View Full Version : Be careful what you wish for

26th November 2007, 11:33 PM
A bit of back story...We got Abbey when she was two. She was with a couple that had kids, and given she was with her breeder the first year of her life and very poorly socialized, she didn't mesh well with her new family--she was very fearful of the kids. Given we don't have kids, it was a great match for her. Our whole mission was to have her be a happy, well adjusted dog. We quickly enrolled her in a class designed for shy/fearful dogs, which helped her, and us, greatly.
Three years later, she's out of her shell and we now have an obnoxious dog. And I mean obnoxious. With all of the training, between her and Gus, you would think we wouldn't be in this situation. We're at our wits end and have hired someone to come to our house for private "lessons"...basically, she'll be here to see Abbey in all her glory--how she looses her mind during feeding time, to the point where Gus attacks her, because he's sick of her carrying on like she's dying, to her constantly being underfoot when we're trying to cook or do anything in the kitchen, to her running in front of us and tripping us when we're moving about the house, to her jumping on the back door, etc.
We take full responsibility, because obviously at some point we lost control of the situation. We can pin-point a lot of the behaviors to when we got Gus, and although we've always tried to make sure she's first with everything, including attention, I'm guessing a lot of this is from her feeling the need to be competitive. I guess we'll find out next week. Wish us luck.

26th November 2007, 11:50 PM
I think you're doing the right thing with an in-home training session. I did that when we expanded from one to two dogs and things were a bit hairy.

It's the best money I ever spent! The trainer pointed out where we were going wrong, and helped us find solutions that were right for us. Our trainer used positive reinforcement/clicker training and the dogs took to it right away. We saw a difference immediately then worked on reinforcing what she taught us. She was available for phone consults after the session, which I took advantage of. She was instrumental in me being able to have the confidence to run a four dog household.

She taught us a lot about "calming signals" which are signals dogs use to communicate stress, happiness, etc. I have been able to anticipate problems and avert them before they happen just by watching body language. At first it was work, but now I think I'm so in synch with my dogs that I'm noticing it subconsciously, and issue commands like "quiet" before my barky one is able to get started.

Good luck on your visit next week! I'll be anxious to hear how it goes. I do think you'll be set on the right track, and what seems overwhelming now won't seem quite so bad next week. :xfngr:

27th November 2007, 12:06 AM
Jen, good on you for owning responsibility for the way Abbey has turned out. It can be very difficult for people to realise that their unmanagable dog is probably a product of they way they have been managed... or maybe mismanaged. You are doing the right thing by getting some help with this & I commend you for taking these steps.

Do let us know how it all goes.

27th November 2007, 12:17 AM
Jen, good on you for owning responsibility for the way Abbey has turned out. It can be very difficult for people to realise that their unmanagable dog is probably a product of they way they have been managed... or maybe mismanaged. You are doing the right thing by getting some help with this & I commend you for taking these steps.

Do let us know how it all goes.

We're totally responsible, and I was in tears when I posted, because I feel so bad for the situation we're in. We've always used only positive methods, but yet when I'm so frustrated with her that I have to remove myself from the room, I know she can feel my blood boiling, and it makes me so disappointed in myself. It's also very hard to admit that we can't resolve these issues--especially with all the training we've been through between both her and Gus. I just can't wait for our appointment; this is just not a very happy home right now.:(

27th November 2007, 01:00 AM
I know how far you brought Abbey already when she had not been in a great situation previously so you have nothing to feel bad for. I know you have also had a major handful with Gus and most likely you are right, his arrival triggered some other developments -- but they also obviously adore each other and play the way none of mine will play together, so I think you made the right decision in getting a second dog for your household.

A good trainer will unravel whatever is happening. I think if I were you I'd feed them in separate rooms so they don't see each other, as a start -- to remove whatever starts Abbey up and annoys Gus. I'd also expect Abbey to be completely quiet and calm and seated before she gets her food and take it away if the noise starts. It is slow progress but I have gotten Lily to sit at least for the moments when I am looking at her while I prepare food. If she starts whining and barking she gets a time out in the hall. I make her wait before she can eat until I say OK. All these small things reinforce control and polite behaviour -- no free lunch.

Some cavaliers do really get underfoot -- Lucy is one, Lily another; I sometimes stumble over Lily. :rolleyes: She has to sit right at my feet when I am preparing things. I know what the answer is in part -- the ability to do a polite downstay and also the judicious use of an xpen. I don;t do enough work with them either! Sometimes I block them all off into the sitting room so they can watch me in the kitchen but none can get into the kitchen -- bliss! But if you have a little shadow, this is pretty innate I think and you may need to use an xpen panel or some baby gates to block off your space from her constant access to you.

