Friday, July 5, 2013

Premature Obedience Training Review

Margot’s mood and behavior have improved a good deal since my last post.  Luke has been sleeping on the couch with her at night and, so far, we’ve only had one incident of destruction.  I went downstairs one morning last week to find that they had ripped all of the stuffing out of one of our throw pillows, and there was blue stuffing EVERYWHERE!  This isn’t the first time they’ve done this, though.  I purchased four of these throw pillows several months ago when we bought our new sofa, and they’ve been ripping them apart one by one.  We now only have one pillow left.  I’m not upset about it, though.  I mean, they were nice pillows, but pillows are replaceable.  Besides, I’d much rather they destroy throw pillows than my new sofa cushions. 

Anyway, I’ve stuck to my guns about not adopting a third dog right now, and Justin seems to be okay with that decision…for now.   I know he would love to go get a third dog right now if I would let him, but I keep telling him to just hold his horses and try to look forward to having a new puppy in a few years instead.  I think the fact that Margot hasn’t been acting as sad lately is part of the reason why Justin has stopped bringing up the subject of getting a third dog.  We’ve also been watching Frank a lot lately (Zach and Kristy are currently on a camping trip), so it kind of feels like we have three dogs right now, anyway. 

So, the main reason I’m posting today is to talk about Margot’s obedience classes.  As you may recall, I gave a 6-week review after she graduated from the first half of her 12-week course at Petco.  At that point, I said that I recommended the first six-weeks of classes , especially to new dog owners, because they teach some pretty basic, yet important, commands and lay a good foundation for building your dog’s ability to learn and follow more advanced commands.  I still stand by that recommendation; however, I don’t think I’m going to be so eager to recommend the second six weeks of training classes, and certainly not the full12-week package.   Mind you, we still have three classes left before Margot graduates the full 12-week course, so it’s possible that my opinion could change over the next three weeks, but as of right now, I would recommend taking only the first six weeks of classes.

The main reason why I’m not so thrilled about the second half of obedience training classes is because 12 weeks is a LONG time to keep going back to Petco week after week.  Quite frankly, we’re burnt out.  Not only that, but it doesn’t feel like we’re really learning anything new anymore.  We didn’t go to class a couple of weeks ago because we were grieving Sam, so I thought we were going to have to arrange a make-up class or something.  However, it turns out that the only thing they learned that week was “wait,” which is almost exactly the same command as “leave it,” only it involves walking through a doorway instead of leaving a toy on the floor.  We open the door, then body-block Margot so she can’t run through the doorway, and we give the command, “Wait!”  Then, eventually, we stop body-blocking her, but only if she’s not trying to run through the door.  Finally, after she’s waited for a few seconds, you give her the release command and let her go through.  We tried it for the first time at Petco last week, and Margot got it right away.  So, I told Claire that I didn’t see the need for us to schedule a make-up class, if that’s all they went over. 

During the first six weeks, we would learn two to three new commands at each class and barely went over anything we learned at the previous class.  Every now and then, Claire would have a sort of pop quiz to see if we’ve been working on the commands learned in the previous classes, but then we always moved on.  During this six weeks, however, it feels like all we do is go over everything we’ve already learned, and we only learn maybe one new command per class now.  Sometimes, we don’t even learn a new command, we just sort of expand on one that we’ve already learned.  For example, I believe that today Claire is going to have us give the “sit” and “stay” commands to our dogs from the other end of the aisle, instead of while standing right in front of them.  I guess that’s a good thing to practice, but that seems like something we should just be working on at home.  I would rather Margot learn an entirely new command, rather than just keep doing the ones she already knows backwards and forwards. 

The reason why we initially purchased the 12-week package was because it was slightly cheaper than if we had purchased each six weeks of courses separately.  Plus, with the 12-week package you also receive two one-on-one sessions with Claire.  We’ve already used one of our one-on-one sessions, during which we practiced leash walking, but I can honestly say that it was only mildly helpful.  Don’t get me wrong, Claire is great.  She’s very supportive, and she truly cares about helping us train our dogs.  I will also say that Margot walked on her leash much better during our one-on-one training session with Claire than she does when it’s just me, her, and Justin, but I just didn’t feel like I learned anything new or made a real break-through with Margot as a result of that one-on-one session. 

I don’t know.  Like I said, maybe I should wait until we actually complete the last few classes before I give my final recommendation, but that’s just how I’m feeling right now.  At this point, if I had it to do over again, I would have only purchased the first six weeks of classes.

The "Third Dog" Debate

[Note:  This was supposed to be posted about a week ago, but I just discovered that apparently I forgot to click Publish.  Oops!]

After much thought and discussion, I’m more against the idea of adopting a third dog right now.   Well, let me rephrase that:  I’m more against the idea of adopting our third dog from an animal shelter without knowing anything about the dog first, like we did with Luke.  Don’t get me wrong, we hit the doggy JACKPOT when we adopted Luke, but we were extremely lucky.  Luke could have easily turned out to be an aggressive dog or have any number of other behavioral issues, which is the chance you take when you decide to adopt from an animal shelter.  

