I don’t believe one should ever do anything out of fear. Nor should they do something simply because the demand is coming from someone in front of them having a mental breakdown. They should be moved by clear logic toward a simple solution.
Having symbolically leveled my home with anger-lava, the rage went dormant and I sought to clean up the mess I had made using logic to achieve my goal.
Dogs are like two year olds. You can’t just tell them No. They gotta know why—kids do anyway. Dogs are less existential; they don’t need to know why so much as they need to know what to do instead. The same, I imagine, would work with children. To get rid of an undesirable behavior, give them something funner (and more acceptable to you) to do.
So in the past few days, I’ve been teaching him new paths.
First, jumping on the counter, although effective for immediately getting a treat, is unacceptable and a short-lived victory as they’re snatched away. Sit, stay, and be polite, and you’ll get an endless stream hand-fed to you that you can savor slowly without the bother of having to steal and scarf down the food in secret.
For shoving his head under my hand, I ask him to sit politely, and will pet him only when he does so.
For sticking his nose in my face or drooling on my laptop while I’m working, I ask him to lie down and only then do I reach down and pet him.
He still gets what he wants, but now I get what I want too.
And Tucker gets his civilized human back without all of her barbaric shouting.
As I watch Tucker with Hayden, I understand why Hayden used those tactics with me. Tucker does to Hayden what Hayden does to me that I find annoying. Tucker runs up to Hayden and presses a toy into his face and squeaks it. Tucker sits on Hayden’s head. Tucker rests his toys on Hayden.
Tucker is beginning to trust me again. Now when Hayden forces himself between us, I don’t yell. I ask him to sit, and Tucker only backs away a few feet, ears down, eyes cast up to see if I’m going to explode. The more times I don’t, the closer and longer Tucker stays. Eventually, I’ll be back to petting both simultaneously.
As with most human-canine interactions, it’s the person, not the dog at fault. It is the person who needs to change, and so I have. If I do feel that Hayden isn’t taking to the “lie down” or “sit and stay,” I remove him from my presence all together. If he can’t accept what I’m giving on my terms, he gets nothing. No yelling, no cussing, I just put him in his crate so I can finish what I’m doing uninterrupted and then I let him back out.
I can only guess how many parents wish they could that with their children.
It seems like no one ever took the time with Hayden to teach him any skills other than “Come”—which, I admit is a good one; Tucker doesn’t even have a reliable Come. But it isn’t enough. Now, every night after our walk and before dinner, class is held in my living room. As you can see, it’s quite competitive… although I don’t know why since it’s the equivalent of a high school sophomore and a fourth grader in the same class.
On our walks, as much as I dread them, I attempt to teach as well. I can’t teach heel or how not to pull as I struggle just to maintain order with two dogs. However, while we wait for the crosswalk sign to change, Tucker and Hayden sit and get a treat. If it’s a long light, Tucker does a few more in his repertoire and Hayden continues to master Sit, Down, and Stay.
Both dogs are extremely social. They want to meet every canine on the planet. After months of training, Tucker is able to walk by most dogs and just sniff the scent trail they left in the air, or if given permission, can approach and greet. Hayden is back to step one. In classic public school curriculum, I must teach to the lowest student, so sadly Tucker is forced back to step one as well. If a dog is approaching us, the dogs must sit, and “watch me.” Now that Hayden knows his name, I can get his attention and “watch me” is a half step beyond that.
Last night, I received the greatest compliment. When I saw two people with one very unruly large dog each coming toward us, the dogs dragging their humans behind them, I asked Tucker and Hayden to sit and watch me. One person crossed the street with his exuberant canine. The other ran by with her dog three yards away and said between breaths, “Wow! Your dogs are so well-behaved!” Tucker and Hayden’s focus was on me, waiting for their treat. I said, “Thank you,” and blushed with pride. She then caught up with her friend and continued to go on about what well-behaved dogs I have.
Hayden has come a long way in less than a week. I acknowledge that and am proud of him. The fun of fostering for me is watching a personality blossom. Timid dogs come out of their shells and gain confidence and learn skills. Hayden is confident and forceful despite his lack of manners—or perhaps because of that lack. I originally approached the situation as having to shove Hayden back—both physically and metaphorically. I used force against force. And that never works. Shaping, molding, and directing that force is how you handle it intelligently.
Teaching a dog skills is teaching yourself. It’s solving problems, avoiding conflicts, and keeping the peace. Shouting is a release, and although we all need to vent sometimes, if you solve the problem, avoid the conflict, and keep the peace first, you’ll find that you just don’t feel the need to vent that much anymore.