I don’t usually allow the dogs to use the computer, but I’m thinking of letting Milo get his own Facebook page. Of all the topics I blog about, our new dog is one of the most popular, running a close second to “Where Do Peas Come From?” Since it’s been a couple of months since the last post about him, I wanted to let you know how he’s doing.
After the effectiveness of the prong collar wore off, Milo continued to let his worst self show while walking near other dogs: lots of barking, growling, and lunging. Very unattractive. The trainer suggested that we only walk him in areas where he wouldn’t encounter other dogs. Where might that be, we wondered, and how far would we have to drive every day to get there? This didn’t seem workable. She also thought that an electronic collar would be the next step if he wasn’t responding to correction with the prong collar. I’m no expert, but it didn’t make sense to punish him for having never learned good manners. I thanked her for her time and decided against her advice.
We were winging it on our own for about a month when we finally met another dog trainer who works at our local Petsmart. For obvious reasons, Milo was no candidate for group classes, so we signed up for individual lessons at the store in early July. After evaluating Milo’s history and seeing him scare the bejeezus out of a couple of tiny dogs, our trainer Jeremy thought that the best way to get Milo to listen to us was first to work on all those basic commands that he’d never been taught. This would train him to focus on us and help develop his trust in us.
Essentially what we have is a puppy in the body of a full-grown dog. Labs are notoriously slow to mature anyway, and at four years old, Milo is even goofier than most. His behavior problem is not so much aggression — it’s ignorance about proper dog etiquette. Instead of calmly approaching another dog and sniffing, he barks and growls like a maniac, which makes a bad first impression. It reminds me of a kid at school who picked his nose in public, burped and farted out loud, and then couldn’t figure out why no one wanted to play with him. Poor Milo. He’s that kid.
Well, we worked on sit, stay, down, back up, let’s go, drop it, wait, and leave it like it was our new religion. Contrary to that old saying, you can teach a grown-up dog new tricks — if you have really smelly treats in hand. He loves food, which makes it easy to motivate him. Down is one of the most challenging commands, no matter the age of the dog, but even that one didn’t take more than a few days because he thought the treats were so worth it. At dinnertime now, he flings himself onto the floor before we even ask because he knows it makes the food come faster.
But on walks, he was still barking, growling, and lunging at objects real and imagined. Mostly at other dogs but also cats, birds, rabbits, and once or twice — this is so embarrassing — rocks that looked like rabbits. (He really has led an awfully sheltered life.) Sometimes Mike could distract him with the leave it command and a treat, but usually only for a few seconds. To work on Milo’s social skills, Jeremy brought one of his own dogs, a Mini Pinscher named McKenzie, into a recent training session. This dog is so small that she would fit nicely into your jacket pocket, and still Milo acted like a jerk. He improved a little before the session was over, but by then McKenzie had already developed a low opinion of him.
At the beginning of our next session, Jeremy brought McKenzie again and suggested we try a product called Stop That. It’s basically a can of compressed air with a few doggy pheromones in it. Maybe a noisy whoosh of air in Milo’s face would encourage him to compose himself in the presence of other dogs.
Mike and Milo made a few passes by McKenzie and as the growling started, Mike gave the leave it command. When Milo ignored him, Mike sprayed the Stop That about a foot from Milo’s face. And it worked. I don’t know if it’s the sound, the pheromones, or what, but the lunging stopped immediately. Within a couple of minutes, Milo was sniffing McKenzie politely, licking her face, and then — unbelievably — walking next to her quietly around the store. It worked for other encounters with dogs in the store during that session, and the few times we had to use it on a walk this morning, it settled him right down. They need to make this stuff for humans. I would buy stock in it.
Of course, it’s early yet. He could adapt to this product like he did the collar, and if that happens, I’ll let you know. Still, we will take all the successes we can get, since house training seems to be the only part of puppyhood we bypassed by taking in an adult dog. Even after we get this situation in hand, we’ll still have the sibling rivalry to deal with.
I stopped traffic yesterday for a tortoise that was crossing the street. I waved several cars around mine until she determinedly made her way across my lane and started to climb the curb. As she struggled to get her back legs up, I put on my emergency brake and was just about to give her a boost when she figured it out. She moseyed across a yard and into some bushes, and I never once thought about taking her home with me. I don’t know anything about tortoises. I do know that every time I bring an animal home, it takes way more time and money than I think it will. Anyway, I’d never get this from a tortoise.