Training Your Dog at Home with Me
– What to Expect.
First and foremost: I will never NEVER do or ask YOU to do anything that has the potential to hurt your relationship with your dog. This means I'll never use a punishing training method or tool on your dog, and I won't just stand there and let you do it, either... I don't use or condone the use of punishment. It's not necessary, and there's a lot of emotional negative fall-out associated with the use of punishing methods... if you're having trouble, the last thing you need is another negative trauma-inducing scenario associated with you, or your family life. So: no punishment.
New clients want to know what to expect when they sign up with me. First and foremost, this is a PARTNERSHIP – you, me and most importantly your dog (or dogs)!
One of the most common calls I get is because someone’s dog is an Overenthusiastic Greeter. Even though this is an overview of how I work with someone whose dog greets guests with the enthusiasm of an NFL defensive tackle, the process is similar, regardless of the problem.
The first step begins before I even meet your dog. First, I review the online assessment form filled out by you, which gives me background on any possible medical, nutritional, and behavioral issues. I may make suggestions about changing diet or medical testing, which should be done as soon as possible if there is aggressive or (unusual) hyperactive behavior.
Then, we’ll arrange a time to meet, usually in your home (maybe via video chat). When I go to someone's home, I pay attention to how the person is opening the door and how the dog(s) is/are reacting. The behavior that you want your dog to exhibit at the door is What You Want it to be. When I had Cis & Zoe (two LARGE Saint Bernards!), I also ran 3 businesses out of my home (and 80% of the people who came to the door were elderly), so Cis & Zoe had to have a much more refined repertoire. They had it down pat... but it took A LOT of work. Tory wasn't nearly so well-trained. I worked outside the home, and we didn't have many visitors (maybe 2 per year, sadly). Your individual life impacts what you need your dog to know.
If your dog wants to greet me, I’ll spend a few minutes seeing how he or she responds to me. Most dogs want to say “Hi!” but a dog that shies away also gives me lots of information. If your dog is shy, I’ll do some quick exercises to get him/her happy to see me.
At this point, I usually sit with you and your family to talk. We’ll discuss any problem areas, how you'd like to see them resolved, whether there are children involved (and to what degree) and how to MANAGE your dog in the meantime. I also gauge everyone’s commitment to working on the issue(s) - if the commitment level isn't there, reaching your goal is going to be a whole lot harder. I’ll also bring along articles for the whole family to read, which outline how to manage any behaviors that you have told me about in the assessment (like Greeting at the Door or Housetraining issues).
I’ll also look at areas in your home and think about possible management ideas. For example, there should be 1-2 areas set up to contain your dog but allow for "ambient attention", which means that the dog is confined for a period of time that allows others in the home to get things done but at the same time lets the dog feel like part of the family. There should also be a "chill out" area, like a crate or dog-proofed room, for times when the dog can't be supervised.
Here’s an example of the type of training we might work through together (remember, it’s a Partnership!):
Front Door Greeting - you'll need the help of a maximum of 3 people that your dog likes very, very much. Your dog likes these people FOR A REASON - these people are likely very happy to see him, and they Reward the HELL out of him just for being alive. The problem is, there are people in this world who DON'T like dogs jumping on them, slobbering on them, and freaking out in general. So, for NOW, it's important to use these "Liked People" to teach your dog how to greet EVERYONE... and this means that the Liked People have to tone down their normal behavior with your dog. Put a sign on your front door that says "My Dog is Learning Manners... DON'T TOUCH HIM until all 4 feet (or his butt, if that's your goal) are on the floor!!" If you allow the Liked People to behave as they normally would with your dog, then they'll teach him that this behavior is okay with Everyone.
Managing Behavior - Until your dog is politely greeting people at the door, we’ll need to MANAGE his or her behavior, so that he can't resort to his usual over the top enthusiastic behavior. One of the ways to do this is to use a Stationary Board. If there's a door nearby (maybe a closet at the front entry), attach a leash to a 2-foot length of 2"x4" so your dog doesn’t have access to the guest. The Stationary Board can also be moved to other locations in the home where this kind of management might be needed.
More Than One Dog? What happens if you have two dogs? I recommend going through these incremental exercises individually with each dog for the first week, then moving to multiples, adding 1 dog in each week. Every time you add something new into the mix (like another dog) you change the environment so that it needs to be repeated so the dogs learn the Same Rule apply regardless of the number of dogs.
Praise is Good, Treats are Better! Any change in your dog’s behavior is not going to happen overnight! If your dog has been repeating this behavior over and over and over and over, it’s going to take a little time for him or her to understand there’s a new set of rules. But we can speed up the process by giving him or her a Paycheck in the form of REWARDS!
