When I got Dolce, I thought I knew everything I needed to know to help him. I knew how to clicker train, and I knew how to be tough to manage behavior problems. What could go wrong? I was wrong. Dominance theory, and the popularized TV shows that propagate its methods, lied to me. I soaked it all up, like the good student I am, and went to town. Tough love, pack leader, submission... It was all an illusion that poisoned my relationship with my beloved boy.
|Dolce and me, at the Irvine Animal Care Center on the day that we met.|
|Dolce, on the ride home from the shelter.|
|Adorable, cute, sweet, innocent... Such a good boy 90% of the time.|
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I got Zenzi exactly 1-week after Kibeth passed. She was a craigslist puppy. I'd applied for rescue Australian Cattle dog pups (looking ideally for a border collie, but happy with any sporty, intelligent breed), but was repeatedly denied strictly because I live in an apartment. There were no border collie puppies available for rescue, nor Australian shepherds. I really wanted a puppy, that was the whole point. I could do everything my way, do it right. Zenzi's litter's ad showed up on Craigslist the day after Kibeth crossed the rainbow bridge. I went to see the litter as soon as I could, that following weekend, and picked her out of her siblings for her boisterous, playful, happy, food-driven personality. She was the Tutu Panda puppy, because of her markings.
|Zenzi at nearly 9 weeks of age, playing with Dolce.|
Zenzi was only 5 weeks, 5 days old when I brought her home. She was quarantined to an area in our dining room by an exercise pen. She had her crate, water, and a pee pad in there at all times. Dolce acclimated to her presence this way until she was 6 weeks old and got her first set of shots. Introducing them went fairly smoothly. He sniffed her rear as I held her, they sniffed noses, she kissed his... It was magical. He babied her, but she was hardy and liked to play hard. I knew he would be a great big brother, and a good substitute for her coming home, away from her family too soon.
|Adoptive Mama JoJo, receiving kisses from baby girl Zenzi.|
JoJo is, of course, a perfect example for Zenzi. JoJo loves everyone, is tolerant of misbehavior, corrects Dolce appropriately, and is perfect in the house. JoJo was no different with Zenzi, and their relationship is clearly like that of a mother and her offspring. JoJo can correct Zenzi in an instant with a growl, look, or muzzle hold, and Zenzi always bows down to Mama Jo. To this day, Zenzi kisses Mama Jo in thanks whenever they play together. It really is darling. JoJo can tell the difference between "Thank-you" and "I'm a pest!" kisses, and responds accordingly. She has taught Zenzi so many good things. I am blessed to have such a pack.
But Zenzi's genetics play a factor in her behavior. Ever since her first puppy class, Stranger Danger has been a big stumbling block, despite my best efforts to safely and positively expose her to the world from day one. Clearly, genetics came into play. When I met her dad, he was a little nervous, quiet and reserved, but friendly. Her Mom was quiet, sweet, polite, and affectionate, but clearly all about work. These were farm dogs for a rural hispanic family, and they had work to do.
Zenzi does not play with any dog besides Mama Jo and Dolce. Zenzi is afraid of strange people, and is skittish around novelty; though she recovers quickly with some patience and treats. I taught her to Paws Up on objects that frighten her when she conquers them. She does not like having strangers come into her house, and gives them her best big girl bark. It took her about three days to acclimate to my mother's presence when she stayed for a couple weeks' visit. Zenzi has adapted to attending doggie daycare, and may even have built one bridge to a canine companion, Deacon.
|Deacon, the mini-Aussie shepherd AKA American Shepherd.|
That furry black blob leading up to the camera? Yeah, that's my Zenzi girl.
Zenzi barks at things that worry her, even though she only had one experience that could be considered traumatic. She's territorial of the house, despite having my violin students come and go all throughout her puppyhood (they are part of her inner circle of trust, though!). She does not like to be indoors, in small spaces, or very crowded ones.
There are a few things I did right. I must have the only border collie around who doesn't pay any mind to bikers, rollerbladers, skateboarders, or cars. Zenzi doesn't mind the sounds of big trucks, kids screaming, fireworks, or buzzing from a vibrating cell phone. Her food and play drive remain intact and perfectly healthy.
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I think there needs to be a fluid, perfect combination of obedience and manners training with socialization in order to raise the perfect dog. Exposure is not enough, socialization implies a positive experience with each new exposure. Obedience, to me, refers to a dog's ability to obey cues given by its owner/handler. Manners are what a dog does automatically, because they know how to behave in that instance in human society.
What Dolce needs is more obedience and socialization. In general, he has great manners. Zenzi needs more of everything, being only a year old, but less-so in obedience.
Amazingly, what I'm finding helps both of them address their separate issues simultaneously is mat work. I completely negated the benefits of using a mat prior to working at Wags & Wiggles, and have witnessed the benefits with my own eyes as I carry out tasks to perform with each client's dog (many include Mat Relaxation Protocol or basic Mat Stays). So, what have I learned from these two very different dogs?
If you want a "perfectly behaved" dog, you need to do mat work. Desensitize a dog to weirdness and craziness while they're holding a mat stay. Teach a long down stay by using mat relaxation protocols. It's fascinating the feedback you receive as you do various things to tempt your dog to break the stay. If the dog breaks the stay, you can see how they do it, and get important information about the dog's emotional state to the previous stimulus. For example, when I spread my arms out, Dolce broke his down stay, because that's what I do when I want him to give me a hug. He was happy, eager. When I made silly baby talk and wiggled my fingers at Zenzi, she jumped up and yip yap barked; she was clearly upset and overstimulated. It's amazing how you can discover your dog's "weak points" and more easily decide how best to proceed with "fixing" them.
So, onward with training we go. I'm working toward CGC and competing in obedience and rally with both Zenzi and Dolce. I'm ordering Dolce a new tag. His fetching tag reads "Wishful Thinking." With our recent re-bonding via matwork, I've re-evaluated our entire relationship and come up with a new catch phrase for the little man: Spirit Guide.
Whatever the challenges in dog training, it is ALWAYS best to pursue 100% positive training methods. It is important to remember the bond with your dog, the importance of the relationship between you. What you mean to your dog, and what your dog means to you... that's what training is really all about. Building a line of communication to let each other know. So listen to what your dog is telling you about the training you're doing. You have a lot to learn.
I learn from my dogs every day, and I love it. They are great teachers with no formal education. I aspire to teach with such compassion to my own species, as well as any animals in my care. I hope every one else does, too.