I was over in Buford last weekend at a new Home Dog Training client helping her with their one-year-old Springer Spaniel named Charlotte. Her problem was that she didn’t listen, pulled on the leash, and loved to steal food. Like most Springers, Charlotte wasn’t a “bad dog”, she just needed some direction and consistency. We quickly took care of the situation and put the owner in charge. Charlotte finally knew what she had to do and our client was thrilled with the results.
As we were finishing up, our client had one more question. “This is great and I understand that I need to maintain a consistent and secure environment. Right now our home is filling up with of out-of-town family and will be bustling with activity and people for the next two weeks. What happens when our guests leave, our kids go back to school, and we go back to work after the 1st?”
I told my client that this is an excellent question. The bottom line is that there could a large change (for the worse) in Charlotte’s behavior when everyone leaves and her once active environment becomes quiet and empty. This is the bad news. The good news is that we are aware of the possibility of this scenario and can easily resolve it. So, what is going on here?
Dogs, like me (your humble dog trainer) crave consistency. That is one of the main reasons that we always demand a calm, consistent, and repetitive teaching environment for your dog. They learn and adapt through repetition in much the same way that we learned our “times tables”. They see things or experience things and have a clear sense of what comes next.
A house full of people, activities, and sounds creates a very specific and continual sensual environment for your dog. If that changes over night (family leave, kids to back to school, and you are off to work), your dog does not have the time to process that change. As with humans, when our dog can’t process a radical change, they often become fearful, aggressive, or destructive. (When in doubt, shoot first and ask questions later.)
Remember that I told you that there was “good news” in all of this Holiday family chaos? The “good news” is that my clients had time. They began thinking about this problem the week before Christmas when their home was becoming populated and animated. They had two weeks before everything would radically change and become deserted and silent. “Time” will allow them to transform an instant shock into a gradual transition. Although not totally consistent, small changes can be integrated with Charlotte’s learning process.
I told my clients that they should allow the “Christmas experience” to proceed through Christmas day. At that point, they will need to start to transform Charlotte’s consistent concept of normalcy back to their quiet, day-to-day experience. I suggested the following steps.
- PUT CHARLOTTE BACK INTO HER CRATE. Charlotte normally spent the day in her crate when everyone was gone. Even though people are still around the week after Christmas, start to transition her back into the crate for longer and longer periods during the day. Do not pay attention to her when she is in the crate and correct her (if needed) if she starts to bark.
- LEAVE HER ALONE. When in her crate, leave the room for a period of time. Start off leaving just for a few minutes and extend the time where she can be alone in a room in her crate for several hours.
- PRACTICE LEAVING THE HOUSE. My clients’ “real day-to-day life” includes everyone leaving the house and leaving Charlotte alone at home. I suggested that they have everyone make standard “leaving noises” (picking up keys, closing doors, turning off televisions, etc.) and then walk out and close the door. If Charlotte starts to bark or whine, they should correct her by vocalizing a loud, low-toned (baritone voice) “No”. They should stay quiet and outside for five to ten minutes before coming back inside.
- PUT CHARLOTTE BACK ON HER “NORMAL SCHEDULE”. My clients should start feeding Charlotte and taking her outside for potty at the same times they were performing this before Christmas. They should also get her up and put her to bed at normal times before Christmas. This assures that Charlotte’s “internal clock” is set for the return to normal day-to-day activities.
- ENGAGE IN NORMAL ACTIVITIES. The big thing here is to make sure that they play with Charlotte in the same manner and at the same times before Christmas happened. If they normally only played with Charlotte in the morning and evening in the back yard, I told them that they needed to return to that routine. This will assure that she gets her “me time” with the family and will also tire her out for a nap in the crate.
Although these items sound pretty intuitive, we humans normally like to wait to the last minute to start anything. (How many of us always “crammed” for our final exams?) As I mentioned earlier, I instructed my clients to start this process immediately after Christmas. This gave them one week to re-acclimate Charlotte with “life-as-normal”. When they actually start “leaving for real”, Charlotte will have already adjusted to the change.
Charlotte will understand 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 Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over fifteen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.