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The Training Diaries: "Oakley"

We just finished up a month of training with "Oakley." His owner videoed bits and pieces of some of our session and gave permission to me to use them on my website! I thought I'd use them to describe a case study for training. What can I say about Oakley? There's a TON OF GOOD STUFF about this nice young pit bull. His strengths include: An absolute love of training. He loves to "do" stuff. He loves to engage with his owner. He loves to earn rewards. He's wicked-smart. He's got a ton of energy and stamina. His focus is usually pretty good! His weaknesses include: Unfortunately, this working ethic, energy level and drive began to manifest itself in attention-barking and other attention-seeking behavior. From Oakley's perspective, this was great! If he was mildly bored/ there wasn't anything going on, he'd simply get in the owner's face and BARK BARK BARK until she felt it necessary to break out the treats and work on some training to resolve this issue. Here's what was going on: Oakley: BARK BARK BARK!!!! Owner: (gets the treats out) "Lie down." Oakley: Does a beautiful "down" on verbal cue; gets rewarded by lots of treats! Now, Oakley's owner is no dummy! She knew what Oakley was doing; and tried to stop it. Oakley: BARK BARK BARK!!! Owner: (thinking "I know what you're doing, Oakley. It's not going to work this time." Correctly ignores the attention-seeking behavior.) Oakley: BARK BARK BARK!!! That's not working? Then HUMP YOUR LEG!!! Owner: (can not let this behavior continue, HAS to interrupt the behavior) "Stop it, Oakley!" Oakley: (thinking "Well, I didn't get the treats but at least I got some attention! Positive attention, negative attention, I don't care! ANY attention is better than no attention!") Also, Oakley loves other dogs. LOVES OTHER DOGS!!! For a pit bull (a breed historically bred to fight other dogs) this always makes me smile. But his "love" for other dogs was coming out in the same way that his "love" for his owner's attention and training came out -- i.e., way over-the-top and totally inappropriate. He'd see another dog and immediately launch himself into All Play All The Time. This happened immediately, within seconds. Within nanoseconds! Then he played so roughly, in their small apartment, that he'd bash into furniture and knock things off tables. (Once he literally almost overturned the full-size refrigerator. True story. I saw it.) He didn't seem to notice or care if the other dog was interested in playing. If he couldn't get a reaction from another dog, he'd keep going until he GOT a reaction. Even if there were three or four people in the room, nobody could stop him. Nothing could stop Oakley from PLAY PLAY PLAY PLAY PLAY. All of Oakley's friends and playmates are affable, good-natured dogs. They put up with his "playing," sort of. Most other dogs would never tolerate being body-slammed and then grabbed around the neck! In these videos, you see good-natured, sweet Apollo the Black Lab. A couple of times, he "sorta, kinda" tried to tell Oakley off. But Oakley, in true Oakley form, is not particularly responsive to these "sorta, kinda" requests. Apollo, too good-natured to REALLY insist, eventually takes refuge on top of the sofa, behind his owner. At which point Oakley usually climbs UP AND OVER whatever human in his way (and Oakley weighs at least 70 pounds!) Ouch! Wow! What do we do, with a dog like Oakley? My first NUMBER ONE priority will be to keep his "dog-friendly" attitude intact. After all, pit bulls have a long and sad history of not being dog-friendly. Oakley's intentions are all positive! And we need to preserve this! So any consequences for unwanted/hassling/pestering/inappropriate behavior will NOT be punished with harsh consequences. ("Harsh" consequences include leash jerks, hanging, helicoptering, electric shocks, spraying with water, making scary sounds, hitting or kicking.) If I were to use any of these harsh consequences, I would run the serious risk of causing Oakley to associate these severe punishments with the presence of the other dog. For example, if Oakley saw and approached Apollo, and I interrupted and alpha-rolled him, then the next time he saw the other dog he would automatically feel anxious and defensive (about the alpha roll.) This anxious/defensive state could be taken out on the other dog! Full-on dog aggression is the potential. BUT I do need to let Oakley know that this approach and behavior toward other dogs is not appropriate and will not be tolerated in the house. Luckily, Oakley has a good solid obedience foundation including a pretty good come-when-called. We also taught him a "settle" command which basically means "go lie down on your bed." Obedience practice with rewards was done in the presence of the other dog, and gave Oakley a new thing to "do" instead of immediately body-slam the other dog and start playing. [Note: In the video, you will see the trainer doing lure-reward training with both dogs very near each other. Do not do this if either dog has any history or problems with guarding its food or other types of resource guarding! You should do this kind of exercise only if you know that both dogs do not guard food!] If Oakley remained calm and focused on the trainer, he could participate in his beloved training and earn treats. If he chose, however, to roughhouse or bark instead, he was given a time-out. Our verbal "Uh-uh" was Oakley's cue that if he didn't stop the chaos, he'd have to go into his time-out. He got really good at time-outs. Oakley was wearing a drag line (also called a "house line") so that we could collect him if things got too out of hand, or we could interrupt him if he suddenly broke a down-stay. During several training sessions, we'd bring another dog in and gradually let Oakley have more and more freedom in the house. If he remained calm, he could stay in the living room with everybody. If he got too wild, time-out. My favorite way to train the "no wild playing in the house" rule is to alternate the calm house periods with fun, running-based play in the yard -- this way it is clear to the dog that running/wild play is permitted OUTside, but not inside. In Oakley's case, there wasn't much of a yard available, so he'd just have to make do in the house. You'll see Oakley's progress in the attached videos. We also started him on the sport of K9 Nosework (you'll see this on the videos), because super-smart dogs like Oakley need a job! He also learned to accept his owner's decisions of when attention and training was available to him, and when it was not. Oakley was free to "request" attention and interaction, but if the answer was "Not now," then he needed to accept that, and continued or escalating barking, humping, grabbing, etc was also timed out. By the end of his month, he was willing to simply wander off, lie down, and chew a toy. On our last session, I don't think he even barked once! And he still loves other dogs! And the furniture is still mostly standing! Here are a selection of videos! (you'll probably have to cut and paste this into a new screen.)

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