Saturday, March 19, 2011

Teachable Moments

This week's post is by Terri Wilkes, a Mid Atlantic Border Collie Rescue volunteer.

I often use this phrase while working with children, but today it dawned on me that it is a perfect opportunity as a dog owner to work on improving my dog's behaviors.  As Sarah can attest, I am known for adopting the schizophrenic pups.  Actually, my dog Sophie (a corgi/border/something mix) is 11 years old and has come such a long way in the last few years because I decided to stop protecting the world from her nonsense and make her 'deal with it'.

We have a big issue with the door, any door.  If a person comes through--even one of the family, the dog goes nuts. The barking, shrieking and running away from us goes on and on.  I just got fed up that I can't speak to anyone without my dog freaking out. When the doorbell rings I changed my body language.  I don't instantly search for her or try to get her contained before I answer the door (I look like a frantic fool).  I simply answer the door, give her a firm "quiet" and proceed to let the person know that the dog doesn't attack, she barks and I open the door and allow her to go out on the porch.  She gives them a few sniffs and barks and then we all enter the house.  Once she sees that I am ok with this person she settles and I reward her with a treat. 

Today the cable man arrived.  Big, scary, stranger with tools and wires.  So I proceed with the same process and it worked!  She started to huff and puff and carry on a bit inside when he was moving about from room to room and opening the garage door.  I decided that this was my opportunity not to stress out, but to make it a "teachable moment".  I am in the middle of the exact situation I want to work on with her.  I planted myself at the dining table with my laptop to work.  I got a few delicacies from the fridge (cheese bits, meat, etc) and kept them next to me on the table.  This is Sophie's currency !   

Each time she was quiet, sat next to me and allowed the cable man to pass by I rewarded her with a treat and praise.  I ignored any stuff I didn't like.  For the first time I had someone in my home for hours and she was just acting like nothing was unusual!  She got her toy and went and lay down.  She even followed the guy around wagging her tail.  I am almost looking forward to having more people show up so I can reinforce this. 

I hope that this inspires others to use those moments when you feel out of control of your dog's behavior and use it to teach. I realize I have to change my reactions and behavior in order to get her to.   Took me a little while, but I am getting it!

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