Tosha’s Training Diary – Part 1 – Evaluation and First Steps

Let me start by saying that I think everyone who considers bringing a new dog into their home, should start their search at a local rescue or shelter. There are just too many dogs out there and not enough homes for them. Even if you are looking for a purebred dog, you can probably find one at a shelter or rescue that is within a reasonable distance. You can find a list of shelters and adoptions sites here.

As I have written in some of my previous posts, I have just welcomed a new dog into my pack. Tosha, a female Aussie, is joining my other Aussie, Gavin, a male, and Annie, a female Springer Spaniel mix.

Tosha was surrendered by court order. The lady that owned her was a hoarder and had an outrageous number of dogs and cats living in bad conditions, some with serious health problems. The court placed Tosha with Helping Paw Mountain View Rescue, where we adopted her a few months later.

Today is my third day living with Tosha, and I am already starting to see some of the effects of her previous home. She has mastered the art of the body block. She slings her body around to clear space around her when she is competing for a resource. She is overweight and very out of shape. I think this is because she spent a good deal of time in a crate or cage. She displays some guarding behavior, although not too extreme, and she will try to push her way into another dog’s food bowl if given the chance. Surprisingly, she is well socialized with people, but I think her view of us is a bit skewed. She does not seem to respond to her name very well, and views us as back scratchers, and a source of food. She does not seem to have any training at all. She does not know, or doesn’t want to respond to commands for sit, down, or stay, and she likes to bolt out the door.

So where do you start with a dog like Tosha? I think one of the best ways to work with her, is to establish the TANSTAAFL policy. For those of you who don’t know, that stands for “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” It means that Tosha is going to have to work for everything she gets. The two behaviors I’ve decided to start with are, bolting out the door, and not responding to her name.

Her bolting behavior is easy enough to deal with. Both of my other dogs know the wait command and are very good about it. When I take the dogs out as a group, I issue one group wait command, I crack the door open a little and then using her own technique against her, I simply put my body between Tosha and the door, and gently move her back in line with the other dogs. I slowly back off and open the door, if she stays, I release them, and then praise. If she moves before I release them, I simply block her back into place and try again. She seems to be catching on really quick.

Building a better response to her name, should be straightforwardl, and works on the TANSTAAFL plan as well. I simply hand feed her. I call her name and wait for a response. If she looks me in the eyes when I call her name, she gets a piece of kibble. It’s that simple. When she starts to focus on me entirely without taking her eyes off me. I will distract her with a piece of kibble from one hand and then say her name again. When she looks me in the eye I feed her kibble from the other hand. I am willing to bet that within a few days of this training, she starts to respond to her name much better and with more interest in me and what I am doing.

There are three things I need to keep in mind, to make these training sessions successful.

  1. Patience – For instance, if Tosha keeps rushing the door when I take her out, I just need to reset and try again, no matter how long it takes.
  2. Realistic Expectations – Say for example I call Tohsa’s name and she refuses to make eye contact, then what? I am probably asking more than she can do at this point. So I start to reward any movement of her head towards me. Then, I can start rewarding when she is looking anywhere at me. Then I can demand eye contact. This is known as shaping.
  3. Consistancy – Making sure that I ask her to wait each time we go through the door, and only letting her through the door after she has complied. In addition, my wife has to do the same exercises with her and reward in the same way that I do.

This is going to be a great adventure, and and we are all in it together. I will follow us with other posts, to let you know how we are doing, and the next steps we’ll be taking.