As first seen on Yorktown Patch
The transition to our new home continues—days have passed in a blur of sorting, unpacking and organizing as we acclimate to our new surroundings.
Saturday, I came up for air and realized that within days, Roman was leaving for a week-long business trip, group dog training classes at Sun Meadow Farm were starting, and the deadline for Puppies For Dummies was looming. I felt a twinge of panic.
Compounding these mild pressures are my children’s new morning routines. It pretty much involves a lot of screaming, fighting and hiding. What’s up with that? I wondered. I expected a little homesickness—maybe a bad dream or two. But this? Really?
Without thinking, I resorted to the quick fix: yelling followed by guilt.
Later in the day, I put on my dog trainer’s cap and pondered my formerly morning-friendly children. I reminded myself not to communicate “in the moment,” when they are in the throes of defiance. Think it through, I told myself. Think through the problem then around it and use positive reinforcement to prevent the downward spiral.
And then my inner-dog trainer came to the rescue: Puppies For Dummies, Chapter 3! The treat cup!
Our new routine: we choose tomorrow’s clothes before bed—that’s one thing out of the way. Then in the morning, they wash, dress and get a treat: three M&Ms in the color of their choice. These small chocolate rewards have restored peace to my household.
Many dog training solutions are similarly magical. While dogs need a full repertoire of directions to better understand our expectations, there are many simple solutions that—when well thought out and executed consistently—can change negative behavior patterns almost overnight. Here are three.
As you test these solutions, remember to avoid eye contact and physical touch until your dog has settled down or focused on a toy. This is hard to do, but it both encourages interaction and reinforces whatever behavior you are trying to address.
Wait until your dog is settled or you’ve got his full cooperation to give him your attention. Give these a try. Report back and offer any sure solutions that have worked wonders in your home. It often takes only one small change to affect a relationship permanently!
Dogs and puppies are most excited during transitions. Homecomings, visitors, new places—think ahead, place/bring a favorite toy or bone. Let your dog wear or drag a lead so that you have an easy way to interfere or direct him. Either bring your dog behind you or simply step on the leash and ignore him until he calms down. While in the throes of transitional excitement or anxiety, give your dog a bone or toy and wait until they settle to command or pet them.
The Treat Cup Remedy
Place some dog treats in a cup or empty container. Shake and reward your dog until he makes the association. Now use the cup to teach him to “Sit,” the canine equivalent of “say please.” Use the cup to encourage communication, such as when your dog wants attention or to go outside, as well as good manners during greetings, play and at the door.
For dogs who jump or nip, a little canister of mouth spray can be a dog owner’s best friend. While you should never spray your dog directly or look at him when he’s misbehaving, you can strategically place these sprays around the house. Have one at the front door when you’re arriving: Spray a vapor boundary around your body, toss a toy down for your dog and ignore him until he calms down. If you’ve got a nipper, don’t spray the dog, spray the body part he’s got in his mouth, then direct him to a toy or encourage him to give “Kisses.” If your dog jumps while you’re on the furniture, tuck one into the couch cushions and surround yourself with vapor until he’s still at your side or chewing a toy.
If your dog is showing aggression, avoid all corrections and call a professional to help. In my experience of working with aggression, simple solutions often aggravate an already tense situation. Over the next couple of months I will devote an entire column to each of these solutions, highlighting how they help to remedy a household’s frustration as if by wizardry!