Monday, March 11, 2013

Some Progress (For All of Us)

I’m happy to say that a lot of progress has been made since the last time I blogged, although more so with Luke than with Margot.  Margot is still pulling on her leash when we go for walks.  We have now tried two different “no pull” harnesses - one that goes underneath her legs and clips on her back so that when she pulls, it pulls up under her legs, and a different one that also runs underneath her front legs, but the leash clips in the front, which is supposed to make it more difficult for her to pull. 

Well, the first “no pull” harness seemed to have little to no effect on her pulling.  I had very high hopes for the second harness because I had watched several YouTube videos about it and the fact that the leash clips on the front of the harness, rather than on top of her back, seemed to be the key to making the dogs on the video stop pulling.  Well, with Margot, it just made her walk funny and I could tell she was extremely uncomfortable.  In my research about this particular harness, I read several negative reviews from people who said that their dog’s armpits were rubbed raw when they used it, and that is definitely where I could tell Margot was feeing uncomfortable.  We didn’t even make it to the end of the block before I decided to take her back home and take it off of her. 

I remembered that I still had Lexie’s old metal choke chain, which she really just wore because my late husband thought it made her look tough, so I decided to give that a try with Margot.  Mind you, I hate the idea of choke chains (even saying the name “choke chain” makes me cringe), but I thought it would be worth a shot since none of the three harnesses Margot had tried had worked.  In addition to the choke chain, I also grabbed the cheap nylon leash that they gave us when we brought Luke home from the pound, because I’ve seen Cesar Millan use those on his show when teaching people how to adjust the collar up high, right under the dog’s ears. 

Well, Margot did not like having that leash up under her ears like that and managed to shake it off once, but I could tell that it did have a positive effect on her ability to pull while walking.  The problem is that, in order to keep the leash up in that high position under her ears, I have to physically hold the other end of the leash up high over her head, or else it just falls down around her neck where her collar sits.  Not only does that feel awkward and look silly to walk her with my hand held up over her head like that, but that also creates constant tension on the leash, which is the exact opposite of the goal we’re trying to achieve.  So, I gave up on the nylon lead and tried walking her using the choke chain, but again, if I relaxed my arm during the walk, the chain slid down lower on her neck, and then it literally choked her when she pulled.  I couldn’t stand listening to her choking herself, and I also didn’t want to walk her with my arm up over her head, as though I was walking a marionette puppet dog, so I took her back home again and just decided to use the “no pull” harness that clips on top of her back.  Even though it doesn’t stop her from pulling, it seemed to be the best option given everything else we had tried. 

I returned the front-clip harness to Petco that afternoon and bought another collar that fits around her neck, but it is designed to distribute pressure evenly if the dog pulls.  I decided to try this collar because I do believe that leading Margot by her head rather than from her back is more effective.  However, the collar I bought isn’t designed to stop or discourage pulling, but I just figured I might as well give it a shot since I’ve pretty much tried everything else.   Cesar Millan also makes a collar that is designed to sit up high underneath the dog’s ears, but it is around $45, and the reviews I read on Amazon were mixed enough that I don’t feel comfortable spending that much money just yet. 

As I was exchanging the front-clip harness for the new collar at Petco, the lady at the register said, “Did this harness not work out for you?”  I told her that, unfortunately, it did not and that I was almost at my wit’s end trying to find a solution to Margot’s pulling problem.  The lady then gave me a few quick suggestions, and I could immediately tell that her training methods were right in line with the type of Cesar-like training methods that I prefer.  So, I then asked if she had any advice about how to stop Luke from jumping up to greet people, just to see what she’d say.  Admittedly, I was kind of testing her to see if she’d suggest Cesar’s method of turning my back and ignoring Luke when he jumps, or the other methods that I’m against, which include anything that involves making verbal or physical contact with the dog while he’s performing the bad behavior.   So, I was very pleased when the first advice she gave was to turn my back if Luke jumps, and then she said that instead of raising a knee to block the dog whenever he rears up, she prefers to just give a little bump with her hip as she’s turning away from the dog.  

Since this nice lady passed my little test with flying colors, I asked about signing Luke up for her obedience classes.  She’s going to begin obedience classes at Petco starting March 21, and Justin and I are planning to take Luke!  We debated briefly about whether we should take Luke or Margot to the class, as they both have behaviors that require some correcting, but ultimately we decided that the best option is probably to give Luke the formal training, and then we can just apply what we learn in class to Margot’s training at home.   My reason for this decision is mainly because I feel like I’ve already established a good line of communication with Margot, as we’ve had her since she was 6 weeks old and she knows my body language very well.  I can just give her a look, and she knows immediately that I want her to sit and/or stop doing whatever she’s doing at that moment.  Luke, on the other hand, has been with us for less than a month, and even though I’m very pleased with how far he’s come already, I feel like we’re still trying to figure out how to communicate with each other.  He doesn’t always pick up on my “looks” the way that Margot does, but overall I’ve come to realize that Luke just learns differently than Margot, or even Lexie, Jocie, and Sam. 

