Saturday, March 25, 2006

Dog Fag

I have previously posted about TFD. TFD is not actually my dog, he is the dog of a friend of mine who travels frequently. Since I like TFD, I take care of him when his owner is away. I have a rat terrier, with the operative word in the previous sentence being terrier. Terriers are aggressive, intelligent and fearless little dogs that demand a lot of attention. In many cases, they turn out be a pain in the ass. When the workers at the humane society, where I adopted her, found out that I'd never owned a dog before, they strongly encouraged me to pick another. They said that my dog had been returned to them twice by new owners, and suggested that a third time would mean euthanization. I figured that it's only a 25 lb animal, how hard could it be?

Little did I know that I was going to have to become the Sigmund Freud of dog psychology. Unfortunately, as a novice dog owner, I listened to the humane society's philosophy of positive reinforcement training. Positive reinforcement training involves rewarding the dog for good behavior and not punishing the bad behavior. The idea is that the dog instinctively wants to be good, but doesn't realize what it needs to do to please its owners. This is a nice sentiment but it certainly didn't work for my terrier. I spent a month using positive reinforcement. When the dog chewed on furniture, I gave her an approved chew toy alternative. When she peed on the floor, I took her outside immediately and encouraged her to pee there instead. When the dog rifled the trash can, I lead her to her food bowl. None of this had any effect and I was starting to see how she kept getting returned to the humane society, despite being so cute.

During this period, I had seen a documenetary about the social habits of wolves. In a wolf pack, there is an established hierarchy, with the alpha wolf at the top and the omega wolf at the base. According to the documentary, social position is dynamic and is determined through physical and mental challenges. The light bulb in my head went off. I wondered if I was seeing something similar in my dog. I was thinking that when she arrived at a new owner's home, she would begin testing the social structure of her new "pack" to see if she might be the alpha dog.

I tried an experiment. Trash can raids were a daily occurence, so I waited and caught her in the act. Instead of leading her to the food bowl, I grabbed her collar, placed my face an inch from her's, and yelled at her for 30 seconds. I repeated this process for all types of unacceptable behavior for several days. The results were astonishing. In one week, I had what appeared to be a good dog. This lasted for 2 weeks and the system got tested again with the same results. Over the next year, the tests became increasingly infrequent until they ceased altogether. The hierarchy was established with me being alpha "dog" and the dog being the omega dog.

Ironically, once she was accepted her role as underdog, she became very receptive to positve reinforcement training. This is how I taught her various tricks and commands. I've had the dog for 4 years and I've only had to yell at her once in the last three.


At 10:14 PM, Blogger John said...

I had a dog when I was a kid. I was the omega dog she was the alpha. I'm pretty sure she took a strap on to me once but it would take a lot of therapy before I really could tell you for sure.

At 12:11 AM, Blogger Broadsheet said...

That photo of her looks exactly like Sid from "Ice Age".

At 12:29 AM, Blogger AnonymousCoworker said...

I do this with my cats, but they continue to lick their genitals and wake me at all hours. Bitches.

At 12:29 PM, Blogger tfg said...

john-Yeah, the toys that they've come up with for dogs are getting more creative all of the time.

broadsheet- I've not seen Ice Age or Sid. However, my dog's best dog friend is a 90lb Rottweiler who is marked almost identically. My dog is like a scaled model of the Rott.

ACW- I hear Tabasco is effective for solving this problem in cats.

At 1:11 PM, Blogger Attila The Mom said...

LOL! We call them our "terrierists". Fiesty little guys, aren't they?

Great blog!

At 4:47 PM, Blogger Kira said...

i remember that if a dog puts his foot on your foot that means, he owns you and outranks you. before i read that i thought it was cute when a dog did that.

At 9:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's going on with your feed?

At 10:46 PM, Blogger Johnny Virgil said...

A friend of a friend tried that with a Mastiff. He was on the ground, held down by his neck in about .5 seconds.

At 9:20 AM, Blogger Cham said...

I've had a few dogs in my time, I've even read a few obedience books. For some reason none of the book material has ever had any effect on any of my dogs. When I'd go to the park the other dog owner's would say, "Come, Fido. Now sit!" But I'd be softly cooing, "Hey, Sugarplum, if you are done playing with the other dogs how about accompanying me home where we both can have a snack. Does that sound good Sweetie?"

I don't really know what that says about me or my choices in dogs.

At 3:54 PM, Blogger Neckbone said...

I've had an entirely different experience with obedience books than has Cham. When my lab was a puppy she liked to chew on things, and the rascal was even known to climb onto the kitchen table! I bought a hardcover copy of "The Dog Whisperer: A Compassionate, Nonviolent Approach to Dog Training" by Paul Owens, and found it to be immediately effective.

I discovered that the book, when thrown correctly, could knock that little fucker most of the way across the room. After just a few days' training there was no more chewing! And once she regained continence she was really good about not wetting, too.

Yep- books are the way to go.


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