Tuesday, October 16 , 2018, 4:16 am | Fair 53º


Inquisitive Canine: Lay Down Ground Rules for Playtime

Patience and consistency can help make fun and games enjoyable for all

Dear Joan:

My name is Raven, and my mum said I should write to you. I’m just over 1 year old, and I have been with my family for about three months. They found me at a local shelter. I am an Australian cattle dog — or, as I prefer to be called, a “blue heeler” (much more character).

After my family brought me home, they noticed I behaved a bit differently from other dogs they have known, and after a couple of days realized I am deaf. My favorite vet, Benny confirmed this.

The biggest problem we have is that I have never learned when I’m getting too rough, and sometimes I hurt people when I’m playing even though I don’t mean it. I don’t understand when they say “no” because I don’t hear it. My mum wants to know how to teach me the meaning of “no” (at least the sign we use for “no,” which is a wagging finger) without resorting to a smack? I’ve been told I’m a precious girl, but if I’m holding onto your hand with my teeth a bit too hard, there isn’t really the opportunity for “positive reinforcement,” if you know what I mean. And I really don’t want to hurt my family and friends.

Also, I get super excited sometimes and jump up and grab. What is the best way to calm me quickly and gently when they can’t use a soothing voice? My mum is starting T-touch with me and hopes it might help.

Lastly, she has noticed that I have a lot of issues about having my ears touched and wonders if I wasn’t born deaf but rather mistreated.

If you decide to answer my letter, my mum will definitely do her best to share it with me.

— Raven

Dear Raven:

Thank you for taking the time to write in. As a certified professional dog trainer and dog mom to Poncho, I understand the need to provide canine companions with permissible outlets for all forms of doggy behaviors. Poncho and I really enjoy when inquisitive canines such as yourself want to be involved in resolving issues at home. We will be happy to provide you and your family with a few training tips to help redirect your energetic behavior toward a more productive outlet, while still making play fun — for everyone.

First, let’s take a look at the situation more closely:

» You and your humans enjoy playing games together: Woo hoo! That’s wonderful and quite reinforcing, even for the humans. Poncho and I enjoy spending time together playing games, too, which is one reason we developed our Out of the Box Dog Training Game.

» You’re limited on your sense of hearing: It’s evident you’re paying attention. You took the time to write in and ask great questions, are able to read visual cues — the wagging finger — and are able to read your humans’ body language as well.

» You have some body handling issues: Your mom seems to be aware of this, and wants to help in any way she can. (Bravo for her paying attention). Poncho and I support and appreciate dog massage therapy such as T-touch. To learn more about this special approach to animal care, click here to visit Poncho’s blog/resources. If it feels good to you both, great! If it’s working to help decrease any kind of stress you’re experiencing, even better.

» You have lots of joyful energy that needs to be redirected into more constructive behaviors. This should be fairly simple for a clever, fun-loving “precious girl” such as yourself.

» Fun and games: Whether it be fetch, tug or wrestling, there needs to be set rules before you begin play. Sounds like you and your humans need to refine your game rules so everyone is clear on what is allowable and what isn’t. One of my main rules for play for me and Poncho, as well as for any students in my dog training classes, is: If teeth hit skin, then the game is over.

Sorry. I know for dogs using your mouth for play is totally normal — that’s one feature that makes dogs, dogs. But it’s too risky and can get out of hand (no pun intended), potentially causing injury, especially if the person engaging in play has delicate skin or low tolerance for pain.

The following dog training tips are simple yet effective for helping you and your family reach your dog training goals:

» The plan for playtime: Reward the right behavior. This would be you playing nicely, by the rules your humans have outlined. They should supply you with an appropriate toy, one in which human hands and your mouth can be on, without touching each other. Then, whenever you are playing by the rules, the person you are playing with needs to provide food rewards and any petting you find rewarding, along with the continuation of play. Remember, the act of playing is a reward. As long as play, praise and food treats are flowing, you’ll know what the better choice is.

» So, what happens if you “break the rules”? Simple. Have your humans add in a visual cue for “time out” — something like the “technical foul” cue used by referees of many sports.

» Immediately after the “time out” cue, the person giving the signal needs to ignore you completely. Like the buzzer sending a player to the penalty box, you’re out of the game. But only for about 20 seconds — then they need to re-engage, allowing you to play again so you can have the opportunity to make the right choice and be rewarded for it.

While it’s important to try our best to provide canine companions with permissible outlets for all the doggy energy they possess, I also understand the need to condition dogs and other animals to enjoy certain situations, especially ones that might not be a part of everyday life. For tips on how to make doggy handling more enjoyable for all parties involved — including positively reinforcing touching and handling body parts that may be sensitive, such as the ears — check out Poncho’s dog training tips blog.

With patience and consistency, playtime and ear touching should develop into enjoyable times together.

— Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho. Joan is a certified pet dog trainer and dog behavior counselor. Her column is known for its simple common-sense approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog. Joan is also the founder of The Inquisitive Canine, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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