Monday, September 12, 2016

Thanks, but No Thanks

The other day, I got home from work and was picking up sticks in the backyard with foster pup Sal when the dino-dogs next door came charging out into their yard and right at the fence. Sal doesn't care about other dogs. He'll sometimes look up from sniffing the grass if he hears a bark, he sometimes shows interest in the weird things that happen when Barley wags her tail, but he has never once showed any desire to go near another dog. My neighbor came out and calmed his dogs down and I told him this was a different dog that didn't care.

We chatted for a few minutes and he told me he wanted to show me the collar he'd gotten for his younger dog, so he ran into the house. He handed me a remote pet trainer collar box--I feigned an interest in it, turned it over in my hands, pretended to read the description on the box. When I tried to hand it back, he insisted I keep it so I could peruse the instruction manual when I had time and he'd get it back later.

I know he meant well. It's no secret that our biggest training struggle right now is with Barley's reaction to the dino-dogs. We're definitely open to advice and tips. 

Squirrels, deer, and chimpmunks crashing through the woods? No problem. Dogs next door? Yikes.

We're working on it, but it's slow going. We can only work on her reactions to the dino-dogs when they are outside at the same time we are--and it isn't always a good time to drop everything and go out in the yard when we see them--so it's not like our earlier training adventures where we could take short walks several times a day and have many opportunities to practice. 

"I learned 'Paws Up' in a day. Dino-dogs are harder for me."

Even then, it took at least 6 months before we could could take a normal walk. We still need plenty of treats to reinforce good behavior on walks because other dogs, especially ones barking in their yard, will always be hard for her to ignore. It took about 10 months of consistent training before she could pass the Canine Good Citizen test because of the meet-and-greet portion.

We try to do some training in the yard every day--even when the dino-dogs aren't out, we do some boundary work and recall work--but Barley spent our first 5.5 years together on-leash every time she was outside and she's only had 3 months of even having a fence (with about 3 weeks of that being travel time), so the progress is slow.

I know she can get better and will eventually quit snarling at the fence, but it will take time and patience and a lot of consistent work. 

In less than one week of Sal being able to come out of quarantine, Barley has gone from barking her head off every time she saw him to being able to sit on opposite sides of the gate (again, why did it take me so long to invest in one of these?! it's great!) and demonstrate different behaviors for him. In agility this week, a new, enthusiastic, overly friendly dog joined our class and came in late, right before Barley's turn. She stayed right with me, did the whole course beautifully, and never once looked at that dog. She can learn to behave around other dogs. It just takes time.

Barley's helped Sal master sit.

A couple days later, Barley and I were outside when the dino-dogs came out. Barley let out a bark, realized it was the older of the two dogs (who is far less interesting to Barley), and turned back to me. My treat supply was low, so I ushered her back inside and went to grab the box for my neighbor. I lied and said I wrote down the name and would talk about it with our trainer. He was really happy and told me it would really help us. He brought out the remote to show me the different settings and buttons--you can send an audible signal as a reminder before sending the "annoyance" as the instructions called the static signal as a correction.

I'm not opposed to training collars--growing up, my dogs had an e-fence. I walked across the fence holding the collar's prongs before I let my parents put it on my beloved dog. It wasn't painful--just a buzz, much like my Up band gives me when I have been sitting for too long. (In one of my less proud big sister moments, I also tricked my little brother into walking across the fence holding the prongs--he might disagree with my assessment.) My brother's dog wears a bark collar when they aren't home because they live in a big city apartment and can't afford to be evicted over a barking dog--and it works and their dog still loves them and trusts them and is a happy-go-lucky guy. I much prefer other methods of training, but sometimes there are other circumstances--like homeowners associations that don't like fences or work schedules that mean someone can't always be home with your dog to keep him from barking--that might make them worth trying.

But they aren't right for Barley. Especially not when it comes to her reactions to other dogs. She's already annoyed by the presence of other dogs--there's a reason there's a saying "Don't poke the bear." Buzzing Barley when she's already annoyed would most likely just increase her annoyance. Even if it didn't, she'd have to dislike the buzzing more than she disliked the other dogs to get it to work (our second dog growing up sometimes wanted squirrels more than she wanted to avoid being shocked and would run through her fence). The likelihood of that being the case is slim.

She does, however, prefer treats to the other dogs (although sometimes she forgets the treats exist until I stick one right in front of her nose), so we'll be continuing our training plan, making the adjustments we need to, until she learns to choose focusing on me over the other dogs. After I gave the neighbor his box back, I restocked my treat supplies and brought Barley back out--she stayed with me, whether I was sitting on the patio furniture or asking her to do heeling exercises, and we went back in after the treat supply got low again so we could end on a high note.