You’re probably thinking “wait, isn’t that bribery? My dog should do something because (s)he loves me!” Your dog loves you very much. Your dog also loves treats. Think of it as a Paycheck for your dog for a job well done. More importantly, once your dog learns that NOT jumping, slobbering or barking when a guest shows up gets him pets AND treats, he’ll be “four on the floor” or “butt on the floor” with gusto!
Now we want a Good Dog, not a little Butterball. So, to manage his calorie intake during training, I suggest the following:
Stop feeding your dog out of a bowl, or only feed half rations while working on this. Split the dog's meal in 2: half goes in his bowl, half into a zippered bag for treats later. Dice up a hotdog and mix it into the kibble, to raise the value of the kibble. It's also good to microwave this baggie for 20-30 seconds to spread the hotdog juices into the kibble, which raises the value further.
While training, and *especially* if there is aggressive behavior involved, I do NOT concern myself with whether or not the dog might gain a pound or 2 during training. These couple of pounds can be addressed when the dog has learned alternative ways to resolve conflict. In fact, I would replace the kibble in the bag with the Absolute Best Food the dog has ever imagined for these exercises, regardless of the calorie content. When working on the minor stuff (sit, down, retrieve) use the hot dog kibble... when working on the more important stuff, use the Good Stuff to reinforce. Don't take chances. Arm yourself to win.
“But”, you’re thinking to yourself, “this is going to take so much time!” Believe or not, it actually won’t (and remember, we’re aiming for results that last a lifetime!). Here’s a Sample Training Schedule:
Week 1: For the first week, work with your dog for 5 minutes every hour. It's okay to do more sessions than this, but this is the bare minimum. I would keep the sessions to 5-6 minutes in length, so that he's always wanting more.
Start with no more than 3 people that your dog Likes Very Much. For this first week, its important to use the same people, over and over! Start with a single person at the door, then as your dog calms down, moving to 2 or more people at the door. For the first few exercises, your dog will respond as always, until he starts to understand that "this behavior is rewarded" versus "this behavior is NOT rewarded". Over time, and with repetition of these exercises, the dog will calm down and actually start to act bored with the whole thing... THIS is HIGHLY REWARDABLE BEHAVIOR!! It's okay to show the dog how happy you are, and to reinforce heavily with the food rewards. When he's consistently bored to see the next guest, you’ll know that it's time to progress to the next step in the exercises.
Week 2: You’ll be doing exactly the same thing as in Week 1 but now you’ll be using 3 NEW people that your dog Likes Very Much, in addition to the old ones. Start with the old liked people for a minute or 2, then the new people for a minute or 2. Don’t’ be surprised if your dog goes back to being an Overenthusiastic Greeter – you’ve just changed the environment, and dogs do not generalize very well. This week, your dog is learning it’s the Same Rules regardless of which Liked Person is at the door! Just like in Week 1, start with a single person at the door, then move to 2 or more people at the door as his responses start to look more like what your goal behavior is.
Week 3, Depending on how well your dog is responding to the exercises at this point, you can either pick 3 new people that your dog Likes Very Much, or you can pick 3 people your dog knows but isn't overtly happy to see (note that I didn't say "doesn't like"... "isn't overtly happy to see" is different from "doesn't like"). If your dog looks unsure when one of these “new but not overtly happy to see” people knocks at the door, you can pair these people with the Liked People from the last 2 exercises. Do this when the dog is HUNGRY, like 10 minutes before meal time, and use the best treats available. Your goal here is calm, happy behavior that doesn't overwhelm anyone at the front door. Again, your dog may go back to his/her original behavior for the first few times, but that’s okay! Remember, you’ve just changed the environment again and your dog needs to learn even in this NEW environment, it’s still the Same Rules!
This is Important! In Week 3, if you’re choosing someone your dog knows but isn’t overtly happy to see, it’s important to choose someone your dog already knows. If your dog has never met, or is nervous to meet, a child, someone with a walking device, a person of color, little girls in Brownie uniforms, someone carrying an umbrella or someone wearing big, mirrored sunglasses, this is not the time to make that introduction! He's still learning the behavior expected at the door - he's not learning behavior with people he's never met yet.
So there you have it. Three weeks of commitment on your part for results that can last a lifetime. Think how many weeks you’ve already spent wrangling an overexcited pup Every Single Time the doorbell rings or someone knocks. Probably more than three weeks, right?
This is not the end unless you want it to be. You SHOULD continue at least doing 'spot checks' your dog AND making sure that the people coming to the door know the rules too so they are not accidentally undermining your work. This will ensure that your DOG knows the rules too.
Get online Video Chat help with this, and lots of other behaviors!