I was in Marietta last Tuesday at a training session with a new Home Dog Training client. He has a three-year-old Australian Shepherd named Wesley. He had recently rescued Wesley from the local shelter several months ago, so Wesley was relatively new to the family. His issues focused on basic obedience and pulling on the leash. Wesley quickly responded and was giving my client respectful focus.
We used an Easy Walk Harness as a tool for walking, and that immediately halted the pulling and misbehaving on the walk. Needless to say, my client was very happy with the results of the training. As we were wrapping up the lesson, my client mentioned that the entire family, including Wesley, were traveling to Uncle Jack’s in Hilton Head for Thanksgiving. He also mentioned that Uncle Jack has a dog that Wesley has never met. Would Wesley pose any special problems?
I initially reminded my client that Wesley, his brand-new family member, is a dog. Things that stimulate and entertain Wesley are often not the same things that stimulate and entertain him and his family. In addition, things that give Wesley a sense of safety and security when out and about are often very different than his or his family’s perception of safety and security.
So, it is critical that he take into consideration how Wesley will perceive Uncle Jack’s house. What are the sights? What are the smells? What are the stimuli? What are the triggers? I went on to review what I have told many clients in the past…
I first remind my clients to think of the situation their dog is walking into. Here is a new, strange place filled with all sorts of “strange” people, smells, sounds, and other dogs. The general inclination is to think “Oh, let’s put all the dogs in the back where they can play”. Let’s see what just happened:
- You just deserted your dog in an unknown (to them) area with other dogs having different behavioral characteristics and unknown triggers.
- If you have previously “properly done your job” with your dog, you had established yourself as his leader and protector. This means that it is your job to keep him safe by constantly being in his sight or in his sight on a regular basis. By putting him in the back yard away from you, this is no longer the case. Truth be told, you are now probably inside with Uncle Jack watching the game on his new, 75-inch-high-definition TV.
- Meanwhile, outside, things start to ramp up, and not for the better. Now all the kids, who Wesley has never met, have run out in the back yard with Wesley and the other dog. They don’t know any better, so they may be pulling his tail, running at him, screaming, and all the other wonderful things that little kids like to do with dogs. This could really stress and scare Wesley and you aren’t there to direct and protect!
Bottom line: To put it mildly, your dog is probably not having a good time at Uncle Jack’s. Here comes your action plan This is what you should do…
- Slowly transition being away from your dog when you get to Uncle Jack’s. Remain in the back yard with him for ten to fifteen minutes. Play with him, the kids, and their dog. Be very observant for any warning signs that Wesley may be scared or nervous. This is normally accomplished by watching his body language. Only leave him when you see he is actively playing with the kids and dog on “an equal basis”.
- Check back with Wesley every fifteen to thirty minutes. Step out on the porch and say, “Hey Guy, how are you doing?” This simple action will provide Wesley with a clear signal that, even though you aren’t always directly in eyesight, you are always nearby and ready to respond in any situation. This goes a long way in his understanding that he is safe because you are always there.
- Bring him inside every so often (on a leash) to see the rest of the group. This comforts Wesley that you have not brought him to Uncle Jack’s and simply discarded him, ostracizing him from the rest of the protective nucleus. This helps to build his self-importance while keeping focus on you as the leader. You are always giving him his safety.
- Always be sure to provide him with the water and food he needs.
- Assist in supervising the kids outside when they are playing with the dogs. Kids can often do things that make dogs “nip”. Many parents don’t understand the difference between a “nip” and a “bite”. No need to cause “extra holiday family fights”.
- When you are leaving Uncle Jack’s and on your return trip home, be sure to praise Wesley for doing such a great job.
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 seventeen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.