She's my best bud and I wouldn't want her any other way!

Our methods might not be quick, but they're what works best for Barley and that's the promise I made to her when I brought her home from the shelter. Of course, I didn't actually tell my neighbor any of these things--it's hard to have a long conversation when you're trying to keep your focus on Barley to keep her from melting down outside or she's in the house with her paws on the windowsill barking at you because you've left her alone. Plus, I hate conflict, so telling him that we absolutely would not be trying that collar was way out of my comfort zone.

How do you deal with well intentioned, but unwanted training advice?


  1. Yes! You're doing exactly what Barley needs. And I think you handled the neighbor's advice just fine. You obviously weren't going to change his mind, and you didn't pick a fight, and you're still speaking to each other even though you two view the subject differently. (Want to run for president? Just sayin...).

    Keep us posted on your and Barley's progress. Sounds like you've actually accomplished a lot this summer.

    1. Thank you! It's tricky territory to navigate when you know you're going to be sharing a fenceline with these people for probably the rest of your dog's life, so you want to stay friendly . . . (And no, there's not enough money in the world to convince me to run for president!)

      I'm really proud of the progress she's made this summer, even if it's not quite as quick as the progress our neighbors might have liked to see!

  2. I don't care for e-collars or any of that type of thing, but I think it's a personal choice. My sister has them for her 3 beagles to keep them in the yard and she thinks they're great. I just don't like the idea. But I would have handled the neighbor exactly the way you did. You are doing great with Barley, I think half the battle with these things is understanding your dog and figuring out what will work best for them.
    Jan, Wag n Woof Pets

    1. Yes! It is such a battle to try to figure out what goes on her brain--and every time I think I've got it figured out, she throws me a curveball ;) Thanks for the encouraging words!

  3. I was thinking about that and I really don't get a whole lot of unsolicited training advice. Maybe people figure small dogs don't need training. and But I'd probably just say something like thanks for the tip. We're following our trainer's recommendations.

    1. Most of the time, people ask us about the work we're doing because she's so super focused on me in public--but her inner hellhound comes out when she's at home . . .

  4. New reader here and what a lovely post; sounds like you're making all the right calls for Barley!

    For most unsolicited advice, I tend to have pretty good luck with a cheerful, "We're fine, thanks!" or if applicable, "That's not how we roll." I mostly refuse to defend/justify myself -- I figure the dogs are proof enough for anyone worth worrying about and everyone else is so flustered to have their input so nonchalantly refused that they tend not to escalate. (I will take seriously advice from certain knowledgeable folks, but I don't think that's what you mean here.)

    1. Welcome! We're glad you found us!

      Yes--we're definitely open to advice from our different classmates who know Barley or from our blog friends who have been through similar things or the different trainers at our training center, but I'm always so shocked when someone who's basically a stranger offers advice that I'm usually just a deer in the headlights and give some awkward response :)

  5. We don't get that much training advice from people because they boys are so laid back in most situations, if I did I think I would just listen and nod.

    1. That's pretty much what I ended up doing as he showed me all the different features of his remote control and then I spent all of 10 seconds flipping through the instruction manual so I wouldn't be lying when I told him we'd looked at it.

  6. I'm an a$$hole, I ignore them, OR I tell them outright exactly what I think.

    The problem as I see it as that a good majority of people simply put the collar on the dog without actually TRAINING the dog. I know people who use the collar correctly and aren't just randomly shocking their dogs.

    I also understand in some circumstances how it's the right or only choice. I have always been opposed to a shock collar but Hubby used one on Sampson. Of course I protested, but it fell on deaf ears. HOWEVER, he did watch the training video and Sampson was trained, so it was a reinforcing tool. And he turned out great and still loves us to pieces.

    When Delilah came to us, he wanted to train her on it and I said, ABSOLUTELY NOT. As wild and impetuous as she is, she also has a very sensitive side and I was afraid that collar would send her over the edge. I did concede to try a vibrating collar and the first time it vibrated she ran over to me and stuck her head between my legs. So I know I made the right choice with her. And on the record, I sold that stinkin' collar. ;-)

    1. I think I need you to give me some assertiveness lessons! I'm so opposed to conflict that I usually just smile and nod--plus, all of my neighbors are my parents' age or older, so I still feel like I should be calling them Mr. and Mrs. The thought of telling them I think their ideas stink makes me want to crawl under the bed!

      And poor Delilah! If Barley and I are snuggling and my step-tracking band buzzes to let me know I've been sitting a while, she'll get nervous and run to hide under the bed.