Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Speed Bumps and Learning Curves

Well, not only did the shelter initially get Luke’s sex wrong, but their prediction that he was approximately 3 years-old turned out to be way off, too.  According to Dr. Ellis at Animal Care Clinic, Luke is actually only around 11 months-old!  Yes, ladies and gentleman, it appears that Justin and I have ourselves another puppy (not that we’re complaining).  The vet said that he’s very healthy, and he’s scheduled to receive more vaccinations, as well as be neutered, in about three weeks. 

While Luke’s lack of appetite worried me for the first few days, we’re learning that he just doesn’t like to inhale his entire bowl of food in one sitting like his sisters.  He prefers to eat his food a little bit at a time, although we do have to make sure that Margot doesn’t sneak and finish off his bowl of food in between sittings.   I’m just happy that he is finally eating better, and I’m sure he’s going to fatten up a little in no time. 

Overall, Luke is a very good boy, although there are a couple of issues that we’re trying to address with him.  The first issue is the fact that he jumps up to greet people.  Chad, who is a vet tech at the Animal Care Clinic and also teaches obedience training there, told us during Luke’s check-up that the best thing to do for that is raise our knee and hold up our hands whenever Luke jumps, and of course reward him if he sits instead of jumping.  We’ve been doing that, but our little Luke just doesn’t seem to be getting it.  He is definitely a smart dog, but he does seem to be a little bit slower to pick up on things than we’re used to.  So, Justin and I are just going to have to be a little more patient when trying to train him, that’s all.

In fact, his inability to “get it” is the other issue we’re having with Luke.  No many how many times I give him a quick touch to try to correct him, he immediately comes right back and repeats his bad behavior again.  The worst is when he tries to run out onto the porch as soon as we open the front door.  Despite his short stature, Luke is a pretty powerful little dog and will just keep trying to barrel through our attempts to keep him back and away from the door.  He will even lower himself all the way to the floor and stick a paw or his nose in the doorway so that we can’t shut it.  I know that sounds kind of funny, and I do at least have enough of a sense of humor to appreciate Luke’s sneaky tactics, but it’s also very dangerous for Luke and quite annoying for us when we’re trying to leave. 

This morning, I decided to practice more of Cesar Millan’s methods by trying to wait until Luke achieved a fully calm-submissive state before I even opened the front door.  Unfortunately, I can tell that it will take quite a long time for Luke to achieve that state of mind, and I only had a few minutes before I had to be at work.  Regardless, instead of just opening the door and fighting Luke off so that I could shut it behind me, I first walked to the front door and just put my hand on the doorknob.  As soon as Luke came into my space, I turned around, gave him a quick touch, and told him, “No.”  When he immediately moved forward again, I repeated the correction.  After I did this several times, he did finally stop moving forward.  So, I took a step toward him to further claim my space around the front door.  He looked me right in the eyes and backed up a step, which was good.  Then, I stood there and waited, and Luke finally sat.  However, his attention was still clearly focused on the door.  If I had had more time this morning, I would have continued standing there and claiming my space (not allowing him to move closer to the front door) until he finally laid down and relaxed.  Then, it would have been okay for me to walk out the front door. 

However, due to lack of time, after Luke sat and I stood there for a moment, I decided to go ahead and reach back for the door knob.  As soon as I did, Luke lunged forward towards the door again.  I was able to correct him enough so that I was able to get out the front door, but in order to shut the door I had to physically push Luke away with my foot, which made me feel awful.   So, I’m definitely going to work on this problem with Luke more when I have plenty of time to practice patience with him, as well.

While I’m on the subject of behaviors that need correcting, Miss Margot has developed a new behavior that is very disappointing.  She’s begun pulling on her leash during walks, which she never used to do before, and this has only developed over this past winter.  (Luke is a dream to walk on his leash, by the way.  He stays right by your side, and if he starts to pull even a little bit, he corrects himself.)  I’ve tried correcting Margot by giving her leash a quick jerk and making the “anh!” sound, but all she does is spin around for a brief second, and then continue to pull.  I’ve also tried stopping dead in my tracks as soon as she pulls and making her stand there with me for a few seconds before walking again.  The problem is that, even though we’ve stopped walking, she is still in a very high-alert state of mind.  Justin and I have both attempted to snap her out of it by trying to get Margot to look us in the eye and even sit during these pauses on our walks, but she absolutely will not pay attention to us.  In fact, she acts like we’re just in her way if we try to look her in the eye, and she’ll keep moving her head around to see what’s behind us.  I’ve also tried doing that thing that Cesar does, where he kind of taps the dog on their hindquarters with his foot while they’re walking to surprise the dog and snap her out of their anxious state of mind, but when I do this with Margot, it just ends up looking like I’m kicking my dog, and it doesn’t even work anyway.   So, now I’m considering buying one of those leashes that Cesar recommends that fits right up under the dog’s chin.   Something has got to work because it’s getting to the point where I don’t even want to walk Margot, even though I know I have to.  So, it’s starting to feel more like a chore to take her for a walk rather than an enjoyable experience for both of us, and I don’t want that.
Justin and I decided to take all three dogs out for a couple of walks this past weekend, which went fairly well.  The first walk was better than the second walk, though, and I cut the second walk short out of frustration.  During their first walk together, I started out walking both Sam and Margot and let Justin walk Luke because Sam and Margot are the two “pullers,” and I feel like they respect me as an authority figure more than they do Justin (no offense to Justin, but he’s just too tender-hearted and gentle to really demand their respect the way that I do).  However, Sam was actually being very well behaved and not pulling on her leash at all, and because Margot was turning into quite the handful, Justin offered to walk Sam with Luke.  That turned out to be a much better arrangement, because Luke and Sam were excellent walkers together.

