My dogs and I haven’t had much of a chance to go for a walk at the dog park this week. The frigid sub-zero temperatures have made it virtually impossible. So we’ve been playing a lot of indoor games and practicing our commands and tricks.
Last night I had the dogs wait behind a baby gate while I hid treats around the living room. Then I let them out so they could search for them. By the 4th round, the dogs were so excited they rushed past me and the gate and made a beeline for the ones they were certain they could find easily. They were so proud of themselves when they found one it made me smile. (Of course, it may have had something to do with me cheering for them when they did.) Seeing them having fun made staying indoors just a little bit easier – on all of us.
I love being able to “do” something with them on these cold nights, but I really wish that we could be walking at the park instead. To be honest, we could all use the exercise. It’s also nice stress reliever after a long day at work. (Can someone please talk to Mother Nature about this cold spell?)
But after hearing the weather report for next week, I am starting to lose hope that we will ever leave the house again. I am desperate enough to start doing 101 Things To Do with a Box. Not a bad thing to attempt mind you, but I really would prefer a little fun in the snow too.
Things may get bad enough that I may have to resort to dressing the dogs up in costumes just to entertain them! (Okay, that last one would be purely for my enjoyment. I doubt the dogs would find it funny or entertaining.)
Are you dealing with freezing temperatures? How are you keeping your dogs busy?
Why is that when it comes to our dog’s behavior, or misbehavior, we seek the easiest solution first? I am as guilty of it as anyone else. I like to think I know better (and I really do), but I admit it, sometimes I just get lazy and choose the easy way out.
I am sure you must think my dogs are perfect, after all they look so darn adorable in those photos I share with you, but the truth is we have a little secret here at Casa del Mel (well okay, if you’re my neighbor it’s not really a secret). We have a barking problem. No, actually it’s worse than that, what we have here is a fence-charging, fence-fighting problem.
It used to be a once in a while thing, but over time, as Jasper and Lady have gotten closer, they gotten better at triggering one another with a simple look. Now, the simplest thing (a sound, a person walking by, etc.) can trigger “the look” and a race to the fence to bark and fence fight with the neighbor’s dogs behind us.
It is not a pretty sight. It’s also very annoying for both me and the neighbor. The problem is that both our dogs are outside a lot. And, both take part in the fence fighting.
So what have I tried?
- Making the dogs wait at the door before going outside – This only works until we get outside and then some sound or person triggers them and off they go again.
- Running down to where the fence fighting was occurring and try to stop the behavior after it was already in full swing – Uh yeah. Waaaay too late.
- Using a device that emits a sound only dogs can hear to stop them in mid-run to the fence – This worked on the two dogs it was meant for, but scared the bejesus out of the dog who wasn’t involved, Daisy. It made her afraid to go outside. Can you imagine how awful I felt about that one?
- Keeping one dog on a leash until they settled down outside and then letting them off leash once they were calm – See bullet number one for how well this one worked.
What I started to realize was just how little time I was spending trying to understand what was happening and why. Instead, I was focusing the majority of my time on trying to stop the behavior after it had already occurred. No wonder I had so little success.
Any good dog trainer will tell you observing a dog’s behavior can help one to understand his triggers, and in doing so, reveal a wealth of information about him and the behaviors you are seeing. Understanding a dog’s triggers can also help show you where and when to redirect them. But here I was trying to solve the problem without really observing their behavior. So that’s what I started doing first.
What did I learn by observing Lady and Jasper?
- The behavior almost always starts when Jasper and Lady get excited by something in their environment – a neighbor walking their dog, the sound of a dog barking (usually one of the fellow fence-fighters on the other side of the fence), a child running through the front yard, etc.
- In almost every case, Jasper is the one who gets the most excited by this external stimuli.
- Before the mad dash to the fence, there is a “look” exchanged between Jasper and Lady. Once this happens, there is only a second or two before redirecting the behavior is too late.
- Very rarely does Jasper engage in the actual fence fighting, but he loves to get it started.
- Lady doesn’t appear to see fence fighting as an act of aggression, but rather as a fun game.
- When outside alone, neither dog seems interested in fence fighting at all.
- If Lady can be redirected before she reaches the fence, Jasper loses all interest in the game. Jasper is much harder to redirect because food is less of a reward for him than the excitement the behavior creates (I seriously suspect he is an adrenaline junkie.)
Armed with this new information, I have now had a place to begin to start to address the issue and the resulting behaviors (let’s face it, it’s pretty hard to prevent the triggers that set Jasper off).
So what have I started to do to change the behavior?
- Train all 3 dogs to understand that the click of my clicker will yield a treat. (I have tried using a clicker in the past, but it used to scare Jasper and Daisy.)
- Retrain the dogs to “Come” and follow-up with a click and a treat.
- Increase their recall response by calling them to “come” at random moments (e.g., when they are playing or sniffing in the yard).
- Wait for that trigger to occur and use the recall to redirect Jasper and Lady to “come” to me instead of running to the fence. Often I catch them in mid-run and will get Lady to spin around and come back. Jasper is less likely of the two to respond to the recall when he is excited, so I use the recall specifically with Lady because I know that 1) Jasper has no interest in fence fighting unless Lady is there, and 2) if he sees Lady is getting a treat for following through on the “come” command, he is more likely to follow suit.
- Be more consistent. If I don’t have a treat on hand I use lost of praise, but I always use the recall command to redirect.
So far the results have been fairly successful. There are still times when the recall doesn’t work, but the more we practice, the more successes we have and the less fence fighting we see. We are a work in progress. (Now if only I could get them to stop when I have to run inside for something!)
So now I am interested in you… What things are you working on with your dogs? Have you also had an issue with fence fighting? How have you worked to resolve it? Share your training issues and successes.
Just this evening I was tweeted a blog post on the benefits of clicker training. It wasn’t the part about the benefits of clicker training that disturbed me. It was the personal story that prefaced it.
For the sake of anonymity, I am going to refrain from mentioning the blog (no links this time folks), but I will say that I am not making an overall judgement of the owner, rather pointing out the enormous responsibilty we have as dog owners to protect them at all times – from those who would do them harm whether they be a person on the street or a person who specializes in animal care or training.