« The chill of the night air crept in through the open window, as the rustling of night creatures filled my ears. My heart started racing as the sound of an unfamiliar car came pouring into my keen ears, danger was clearly upon us, and I had a duty to fill, taking no notice for my own safety I through myself into a frenzy, to distract the intruders so that my family could run. To my alarm they did not seem to notice the assailants entering the premisses, and tried to stop me from sounding the alarm! I took the initiative to warn them louder and with more vigor, alas they still did not take my warning.
I am sure now we will all die… »
No, this is not the intro to a horror novel, this is in fact my interpretation of what goes on in my dog Ben’s head when people come home. The very same people who have been living here longer then I have owned Ben, and yet this is still the reaction someone casually driving in and unlocking the door with their own key brings from my very insecure dog.
Now one would assume that Ben is very territorial, and that he is guarding his land from the intruders. But one would be wrong. Because you see, Ben does absolutely nothing when people arrive at the house, (even strangers) unless I am in the house. If I’m not home, he will sleep blissfully through a hurricane without twitching an ear. Lucky me right?
So after years of this lovely behavior I have had enough, and I am making yet another goal! Help Ben become more relaxed. Now how does someone go about doing this? I have a lot of experience training horses, but not that much with dogs. The concepts are the same, offer a reward for a certain behavior, and discourage the undesirable behavior. The only key difference is that horses are prey animals and dogs are predators.
So I started looking at the similarities instead. Horses are herd oriented, and dogs are pack oriented. They instinctively know there is a hierarchy to follow. Both horses and dogs use more body language than vocalization to communicate, and they also use more physical reprimands then verbal ones (i.e. kicking or biting), but always us a gesture or expression before following through to the reprimand (i.e. pinning ears, or growling).
The key similarity that will help me figure out how to help Ben came as the most resent thought I had on the matter. Both animals are meant to move, and a lot! Horses are meant to graze over vast distances, and dogs where meant to hunt down fast sprinting prey. How does this help me? These animals where domesticated by us, yes, but no human has the power to totally rid a creature of nature’s design, so we need to stop fighting a losing battle, and start working with the animals natural design to make our lives a heck of a lot easier.
So have you figured out what Ben’s biggest issue is yet? He doesn’t have a purpose, so he has adapted to the situation and appointed himself my guardian, and this, because of it’s annoying manifestation in the form of incessant barking, is undesirable for myself, and everyone else in the house. So the next question is how do I fix it?…
Emotional control. Sound familiar? It should since this is a recurring theme in horse training. Now answering that question brings on another, how do you do emotional control with a dog? Since Ben is very « spooky » (for lack of a better term, that spell-check is ok with) about a lot of things, like loud noises and things falling, I thought maybe I could adapt some more horse training to his situation. I did this by using the training ball that I use with my horses, you wouldn’t believe the reaction just dribbling it in the sand outside had! Tail tucked, low to the ground Ben was obviously incapable of controlling his emotions in scary situations like this one. It didn’t take very long for him to settle, but you could see he still wasn’t comfortable.
So this seems to be working, teaching him emotional control, and giving him a job (which is taking the form of agility training.) takes the edge off of his energy level, and gives his mind something to work on, he’s learning and engaged in something other than his dutiful task of guarding me from my clearly dangerous family…
To be continued…