This is always the easiest part of a training consult. People KNOW what they hate about their dog. They just don’t know what to do about it.
“So.” I say, tapping pen to paper expectantly. “What are the behaviors you would like to change?”
rational, well-reasoned, thoughtful and blandly emotionless list ok, who am I kidding.
“He won’t STOP BARKING.”
“The little [yep let’s edit this word] keeps [this one too, let’s call it “poo poo”]ing in the house.”
“She hates other dogs.”
In super sciency snootball terms what we are doing is establishing baseline measures. This is the only way we can find out if our training actually works! And it’s something you should do too before you set out to fix problem behaviors. What’s important, though, is to dig for a little more information than you can get from a reactionary response. So for your entertainment, today we will be giving you the first five (I know, I know, I said ten but there’s a TOMORROW too) behaviors that my family would like Ranger to cease and desist or improve upon. And we’ll define them both in “normal human” and then “sciencey science” terms so that you can learn how to differentiate the two!
Without further ado, the top 5 Most Annoying Ranger Behaviors as quoted by each verbal member of the family (sorry, little baby).
1) My husband –
This is Ranger performing The Grasshopper. He doesn’t jump ON you, but he bounces up and down and all over the place when he gets excited to go on a walk, get fed, or other Exciting Dog Things. It’s scary for the kids, and amongst other frustrations, many a just-filled water bowl, however strategically or quickly reached toward the ground, has met its demise on Ranger’s upward-moving head. He also does a really annoying bark-thing that sounds like a badger being hit by a sack of potatoes. “BawROOF.”
Sciencey science: Upon presentation of varying stimuli (including his leash, treats, and his food and water bowls), Ranger jumps up and down with his front paws while moving around the room, sometimes knocking into or over adults and children. He also barks loudly.
2) My 9 year old –
“My least favorite thing about Ranger is him stealing food off the table or counter.”
Baseline behavior: If Ranger sees food on the table, counter, floor, or in your hand, he will try to eat it. I don’t think this one needs a picture. We all know what this looks like.
3) My 7 year old –
“Slobber and whacking me with his tail.”
This has been illustrated for us on a napkin. Enjoy.
Baseline behavior: Ranger slobbers and wags his tail?
A note – this isn’t really something we can change about him or make him stop doing, but let’s keep it in the list. We’ll see that there are many more solutions to problems than the single minded goal of making the behavior itself just STOP.
4) My 6 year old –
“He bites me.”
Ah, yes. Perception is everything. Without invalidating the little guy’s opinion, let’s explain this one a little differently for behavior modification purposes.
Baseline behavior: Ranger is mouthy when it is time to be fed. He will grab or gently nip human arms as they are attempting to procure food from the food container. He can also be mouthy during play.
Here’s what this looks like. I promise my slavering beast is not driving sharp, cruel teeth deep into the flesh of an innocent boy.
5) Myself –
“Ranger just cannot ‘even’ around other dogs. I am not sure what ‘even’-ing is, but I am 100% sure that he cannot it. In fact, here is my depiction of Ranger attempting to ‘even’ around other dogs:”
Baseline behavior: When Ranger arrives within 20 feet of another dog, he becomes extremely excited, albeit non-reactive nor aggressive, and either runs to engage (off leash) or pulls on the leash, barks, jumps up and down, and attempts to interact with the other dog regardless of the dog’s body language or attempted communication. This is especially problematic on walks with a stroller or babywearing, or at the vet’s office.
There we have it. Have I defined every possible criterion for each of these? No. Will this win me the Behavior Modification Champion Superstar Award of Awesomeness? No. But we are not devoting a 10 year research project to exactly how a specific ear twitch is used in a social behavioral context. We are trying to help people both effectively and efficiently. So, what we focus on is getting a basic behavioral observation instead of an interpretation. You can’t really set up a program to fix “well he just goes crazy all over the place!!” But you can figure out steps to solve “he jumps up and down and pulls on the leash.” See? That’s what you need to comb out when you are trying to define your dog’s behavior.
We’ll finish out the list tomorrow and then address each of these behaviors individually over the course of this blog, interspersed with teaching new behaviors, playing family games, and other sundry postings.
Looks like I have my work cut out for me!