Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Seems to be quite a few dog stories in the blogosphere this week…we have so much to learn from our canine companions!

Even though we’ve shared our home with several dogs at various times over the years, we’ve only recently taken up dog training. For most of our canine companions, once they were housebroken and learned the trash can was not a buffet, we pretty much lived together in genial chaos. But two weeks ago, with the addition of dog number three, our son’s five-year-old beagle Indiana on long-term foster care, we realized we had to get serious or go insane.

Barkley, our five-year-old English Springer, has begun acting out since Indy arrived, responding more aggressively to unexpected guests and perceived threats. (my apologies again to the kind gentleman who interrupted his evening walk to tell us about car lights left on!) I can only assume he’s trying to establish dominance over the newcomer. Either that, or standing guard so no more dogs invade his domain – look what happened last time he let down his guard! We’re holding regular practice sessions, knocking loudly on the front door at unexpected times and teaching them the proper way to respond. It’s a slow process, but it seems to be sinking in. Us, 1; dogs, 0.

The kitchen trash is another thing entirely. Barkley has taken a cue from Indy and now they share the fun of tipping the can and strewing its contents while we’re gone. I’m pretty sure eight-year-old Chi watches from across the room, unwilling to face the Wrath of Mom. We try bribing them with Kong balls and treats to keep them occupied when we leave, but so far the only solution seems to be removing the temptation entirely. Us, 1; dogs, 1.

Meals were a bit of a challenge. Chi and Barkley were content to watch while I filled dishes and carried them to their dining spot near the water bowl. Indy, not so much. It took some convincing to teach him patience, but I believe he’s following their lead on this one. No fighting over each other’s bowl, and no more attempts by Indy to claim Chi’s dish by marking it in the usual male-dog manner. At least he’s enough of a gentleman to wait until she’s finished eating to hike a leg in her direction. Us, 2; dogs, 1.

Bedtime is a round of musical chairs. Chi starts on the loveseat at the foot of our bed, then moves to the floor next to my side. Barkley starts on our bed until Hubby dislodges him (no puppies in our nighttime slumbers!), then takes either the loveseat or the actual doggie bed on the floor near my desk. Indy came with a bed our son insists he loved more than anything, only to find he’s completely uninterested in sleeping there. He moves from our bed, to the back cushion of the loveseat, and more often than not ends up in Hubby’s desk chair, where he’s elevated enough to keep watch on all of us. We’ll give that one to the mutts, although the bed remains ours. Us, 2; dogs, 2.

For the past year, our wide fenced yard has been sufficient to contain Barkley and Chi. Not for Indy. Since his arrival, on more occasions than I can count, he’s found openings just large enough for him to wriggle through and head out to explore the neighborhood. We fix and patch and replace fencing, but he’s very resourceful. Then Hubby had a brilliant idea: attach Indy to a long lead that allows him to reach the fence, maybe even get through, but not go any further. That way, as he finds an escape route, we can block it without chasing him up the block first. One by one, as he locates the gaps, we’re right behind him closing them up. Until we’re confident enough to let Indy run free in the backyard without running away, I’m calling this one a draw.

Stepping back, however, to look at the big picture, I’m not sure who is training whom. We’re engaged in a not-so-delicate pas de deux; they learn the behaviors we expect, we learn patience when we’re disappointed. They figure out what they can get away with, we decide how much we’re willing to tolerate, and bribe. We’re coming to understand most of their actions are simply what dogs do, whether it be chewing or barking or loudly wrestling with each other when we’re trying to work. Like when we were raising our children, we need to curb our expectations with reality, setting reasonable limits, and working to make those limits understood, all while taking into account individual personalities, theirs and ours.

Dog training. People training. It’s a toss-up, but as long as we don’t insist on a zero-sum game, we all win.

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