Sunday, August 4, 2013

Puppy and House Rules

Darcy is almost 12 weeks old, and well on his way to figuring out that our house has Rules. The learning process is faster for some things and slower for others, depending on how rewarding the undesirable behavior is and what the natural consequences are. He'll be about 85 lbs when full grown, so he has no "puppy license" indulgence. It's essential that he learn manners.

First, a few Rules:
  • Sit nicely for attention
  • Dogs are not allowed in the kitchen
  • Dogs get fed only from their bowl and only at mealtimes (except for training treats)
  • No paws on furniture or people
  • No chewing on anything but dog toys
  • Respect the cats
  • Crate is a fun and safe place to hang out
In addition, we have a few rules that pertain to walkies: walk on loose leash, sit when car, people or other dogs approach and wait for the release signal before moving on, that sort of thing. He's doing quite well with the sit/check-in. We always walk with a bag of tiny liver treats. Good behavior gets marked with "Yes!" and a tasty treat. Interestingly, the first part of this he "got" was the sit-when-car-approaches. He already had the idea of "when in doubt, sit." From there, it wasn't hard to watch for the slightest lowering-of-butt and reinforce it. From there, a full sit. We're in transition from sit-staring-at-car to sit-watching-Mom. Breaking the fixed stare is an important aspect of manners with a high-prey-drive dog like Darcy.

Which brings me to cats. Our two cats are pretty dog-savvy, but will break and run on occasion. This is the most dangerous thing they can do because it engages the dog's prey drive. Right now, when Darcy is still not too coordinated, it's easy for them to outrun him. In another few months, he'll be faster and much stronger. So, since we can't convince the cats not to do this, we have to shape the dog's behavior to create calmer cats.

In the photo, the black cat is relaxed enough to lie down fairly close to the dog, who was asleep. The cat can easily jump on to the window ledge just behind him. He's watching the dog intently and the tip of his tail is raised -- he's alert and a little anxious, but willing to hang out. Darcy has just noticed him and is alerting on him. He hasn't "locked on" completely, and what happened next was the cat moved away, but not in panic. We're seeing the other cat offer play-invitation behaviors, and Darcy do the same to both cats. (For example, cat on bed rolling on back; Darcy with soft gaze, slow tail wag, play bow; both species, soft eyes and look-away, body at angle to other animal or facing away.) Part of what made this encounter successful is that Darcy was already facing away from the cat. As Darcy changed his orientation, the cat let him know that wasn't comfortable. Needless to say, the cats are an irresistible inducement to jump on furniture, but at the same time they are excellent teachers of "Mine!" There's nothing like a (soft) paw swipe to communicate "Paws Off The Sofa!"

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