Even in bad weather, the training must go on
The problem today is the rain. The weather report had no indication of the potential pond pooling in my driveway. It went from the somber hover of drizzling fog to a monsoon in less than 30 minutes. My front yard resembles Lake Anna. But training and routine cannot be sacrificed.
Today is one of those days where puppy rearing really is a pain in the neck. Yes, even as a professional trainer, the challenges of raising a dog can sometimes seem frustrating, annoying, and impossible. Puppies are such cute little snuggly balls of love until they become imposing demons who require all of the effort and attention you can muster.
As a dog trainer, I have a lot of patience and I’m abnormally tolerant compared to the average owner. Why do so many people insist on welcoming a puppy into their home? They are tiny adorable terrors, but most people would be better off with an older dog. This puppy of mine is a nightmare at times. But this is my dog and I love her. Every little cute and annoying thing she does is the best. No questions asked. She is worth it.
Today, I am working on two things with her. First, we are continuing the long process of potty training. Then we are also going to address her new — undesirable — habit of yipping and barking while she’s alone in her crate.
We have a routine. Toilet training. Mental Stimulation. Feeding meals. Play time. Toilet training. Spending time outdoors. Crate training. Again toilet training, and so on, repeatedly. I thank my lucky stars I have already established this routine so I can problem solve one thing at a time …
My puppy has been outside a few times this morning. She has been fed in a food-dispensing toy. She had some time playing with the other dogs outside. She was in an exercise pen in the yard. I have to admit, I was super thrilled to see her happily soaking up the rain for a few seconds as I shuffled my way to bring her in. So many dogs will not go outside in severe weather. Now she is dry, she is happy, she is content, she is finally taking a nap. Then it is time to take her outside again.
So I put on my boots, grab my jacket, put on a hat, shove a hand full of treats in my pocket, and reluctantly walk the puppy into the yard. Smarter people would leave an umbrella by the door rather than locked in the car down the driveway. Guess it’s time to get another umbrella. We go outside together, my puppy is happy to follow me in the rain. I am drenched and my fuzzy PJs feel so soggy. BUT! She pottied! She went to the bathroom, outside, in the rain, on command. Success is when it all comes together after days, weeks, months of practice.
The next hurdle: vocalization. I cannot tolerate the screaming. She sounds like a mutilated rabid fox hanging on for dear life. The sound buzzes in my ear and pierces my ear drums. I don’t think Bose makes headphones powerful enough to cancel this noise. But I must not react. Must not pay attention. Must not lash out. Must not engage. Must walk away.
I must breathe. The 18-week-old Border Terrier is entering adolescence. Things are changing, becoming more distracting, challenging, hormones are raging, boundaries are being pushed. This is normal.
First, I consider why she may be barking. Maybe because she is frustrated in her crate. Maybe because she is eager to be with the other dogs. Maybe she is over-tired from the morning activities. Maybe … she is just being a hormonal teenage pain in my behind. The struggle is real either way … we will get through this! We have to address the issue even when we may not know the cause of her behavior.
This exercise I am going to do with her teaches a few things:
Barking and making noise removes attention from people (the opposite of what the dog may be trying to achieve)
When we throw temper tantrums, humans go away. This encourages self soothing.
Calm, settled behavior makes people re-appear.
For prolonged periods of quiet the dog may be let out to potty, play in the kitchen for a few minutes, or learn a new awesome skill as a reward.
Ignoring the dog is not enough for most dogs! Sure the blogs, websites, youtube videos, etc. all say to just “ignore the dog.” Trust me, you need to take more action. This is a terrier(orist) and she is strong-willed, but luckily she is also motivated and awesomely infatuated by me (woop woop). In order for this exercise to be successful I must completely remove myself from the room to disconnect from her when she is barking, and then magically walk in once she is settled and quiet. This harsh contrast of hot/cold … on/off … black/white will help her learn better. This takes effort on my part, but in the grand scheme of things, I am happy to commit.
Now, to implement the plan.
Step 1: Ensure dog is fed, watered, played with, and recently went to potty outside (check!)
Step 2: Make a list of chores around the house to do while practicing this exercise (check!)
Step 3: If it’s in the evening, pour yourself some wine. If it’s mid-day, play reruns of your favorite Netflix show, or both (check!)
Step 4: Begin the process (oh boy…)
Lists! I love lists. I need to move and fold laundry, feed the cats and turtle, organize my desk, go through my sock drawer, clean some leftover dishes in the sink, dust the window sills, and fold towels to stack in the bathroom. That gives me enough to do around the house so I can ping-pong-along, entering and leaving the kitchen, where we keep her crate, during the exercise. Guess it’s time to clear out the spice cabinet!
So I begin in the kitchen, sorting dishes and organizing the window sills. The second Agnes (that’s the puppy) starts to yip, bark, or scream, I simply walk out of the kitchen and move on to the next task in another room. I wait for her to be quiet for a few seconds and then … I magically reappear in the kitchen … minding my own business. And so I move from the dishes to the laundry to organizing my sock drawer ….
I go to and fro what seems to be a million times before we start seeing improvement. Most owners would try something maybe a handful of times and then say “screw it, this isn’t working,” but I know better. I know and realize on a daily basis that proper training takes time, patience, and a whole lot of repetition.
I am over an hour into our exercise. She has settled down and is snoozing happily while I shuffle from room to room. Time to wake her up for another grueling potty break in the rain. Gotta remember to get another umbrella. Where are the treats?
And the whole saga begins over again. It ain’t fixed until it’s fixed, so better keep at it. New habits take time and repetition, people!