Living with any dog has ups and downs, and training them is never really an exact science. This is so very, very true when we’re talking about special needs or difficult dogs! When a dog has some sort of significant disorder, the root cause of that disorder is often what drives any behavior that I see.
Having said that, how we respond as owners of those dogs can either make the behavior better or worse. Because of the many triggers Rugby has, I’ve chosen to live a life that’s fairly regimented, so that I’m not reinforcing behavior that I don’t want on a daily basis. If I have any hope of improving things, I can’t let the behavior I don’t want to play itself out over and over every day.
He would happily be a “window monitor” who sits at any window, barking with enthusiasm anytime he sees something going on in the “hood!” As a result, I don’t leave our front door open so that he can lay right in front and worry all day. When he’s up on furniture, he’s not allowed to get up on the back of the sofa to get a front row seat at our large windows. If he wants to stay on the furniture with me, he has to sit or lay next to me, and ignore what’s going on outside. If he breaks that rule, he has to get off the furniture, so he is very good about respecting it. If I leave the room, he’s not allowed to stay on the furniture to “sneak one” when he can’t be corrected. Needless to say, I carefully pick and choose the times of day or days of the week when the blinds are open!
Much of what drives Rugby’s behavior is lack of impulse control which causes a whole lot of reactivity. I tend to do a lot of training exercises that work on impulse control, because as Rugby is able to use self control in situations, he’ll be able to think things through and learn a new calm plan of action to follow, rather than just falling apart when he’s stressed.
The other end of things is that Rugby gets immediately anxious when something happens that is different or new. As a result, when he gets into an anxious state, his anxiety is driving his behavior. He’s lost the ability to think or reason, because he is worried about how to come out of the event alive. His fight or flight impulses kick in, and he’s either going to run or become aggressive. This is where his little piggies have been a tremendous help to me, because he dearly loves them, and I can often re-direct him to his piggies in situations like these. He will follow that instruction, and it’s something to build upon as I try to train through other options and modify his behavior.
Here are some things to consider with your own dog as you’re working through tough behavior:
- Learn what triggers your dog’s negative behavior.
- Stop patterns of behavior that follow the trigger. You may have to re-arrange rooms in a given way, or keep blinds pulled. Just because your dog really enjoys his naughty behavior does not mean that you’re helpless and have to continue to facilitate it.
- Don’t forget to make arrangements for your dog when no one is home. For example, if he gets to be an aggressive window monitor when you’re gone 8 hours every day, you’re not ever going to improve his aggressive behavior through training.
- Don’t be afraid to establish rules at home that help keep things calm. Set some rules that help keep the peace and be consistent with them, so that your dog can learn a predictable life day in and out.
Keep in mind that all of life is a work in progress. With most dogs that I train, I see changes in leaps and bounds. With Rugby, I fight for every inch of forward progress that he makes. I don’t compare him to other dogs, because that’s not fair, and it never leads to a hopeful outcome. He’s who he is, and he’s all mine!