Saturday, June 12, 2010

Tough dogs

Last week, a golden retriever decided he didn't want to be groomed, and he mouthed my arm so hard that he broke the skin. It wasn't actually a bite, nor overt aggression where a dog attacks, but it was definitely a warning to me. And I listened.

I am a pushover and I know it. This was a wakeup call. For all the advice I hand out freely, it was time to take some of my own medicine. This week's challenging guest was a shepherd/lab mix who also tries to mouth my arm when he doesn't want to do something– specifically, go in the crate. 

I should not be holding dogs by the collar. I keep leashes handy and usually snap one on when I want to ask a reluctant dog to do something. Joe's owners swear to me he is crate trained, but Joe was having none of it. And he needed to be crated. So after I tried to shove him in, lead him in, lure him in with treats, back him in, and all my other little tricks, I decided I needed to get serious.

I sent all the other dogs outside. I put a leash on Joe and got out the hot dogs. (Recipe: slice hot dogs in thin pieces, then cut each circle in half. Nuke in the microwave for three to four minutes. Tiny bites make great treats and they don't goop up your pockets with grease like uncooked hot dogs)

Our first "trick" was the sit. He perked up instantly when he tasted his reward. After a few sits we tried a down. Nothing doing. "Never!" his body language screamed. He looked away, licked his lips, leaned on me, and started wrapping himself around me. Pushy pushy pushy; he would do anything but lie down.  

After a few minutes of practice, he lied down, but after several repetitions, he still wasn't doing it immediately or willingly. I always gave him treats and praise while he was in the down position. I wondered if he'd ever learned it before. But he started to comply more willingly, so I quit while we were ahead.

An hour later, we did it again. A little better response this time. Now that he was listening to me, it was time to try the crate. 

With all four paws braced against the door frame, pulling back with all his might, he wasn't going to give in. I threaded the leash through the wire and put pressure on him. Whenever he gave to the pressure a little, I loosened the leash and praised him. He immediately tried to jerk away. I was NOT using a choke collar or pinch collar. Finally he just sat in front of the crate and pulled back, refusing to look at me. The hot dogs in the back of the crate beckoned to him. 

After a five minute standoff I almost  gave up, but he suddenly gave in, walked in the crate, and started munching the treats. I shut the door, praising him to the skies, and dropped in more hot dogs. Then I did one of the hardest things I ever had to do in training.

I let him out. That was his reward. All that work and I immediately let him out. He walked on the leash for a circle or two, and I asked him to go back in the crate. He went right in. DONE. 

I took off the leash and let him loose for the rest of the evening. At one point, he walked in the crate and looked for more hot dogs. I praised him from my seat in the recliner, but didn't close the crate door. At bed time, he went right in the crate and didn't complain once all night. 

The rest of the week was uneventful. Joe spent a lot of time napping in the crate with the door open.  

What a GOOD dog.
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