How do you solve a problem like Mariiiiaaa?
In The Sound of Music one of the beautiful things is how individual differences and family dynamics are respected and become the basis for the “solution” of how awful Maria is as a postulant. She may not ever make a proper nun, but she is a wonderful governess, mother and wife.
Problem solving dog behavior is not just about picking an answer from a book (“have your dog wait for his food”) but about looking at the human side as well – what will work best for the individuals involved and the family as a whole.
So, how do you solve a problem like… Grasshoppering?
Here we come to the tweaky bits of Ranger’s dinner dilemma. I’m going to throw in a curveball:
It is the 6 year old’s job to feed the dog.
Now, does it have to be this way? No, and recommending a change in family dynamics is perfectly fine. In fact, for another family, saying “Ok, mom is going to feed the dog from now on, in his kennel only” could be the best solution. But I personally want more from this behavior puzzle – I want a solution that makes feeding the dog safe for everyone. So our end goal is not just “get the dog fed without anyone getting trompled” but “create a safe process for a 6 year old to feed his dog”. That goal will need solutions that may look very different from the other.
I’m not explaining all this to confuse my readers or make it look even harder to solve their dog’s problems, but as an example of why this blog is just one pathway of choice on choice, and an encouragement to keep looking for your perfect solution if something you read online, in a book, or even that a trainer tells you just does not work for your family.
All that said, let’s go back to the solutions I posited earlier:
Possible management solutions:
prepare Ranger’s food bowl inside, hand it to him outsideWe’re also trying to teach him the Kitchen is not going to eat him, remember? put Ranger’s food in a treat ball ahead of time, hand it to him at dinner timeIf it rolls into the Kitchen he won’t go get it.
- put Ranger in his kennel until his food is ready, then release him
feed Ranger in his kennelKitchen. use all Ranger’s food as treats and train him with itKitchen. (this is starting not to sound like a word any more) have someone hold Ranger on leash while his food is being scoopedHe Grasshoppers when he sees his leash, too.
Possible training solutions:
- teach Ranger sit- or down- stay nearby while his food is being prepared
- have Ranger go to his mat while his food is being prepared
- teach Ranger to stand politely while waiting for his food
teach Ranger to get his own durn foodRanger does not have opposable thumbs.
Woohoo! We’ve narrowed it down.
It looks like on our “easy button” days, the process will be that when it is dinnertime, the boy puts Ranger in his kennel, preps the bowl, puts it down, then releases the dog to eat.
What about the training? We definitely want to start teaching Ranger self-control.
Go to mat?
He is actually pretty good at going to his mat, so that would be a good solution. However, dogs’ difficulty in generalizing may make this choice less likely to help him learn to control Grasshoppering in other situations where there is no mat.
It is possible we could just use the rule of “4 paws on the ground”, which I use for jumping on people. In this situation, though, the logistics of training this would be more confusing for boy and dog. “Ok, go kind of stand over there and then walk with me sorta over to where I’m feeding you but don’t bounce around but you CAN follow me to your food…” Too dynamic. I don’t think the criteria will be clear enough to do this effectively.
Sit or Down Stay?
This one looks like the winner. A static process – Boy puts dog in stay, boy gets food, boy puts food down, boy releases dog. Will strengthen the stay for use in other situations. Clear criteria. Simple behaviors. We’ll start with a down-stay as it is usually the strongest, then we could start switching it up later to strengthen a sit-stay as well.
Time to implement!
Ok, got our processes written down.
Management – Boy puts Ranger in his kennel, preps the bowl, puts food bowl down, then releases the dog to eat.
Training – Boy tells Ranger to stay, preps the bowl, puts food bowl down, then releases the dog to eat.
Now it’s time to start doing them and troubleshoot. We will begin tomorrow night!