It Doesn’t Have To Be Tough Love

Dachshund on woman's lapLast spring I took care of a friend’s dog, a young Rottie, named Abby. Abby was living in a family with a senior Rottie and 3 young children. She was a great dog and any challenging behaviors could be chalked up to age and inexperience. While she was with us I treated her as I would my own dogs. We worked on life skills such as not rushing out doors, waiting quietly while I prepared meals, and playing nicely with others. She was a quick study and we all enjoyed having her here.

Not long after Abby’s visit my friend commented that it seemed as if they had dropped off a puppy and brought home a dog. I felt a mild blush from what seemed like a compliment, until she added, “It’s like we sent her to doggy boot camp.”  The implication made me cringe. Boot camp is rigid, demanding and often demeaning. I was surprised at her assumption that anything that improved her dog’s behavior dramatically must have resembled ‘boot camp’. I knew she meant no insult, but I felt a sting.

Abby had played and was rewarded with food treats when she came when called, sat when asked and responded appropriately with other dogs. I prefer to think that what I offered Abby was a few days at language camp. She learned some common words and had the ‘culture of human’ more clearly explained to her. I was pleased to hear that Abby went home with more of an understanding of how to live with people than she arrived with, but I hope that word of mouth about what I offer dogs does not include the ‘boot camp’ analogy.

It’s not about whipping them into shape, it’s about helping them understand and interpret what the people in their lives expect of them. You can love them if you like (or can’t help yourself), but there doesn’t have to be anything tough about it.


22 comments so far

  1. tristan on

    You should be training Cesar Milan. Great post. thank you

    • fearfuldogs on

      Oh my wouldn’t I just love that! If he ever asks I’ll definitely help him out 😉

      • emily on

        From what I heard of Marc Bekoff’s experience when he was asked to consult with him and the crew… I don’t think you’ll get too far!

      • fearfuldogs on

        He just had the opportunity to spend some time with Ian Dunbar, not sure how much he came away with.

  2. Colleen Falconer on

    Hm, I would say Abby went to the dog spa – she came back refreshed, calm, and in great behavioral health!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Colleen! Abby lives with a wonderful family which just added a new pup to the household. My friend mentioned that maybe they’ll need to bring her to ‘boot camp’ too. Ugh.

      • Colleen Falconer on

        Maybe you could kindly remind them that boot camp is for soldiers and “dog camp” is for dogs, and thereafter just robotically say “Dog camp.” every time they slip up in the future. Think of it as modeling good behavior. 🙂

    • fearfuldogs on

      Worth a try!

  3. Tamara on

    Despite the negative connotation, boot camp is often the best thing to ever happen to a person, often reshaping their life into something they never could have dreamed of prior to their attendance. 🙂 You have structure, boundaries, and love…everything a dog needs and thrives with…if they want to call it boot camp because they don’t realize how truly wonderful it is, then so be it. 🙂 Thank you for your dedication and hard work to create a warm, loving environment for your own dogs, and the dogs of others that might visit from time to time.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Good point Tamara, there probably are plenty of young adults who have benefited from the structure of boot camp. They of course can leave if they want to, and the goal of it is to shape soldiers. But you are right that there are aspects of that type of environment that works for some people and some dogs as well. I like to think that just because one way of training people or dogs can work, that other ways can as well, we just choose to create the ‘way’ that we believe is most effective, and that choice is not always based on empirical studies, but rather on personal preference.

      I bet I could probably attract a lot of people if I named my business Puppy Boot Camp given the way many people think about dogs and what they need. But I won’t 😉

  4. […] Debbie of wrote a post I absolutely love, illustrating the common perception among Americans that training your dog has to mean forcing him […]

  5. Cathy on

    I must ask, how do you train a dog not to rush outdoors? Mine jump all over each other to be the first one out, and my basset mix barks/howls from the time he starts heading to the door until his feet hit the grass (i.e., he barks/howls all the way down the deck stairs, too).

    • fearfuldogs on

      Impulse control with a mob is tough. Don’t expect it to happen overnight. One dog might do fine but then another gets them riled up. Trick is to give each dog the skill on their own, in a place that makes it easier for them. I get my dogs to sit for treats around the house or outside. I will hand the treats out individually and dogs learn not to try to snatch them from another dog. Don’t try this with dogs who are resource guarders or you can end up with fight.

      When we go to the door they have the sit and wait behavior, and we practice it there. The door does not open if any dog moves. If a dog moves when the door opens, it closes. With new dogs I don’t try to get them to wait too long or the frustration and arousal only builds and it’s hard to lower it. For some dogs it’s only a couple of seconds and I release them to go BEFORE they make that choice themselves. Each dog is different so some may get one treat at the door and another a dozen. Helping them to calm down and stop the frenzied at-the-door movement helps a lot. If food causes more arousal then I focus more on being able to go out as the reward. Some dogs have to have the gate closed in their face a bunch of times before they figure out if they don’t move until I say so, it stays open.

      I also try to defuse the predictors of walks. I strap on my treat pouch and then sit at the computer. I pick up the leashes, and go wash the dishes. I put on my shoes and have a cup of tea. I don’t ask if anybody wants to go out because it only gets them excited. Many owners have inadvertently contributed to this behavior because we like seeing our dogs happy and excited.

