I was at a Home Dog Training session in Dacula last Friday with a new client and her eleven-month-old Springer Spaniel named Scarlett. The big dog training issues with Scarlett were inability to listen, terrible leash manners, and continual propensity to steal food. Having had two Springers myself, I quickly recognized that Scarlett wasn’t a “bad dog”, she was simply lacking direction and consistency in her life. We rapidly resolved these issues and allowed Scarlett’s owner to take charge. Scarlett now understood the “house rules” and my client was delighted with the results of the lesson.
As I was wrapping up the lesson, I asked my client if she had any other questions or things she wanted to cover. “The lesson has been very informative, and I now know that I need to sustain a consistent and secure environment. The holidays are now here, and my home is filling up with out-of-town family and will be filled with activity and people until the new year. Is there anything I should worry about with Scarlett when our house returns to normal?”
I responded by telling her that this was a great question. It is quite possible that Scarlett could negatively react to the immediate change in her environment of being surrounded by people and activities to an empty and quiet house. Scarlett has no idea why everything in the house just changed. This can make her nervous, questioning, and possibly scared.
All dogs love consistency. They love stability in their environment, their actions, the people with which they interact, etc. That is why we stress consistency as the most important topic in our dog training programs. Dogs learn through repetition. They want to see the same thing over and over again. To put this in “human terms”, think of how you learned your “times tables”.
I told my client that when Scarlett is subjected to a house full of people, activities, and sounds; it creates a very explicit and repetitive sensual environment for her. When all of this changes after the new year, it creates an inexplicable change in her world. Most dogs are not able to deal with a radical change such as this. They will act out in often a fearful, aggressive, or destructive manner.
Even though this all sounds like a lot of “bad news”, there is a “silver lining” in this instance. My client began thinking about this problem the week before Christmas just as things were starting to “ramp up” with lots of guests and ongoing activities. She now has just over two weeks before everything returns to normal, and things get really quiet. “Time” will give her the opportunity to alter an instant shock into a gradual transition. Although not totally consistent, small changes can be integrated with Scarlett’s learning process.
I suggest that my client allow all the normal hubbub of the Holiday Season to continue through Christmas Day. She should start to transition Scarlett from living in a crazy holiday environment to living in a normal daily environment starting on the 26th and finishing as the last guest leaves after the start of the new year. I gave her some suggestions to implement after Christmas Day:
- REMIND SCARLETT ABOUT HER CRATE. During most of the year, Scarlett would spend most of her time in the crate when the house was empty. She was used to doing this and the familiarity of the crate gave her a sense of safety and security. I told my client to start to return her back into the crate for longer and longer periods during the day. Put some toys in the crate to maintain her focus. Feed her in the crate. Do not pay attention to her when she is in the crate. If she starts to bark, immediately correct her.
- LET HER GET USED TO NOBODY BEING IN SIGHT. After you have her in the crate, have everyone leave the room so that she can experience “Oh well, I guess I am alone now”. Start by leaving for just a few minutes and then extend to longer and longer times of her being alone in the room in her crate. If she starts to bark or act up, correct her from the other side of the door.
- SIMULATE YOUR DEPARTURE FROM THE HOUSE. My client told me that their “rest of the year routine” includes long periods where the entire family is away from the house. This is based on work and school schedules. They needed to start to reintroduce this “experience” into Scarlett’s daily routine. Even though school was still on break and many of them had taken vacation from work, I told them to emulate leaving the house. They should make standard “leaving noises” (closing doors, grabbing keys, clicking off lights, switching off TV’s, etc.) and then leave the house and slam the door. They should then quietly wait outside for five to ten minutes. If Scarlett starts to bark, whine, etc., they should correct her by verbalizing a loud, low-toned (baritone voice) “No”. They can come back in the house after she has been quiet for a few minutes.
- RETURN SCARLETT TO HER “REGULAR SCHEDULE”. Things are normally “different” around Christmas time. Even though it might not be convenient for the remainer of my clients’ Christmas schedule, they should return Scarlett to her “rest of the year” schedule. This includes such activities as pottying, feeding, walking, playing, etc. This guarantees that Scarlett’s “internal clock” is set for the return to normal day-to-day activities.
Although all this sounds like common sense, we are procrastinators and usually wait to the last minute to start anything. As I stated earlier, I told my clients to start this process with Scarlett immediately after Christmas. This gave them one week to reset Scarlett to a “life-as-normal” routine. When “life as normal” returns after the new year, Scarlett is “already there”.
Scarlett will recognize what is happening because my clients have been introducing small changes on a consistent and repetitive basis. Her acceptance of these changes will allow her to feel safe in the family’s life-as-normal, post-Christmas environment.
Please call or text us at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. You can also email us at [email protected]. We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over eighteen years. We have trained over 6,000 wonderful dogs and great families and are ready to help you.