We had some people over the other day and B had trouble handling all the excitement especially when it came time for dinner. We all sat down to eat and when all the other dogs settled down B sat behind the gate barking to be let into the kitchen. The horror! Isn’t she supposed to be perfect, obedient and compliant in all situations??(Unrealistic expectations) After the first moments of agitation(both mine and B’s), I let her over to be on her bed, which she left frequently to check if anyone would give her food from the table. So why share this with you? This isn’t a training win but it really got me thinking about some of the common mistakes I see in training. There’s a lot going on in this example and with the holidays here I know a lot of homes are busier than usual which can be fun and hard on our dogs simultaneously. This post is going to briefly touch on some of the mistakes as an introduction and I will be doing a separate blog post for each mistake. I'll name each one in bold type, see the first one at the beginning of this paragraph.
So what’s going on for B?
Since most of our lives changed dramatically with COVID a lot of our habits and rituals were put on pause for a bit. This is B’s first holiday season and also the first time we have had more than one person over at the house while we’re eating. If you’re thinking about your dog right now, when was the last time you had a house full of people? What might you do to set your dog up for success? I will admit that I didn’t even think about the dogs. I was too busy getting the house ready and cooking and I knew I would just be managing the dogs in the moment. Looking back and forward to the rest of this month a plan is always a good idea.(Not having a plan or considering variables)
Why were all the other dogs able to settle and B was in a meltdown? I know some would say she’s spoiled but labeling our dogs is always a trap. When we label we typically don’t look at our role or what we can change to help the learner. B is an adolescent. Part of this developmental stage is lack of impulse control and emotional regulation. That doesn’t mean I excuse any behavior I find troubling but rather I understand she needs more support right now and I start making a plan for how to help with behaviors she is having trouble with. So I’ve been dissecting this dinner and what I can do going forward to get the behaviors I want from her so we can all have a good time, including B. (Not taking into account our dog's mental and emotional capacity)
I’ve already mentioned that we have not had a house full of people ever in B’s life. So how do we prepare for these one offs? The simple answer is by practicing the skills we want before we ask for them in a more distracting environment. This is true for any skill we want our dogs to learn. We practice, we consistently reinforce and then we gradually increase distractions. The dinner also revealed one of my bad habits. We haven’t been practicing lying on her bed while I’m eating at the table as I have not been eating at the table…I eat while walking around the house, standing at the counter, on my way out the door or while I’m driving around. So I’ve started practicing eating at the table so I can work with B on her mat skills. (Not proofing behaviors) Thanks to B I now get to be a little more mindful while I eat. The great thing about mat work is I can work on it any where. I want to specifically work on it while I’m eating but if that is too much for your dog, you need to start mat work in a less distracting environment. Since this is one of the first skills she learned as a puppy it did not take much for her to get back in the game. Now we just practice for those more difficult situations and I am looking forward to working with her through our next dinner. I’m off to go eat breakfast and practice a little with B. I’d love to hear what behaviors you think might help your dog when you have company or what skill you might have slacked off working with that you are going to get back to reinforcing.