To further clarify, pound puppies are wonderful, loving, loyal dogs that need homes, and I strongly urge everyone to adopt from their local shelters if possible, but shelter dogs may not always the best choice for certain situations.  If mine and Justin’s current situation was different, I would not hesitate to adopt another dog from our local shelter. However, with two very energetic pups already in the house, I have developed a specific list of criteria that I would require from a third dog, if we ever do adopt one, which are as follows:

1.       Our third dog should be at least 3 to 5 years-old.  After losing Lexie, Jocie, and Sam in the span of less than a year, I swore I’d never have multiple dogs that were so close in age ever again.  Unfortunately, Luke did not turn out to be the 3 year-old dog that the shelter employee originally told us he was, and so now I have two puppies who are almost exactly the same age. 
2.       The third dog should have a lower-energy, more laid back type of personality.   I’m not saying that the dog should never play or get excited, but since I’ve already got two puppies who are constantly wrestling and chasing each other around the house, it would be nice if the third dog preferred to just watch their antics rather than join in.
3.       The dog has to be extremely socialized and not aggressive towards people or other animals under any circumstance.  I know this seems like a pretty standard, “no duh” type of criteria, but aggression is a personality trait that is sometimes difficult to see when you first adopt a dog from the shelter.  You might fall in love with a dog at the pound because he’s extremely friendly towards you, but then, after you’ve brought him home, you find out that your new dog tends to show aggression towards unfamiliar men or becomes aggressive at mealtimes.  
4.       Although this is not a deal-breaker, I would love it if the third dog was a cuddler so that Margot could have a new cuddle buddy to sleep with.

The way I see it, the only way Justin and I can be sure that a dog meets all of these criteria is to adopt one that has either been in a foster home for a while, or one who is looking for a new home because the current owner can no longer keep him/her.   That way, the previous owner or foster parent can tell us from firsthand experience what the dog’s personality is like.  A shelter dog’s true personality is usually only discovered after the dog has lived with you for a while, and I’m just not in a position right now to be able to work with a dog with any behavioral issues.   Plus, I’m afraid of bringing home a dog who might act aggressively towards Margot and/or Luke at some point.

With all of that said, I’m still not 100% certain that I even want a third dog right now.  Margot and Luke are so awesome together, and part of me is afraid that a third dog will change their relationship somehow.   What if Margot prefers the new dog over Luke or vice versa?  Or, what if Margot and Luke completely ignore the new dog or, even worse, are mean to him/her?  Any of those scenarios would break my heart. 

Furthermore, the biggest reason why we were considering adopting a third dog was because we felt sorry for Margot.  She obviously misses Sam, but the grieving seems to be improving lately.  In fact, I’ve even noticed that Margot seems to be acting a little bit sweeter lately than she did before Sam died.  This past week, she has actually taken breaks from chasing Luke around or playing with one of her toys just to come over and rest her head on my lap.  There’s also a sort of tenderness in her eyes that I’ve been seeing a lot more of lately.   Of course, the downside is that, if Justin or I are busy and don’t have time to snuggle or pet Margot right when she wants us to, she gets extremely whiney.   After also dealing with this type of behavior from Lexie, though, I’m convinced that the whining demands for attention are just a “Dobe thing.”  I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing, though.  It’s actually kind of cute.  (Spoken like a true Doberman enthusiast.) 

As for my little Prince, Lukas (I recently gave him the middle name Prince, by the way), he has shown some improvements in his behavior this past week, as well.  A few nights ago, when Margot was acting a little sad before bedtime, Justin and I decided to leave Luke out of his crate, just to see how he’d do.  We were hoping (and still are hoping) that he would eventually start cuddling Margot if we left him out with her at night, but Luke also has a history of destroying things (shoes, remote controls, T-shirts, etc.) while we’re asleep, which is why we started crating him a few months ago.  However, so far, Luke has done pretty well sleeping out of his crate at night.  In fact, I think that having Luke on the couch with her these past few nights is part of the reason why Margot has seemed a little less sad lately.  

So, for all the reasons I just mentioned above (and one other very big reason that I will discuss another day), I’m kind of leaning towards holding off on adopting a third dog at this time.   For me, it all boils down to this:  If we get a third dog right now, it will definitely have to be an older dog, and, unfortunately, I’ve come to view a dog’s lifespan as being like an hourglass that is just constantly draining, until one day it eventually runs out.  And yes, smartass, I do realize that this metaphor also applies to humans, but a dog’s hourglass is much, much shorter and, as a result, I am much more aware of it.  After Lexie and Jocie died, all I could do was wonder when Sam’s time was going to run out, as well.   I tried not to focus on such a negative thought, but I simply couldn’t help it, and every time I looked at Sam, I just wanted to cry.  So, I’m afraid that if we adopt an older dog, especially so soon after losing our other three older dogs, I will always be wondering in the back of my mind, “How much time does this dog have left?”

The other option for getting a third dog is to wait a few years until Luke and Margot are a little older and then get a new puppy, which is the better option in my opinion.  You see, with puppies, I’m not as aware of their little hourglasses because they’ve still got so many good years ahead of them, and I’m way too focused on raising them and training them to even worry about the length of their lifespan. 

Unfortunately, Justin doesn’t totally agree with me about all of this and would love to adopt a dog right now, which makes me feel kind of bad.  However, I do think that he sees where I’m coming from, and of course he also loves puppies, so I’m hoping that he can just be patient for the next few years while we wait to add a third dog to our family.