We booked an appointment with a dog behaviorist when we reached our wit’s end with Alba recently, and met with her tonight. Michelle is her name, and her background is in psychology and animal behavioral science. Because I majored in psychology, much of what she said was familiar. I’m certainly no animal behavior expert though, and was fascinated at to learn about what’s going on in our puppies’ brains.
I wished I had taken notes during the hour and a half, so I’m jotting down some things now In no particular order, here’s what we learned:
Alba’s behavior toward Truffle is predatorial. She treats him like prey and if we don’t stop it, she will seriously hurt Truffle. We are to continue keeping them separated for now.
Alba is smart (very bright!), sensitive and anxious. She tries to control everything in her world and this stresses her out. Everything she does — the ‘mouthing,’ the pawing, the barking, the growling, is about her taking control of her environment.
She is fearful of almost everything. 4 months is the cutoff for socialization in puppies. We brought her home when she was a little more than 4 months. It’s clear she was never socialized. She’s very over-reactive to, well, pretty much everything. She is not a dog that can be boarded. When you need to control everything, a kennel is the worst possible place because everything is out of your control.
We have not used the right training processes. When she hops on the couch as soon as I leave in the morning, it’s because she never learned couch=bad. She learned mom on couch=bad. Duh. She associates *me* with punishment, not the behavior she was doing to garner it.
She doesn’t get nearly enough exercise. She’s a sled dog. Cooped up in this little house with nothing but a 14 pound Pomeranian to terrorize, she’s bursting with energy. Michelle recommends a treadmill, not only for the exercise but also for the mental stimulation of trying to stay on the track. As well, we have got to get her to a dog park to let her run and wrestle.
Dogs don’t have concepts of fairness like people. Alba doesn’t go to bed at night and yearn for us to let her on the couch, or wonder why we love Truffle more.
We’re going to have four private sessions with Michelle and both dogs. She’ll also work on Truffle’s manners. The focus on the first two sessions will be behavior modification through sound aversion. Then we’ll go on field trips. after the 4 sessions, we may do some additional group classes.
Our homework will include socialization with people. So friends, watch out. I may ask you to interact with Alba puppy-style. (Stand next to her and don’t make eye contact. Give her a treat when she sniffs you.) We also have to reinforce *everything,* every behavior. “Good girl” every time she approaches without nipping and pawing and “NO!” if she follows Truffle or does anything else we don’t want. And there are some new rules, like no Alba on the ottoman.
And happily, Michelle pet sits in her home. As a hopeless traveller, I was beyond disappointed to picture a future of never going anywhere we can’t take a 50-pound heavy shedder. I’m glad to know we have a safe place to keep her. And I’m glad we can make home a safe place for our Truffle again.