Saturday, August 18, 2007

Bob Vila would not chase the cat

We just finished our second week of puppy-kindergarten with CC. It's been a transitional time for her behavior, and what we see in class illustrates it pretty well.

When it comes to demonstrating the things she's "supposed" to be learning (sit, lie down, watch me, come here, etc.) CC is the star. If the trainer needs someone to demo a trick, she's good for it. She is very motivated (especially for treats) and a very fast learner. She had learned most of her homework after one day last week.

But...when you stop working with her and ignore her, that's when things go down-hill rapidly. She'll bark and jump up and generally instigate until you pay attention to her. Looking back, it's clear to me that these behaviors are my fault - I taught them to her. When we first got her, for the first few weeks, her behavior was just totally unmanageable. She wasn't listening to us at all, so we felt like we had no control of the situation. I got fed up with it and decided that, no matter how long it took, I would teach her to reliably sit, lie down, and stay.

I work at home, so I have access to her all the time, and it turns out that "how long" was only a few days. She's really smart and figures out what you want her to do for a reward in no time. But, with such success with "training behaviors", I would use training as a way to keep her busy when she was bored, and that evolved into training her when she "asked" to be trained by barking, jumping, and generally being bad until we paid attention to her. So essentially I trained her to bug us for attention.

I'd been struggling to understand this last week - one of the reasons I think the behavior wasn't more clear is that this is also the week that Lori decided to deal with domination-related jumping. When Lori first got CC, her reaction was to give her a big hug and go "I love you so much" and crawl around on the ground with her. If you watch the Dog Whisperer you can see how this can amplify behavioral problems by a combination of not establishing dominance (e.g. letting the dog jump on Lori), rewarding bad behavior, and exciting the dog all at once.

This week Lori tried something different - she came home and CC ran to her. Lori said sit and the CC ignored her and jumped up. At that point instead of just backing away, Lori scruffed her and pinned her down. After a few applications, CC has stopped the dominance jumping (she'll still jump up to get attention, but I think you can tell by how she jumps what her intention is) and obeys commands much more readily when Lori issues them.

In the process of all of this, CC had a period of trying to dominate me. I'm not sure what her dog-logic was, exactly, perhaps something like "I can't be number 3, I have to be at leaset number 2 in the house". So intermingled with bad behavior for attention we've also had a reorganization of our pack, which led to some confusing behaviors. I think we're past the worst of the dominance behavior though, so we'll see how the next week goes.

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