Friday, September 19, 2008

Puppies and Behavioural Therapy

Dr. X said something interesting to me in my session yesterday when I was telling him about how my new cute little puppy and I are doing. I was explaining that I was taking a bit of an authoritarian approach with the him (the dog...not Dr.X ;>)

From my perspective it is better, and more manageable, to begin to set clear boundaries and expectations with a puppy who is 22.5 lbs, than to try to get an 80lb dog to change it's behaviour, or do what you want it to do

When I say "authoritarian"...I don't mean my Dad style, scare the crap out of you so you never make a mistake type treatment. That kept me in line while my Dad was watching, or if there was a possibility I would get caught, but left with difficult to control wild streak the second I left home.

With my puppy I am setting clear boundaries and using praise, not punishment, and a few other techniques that really work. I believe in the idea that dogs are pack animals and still maintain many of the behaviours of pack animals. In keeping with that I believe every pack has a leader, its Alpha dog. The job of the Alpha is to protect the pack and ensure it continues to exist and flourish. That's my job

It is up to me to establish my being the Alpha while little puppy is still a little puppy vs. a big dog . I do not want an 80lb boxer trying to become the head of our pack. My husband really should be second in line...but he is not being as consistent as I think he needs to be

Anyways, I have had the puppy a week and he is smart with a streak of stubbornness in him, but here are some tricks I've learned...and it really works. (I got some of these out of the "Puppies for Dummies" know those yellow and black books that teach you all kinds of things. Some of these books are very good (the drawing one is great) and they are easy to read if you have difficulty reading, or with concentration, because you can just read snippets of sections to get really clear ideas. Other things I learned from my Dad when he trained and worked with police dogs

First thing that is going well. I have established a "potty" place and am teaching him to pee/poo on command. He pretty much has it down. I just repeat, go pee, or go poo...and the important not look at them, ignore them while you say soon as I stopped looking at him ...he began to go. The idea is that an Alpha would not keep looking back on the pack. They LEAD the pack. This idea is great because it is easy to cleanup after the dog

Second thing I have taught him...and he's REALLY good at it, is to heel. I immediately insisted the puppy either walk behind me or directly to the left of me. if he tries to move ahead I just give him a bit of a quick tug, reposition him and walk a bit faster. Within two days he was walking slack leashed beside or behind me MOST of the time...a few little hierarchy takeover attempts, but a polite correction by me and a hug and "good boy" when he gets back into formation and we are off again

The other thing I learned about this behaviour is that if you walk ahead with confidence, even continuing walking if they sit down, they catch up quickly, because they want to be near just keep walking if they stop and they will follow

The coolest thing is that today, because he was so good at heeling I took out my bike and taught him how to run beside me on my bike through the blueberry field. We did a few slowish, short runs, because young puppies shouldn't be exercised to much, but he was awesome at it. We had great fun.

I am teaching him to sit when a car comes in the driveway, and when someone approaches us. Both for the safety of the dog, but also for the people. There is nothing I hate more than an adult dog who jumps up on you when they greet you. 20lb puppy...sort of cute jumping up to say hello...80lb dog doing the same thing a disaster waiting to happen

All the stuff I am teaching him are like games to him. He's sucking it all up like a sponge and loves the attention he gets when he "gets" a command.

Lastly, one of the first things I read was to introduce your puppy to as many sounds: loud, shrill, sharp, annoying etc, as you can before they are 16 weeks. So I have been doing that in the house with the vacuum cleaner, the hairdryer, mixer, etc.

I learned yesterday that if your puppy is scared of a noise, or scared of something the last thing you are supposed to do is bend down, pet the dog, make eye contact and reassure him. (Which is definitely what you have the urge to do...i.e."Oh poor puppy, its okay" ) This places you (in the dogs eyes) in a subordinate position, where now it's his job to protect you. It can lead to a over protective dog, which can lead to aggressive behaviour.

Instead, you are supposed to pull the dog on the lead closer to you. Place the puppy between your legs, hold them slightly tight between your legs (this reassures them that you will protect an Alpha would), stand tall, remain calm and say good boy/girl in a calm, firm voice, while the noise or thing scaring him goes on.

I was skeptical of this one, but today when I took my bike out it needed to be washed (I haven't ridden it in years years..argh! The noise of the power hose spray freaked the puppy out, so I left the hose on, went over to him and put him between my legs, stood tall, no eye contact, acting like the noise was not significant. He immediately sat down. I returned to hosing of my bike and he sat there super calm, no longer afraid of the noise.

It happened again when I took out the air compressor to pump up my tires. I did the same thing and "voila" he could have cared less about the sound after that.

This whole post does actually have something to do with my mood disorder, or at least some of the symptoms and behaviours I have that feed my depression. One of them is difficulty being an authority figure. I am always afraid I will be rejected, or not cared for, or thought as mean, or uncaring. Afraid I will be unloved. This has greatly affected me in the jobs I have had, because each promotion brought on more 'authority" which to be became synonymous with stress and isolation.

The interesting thing Dr. X. pointed out was that this puppy training is great behavioural therapy for me to practice being the authority figure in a way that is loving and respectful, but also ensures I get what I am requesting and still remain cared for.

He's right. In one week I have taught the puppy a lot, but he has taught me that he loves me even more when he knows what is expected of him.

Oh yeah...note to self: the bike ride and running made for a much calmer dog this evening. Keep this up. We both need the exercise.

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