‘Good! That’s the behaviour we want!’.
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.
They 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.
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.
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.