Dobby, my Australian shepherd, and I take off for our daily walk. At the bottom of my front steps, Dobby immediately flops into the snow and does his best otter impression, wriggling to and fro. He gets up, shakes off and takes three steps before doing the same antic again. He completes the sequence three times before we finally head down the sidewalk.
Such behavior is not my preference and I’ve tried to get him to stop. I tried holding the leash tight to prevent him from flopping over. I scolded him to get him to stop. I even turned my back and ignored him, hoping that would take the fun out of it for him. Nothing worked.
Now, I have a different approach. I just let it happen. He flops, gets up and shakes off about three times to start every walk. Sometimes he gets in a couple more flops before we make it to the prairie. I just stand still and let him do it because trying to stop him is too exasperating. I guess Dobby trained me to let him enjoy his rolls in the snow. He won this one. I am curious if he’ll stop when the snow finally melts or if he’ll just roll in the dirt; time will tell.
In spite of such antics, my Dobby training is going quite well. He is now a bit more than seven months old and in his teenager phase. He’s tripled in size from the 15 pound puppy I brought home last October. At nearly 50 pounds, he is a handful when he’s in one of his busy bouts. He is also turning into a wonderful companion, at least between his fits of puppy frenzy.
We are halfway through the Nearly Newtons class at Laramie’s Rockin’ E Dog Training and Consulting. We graduated from Beginning DaVincis a few weeks ago. In that six week session we worked on sitting, staying, coming and other basic behaviors. Dobby graduated with flying colors, but, then, all the dogs and their owners successfully pass that class.
In this more advanced class, we are improving the basics. Most important with both classes is my learning how to better communicate what I want with Dobby. The focus is on positive reinforcement, not punishment. I always have puppy treats in easy reach for whenever I catch him doing something positive.
One big challenge with Dobby occurs during our daily prairie walks. He is still a poop-eating fiend. Getting him to leave the poop left by other dogs alone is still a work in progress.
At Rockin’E, Dobby knows the trainers have the best treats. They have a special reward they refer to as “puppy crack” because dogs will do almost anything to get it. It’s just moist dog food that slices so it can be broken off in chunks but, for whatever reason, Dobby loves it and will do whatever is asked if that is his reward.
I realized that if I wanted Dobby to leave the poop alone, I needed to offer him something better. So I got some puppy crack. Initially, it worked like a charm and Dobby readily gave up the poop for the special treat. His interest waned though as the weather improved and all the dog do-do became smellier. It was too hard to resist, and I had to amp up my game.
I’ve turned into the crazy lady on the prairie. When I want Dobby to come and leave the gross item behind, I make myself more enticing than poop. I run in circles, I punch in the air, I do jumping jacks and I make strange noises. I become the crazy lady.
It works great. Dobby can’t resist the extra movement, the strange sounds and the special treat. He comes running at full tilt. On the plus side, I’m getting more exercise on our walks and they are certainly more interesting.
In three weeks, at the last Nearly Newton’s class, we must show the rest of the group a “special trick.” Dobby and I are practicing a routine, still in progress, that involves a hula hoop. I won’t say more since I want it to be a surprise to the others but our practice sessions are a lot of fun.
Dobby is still very much a work in progress in our journey together. Our goal is to pass the American Kennel Association’s Canine Good Citizen Certification offered through Rockin’ E. We have a ways to go before he can sit calmly when other humans and their dogs are nearby, but we will get there – eventually. Stay tuned as our adventure together continues.