Maybe the extra time you were spending with Gus for a while has triggered some demanding behaviours too?

All these things sound really manageable with the right approaches. :flwr:

27th November 2007, 01:31 AM
We do exercise the NILIF (nothing in life is free) idea with everything--coming in a door, getting in the car, meals, etc. Even after the two years since we learned the idea and have been using it, she still has to be reminded at every meal. Sometimes it takes me 1/2 hour to feed her, with all the stopping and turning my back to her.
The other issue is the gate. We have an open floor plan where the living, dining and kitchen are all one great room. Aside from putting her in an xpen, which is looking pretty good right now, there really isn't a way to block off the kitchen from her.
I don't mind when she has to be right by me, I knew this about the breed when we decided on a Cav. What she's doing is different though--she steps in front of me and jumps up on me when I'm walking. Or, while in the kitchen, she always tries to paw on my foot--I'm assuming she's trying to be alpha.
Gus is a terrier, with all the antics that go with it, but he really knows his role in this family. Abbey, on the other hand, is always testing us it seems, and yes, it started when we got Gus. I'm guessing insecurity is playing a role here, too.

Thanks for all the encouragement though, it's been a very frustrating time lately. Is there a little symbol of a person pulling their hair out??!

Cathy T
27th November 2007, 03:09 AM
Oh, man, Jen....I can so relate to your frustration!! And Jake is not 2 years old...he's 5!!! I finally called a trainer (we did obedience with her) to come help me figure out what in the he** was going on. Best dang money I ever spent. In an hour and a half she completely opened my eyes. Jake would attack Shelby at mealtime...just get really nasty. I would blow up, scream, slam things.....hmmm, all the things I wouldn't need to do if I had taken control in the beginning. We are by no means perfect (was late to Thanksgiving dinner because we had a little dust up) but am finally confident in my ability to defuse the situation...and to head it off. I've had so many people say "they're so little...how difficult can it be?" They don't know!! And I dealt with this nonsense for over 3 years before realizing...I need professional help. You're so doing the right thing.

Barb mentioned "calming signals" and that's something that really helped with our situation. I'm a bit of a hot-blood and to learn that they really played off my frustration and exasperation. Now, I can give them a stern word, stand still and they almost immediately settle down. Remember, we are a long way from being perfect but we are so much happier than we were six months ago!!

Good luck and let us know how it goes. No defeat, no failure, no inadequacy, simply a matter of more than you can handle...and that's okay!!:)

27th November 2007, 01:26 PM
Thanks Cathy. Abbey is 5 as well; we got her when she was 2, and she's been slowly acting up more and more since we got Gus a year and a half ago. I really wish we would have gone this route a long time ago. Nothing I can do about that now, all we can do is try to learn new tools to deal with it. I'm like you though, I have a bit of a temper, and they, especially her, feed off of it. I don't yell, but instead I get silent when I'm mad, and then she really starts to freak out even more.

Debby with a Y
27th November 2007, 01:35 PM
Jen, bravo for getting the trainer.

My boyfriend's Giant Schnauzer has never gotten clear direction in life and he is approaching six years old...80 pounds and totally out of control. With me in his life, something had to give. I was simply disgusted by the dog's behavior and I was not comfortable around it. My BF finally hired a personal dog trainer and the results have been amazing. I think it took four sessions at his house; now Rocky is in Advanced Obedience with other large dogs. Bottom line: you are not the only one who has waited but bravo for making the decision...and it will help. {{{HUGS}}}

Scouty girl
27th November 2007, 05:21 PM
Jen, good for you for stepping up and going in the right direction. I'm sure things will start to improve.

I hope this isn't taken the wrong way, but I'm kind of glad to see members post that sometimes they do raise their voices at their pups. I was beginning to think I was the only one. Though it doesn't happen often. Usually when Scout and Breeze are playing and I tell them to stop and they don't, then I have to get louder than them. :sl*p:

I had Breeze for nine years before Scout came to live with us and she was a very good dog, she's still good, but she does mischievous things now. Like taking food off the table and my snack tray when I'm not home. She never stole food from my table and believe me she is plenty tall enough to walk right up to the table without even stretching and steal anything she wants. She just started acting out. I've had Scout for over a year. In the past 4-6 months she's taken 5 Asiago cheese bagels from my table, a bag of miniature marshmallows and two loaves of bread, and five hotdog rolls, she ate those while my back was turned eating my two hotdogs. Now I'm more careful where I place things.