So, yesterday, when we decided to walk all three of them again, Justin took Sam and Luke and I took Margot.  I want to preface this by adding that I had just come back from a four-hour photo shoot, which was fun, but a bit nerve-racking for various reasons.  So, my nerves were already a bit frazzled when we decided to go for a walk, which probably didn’t help make Sam and Margot feel any more relaxed.   However, the main problem was that there were a lot more people and dogs out at the park yesterday, so Margot and Sam were both at higher states of excitement and energy than the day before.  (Notice I’m not mentioning Luke because he remained a calm, happy dog during both pack walks.)   I tried to pause several times during the walk, taking deep breaths each time to try to release my own anxious energy, but as soon as we’d start walking again, it would come right back.   

Sam’s energy was more of a nervous/scared/anxious energy, which is very typical for her, whereas Margot seemed to have more of a high level of alertness and excitement in general, as in, “What’s that?  Who’s that over there?  Where is he going?  Why is she running?  What are those people doing?”  Whenever Sam and Margot would come close to another dog, however, they would both lunge and pull to get to the dog, but for different very reasons.  I believe that Margot is truly just very excited and simply wants to meet the other dog to see if he/she is friendly and wants to play, but Sam barks out of fear and actually wants to make the dog go away.   So, the owners of the dog in question don’t really know what to think or how to react to our dogs, and the whole time Justin and I are trying to yell over all the barking to explain to the other owners that Margot really is just trying to be friendly, and Sam really isn’t being aggressive towards their dog; she’s just nervous and barking because she’s scared.   In other words, every time Sam and Margot encounter an unfamiliar dog, it always ends up being just this huge, loud, chaotic, embarrassing mess, and it always ends with Justin and me having to pull Sam and Margot away from the other dog in order to restore the peace.  It really bothers me because not only is it physically exhausting and embarrassing, but I feel like it makes Sam and Margot look like they’re both aggressive towards other dogs, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. 

The thing is, Justin and I both feel that if Sam and Margot were to encounter an unfamiliar dog by themselves, without her sister there, those two encounters would be much different.  Margot would still get excited and want to meet the other dog, but without Sam constantly barking behind her and making the other dog nervous and unsure about what’s going on, that other dog would probably just let Margot sniff him/her and reciprocate.  In turn, if Sam were to encounter another dog without Margot there being all excited and anxious to meet the other dog, Sam would probably just keep her mouth shut and go out of her way to avoid the dog all together.   

So, unfortunately, it seems like the solution is pretty clear:  Margot and Sam shouldn’t go on walks together; at least, not in heavily dog-populated areas, like the park.   However, if we decide to walk Sam and Margot at separate times, I do think that it might be a good idea to still include Luke on both of those walks because I think he sets a good example for both girls.  Luke’s main focus during walks is following me and/or Justin.  He truly sees us as his leaders, and he behaves accordingly.  As I said before, he walks right by our sides, and we’re able to keep his leash loose and relaxed the whole time.  Occasionally, Luke will walk ahead a little bit, especially if he’s trying to keep up with his sisters, but as soon as he feels tension on his leash, he automatically slows his pace and/or returns to our side.  Justin and I both suspect that Luke would probably be able to walk with us without a leash, but it’s definitely too soon to test that theory.  I wouldn’t want to try walking him without a leash until he’s undergone some formal training and I feel confident that he’ll come when he’s called.

Anyway, despite everything that I just mentioned above, which are all correctable behaviors, Justin and I are really happy that we decided to adopt Luke.  Not only do he and Margot get along very well, but Sam has finally relaxed around him and doesn’t get as upset anymore whenever Luke and Margot start rough-housing.  Also, just as I had hoped, Margot now prefers to pick on Luke instead of Sam because she knows that Luke will be happy to play with her.  Besides wrestling, Luke and Margot’s favorite games are Keep-Away and Tug-O-War. 

My favorite is when they start chasing each other around the living room, kitchen, and dining room, which are all open and connected rooms, so it’s kind of like they’re running around a track.  They’ll run in that circle a few times, and then one of them will stop and wait for the other one to catch up.  However, if Luke hears Margot stop, for example, then he’ll stop, too, and then they will both slowly sneak around and peek into the next room, hoping to catch the other by surprise.  When one of them finally does surprise the other, then they get all excited and start chasing each other again.  It’s really fun and heartwarming to watch, because that’s the type of high-energy playing that I know Sam just can’t (and doesn’t want to) do anymore. 

So, overall, I believe that everyone is much happier now that Luke has joined the family.  Sure, we’ve got a few wrinkles to iron out, but that was to be expected, and honestly, it could have been a lot worse!

No comments:

Post a Comment