Dom the German shepherd was back in the farm store today, following yesterday’s hike and our visit to a different store the day prior. The store was busy with a lot of customers and Dom experienced a higher level of anxiety than during his more recent trips. He barked a lot and even decided to empty his bowels, despite the fact that I made sure he pooped before we left home.
This is how learning works and it is the reason so many people get frustrated while training pups. The improvement does not happen in a straight line, especially when behavior is fear-based. Building confidence takes a lot of repetition, and a lot of situations where the dog wins, no one gets excited and nothing bad happens. Dogs like Dom are very sensitive and they will pick up on minutia in movements, tone of voice, and stuff we can’t hear or smell.
The most important thing in this type of training is to just encourage the dog to keep his mind on the job. Dom’s job is to walk on a loose leash with the cart, and sit down when it stops moving. That is all he has to do. However, the job requires his attention because he can’t predict when the cart is about to turn, stop or back up. He may get bumped in the process.
Teaching this kind of focus is one of the key factors in helping a dog overcome fear. When his mind is on the task at hand, he has less time to worry about other stuff.
Every time Dom barked at someone, I would circle around some other aisles and come back to the same person or spot where he had started barking. I had to do it a few times but by the end of the hour he was much calmer.
Tomorrow will be Day 7 in Dom’s time at Boot Camp and he will move on to a more demanding routine. Besides merely desensitizing him, I will start to teach him some more behaviors and he will have to go to the store by himself, without the help of the older dog.
Today Dom had to spend about six hours in the crate. It was my first day leaving him since he has been here. To help, I stuffed a Kong. I think the Kong stuffing trick has become common knowledge for dog owners. But just in case you don’t know about it, it is probably one of the best tools for calming a puppy in the crate.
If the dog is not familiar with it, you should start by just filling it with loose kibble, that falls out easily when he rolls it around. Eventually you can work up to running water into the kibble and putting the Kong in the freezer, so the food takes longer to get out. It gives the dog a safe way to occupy himself when he is crated. I use the heck out of the Kong and am so thankful to whatever genius came up with it.
Check out my book: 25 Ways To Raise A Great Puppy