28th November 2007, 10:37 AM
Hi Jen,

Firstly it sounds like you have offered a wonderful, loving, safe home for Abbey. She has bonded well with you all and you have provided a sound foundation for her to work from.

Now I will be brutally honest with you. You really need to let go of the ALPHA idea and NILF ideas. The notion that dogs aim to raise their status and aim to be top dog has long been disproved. This is because all of those dominance theories were based on studies of captive wolves NOT wild wolves. For example in the wild wolf pack the young and whelping females EAT first and so on. If you want to understand truly how their pack elements work read anything by Coppinger or Barry Eaton.

Dog will perform behaviours if they are reinforced and worthwhile. It is as simple as that. To say that dogs forward think and plan to rule a household is actually giving them a little too much credit! Dogs do not jump up to be alpha, they jump up because it has worked in the past, they receive reinforcement OR they have not learnt how to self-control.

The advice above regarding calming signals and clicker should be listened to. Positive reinforcement is the way to go but you should also look at the areas of

Positive Reinforcement
Negative Reinforcement
Positive Punishment
Negative Punishment

So as you understand them.

We use Positive Reinforcement (adding a reinforcer to a behaviour we wish to have repeated) and Negative Punishment (taking something away to prevent or punish a behaviour so as to extinguish it). So the Positive and the Negative mean + and - as in add or taking away NOT Positive as in good or Negative as in Bad. For example Positive Punishment would be adding something aversive to punish a behaviour (choke when pull, shock when bark) so it sounds good but it's the worst.

Now back to calming signals and self-control. I have found that Cavaliers act very much like all spaniels and some to the extent that they could still go and work in the field. SO when you are training gundogs the very first element of training is self management (the dog learning to self manage) ALSO emotional control. Self management or self-control training is done through teaching a series of exercises. These exercises are not commands or cues but literally that the dog self controls in order to get what he/she wants.

The emotional control element is trained through games and rewards and timing.

It is important that you shift your focus from Dominance, rank Reduction and NILF to sitting down and identifying the behaviours that you want to change and decided how you are going to change these. Also deciding on punishers. I know the word sounds bad but you must remove the reinforcers for the unwanted behaviours and use punishers for extreme behaviours. Worst punisher is isolation for 30 seconds in a covered crate (no bedding no toys) but seriously I would use this for dogs that are acting HIGHLY inappropriately and you really need to see if any of the behaviours are dangerous and extreme enough for that.

So the very best 1st step you can do is sit down and make a list of all the behaviours that you want to stop. Write each one down and beside it write what the reinforcer is. Now make a list of all the behaviours you want to keep or promote and write down all the reinforcers and how you are going to reward EACH TIME for these good behaviours. Now make a list of any new cues or behaviours you want to teach and decide how to teach these (I can help with this by email)

Remember that dogs suffering from depression cause by too much demotion and NILF will overreact or become hyper. Why? Because it can cause a lot of confusion that leads to stress which leads to a feeling that they may loose resources (you, food etc), which leads to resource guarding (sounds like you have this at meal times). This is because too much emphasis and VALUE is put on the food etc and the dog gets really anxious. The chemicals in the brain and body react and you end up with a bouncy confused and one annoying dog.

I wish I could help but I can email you all the self-control exercises to do if you pop me an email tara@dogtrainingireland.ie

Good luck and please choose a trainer who understands dogs not someone who preaches PACK theories, dominance etc. To compare our dogs to wolves is like comparing us to chimps. We have moved on, so have they.

If I can help further just email.

28th November 2007, 01:40 PM
Thanks for the reply, Tara, and for your honest approach. I should clarify that I understand alpha and dominance theories have been disproved, but to some extent I see Abbey trying to control situations (whether with us or with Gus) with her negative behavior--so perhaps using the word Alpha was my mistake, that isn't the best choice of words to describe the situation. However, you say that dogs suffering from depression caused by too much demotion will overreact and become hyper. What do you mean by demotion if there isn't rankings?
I do have to disagree with you on the NILF idea as it has worked for us--with both Abbey and then with Gus. The issues with Abbey started after we got Gus, this is where she's lost self control and where food has become an obsession. I'd love to see the self control exercises you offer, I'll email you for those.
We're working with Becky Schultz, she's very highly regarded in the US and has developed programs for various training facilities across the US--her Wallflower program for shy/fearful dogs is one such program. She, her husband and Dr. Anderson (co-inventor of the Gentle Leader) operate the Animal Behavior Resources Institute: http://abrionline.org/index.php here in Minneapolis. She's worked with us on both Abbey and then with Gus, but for whatever reason/s things have gone South and we're reconnecting with her again to get back on track.