” dogs can live perfectly happy and safe lives if their owners know what to do to manage them.
Some of you have dogs like Rugby who are reactive and edgy. They are unpredictable and can be dangerous at times. The have a hairpin trigger and lots of things set them off! They might be calm one time and fire up with explosive barking in the next minute! Roll the dice and see what comes up! That’s my life at home with Rugby James. He’s definitely NOT a dog for the average dog owner. Still, he’s improved a whole lot, but will never be a “normal” calm and chill dog.
He’s always going to be a dog who is a work in progress….making baby step changes as he lets go of issues that are difficult for him. I tend to do some form of training with him every day….not necessarily long amounts of time, but something every single day. For most of you….think of thirty minutes of training, broken up into smaller segments of ten minutes or less at a time. That will keep it fun, and keep your dog focused and working.
The training that I do with Rugby will include all sorts of things….reviewing basic commands, sharpening up his execution and asking for small things like straighter sits, faster downs, for example. I do trick training, because Rugby loves to do tricks. He is still having to work and focus, and use brain power to figure out what I want. And we do some puzzle play as well, because Rugby also loves to work puzzles. Puzzle play is limited to once or twice weekly, but refining and trick training is daily.
When your dog really knows good, basic commands, you can make things challenging by adding distractions that he’s going to see everyday. I can take advantage of my neighbor dog nuisance barking outside to work on “Leave It” and “Watch Me.” Suddenly that neighbor’s dog doesn’t feel quite as annoying when I can use it to help my dog learn to stay calm!
Every time Michael comes or goes, I can work on helping Rugby “Leave It” and “Place” to let go of all of his excitement barking and focus on work instead. This specific issue is one of Rugby’s very hardest, because he worries when someone leaves, and does everything he can to stop it from happening. It’s a very, very tough issue for him, and some days are better than others, clearly.
When I think Rugby and I need a break from tackling the really hard issues, I do. I simply let it go for a period of time, and I just don’t stress over it. I try not to let the issue get worse, or give Rugby chances to continue to practice the behavior I don’t want, but I don’t train non-stop every day or every week. Both of us need to leave stuff alone at times, and come back to it again with a fresh attitude and fresh approach.
The important thing is to keep your dog working in some form or fashion! I never stop working with Rugby….he loves it and so do I. It’s a really great way to spend snippets of time with your dogs, and that’s building loving relationships with them! After all, isn’t that really just what life is made up of….loving relationships and time?
Rugby James: Well don’t get me started on doing training wif the Mama, on account of I just lubs it!! She never trains as long as I wanna train, but that means that I’m always excited to do it when she asks me does I wanna work? I always gets lubs, sweet words and sometimes even snacks!! Sumtimes we plays wif my Woof Stick or piggie toss, or just plain piggies togedder too, but the Mama sure knows how to make training FUN!!
Even when we work on the really hard fings for me, like the Daddy coming in and going out, I gets to hear nice words and gets snacks if I can focus and stay on my placemat. It’s so hard not to look at what the Daddy is doing, but the Mama sounds so very nice, and I know I’ll get snacks if I look at her and ignore the Daddy. It’s not for very long at a time, so it makes it a lil bit easier for me.
We getsa do tricks togedder every day, and that’s what I lubs the best! We has really been working on weave around the Mama’s legs, and I has finally gotted that one down pat! Last week, the Mama started teaching me how to hug my lil stuffed elephant what the Daddy gotted for me one time. I really lubs my lil elephant, and he’s perfect for hugging.
The Mama does a couple short lil trick training fings wif me every day, and we work on udder stuff too….like down or sit when she’s all the way down the hall from me. When I sit right next to her left side, and she turns a lil bit, she wants me to sit right next to her really straight. It’s all a big puzzle, and when I gets it just right, she says “YESSSS” and I getsa nibble!! I lubs games like this on account of I likesa figure stuff out. I doesn’t likesa be bored!
I getsa close doors and cabinets for the Mama sumtimes, and we bof like that a lot. I try really hard to be a helpful lil dogger around the house. Sumtimes I pick stuff up what gets dropped, and I always get my lil piggies and bring them in if I takes them outside for fun on the patio. When I get all wigged out about sumping what I has seed or heared, I’m purty good about looking for one of my piggies to grunt instead of barking about it.
So really, when the Mama is home, she’s always looking for ways to include me in what she’s doing, and I just lubs it!! It makes us a really good team togedder, and that’s a very good fing if you ask me!!