Inconsistency. Biting Leash. Grabbing Lead. Scratching for Attention

Miniature Schnauzer Pepper is now six months old. She lives in a family of five and gets a lot of input. This leads to inconsistency.

She has a lovely nature; a non-aggressive, friendly and confident little dog. Perfect really. The things she does that they would like to stop are all normal puppy things – but not perhaps by the time puppy is six months old.

They are first-time dog owners, enthusiastic to do their best.

Inconsistency is a problem.

inconsistency makes training hardThey all need to want the same things and decide just what they are. They then all need to stick to the protocols.

There is a little list of specifics they would like to change. Most are due to excitement and lack of direction in a way that she understands.

The list includes jumping up at them when they sit down and if ignored flying at them. If pushed away crossly, she may nip. It’s a battle to put her lead on and her teeth are used. She attacks and grabs the lead when they walk. One family member doesn’t want her upstairs.

She jumps at them when they are sitting down and if ignored, scratches and scrabbles with her feet. Her nails make this uncomfortable.

They are happy with the jumping on them if she is gentle. It’s okay while they sit at the kitchen table but not when they sit on the sofa. The inconsistency will be confusing. If they decide that her little soft paws gently on them is okay, I feel this has to go for wherever they are sitting.

They may decide no feet on them at all is what they want. But then, they like being jumped up on when they arrive home.

Picking their battles.

I suggested they pick their battles, come to an agreement as a family and then each one stick to the plan. (I myself would start by choosing to allow gentle paws wherever they are sitting or standing. Not rough scrabbling).

So far the emphasis has always been on stopping her doing things and it can in fact make her worse. Particularly when there is inconsistency. They may scold or physically prevent her from doing something in the moment, but that doesn’t teach her for another time. It can wind her up more, to the point where she nips.

The emphasis now will be in showing Pepper what they do want.

Teaching her the desired behaviour may not work in the moment so quickly. The result, however, if they all do the same thing and keep it up, should be permanent.

It complicates things if there is one rule for the kitchen and one for the sitting room. I would decide whether soft feet are allowed in both places when they are sitting, or whether no feet at all is what they want. Whether soft feet are allowed, but not nails.

When they have decided what they want they will stick to it.

How?

Using their body language to remove attention and by reinforcing the behaviour they want. We used a clicker and the word Yes. We also reinforced just sitting looking at us and especially lying down peacefully.

While scrabbling gets maximum attention she will continue doing it. What’s in it for Pepper to lie down peacefully or to sit calmly beside us when jumping and scrabbling gets a lot of reaction?

There is even inconsistency in this. Sometimes she is fussed and cuddled. Sometimes she is pushed down and told No.

Lead biting is infuriating! They will, rather than using a water spray or impatience to stop her, now reinforce the behaviour they do want. When the lead is in her mouth they resist what is, to Pepper, a tug game. They freeze. As soon as she drops the lead, they drop food and they start moving again.

Motivation

If they concentrate on getting Pepper to use her brain, her stress levels will come down and life will be easier. We saw how well that worked while I was there.

I gently asked her to do something only once – and waited. She did it. Sometimes it’s best to say nothing at all and just wait for the behaviour they want. Then they can say ‘Yes’ or click and reward with food.

At present she simply isn’t motivated to do what they ask. If they say ‘Come’, she understands but mostly decides to ignore it. At this stage they should use food liberally.

There are a number of things in our plan that, individually, would make little difference. Some things are pure management like blocking off the stairs. However, when they add the individual things together, avoiding inconsistency, they will see some good progress after the first few days I’m sure.

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 dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help

Challenging Puppy can be Like Putty in our Hands

LabGSDSeventeen-week-old Poppy, a Labrador German Shepherd cross, is a very good puppy – just being a puppy! For instance, what puppy wouldn’t chase fluffy slippers (furry animals perhaps)?

I so love working with a challenging puppy and the magic of using positive methods – waiting for the moment she does what I want and immediately rewarding, whilst ignoring (giving zero feedback) the stuff I don’t want.

Walking nicely

Poppy is currently walked on a heavy chain lead attached to her collar (pet shop’s advice), because she grabs and chews through leads. She may go on strike, rolling about on her back or jump up to grab the lead. She will shake it and she won’t let go. Her walking isn’t great, but this is because she really has not been taught what to do. Being held on a tight lead teaches her nothing.

Getting a puppy to walk nicely is so easy if positive reinforcement is used – along with patience.

I put a Perfect Fit harness on her and attached a 6′ lead to it – with a section of very very lightweight chain at the bottom to protect my lead. I attached the lead to a ring on the front of the harness.

Positive reinforcement

To start with she jumped, grabbed and got excited. I ignored the whole thing and waited. Eventually the lead fell briefly from her mouth and I rewarded her immediately. Timing is crucial. I carried on ignoring jumping up and lead grabbing completely whilst immediately rewarding every release of the lead. Then we started to walk. I continually rewarded every instance of good walking whilst ignoring everything else. I waited. I encouraged her. Loose lead = reward. Tight lead = nothing.

In no more than ten minutes the so-called challenging puppy had lost interest in grabbing the lead and was walking beautifully around the house on a loose lead following me. I don’t require her to ‘heel’. We’re not doing competition work.

This principal works with everything though of course some behaviours can’t be ignored if dangerous or destructive. When this is the case bomb-proof recall is needed so instead a negative ‘no’ or ‘leave it’, we have a positive ‘come here and do this instead/give that to me’ followed by reward.

Exasperating

Puppies can be exasperating and we feel in order to discipline them we need to scold or punish when the opposite is so much more effective and in line with the principals of learning theory. Just as with a toddler, we avoid a lot of trouble by keeping certain things out of puppy’s range – rubbish bins, furry slippers, socks, flowing dressing gowns etc. It’s not for very long.

In their quest to do the right things, Poppy’s people have tried to sort through a mix of conflicting, old-fashioned mis-information from people they meet ‘who know all about dogs’ and from the internet.

They have done well with Poppy so far. She is house trained, she is very bright and she is brave and friendly. She is chilled with being left alone. Now is the time however to scotch habits that won’t be good when she becomes a large dog. Jumping up at people is one. Using her mouth and teeth, and barking to get attention are others. Finally, bad leash manners would be a proper battle when she got bigger.