The Panic Call
I received a call yesterday from a mother of four with an 8 month old Lab/Border Collie mix. They adopted him in March and the first thing she said to me when I introduce myself over the telephone is “HELP, he is a nightmare!!” Michelle explained to me that Slash is jumping (nonstop), biting, ripping their clothes, pulling the wash off the line, digging holes, destroying the garden, pulling things out of the shed…and the list went on! I asked my normal questions: How much exercise does he get, when does he eat, is he crate trained, etc.? Slash is an outside dog (common in Ireland). He has a huge yard so they do not take him on many walks and they leave food out for him. Her main questions was…”How soon can you get here?”
The First Greeting
I drove up to their house first thing this morning and met Slash and his family. Slash was very nervous upon our initial greeting. They live in the country and guests are rare. After a calm hello and a good sniff, the nervous Slash was gone. He had been replaced by a 50 pound ball of energy that was jumping, nipping and pulling at my clothes. He would run from me to the owners and back, assaulting all three of us along the way. When Slash headed back to my direction, I quickly got ahold of his collar, attached a leash and gained control. Before working with Slash we discussed structured feeding times, rules/boundaries, exercise, play and training. Slash was not a bad dog. He was a young teenager with no rules and he was taking over the yard. We discussed our plan of action and got to work.
The Lesson – for the dog
At 8 months old Slash did not know how to “sit” so that’s where we started. He was jumping because he was excited to see his family. The more they moved away from him the more he jumped. So by teaching him to sit and rewarding him for that behavior we had a “default” conduct. When Slash would jump, we would start with “NO”, followed by moving into him (or correction when appropriate), then “SIT” and reward. It was like magic to him. He is smart and picked up on it quickly. Within the hour lesson Slash was sitting when asked (sometimes needing guidance), jumping less and understanding that mouthing was going to be corrected. This is no miracle. I took a smart, energetic and bored puppy, gave him something to do, corrected unwanted behavior and rewarded him when he complied. Towards the end of the lesson he was even soliciting calm interaction with us by approaching, sitting at our feet, and relaxing….something he had never done with his new family before.
The Lesson – for the humans
Slash, like all dogs, needs physical and mental stimulation as well as rules, boundaries and guidance. Slash had learned to overpower his people and because they were unsure what to do they felt helpless and intimidated. He was bored which led him to chewing on things in the yard, digging holes and pulling the wash off the line. His family needed to learn how to control him as well as show him what they expect of him. He also needed daily mental and physical exercise, which he was not getting. I left Michelle and her family a list of instructions to work on over the next week, showed them exactly what to do with Slash, and explained that they were about to ride a behavioral roller-coaster. They were impressed by the immediate difference they saw in Slash but I explained that he will get better, then regress, repeatedly. They have six months of behaviors to “untrain” and that does not happen overnight. I left them optimistic that they could turn their “nightmare” into the dream dog they want.
The Dream Dog
It is not hard to get the dog you dreamed of as long as you are willing to be consistent. Slash’s family is very normal and is a perfect example of letting a puppy get away with behaviors when they are young that quickly get out of control as they grow up. It is not too late for Slash… they will be able to turn him around. However, it is easier if you put rules in place in the beginning and follow through, every day. Training is for the life of your dog and yes, it does get easier as they get older. They are worth every second you put in to them. If you do not teach them what you want from them, they will never know. I look forward to seeing the transformation when I go back to see Slash again next week. If his owners do their homework I should already start to see a different dog!