Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Reflections on Boxer Dog Training

You know, raising 3 boxers requires quite a lot of commitment.  While you are doing it, it seems that whatever behavior you're working on at the time will never get understood by the dog.  Like, when we were house training for example.  We had the 'twins' confined to the kitchen with baby gates for at least 6 to 8 months.  They just couldn't be trusted.   We fed and watered the dogs and immediately my husband would take one, and I the other, on leads and go outside to do their business.  We never talked to them or moved around the yard at that time.  We just stood there stoically while they, in turn, walked around in the small circle that the leash would allow, sniffing and twisting and play-bowing to each other across the yard.  FINALLY, they would go and then we could praise them with talk, and moving around the yard a bit in play.  Then, we brought them in just in time for them to do MORE of their business on my kitchen floor.  HUMPH!  (I had an industrial strength steam cleaner and lots of disinfectant on hand at all times!)  Anyway, after about 1 1/2 years, we were able to just let them go outside on their own and trust them to get the job done. (Part of that taking so long was  because they would just tear around the yard destroying my gardens before they would go).   Now that all that's over, it seems we have a never ending task of teaching new behaviors that the dogs need to know to get on in our human world.  And just when you think you've got that done, one of them will develop a behavior on their own that just won't do in my world.  And so,........we begin again.

I've been reading some old posts and really feeling the pain of my own frustration of raising 3 crazy Boxer Dogs all at the same time.
 I may or may not be able to convey to you, the reader, exactly how I was feeling through my stories, but I can tell you, when I re-read them, I knew precisely how I felt!   And I have to say, that as I look back on our journey, I think we've come a long way, Baby!  It's really easy to get stuck in the never ending cycle of training and re-thinking how you can get your point across in Boxer language.  If you don't look back and see what you've accomplished, you can go totally nuts.  (That's probably a short trip for me :)  ).  The truth is, that Malcolm and McKenzie are some of the best dogs in their respective classes.  They both love agility.  Malcolm is a dog that sometimes goes fast, some times goes ballistic (like a cannon. --once, he didn't even touch the A-Frame....he jumped right over it!), but mostly goes slowly and deliberately.  He's pretty easy to teach in the ring.  McKenzie, on the other hand, has two speeds.  And that's fast and faster.  She's been a bit more difficult to teach because it was hard to slow her down to focus on me.  She never knew exactly where she was supposed to go next, so she just did what she thought might be right.  And it never was right.  So, I've gained her attention with some helpful tips from others who have had dogs like that.  Wow!  Is that girl really great in agility!  She goes fast.  She listens.  She tries to do what I want her to do.  It's becoming a real team effort,  just as it should be!

It's not just in the agility ring that I'm gaining ground.  McKenzie seems to really identify with Nessie, the older girl.  They lay and cuddle together a lot while Lord Malcolm enjoys looking out the front window and guarding the Palace alone.  He makes a good sentry.  So McKenzie is following Nessie's behavior, while Malcolm does his own thing.  Let's talk about barking for example.  Malcolm sits on his favorite chair gazing out the window and then he sees something move.  It starts with a low rumble and escalates to full out barking.  When he starts, the others join.  That results in too much chaos for me, so I wanted to put an end to it.  I started by giving a reward for the one who didn't bark when I said NO BARK.  Well, of course the first to pick up on it was Nessie.  She got lots of cookies for a while.  Then McKenzie started noticing that she wasn't getting any and decided to do what Nessie was doing.  I don't treat every time anymore, but I still dole out the cookies randomly.  I want them to always think they might get a treat.  Now, it's usually just Malcolm who barks and doesn't come running to me right away.  Nessie and McKenzie are getting it.  Malcolm is getting it too, because when he does come, he sees the other 2 getting cookies and he just gets another NO BARK command and a scratch under the chin.  

They are 2 1/2 years old now.  Is everything perfect?  Of course not.  Is everything calm?  Probably never will be.  Are things much better than when we got them?  OH YES!  *We have curbed the lunging at other dogs.  I have to be aware.  I can control it if I'm paying attention.  Once my attention is drawn elsewhere, though, Malcolm could loose it.  But I have a good correction on him now and he'll listen to me.  *McKenzie is beginning to listen and focus more and more.  We are still working on her recall, but at least she hasn't gone cracker-dog in the agility ring in a long time.  And you can really see her mind working and wanting to do what I'm asking.  (Last week, she had a choice of going up the A-Frame or doing a jump that I wanted her to do.  She stopped.  She looked at the A-Frame and then at me.  Then she looked at the A-Frame again.  She chose to go with me and do the jump.  The whole class got on their feet and applauded!)  The girl was really making a decision and she was well rewarded for making the correct one.  And the fact that that happened in agility doesn't mean that it only has to do with agility.  My determination, perseverance, endurance and patience are starting to pay off.  It's taken a long time and will continue throughout their lives.  But the dogs are learning that they get along best in a human world when they choose to follow the human who is determined to help them.  That's a huge hurdle.  Learning can now be easier. 

Malcolm looking to me right after a jump to find out where to go next

Here are a couple of the posts I recently read again.  Boy!  Am I glad we've crossed these hurdles off our list and are moving on to more advanced learning.  Remember that Boxer Dogs are Puppies until the day they die.  They don't want to grow up and that's what we love about them.  Don't hurt your dog because it won't behave like a laid back hound dog.  Think of a way to get your point across while still being kind and respectful of the life you have chosen to bring into your home.  It's up to you to find a way to communicate.  Learn to speak Dog. This is a great book and it really helped me!   This way the dog will learn to respect you and your wishes.  Let's not give up and send the dog to a shelter or, worse yet, abandon it somewhere.  It's a Life.  Respect it and it will reward you in many, many ways.

The Teenage Years
A Spiritual Journey  This one may start a bit weird for you, but be patient.  I'll bring it 'round in the end!  :)
The Light Bulb Moment
A Flicker of Light

1 comment:

Casey said...

I think agility looks like a lot of fun. I want to try weave poles sometime! Momma always says that the trouble isn't getting me to understand what she wants -- it's getting me care! BOL.