Nibbles Makes A Friend

boy getting a dog to stand on its hind legsIt’s been awhile since I’ve given any updates on Nibbles, so here’s a quickie. Nibs is doing great! He’s still not 100% comfortable with people, and he likes to bark at them too much, but we continue to work on it, and he continues to improve.

This week the dogs made a new friend, a neighbor boy had started barking at the dogs, causing them to go nuts in return. I would simply call the dogs back to the house to end the game. One day I decided to grab my treat pouch and go up and encourage the boy to keep barking while I tossed treats to the dog, decreasing their barking, until the kid could bark and the dogs would just look at me.

boy in a paddleboat splashing a black dogThe boy asked if he could play with the dogs and I let my border collie out of the yard to play frisbee with him, which both loved. The next day I had the boy come into the yard and showed him how to toss treats to the scared dogs, and reward Annie for doing tricks. Later that day the boy returned with some of his left over chicken pot pie to share with the dogs. Today we headed to the waterfront for more games and a good time was had by all. boy rewarding a cocker spaniel standing on a bucket

When you use positive reinforcement for training dogs, especially dogs with any amount of fear of people, you do more than teach them tricks. The dog learns that by offering behaviors to people good things happen. This helps them reframe how they feel about being around people. In this case the human is learning about how to get behaviors from dogs without needing to say a thing.boy with a small black dog bowing at him

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19 comments so far

  1. Meghan on

    That is so cute and helpful for both the dogs and the boy. He seems so happy, he’s outside, he’s learning something, and he’s learning to be compassionate to animals. Win win win.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Meghan. The kid is loving it. He comes by 2 or 3 times a day. I have to send him home sometimes and I feel crummy doing it, but I need to monitor him with Sunny, and can’t always. He just came by and gave me a coin from Pirates of The Caribbean. I still sent him home. Have to be careful which behaviors I reinforce!

  2. 24 Paws of Love on

    What a cool story! Our dogs don’t see many kids, but they could sure use the work with them. I’m so glad to see there was a positive change for the dogs and the boy.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I’m feeing a bit overwhelmed by how much this kid wants to come over and play. I don’t think he has many friends in the neighborhood. Getting him to leave is becoming a challenge! But I do appreciate the opportunity it’s giving me for getting my dogs exposed to a kid and someone else playing with them.

      • Meghan on

        I kind of got that impression from your description of his behaviour before you actually met him and after. It’s a challenge for you too! To work on your assertiveness. It’s definitely a fine line dealing with a child that already has low self esteem, it’s so great he’s getting out and has found something he enjoys doing, but you need your space too. And to tell him that without hurting his feelings… Eek! I don’t have kids, I just know this is a sensitive issue. I have a soft spot for kids that don’t naturally fit in cause I was one of them, not too too bad, but definitely not one of the “cool kids”.

  3. fearfuldogs on

    You hit the nail on the head Meghan. I tried explaining that if he made it hard for me when it was time to go I was less likely to want him to come over. I don’t think that was processed.

    I still feel badly about a friend who was in a nursing home and when it was time to leave she would plead for me to stay. It was so hard to leave that I stopped going to visit. I felt crummy for not visiting, but apparently I felt even crummier when I visited.

    I figure I’m going to have to go through an extinction burst as I try to ignore his repeated attempts to come back every day.

  4. Lynn on

    I had a similar situation with a neighbor kid who wanted to hang out (looks a bit like yours, too). If I didn’t want him around, I’d tell him when he should come next, so it felt less like he was being kicked out. Perhaps you can structure this boy’s visits, so that he sees them as appointments for a given length of time, and they can end on a positive note by making the next appointment — no visits in between. He looks like he’s really enjoying your dogs. By the way, I had to look up “extinction burst.” This blog is so educational!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Good advice Lynn. I’ve tried to set up ‘dates’ but need to be more structured about it. On one hand I love the opportunity for the dogs, on the other I sometimes don’t feel like ‘babysitting’. If Sunny was ok, it wouldn’t require so much energy and monitoring on my part, but I cannot trust him.

  5. EngineerChic on

    I am envious of how quickly it seems that Nibbles has accepted this new person into his circle of “non-dangerous humans”. I’d almost like to borrow the kid for a few days (would give you a break and give S a “practice kid” to work with). Envy aside, I know it wasn’t as quick to change Nibbles behavior as it is quick to read about it.

    I need to find a practice kid in my neighborhood 😉

  6. Heather on

    Trying to entertain the “summer latchkey kid”. Poor kid, poor you.

    Sounds like he’s getting “intermittent reinforcement” from coming over to play. Some ending ritual may help him depart? Teaching a trick that sets up his separating from the dogs as part of the departure–like a distance command that leaves the dog “staying” near you/the house as he walks out of the gate? Send aways could work, if those didn’t look so cool, to want to do again and again. I’m always amazed by your creativity, so will be curious how this works out–provided the young man can be trained. Dogs sure seem easier than humans!!!

    How wonderful of you to work on an “apprentice” that you didn’t plan on. He and Nibbles are cute together. What great eye contact.

    I hear you about Sunny. You have both worked too hard. Sunny has enough uncertainty in the world; home should be his.

    Best of Luck!

  7. Kathy on

    Looks like the boy learned more than the dog. Wonderful to see.

  8. lexy3587 on

    Kind of jealous that you have a kid to practice with your dogs on. I could use one of those for Gwynn, since I don’t really know many people under 15 years old, and Gwynn doesn’t get much exposure. It’s strange… most kids in my neighbourhood show zero interest in dogs – so unlike how I was at their age! Though tough having to try and find a balance between helpful-kid-training-time and i’m-not-a-babysitter.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I suppose if you don’t have many kids in your environment to begin with, it’s probably not that big of deal. I don’t usually, so haven’t gone out of my way looking for them. I do however have a bunch of young nieces and nephews who are around this summer, so it’s been good to see how the dogs behave around them and any positive experience they can have with other people, regardless of their age, is fine by me!

  9. Heather on

    Sounds like this young man is having some pretty memorable moments with your dogs this summer. Kind of you to share them.

  10. sarahhosick on

    I feel like this also goes to show that positive reinforcement doesn’t just work on dogs, it works on people, too. I think most people would scold a child for barking at their dogs, but instead you shaped his behaviour from something negative into a positive. Even though it may seem small to you, I’m sure you have done a great service to this boy and all other dogs he comes across in his lifetime.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for your kind words Sarah. I did have to take a deep breath and do a reality check. What was he doing that was really so horrible? His behavior was making my dogs bark, which I’d been trying to keep to a minimum, but he wasn’t throwing rocks at them, or taunting them. He later told me that he ‘speaks dog’.

      I have a saying I try to remind myself of;

      Peace is achieved through patience, patience through practice.

      I’ve gotten a lot of practice this summer.

      • heather on

        Lately, it sounds as though you have also been rewarded with some peace!!

  11. Long Life Cats and Dogs on

    You are doing such a fabulous job. Well done and I couldn’t agree more about the “positive reinforcement”.


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