Monday, February 25, 2013

Detente with Treats and a Spray Bottle

I'm thrilled to report that the rather strained relations between Kirby and Remy have improved. While it's not yet an entirely peaceful household as far as the canines are concerned, we have come a long way and we had a true breakthrough this past Friday.

As I've chronicled here before, relations between Remy and Kirby have been a bit strained. If they're together, they're wrestling. At least that's how it has been pretty much ever since we brought Remy home. We've tried force -- pulling the dogs apart, telling them "leave it!" or "stop it!" but sometimes the grabbing and forceful words just seem to reinforce the fighting mood. Only a human-imposed segregation of the two dogs has allowed us peace for any extended period of time.

On Friday I was on puppy duty. (Jamie and I have been taking turns watching Remy and working downstairs while the other person works in their office upstairs with Kirby. Remy has a crate, but since we both work from home, we are afforded the opportunity to not have the little guy in a crate all day.)

Anyway... it was a day when we both really needed to work from our upstairs offices. I decided to go ahead and have both Remy and Kirby in the office with me. Of course, immediately there was a Tasmanian-devil-meets-Iowa-tornado-like whirling mass of rolling, growling, biting scruffiness happening under my desk. It wasn't long before I'd had enough. I went and got a spray bottle and a bag of little treats. I came back to my desk where the war raged on and gave them both a spritz. Immediately things fell shockingly silent. From under the desk there were four eyes focused on me, shining from from disheveled little faces, both wearing expressions of WTF?!?

Ten seconds later the wrestling started again. Another spray. WTF?!? After the third spray things were quiet a bit longer. I gave them both treats. Whoa. Treats! This process went on, with treats applied for calmness, until, I'm shocked to report, they each staked out a spot and took a nap. In the same room.  It was almost unbelievable...especially given that the spray bottle was just a mister I use for ironing.

That night we had both of them up on the blanket-covered couch together and they slept through an entire movie...side by side. Touching even. The spray bottle and treats (liberally applied for good behavior) were sitting on the coffee table. Again, an almost unbelievable turnaround.

We've now done this every evening since and it seems to be sticking. It seems rather silly to say this, but ever since we brought Remy home (and even before), I've dreamed of having the two dogs stretched out with me on the couch as we watched a movie. It's never happened before, so this is HUGE for me. 

Yesterday, while Remy napped in my office, I caught Kirby licking Remy's face and ears -- just like he used to do with Baxter -- and Remy seemed to like it. I think they genuinely enjoy each other's company, even if they have odd ways of showing it. And now that they know they can be together without fighting, they seem to rather like it. It's as if they've been given permission NOT to fight sometimes.

This is a pretty good testament to positive reinforcement -- rewarding positive behavior and applying just enough correction so the dogs know what's expected of them. Now it becomes a matter of motivation and choices...

A few days into this I'm finding the spray bottle/treat combo doesn't ALWAYS work. Remy and Kirby both understand the carrot and the stick aspect very well now. But sometimes the urge to wrestle is just greater than either of those options. I realize these guys need time to play and it would be wrong to expect them to never play together, even if the play seems a bit rough at times.

So now we're trying to dole out sanctioned play time. Of course, once they get into the fervor  of it, it's rather difficult to get them to stop. It's a learning process. And it's not fool-proof. I did have a harder time managing the under-desk wrestling today. The spray/treat combo was working at first, but not for as long at a time.

I asked myself what was different?  I think part of it is Remy has decided that he doesn't mind the spritz so much. (He is a water dog, after all, and he's also a fast that initial element of surprise didn't last long.)  But, moreso, I think it's because it was a blustery day and we didn't get Remy out for very much exercise. The little dude just HAS to get his gonzo puppy energy out somewhere and, at 5 months old, he has a lot of gonzo puppy energy. Today was evidence that at least part of the trick to maintaining the peace on the home front is having a tired puppy.

Note to self: weathering the storm outside means not weathering a dog tornado inside for the rest of the day.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Potty Bells and Big Buts

Potty bells. They really do work. A bell placed near the door will help your puppy train you.

Some of you may remember our experiences housetraining Kirby with the little hotel bell from the office supply store. We tried this, but Remy (aka Bigfoot) just wasn't having luck getting the little bell to ring effectively, so we instead hung one of those dangling ribbons of bells on the front door. I swear, Remy picked up the general idea in about two outings to the yard and he's been consistently using the bells now for several weeks. Just knowing when the puppy has to go to the bathroom -- and knowing that the puppy knows when he has to go to the bathroom -- is a huge relief compared to the guesswork of early puppy housetraining.

I guess these stories always come with a big but... (thank you Pee Wee Herman).

Remy has decided that the bells have trained his humans quite well and that we are now ready to move on to using the bells as a way to communicate his more sophisticated desires, such as:

  • RING! I need you to open the gate so Kirby can come down and wrestle with me.
  • RING! I need you to close your laptop and play with me. Now.
  • RING! You have just started watching  another interminably long DVD and I'm bored to tears.
  • RING! It has been at least 10 minutes since you last stopped the interminably long DVD, said some words I didn't quite recognize and took me outside, so it's time to go again. Have I mentioned I'm bored to tears?
  • RING! There you go saying those words again. I don't think I like them. I don't have to pee, but it smells really interesting outside. Did I see a little black and white striped "kitty" out there last time? I think I did.
  • RING! Have I mentioned I'm bored? I have at least seven toys sitting in front of me but you are just so busy doing something else...I feel like we need to connect. Really, we do. And you have opposable thumbs and can turn the doorknob...
It worked for a while. Remy had us jumping EVERY TIME. For weeks. Now methinks he has "rung wolf" a few too many times. We're not falling for it anymore. Remy is not pleased. If we've taken him outside in the last 15 minutes and we see him pacing back and forth, looking bored, and we hear the bell again, we just say "no Remy, not this time." 

After a couple of these attempts at ringing to no avail, the other day Remy started ringing and then barking when he really had to go. Perhaps this is a good thing. Now a ring means "I want something" and a ring with a sharp "woof" means I REALLY have to go outside.

What's next? 

Sometimes I feel like a dog butler.