Monty and his shadow

Monty is an absolutely delightful, much-loved Cockerpoo pup, six months old. His coat is unusually soft.

The problem with Monty is he grabs clothes and damages them. After several months, it’s undoubtedly a well-rehearsed, learned behaviour.

They react to the jumping up by telling him Get Down and No, and pushing him. At the same time he may grab the person’s top. The man’s t-shirt had holes in it. (I had been warned and came wearing tough clothes).

The bottom line here is that if their current responses worked, Monty would no longer grab clothes.

Doing things a different way

This is all about changing the emphasis on how they raise their puppy. They have listened to friends and work colleagues on how to ‘control’ their dog.  They had taken Monty to puppy classes for a couple of weeks – the kind where there are about twenty dogs in a hall and they use physical force and correction to make them sit, walk to heel and so on. Fortunately, the couple didn’t like this and stopped going.

The friends’ advice they have listened to has been old-school, using stern ‘commands’, ‘no’ etc. as opposed to motivation, positive reinforcement and reward.

They will find that modern force-free methods work a whole lot better.

I know. I have used both in my time.

Constant correction merely confuses a dog. A confused dog is stressed and the unwanted behaviour increases.

(They should not let anyone tell them that ‘positive’ means ‘permissive’. It doesn’t).

Instead of giving Monty all his food for free – he can now work for some of it. They can begin to reinforce the behaviour they like.

It’s difficult when something like grabbing clothes has gone on for several months because it has become a habit, particularly when Monty is excited. Anything that is rehearsed so much is a habit hard to break.

The way to solve it isn’t to say ‘no’, ‘uh-uh’ or push him down when he jumps up or grabs clothes. If this approach worked, Monty would not longer play tug of war with their clothes, would he.

The components of the solution include working on having a calmer and more fulfilled dog. The solution requires reinforcing the behaviour they do want. It also involves offering a substitute behaviour that is incompatible with either jumping up or ragging clothes.

Operation Calm

Primarily we need ‘Operation Calm’. This covers all aspects of Monty’s life, including walks. For calmness and stability, a dog needs the right kind of stimulation and enrichment. A sniff walk – mooching and exploring – is much more beneficial than lots of exercise.

By scolding with stern commands when he grabs clothes, they unwittingly reinforce it. They should ignore the behaviour they don’t want if they can. They could walk away from him – out of the room even.

If he’s hanging on – too excited for them to ignore it – they should offer a ‘mutually incompatible behaviour’. Let him tug something of their choice instead.

This, however, isn’t enough. They will now reinforce all the behaviour that they do want. They will give him the attention he’s asking for when his feet are on the floor. When he waits. When he sits maybe. They can use the clicker. (A clicker has no magic on its own of course. It has to be used in a certain way).

Monty grabs clothes. What now instead?

When they enter the room, for instance, they can calmly offer him a tug toy and have a brief game.

Everything will be a lot easier when they give him more activities that can dispel his excitement. For example, a rummage box (thanks to Selina Valentine for the video), a snuffle mat or a stuffed and frozen Kong. Throwing his food over the garden will occupy him nicely for a while, at the same time calming him down.

It’s about using a different approach for communicating with their beautiful, fluffy pup. If they are consistent, it will pay off big time.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs it can do more harm than good. Click here for help