As first seen in the Bedford Patch; February 1, 2011
One of my favorite things to do in my private dog training practice is untangle knots. Not the knots in leashes or long lines, but in the complex relationships between clients and their pets.
Sometimes the knots are simple…the “I just got a puppy, now what do I do?” type of call. Others are more complex: hair-raising tales of furniture destruction, car chasing, non-stop barking and seemingly incurable housebreaking problems.
This week, I'd like to share a story about the multi-dog household—another common dog training issue—and invite you, the reader, to send me your questions, insights or photos on this or any other dog training topic.
I received a call from a couple with three dogs: two Shar-Peis and a Vizsla. The Shar-Peis were fighting—one still recovering from 19 stitches in the face. Could I help? I quickly set up an appointment.
Meet the characters:
Lola: The Queen. Lola is a three-year old Shar-Pei, dignified and self-contained. Affectionately referred to as ‘one dominant bitch’ by her owners but I disagree. Lola displays the best of the Shar-Pei personality; she is confident and composed with visitors. She doesn’t crowd or retreat but stands firm…Lola has presence.
Lola does have one personality quirk: after any dog visits her space, she pees in whatever room they slept in. “Spiteful!” contends the husband. “Passive aggressive,” theorizes the wife. “Neither,” says the dog trainer.
Dogs are not that emotionally complex. Lola is not being mean; Lola is being a dog. She is re-establishing her scent in her den. The remedy? When a visiting leaves, open a window and spritz the room with a 50/50 mix of water and white vinegar. Problem solved.
Homer: The Other Shar Pei. Three-year old Homer is a “gift” left behind by a college-age son. A steady fellow, Homer is untrained and lacks some basic social skills. This has brought out some of the less desirable Shar-Pei traits like separation anxiety, mistrust of strangers and a distain for his veterinarian. Still, I like Homer. Not the brightest dog on the planet, he is simple and a little goofy, with an irresistible face.
Finn: The Wild Child. A seven-month old, un-neutered Vizsla, Finn is a handful. With his pretty face, bad behavior and absolute lack of personal boundaries, he could be the star of a reality TV show. Within minutes of my arrival, Finn leapt onto the kitchen counter and stole a bag of hamburger buns. Frantically trying to salvage the buns, his people shouted various commands (all ignored) and tried to wrest the bag free.
I used my favorite “release” technique—squeezing the sides of his mouth until he released the bag (do NOT try this technique without training) which freed the bag. Bag game over, Finn’s limited attention span then turned to Homer. Homer knew what was coming—a full-on pounce—and he began to back away, cowering. Finn’s people began to interfere, so Finn’s quicksilver mind careened off in another direction: Run! Run around the house! Really fast! Then…ummm…jump on this new lady! His owners were harried, Lola was disgusted and Homer was scared.
I turned to the owners. “Finn needs some training,” I observed. Yes, they understood that, but the immediate problem was Lola and Homer. They were fighting. “That’s why we called…we need you to help us with that,” they pleaded.
I explained that Finn’s constant riling was the likely source of the Shar-Pei unrest. Imagine, I told them, that you have two kids. You’re all leading a relatively peaceful life. If you adopted a new child, particularly one that was needy, poorly socialized or bullying, your older children would be stressed. If you ignored the situation and “let the kids sort it out” what would happen? Frustration, fights and family strife.
The solution to Lola and Homer’s problem is simple: rein in Mr. Wild. Finn needed to be brought under control—and fast. We spent the rest of the session and several follow-up dog training lessons working with Finn. Now he’s pretty and well-behaved. Lola and Homer are happy and companionable. Everything is back to normal…a good kind of reality show.