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Inquisitive Canine: Becoming the Odd Dog Out

Try working on behavior modification before breaking up the family

Dear Poncho,

Help! I’ve become the odd dog out within my family, and now they’re wanting to get rid of me! It seems the grandkids who come to visit my humans have become scared of me because of my size and the way I like to play.

Joan Mayer and her sidekick, Poncho
Joan Mayer and her sidekick, Poncho

I’m a happy-go-lucky Lab, only 6 months old, and a modest 45 pounds. What can I say? I’m young, energetic and enjoy life, especially when the younger more energetic humans are around. I can’t help how excited I get, it’s just who and what I am ... a young doggy.

The mom and dad of the little humans have said to my humans that they won’t allow visits as long as I’m around. Now my guardians are considering taking me to a doggy orphanage in hopes of finding a new home for me.

Poncho, I’m scared and don’t know what to do. Can you help me? What can I do?

Bow-wow who needs a bailout

Dear Bow-wow,

Geez, it sounds like the makings of a Disney movie. I completely understand how scared you must be. Speaking as a former rescue pup myself, I can totally empathize. I had a few housemates that came from similar situations as yours, and I can say without a doubt, they were scared, too, as was I. Let’s see if we can come up with a solution for a happy ending.

My mom is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer and I think her first recommendation for situations like this would be an education for all. And I agree! Your humans need to:

» Learn more about your canine behavior: the why you do what you do when you do it! You’re a dog. And a young dog at that. You jump to greet, are enthusiastic about life, and want to share this with everyone you meet.

» Figure out what they want from you, and do so with realistic expectations. I’m not sure how old the younger humans are, but they’re probably similar to you in your developmental stages of life. Do the grown-ups have the same learning expectations of the little ones as they do of you?

» Be able to teach you what they want from you in a way you’ll understand. Using those great techniques that reward behaviors they want are quite appealing and effective for us canines. These methods also teach us how to think for ourselves, which the humans seem to appreciate.

Taking you to a dog training class or working with a professional dog trainer will help teach you the behaviors they want. It will also help with establishing boundaries and enhancing the relationship you have with the humans. Some classes even allow the little ones, which is another win-win for everyone: you learn the behaviors, the kids are empowered to have some control over the situation, all of you bond together creating the ideal familial relationship.

In the meantime, here is a management plan your humans can use when company comes over:

» Confinement: we’re not talking “jail,” we’re talking a doggy “play pen.” They can provide you with a large crate or separate room. They can even use baby gates to section off your own area. And of course, it should be a safe, comfortable place where you can have:

» Stuffed chew toys, bones, and other types of enrichment to keep you mentally stimulated.

» Water bowl or access to water.

» Access to an area so you can eliminate (or you should be given the opportunity every hour or so, depending on how much you’ve eaten, had to drink, if you’re napping or not).

They’ll want to make sure you’re nice and tired from running and playing so you’ll want to snooze, as opposed to barking or whining for attention.

If they want you to hang out with the family, a vigorous round of exercise for you is always a good idea — again, being nice and tired so you’re more likely to take nappies as opposed to running amok jumping up and chasing everyone.

And my final tidbit of advice for all of your family members is to reward you heavily whenever you’re doing something they want! Then you’ll do more of that, and less of the stuff they don’t particularly like.

— 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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