With my girls, they have always responded well to commands and negative sounds, like the “Anh!” sound that I tend to make when I don’t like a behavior and want them to stop.  Luke, on the other hand, seems to respond better to more nonverbal communication.  For example, when we first noticed the problem he had with wanting to dart out the door every time we tried to leave, my first instinct was to yell, “No!  Back!” and even push him away from the door.  With my girls, that would have been enough because they understand that those commands and that push mean that I do not want them to continue advancing towards the door.  However, I realized very quickly that, for Luke, yelling, “No! Back!” may as well have been like yelling, “Yay!  Fun!” and pushing him away from the door was like initiating a game of “You Push Me Away, and Then I Come Back!”  

So, as I mentioned in my last blog post, I decided to take a completely different approach with Luke and finally put all of those hours of watching “The Dog Whisperer” to the test.  I decided to try communicating to Luke what behavior I wanted from him through my body language and the energy I was projecting towards him.  I know that may sound a little “new age” for some people, but I can tell you from this experience that it is totally legit.  The main thing I had to get across to Luke was that, whenever I’m at the front door and getting ready to leave, that is MY space, and he is not allowed to invade my space unless I invite him to do so.  So, I pretended like I was getting ready to walk out the front door, and as soon as Luke ran towards me, I turned around, snapped my fingers, and made the “Anh!” sound.  I stood my ground, looking him right in the eye, and then I took a small step forward, forcing him to take a small step back.  If he tried to move around me, I simply stepped to that side to block his advancement towards the door, and I continued to stand my ground.   I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when Luke finally sat and I realized that Cesar’s methods were actually working!  I didn’t stop there, though.  I knew that Luke was supposed to reach a fully calm-submissive state before I could try to walk out the door again, so I continued to be patient and wait.   It took a while, but Luke finally laid down at my feet; however, his tail was still wagging, which told me that he was still in an excited state and not yet calm-submissive.  So, again, I simply stood there and waited, until finally his tail stopped wagging and his overall body language told me that he had given up wanting to dart for the front door.   At that point, I turned and opened the front door, still half-expecting Luke to jump up, but to my shock and amazement, he simply laid there and watched me walk out the door! 

What is truly shocking is the fact that, after that ONE training session with Luke, he has never tried to dart out the front door since then.  He’s like a completely different dog!  Not only am I extremely proud of him and even myself for being so patient during that exercise, but it showed me that Luke isn’t “slow” at all.  As I said before, that experience made me realize that Luke simply learns differently than what I’m used to.   His training may require more patience on my part, but I’m confident now that Luke is more than capable of being trained.

Now, with that said, we’re still trying to figure out how to make Luke understand that we do not want him to jump up to greet people.  I was getting really frustrated with this about a week ago because nothing seemed to be working.  Since I previously learned that the worst thing we can do is make verbal and physical contact with Luke while he’s misbehaving, I’ve decided the best training method is to give him the exact opposite of what he wants whenever he jumps, which is to ignore him and turn away from him.  While I have seen some progress, it still takes several times of turning your back to Luke before he finally gets it and sits down.  The frustrating part, though, is that after he sits and I’m finally able to praise him, as soon as I stand up, he jumps right back up on me.  I always immediately turn my back on him again and repeat that whole process, but it just doesn’t stop.  After I praise him for sitting, he jumps right back up! 

For a while, I was beginning to think that this method may not be effective after all, but we’ve just started noticing in the last couple of days that Luke isn’t jumping up as much to greet strangers or our friends as much.  In fact, yesterday we took him over to our friend, Mandee’s, house where a bunch of our friends were hanging out, and I actually saw Luke sit to greet my friend, Shane!  I couldn’t believe it!  I was so happy and proud of Luke at that moment, I could have burst!   Of course, with that said, I also saw him jump on a couple of people, too, so obviously there is still work to be done, but at least I have more hope now that he will eventually stop jumping.

Speaking of yesterday, can I just say that I had the BEST weekend?!?!  The weather was GORGEOUS, and Luke and Margot got to go to the dog park on both Saturday and Sunday!  I have to admit, I wasn’t sure how either of them would do at the dog park.  For one, Margot has grown up a LOT since the last time she was there, and I wondered if she would still be as friendly towards all the other dogs as she was before she hit puberty.  Secondly, I wondered how Luke would do since he’s a male and he had also never been to the dog park before.  I didn’t know if he would be aggressive and/or try to dominate any of the other dogs.

Well, to my great relief, both Margot and Luke were perfect angels, and there weren’t any problems at all with any of the other dogs.  In fact, Margot was the same little social butterfly that she was last fall, and Luke was also really good at making new friends, both human and canine.   As for Miss Sam, we still plan to take her out on our pack walks, but after four very unsuccessful trips to the dog park with her in the past, we’ve learned that the dog park just isn’t Sam’s thing. 

Anyway, like I said, we all had a fantastic weekend, and I’m very pleased with the progress that Luke has been making.  Even though Margot hasn’t made as much progress yet on her pulling issue, I’m certainly not going to give up.  I think she’s just going to require a little one-on-one attention for a while, taking her out on walks by herself and really focusing on training, not just correcting. 

The most important thing I’m learning from raising not one, but now TWO puppies is that patience and consistency are both extremely important.   It’s so easy to become frustrated, especially when I’m walking Margot and she’s pulling me non-stop, despite the fact that she’s wearing a $30 “no-pull” harness that I’ve seen work for all kind of other dogs on the Internet, but I’m learning that my frustration is actually counterproductive because dogs really do respond to the type of energy that you project.   So, in other words, Margot and Luke aren’t the only ones in training right now.  Apparently, Mama’s got some work to do, too. 

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