      With my boarding dogs I understand that for many of them going for walks is the most fabulous part of their day and may be the best thing they ever get to do, and some only get off leash walks with me, so no wonder they are excited about it. For my own dogs I will release each individually to go out, rewarding with treats the dogs who are left to wait their turn. Some of my dogs are even hesitant to go out because they’d rather sit and get a treat. They get to go outside for walks a lot, so while they enjoy it, it’s not so overwhelmingly good that they can’t delay gratification for few seconds in order to score some cheese. I also reward my dogs for giving me their attention as soon as, or quickly after, going out a door or gate. So if they do race out they don’t go far before spinning around and coming back to me. They get their treat and a big release to ‘GO!’.

      You may also be dealing with some breed characteristic in regard to the howling, i.e., it’s what hounds do.

      • Cathy on

        Ha ha! Yes, we do recognize Dusty’s just being a hound with his howly bark. I just tried following your advice at the door, and I managed to get him not to bark! One of my dogs did stay behind so he could just keep getting treats. The other two rushed out once the door opened, but it was quiet. Progress! I have tried the “sit at the door for a treat” thing with Dusty before, but (unusually for a hound), he’s not really treat motivated. Cheese as a treat may change that, though! I’ll keep working on it, and I love the idea of pulling out the treat pouch or leash but making them wait, too. Thank you, Debbie!

      • Debbie Jacobs on

        Congratulations! I don’t live in a place where a dog rushing out an open door is life threatening, so I often don’t care if they do rush out, especially if I’m not going with them. But it’s a great way to get in some informal training during the day and getting and keeping a dog’s attention. Have fun with it.

  6. Patti on

    I have a rescue now, a boxer/lab, that with love and patience has calmed down, but still will bark and jump on ppl who come to the door. My last dog, a rescued border collie just responded to the love and attention and did not do all those types of behaviors. I miss her terribly after having her for 15 years. I didn’t “do” anything out of books or tv, I just used my intuitive instincts of love and patience. I didn’t realize I was doing any “training” but my new pup still has some behavior issues. But, thankfully, loves her crate, her “happy place”.

    • fearfuldogs on

      If your new dog is happy to see people than you have a ‘good’ problem in regard to jumping. Impulse control takes time for dogs to learn, but with consistency and a high rate of reward for the alternate appropriate behavior, it should be possible to curb the jumping. My problem is usually people who ‘don’t mind’ if my dogs try to get to their face during greetings and encourage it.

  7. Karen on

    Do you have any thoughts about a former puppy mill dog who doesn’t want to go out? Initially she was thrilled with the idea of going out, but then I brought in another foster dog who tried to herd the little one every time she went out, so she started refusing to go outside. The other foster is now gone, but the little one still doesn’t want to go out – prefers her puppy pads inside. I often want to pick her up and carry her out, but that’s scary stuff for a mill dog. Once she does get outside, she’s fine and playful, but I want her to WANT to go outside for play/potty. So far, treats aren’t effective.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It is possible to build/shape the going outside behavior. Don’t use treats to lure, if you have you may find that they don’t make effective rewards, so switch up treats if this has happened.

      Here’s how it might look. Walk toward door, eat treat, turn around and walk away from the door. Repeat a bunch of times. You might prop the door open for this. You want to tone down any dread the dog might be experiencing when she walks toward the door and in the past has been expected to go out of. Get really good at walking to the door. Then gradually build the behavior to stepping out the door, eating a treat and turning around and going back in. If the dog was happy on a leash I’d turn it into a fun upbeat game of walking around, being rewarded for heeling, etc., the door just happened to be part of the picture. You do these games repeatedly, taking days if necessary before upping the ante and asking the dog to do something they have been reluctant to do in the past. I like having a body harness on a dog for this type of work so the dog doesn’t ever feel as though they are being pulled by the neck.

      I used tennis balls to get my dog to go in and out of doors. Racing outside wasn’t hard to get him to do, though he was horrified that I might be following him with a meat cleaver. By tossing a tennis ball for him to chase he began to predict that going out meant ball chasing not worrying about his life. Getting him back in wasn’t as easy, but when he learned to target my hand to get me to toss a ball for him I stood inside the doorway so he had to at least put his nose inside to reach my hand and then I immediately tossed a ball for him. Gradually he had to come further inside to touch my hand before I tossed the ball. Eventually he began racing inside with his only thought seeming to be to get me to toss the ball.

      To this day he can still show hesitation coming inside and I have to remember to adjust my body posture so I am not taking up too much space or facing him head on. But most of the time he runs right in, and is coming in another door that in the past he refused to come in at all. Hopefully this could work in reverse for getting your dog outside.

      Just some thoughts.

      • Karen on

        Great tips – thanks! I’ll start using them right away.

  8. Kirsten Rose CPDT-KA on

    Nice post. I always enjoy reading your articles, thank you. Someone mentioned that Marc Bekoff was asked to consult with Cesar and the crew, does anyone have anymore information on that? Just interested in how that went.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for taking the time to write Kirsten. Appreciate it! Hadn’t heard about Bekoff and Cesar. That would be interesting.

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