Saturday, March 30, 2013

Spur: Training the Beast, Part 1

Class Day 1, March 30 (one day after Spur’s first birthday)

We arrived at the facility and weren’t sure where to park or go. Doug parked alongside the building and I went to go find people to get started. We worked with two trainers, Courtney and Seth. Courtney was our main trainer, while Seth was tasked with circling us, unobtrusively, while shuffling his feet, loudly organizing the garage where we were training and stomping as he walked from area to area.

We crated Spur for a bit while we discussed Spur’s new birthday gift, the actual e-collar. It’s a Dogtra 300M. The remote has three buttons; vibration only, nick (quick tap,) and continuous (but only for 8 seconds max.) It also has a dial to adjust the level of stimulation from 0-100.

We worked on loading our “YES” with treats (trying to get him to associate the word YES with good things) and walking at a heel.

By the end of the class, we were tasked with practicing the following at home: YES, FREE DOG (have to retrain ourselves from our 5-year release word of “OK.”) walking on a loose leash, and COME resulting in a front sit without command.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Spur: Training the Beast, the prequel

I haven't posted much of anything about our life with Spur. If I can say anything, really, at all, I can say it's been challenging.

He was supposed to be our "Show Dog." But, most likely he'll never see the inside of a show ring. We are heartbroken in coming to this realization. He was not the friendly, happy-go-lucky kind of puppy we were expecting.

As soon as he turned 4 months and had all his puppy shots, he was out! We took him to his first dog show as a spectator. It all started in the parking lot. On leash, as we walked from the car to the building, he began barking at other people in the lot. As we got closer to the building, he barked at the other people out taking their dogs to potty. Once we got inside, he was a different dog, though. It's like, he just knew that he needed to be on his best behavior and didn't make another peep until we left. He was shy and wary in meeting new people. Our friend Carson was the only one that was able to pick him up and hold him. And that was after bribing him with lots of treats. After the show was over, we took him to some other friends' RV set-ups. One friend had short hair that she had styled to stand up on top of her head. Spur BARKED! She bribed him with treats and he still barked! He was more accepting of the other people at the RV's.

He began puppy kindergarten. He would bark at the other participants as they arrived and class would start. After 6 weeks of classes, he was much more comfortable with the people and earned his AKC S.T.A.R. puppy certificate. He also started beginner agility. Also, he'd greet the other participants in a manner that was less than friendly. But after the course of 6 weeks, also became more comfortable with them.

We took him to doggie daycare during the work week since he wasn’t housebroken and really too young to stay home while we were at work. This helped with his dog socialization. But he’d still bark at strangers as he was arriving and leaving.

Over Thanksgiving week, Spur's normal doggie daycare was closed, so we asked our Puppy Kindergarten and Agility trainer, Deb, if she'd keep him. The first day Doug took Spur to stay at her house (mind you, all the training classes have been in her backyard; he knows the yard, he knows the trainer) Spur barked and carried on like Deb was going to harm him or Doug. Deb kept him some again at Christmas time. Her husband Carl would come home from work to a frantic, scared, aggressive Spur. Carl worked on Spur, throwing him treats; lots of treats until Spur finally learned that Carl was Okay.

Deb is a trainer that uses techniques of Positive Reinforcement. We tried clicker training. For us, it just didn’t stick. Denali had been food motivated and was so easy to train compared to Spur. Spur is stubborn and scared. And he’s not the ‘shy away and hide behind daddy’ kind of scared. He’s the ‘in your face, I told you to get away or I’m gonna eat you’ kind of scared.

With Denali competing in agility, we’d take Spur along, crate him on the side when we needed to, and had him out to socialize him when we could. Some of our friends knew that Spur had issues and they were very calm, quiet and patient with him. At one venue, one friend set up her crates alongside ours in a horse stall and sat with us for hours. Spur got to hear her voice, smell her scent, and her dogs’ scents, and get fed by her through the crate. Yet, when it was time to come out and greet her in person, he leapt up, bopping her in the forehead with his teeth (really I think it was more an act of excitement than aggression) and left her with a huge goose-egg bump and migraine.

At Christmas time, Doug’s sister came to the house. Spur acted up and we kept him crated for most of her visit. His barking was annoying. We told her to ignore him. After we had a meal and wanted to move into the den, I leashed Spur and we used treats to bribe him for good behavior. We moved closer. Jann was nervous. Spur was nervous. Jann fed him treats. Spur got excited and jumped at Jann’s face. Jann got spooked and tensed up. Spur went nuts. Spur went back into the crate for the rest of the visit.

He’d act up at the vet’s office. The vet, before even putting a hand on Spur, handed us a card for a reputable, local trainer. We called Christen who came to our house for a 3-hour session. She ended up staying 4 hours. She gave us some techniques to use that included jabbing Spur in the shoulder to grab his attention. Months of trying that, along with the positive reinforcement, just make him tougher, more bold.

As I looked online at my Facebook account, many of my Facebook friends are dog show people, Australian shepherd people, and agility people. 2012 and 2013 were the years of the puppy, it seemed. Everyone posted photos of their sweet, cuddly, precious, FRIENDLY puppies, out and about, at dog shows, meeting strangers, loving people and life. Then I’d look at Spur, who only loves three people in his life; Doug, Ian and me. So loving and sweet at home, just like all those sweet puppies on Facebook. But, take him out to do his business, and if he spots a neighbor (that he sees EVERYDAY when he’s doing his business) he becomes Mr. GET-OUTTA-MY-SPACE-OR-I’M-GONNA-EAT-YOU. And the thing is, they weren’t even in his space. They were in their own space.

By the time Spur was 11 months old, he was getting bigger, more muscular, and sounding even more fierce when faced with strangers. The techniques we knew weren’t working. Something had to be done.