Sunday, July 28, 2013

Confessions of a Bad Dog Owner: Or, You Probably Shouldn't Follow My Lead

I've waited a while before writing this post:  Didn't want Rigby's breeder to make the 14-hour round trip to steal back her precious girl to save her from the perils of living in our home.  But Rigby is 10 and a half months old and has not only survived her puppyhood so far, she seems to be a happy, well-adjusted young dog.

Always busy, Rigby found a stick to play with!

I'm Sure We Need a Behaviorist!

Oh, yes, I spoke those words several times during the first few months after Rigby came home with us.  Even after being warned by many experienced dog people that a puppy would be very active and very mouthy.

Sure, I knew puppies like to chew everything in sight and we did our best to puppy proof our house and remove some cherished possessions that we didn't want destroyed, but I wasn't expecting that my hands, and my husband's, would be used as teething toys for about 6 weeks.  Covered in scratch marks, scabbed and red, in the middle of winter our hands had the appearance that we were spending our days working in a garden of thorns.  As a professional who uses her hands to make a living, I was constantly explaining to lawyers and witnesses that we have a puppy at our home, and my explanation was met by nods of understanding.

I raised the topic of Rigby's mouthiness and incessant biting and chewing to several friends who have raised and trained many puppies over the years and each time I got similar responses, "She's a puppy, that's what they do" or "Puppies use their teeth to explore, it's very normal."  If I tried to protest and tell them that this was beyond normal they would just smile knowingly and walk away.

When the doctor decided that Dan's heart problems required him to be put on a blood thinner, I showed him my hands and told him that we have a young puppy at home going through the early teething stages and that this might not be the best time for Dan to be put on medications that would make any small wound seem even greater, as the bleeding would not stop as easily.  The doctor said they had been through this with several patients and not to worry.  Thankfully, it took about a month and a half for all the necessary testing and paperwork and Dan didn't start on the meds quite as quickly as I thought he would.

Keeping those teeth busy, she chewed anything she could find.

Then there was the constant activity.  The only time Rigby would take a break from running, playing, jumping on the couch, attacking Rocky, et cetera would be when we put her in her crate.  For months she never slowed down or took a nap outside the confines of her crate.  Even cuddling with her was not possible, as the stimulation of reaching for her or touching her made her think you were trying to play and she was off again at top speed or she was biting at the hand that wanted to pet her.

The response I heard to my worries about Rigby's nonstop play were, "Well, you wanted a dog with drive, what did you expect."

Playing with Rocky has been great for Rigby in so many ways.
We're lucky she has such a great playmate!

Maybe we had made a mistake, maybe we weren't up for this, maybe we had waited too long to get a puppy and this just wasn't right for us??  Oh, I had some doubts.

I never did seek out the help of a behaviorist, I used the knowledge I had from the books I read, followed the advice of my experienced friends and set off to keeping my busy pup busy and training, training and training.  We lived through the teething and mouthy stage and by the time Rigby was six months old we saw great changes in her behavior and we knew we were on the right track.

Rocky only got a rest from playing if we put Rigby in her crate.
Several times Rocky has had to put Rigby in her place,
as she sometimes doesn't know when to stop,
whether it be play or getting too rough.

Rigby started to cuddle at about six months of age and started sleeping in bed with me at night.  At seven months of age I commented to my husband that this was a common age for Weim pups to come into rescue and I couldn't imagine how anyone could give up a pup at this wonderful stage.  She was nine months old before she allowed herself to relax and slow down from her play time enough to take naps on the couch.  Now it's a common sight to see her and Rocky both sleeping while she's out of her crate.

Toys are Toys and Clothing is Clothing -- or Are They?

Ever since Dan and I got our first dog together, Sister, I've used my old socks with holes in them as toys for the dogs.  After washing the sock, I tie a knot in the center of the sock and throw it in the dogs' toy box and these old socks have been used as tug toys for years.  My dogs have never had a problem determining which socks were mine and which were the "retired" socks, and I've never had a problem with dogs getting into dirty clothes.

Now I hear about so many dogs, and especially pups, eating socks, soft toys or other things and needing to be forced to vomit or, even worse, needing surgery to remove the item causing a blockage in their digestive tract.

We still use our old socks as toys and -- wait, Linda, get out of the car, go back to the computer and keep reading.  Really, Rigby is just fine.  Where was I... oh, yes and we use them as training tools for our dogs.  Not only do we have socks as toys, we leave our shoes sitting out and teach our dogs not to chew them and to leave them alone.  My hope is that by making these things all seem normal that they won't look at them as a "treat" or wonderful toy that they need to chew.  Yes, we have lost a shoe here and there, but for the most part this method has worked for us.

In this photo from last Christmas you can see socks in the toy box.

This takes a lot of management on our part and is why our young pups and fosters are not allowed out of the crate unless we have eyes on them at all times.  If they get a shoe and learn the joys of chewing up a shoe it makes it much harder to train them not to chew the next one, so we do our best to keep them from learning habits we don't want to perpetuate.

Our pups learn what are toys and what are not toys.

Rigby has advanced to the stage that she is allowed the run of the main part of the house while I am showering, and usually when I come out to check on her she is resting quietly on the couch.

Our Dogs Eat People Food

Oh, yes, I admit it, I'm not one of those perfect dog owners who don't allow their dogs to enjoy a bit of the taste of the foods Dan and I eat.  It probably does cause more counter surfing and begging, but to me it's worth it.

Our dogs are taught manners and, if it is enforced, will lay at our feet while we eat and wait till they are offered food.  Dan is not as stringent as I am about where the dogs stay while we're eating and so they get away with a lot more when he's in charge.

Rocky and Rigby will both sit and wait to be given a tidbit of food and I think it is good that they learn to wait while another dog gets a treat and then they get theirs.

Rocky waiting as Rigby gets a treat.

Rigby waits while Rocky gets his treat.

While visiting my parents last weekend we would put Rocky on a down stay at one end of the living room while we sat at a table at the other end of the room eating our dinner.  Our family members were pretty impressed that Rocky was so well trained.  My sister's pup is allowed no people food, a fact her family is very proud of, but I doubt that her dog will ever be as well behaved as my dogs are.

So ends my confessions for this session.  Believe me, there are others that I might decided to divulge later in life, but for now I think I've given away enough of my secrets. 

I believe that dog ownership and training is a journey of sorts and I've learned that it is a never-ending adventure of learning and discovering new ideas and methods.  I try to keep my mind open to novel approaches for problems and constantly strive to improve my relationship with my dogs.

To that end, I am going to try another new training method and I have signed up for an on-line class that will begin August 1st.  With my crazy work schedule it is very difficult to get to weekly classes, but I'd like to have an agenda to follow and weekly goals to work towards.  Stay tuned and I'll let you know how Rigby and I do in our new adventure of cyber training!

1 comment:

  1. this is awesome! I LOVE the special note to Linda at the end!!