Well, first of all I thank you all for thinking of us in my absence, and I am so sorry it has taken me so long to give an update on the much-anticipated visit with the behaviorist.
Might want to go get whatever beverage you feel is appropriate right now. This will probably be ridiculously long.
I should start by explaining why it has taken me so long to post an update. Some of it has to do with having been very busy at home, in the garden, and at work. And especially with the boys. Recent events have prompted me to be involved with all aspects of the boys, including their walks, so I've been going with Kevin almost nightly.
But mostly I haven't updated because, to be honest, I still feel very confused about the whole thing and like I'm still in "processing" mode. I have so many thoughts and ideas about what has been going on, and how to fix it, that I really hated to come here and regurgitate every thought fragment I've had in a huge, disconnected mess that nobody would understand, including me.
I'm not promising this is going to be much better than a huge, disconnected mess, but here goes:
Our visit with the behaviorist was good, thought-provoking, but not earth shattering. At first I felt a lot of disappointment, really. I think I had secretly hoped that I would walk in with the boys, she would take one look at them and exclaim, "Oh, I see exactly what their problem is! Here's what you do about it, and as long as you do this you can expect the rest of your life to be free of all stress related to your dogs!" Of course this isn't what happened.
Mostly what we talked about was instituting a program of NILIF, which at first seemed like a huge let-down. Of course I understand what NILIF is - I've read about it for several years now. I didn't need to pay $500 to hear "You need NILIF." But on further reflection, I thought about how many opportunities there really are in a day for NILIF, and how few times the boys are ever asked to say "please" for anything.
So, in the "new normal," as I have been calling it, the boys are asked to sit before receiving anything. Food, walks, collars, in or out doors, treats, affection, training, you name it. You would be astounded at how many opportunities there are to enforce NILIF if you really think about it. I feel like all I do at night is repeat the word "sit" over and over and over.
Which brings me to my next stream-of-consciousness point I wanted to touch on: This is no fun. I will admit, I do think it seems to have made a difference in their behavior overall. We are being very careful and deliberate about everything, making every effort to reduce the excitement level. NILIF helps with that. What it does not help with is having fun with your dog. I feel like I have two drones now. They are calm, and not fighting, but I feel as though it's "against the rules" to allow them to get excited.
I am conflicted about NILIF, obviously. I see the value of only rewarding calm behavior. This means, no more throwing the bumper for Simon when he jumps straight up in the air. One of his most adorable habits, but a "demand" habit, and we were told not to reward demanding behavior. This also means, no more getting up off the couch when Angus comes over in full-body-wag, then runs to the treat jar. One of his most adorable habits, but I have to stop letting him con me out of treats whenever he wants.
I could go on and on with the things I feel like it is no longer right to reward or do. I miss a lot of these things. I feel like I am losing a lot. They were part of their personalities. I enjoy seeing my dogs having a good time. I enjoy getting them all jazzed up. That's when it's really fun to be around them. I love butt-tucks. I love bitey-face. I love that Angus hops up and down on his hind legs, standing tall as a person, when it's his turn to do training. But in the NILIF program, they must sit before everything. If they do this enough, these behaviors will disappear. It's depressing the living **** out of me.
On the bright side, one of the things we also talked about (just in the interest of full disclosure with the behaviorist) was the boys' tendency to charge the door and bark at passing dogs and pedestrians. I had already been working on this some before I came to her, and I am happy to report that in three weeks we have taken it from both of them charging the door with their hackles up every time anyone walked by, to perhaps a single "woof" and a sideways glance at me. Sometimes they don't move or say anything.
How, you ask? So simple. Every time they did it, I got up from whatever I was doing and stepped in between them and the door, backing them up, and saying, "Nope - ah ah." That's it. Repetition. I have had to be very consistent about this, sometimes coming from another room to intervene, but I made sure to do it every time. It has almost stopped.
Now, if I'm not in the room it's probably an entirely different story. Which is something else she recommended: Keeping all the windows closed unless they are supervised.
She also recommended separating them during the day, which we have been doing. Felicia, we got our baby gate and it is awesome! I'll have to post a picture. We copied Felicia's baby gates and had it made to match our staircase. It's great.
The behaviorist actually favored the idea of a gate at the bottom and top, ensuring that there would be no opportunity to get in each other's faces, but what I would like to do ultimately is baby gate Angus upstairs, and have Simon in the Florida room. We can't do that just yet, though, as it gets way too hot in the FL room this time of year. We need to have a small, dedicated a/c unit installed in there, but the holdup with that has been that since "The Flood," all the a/c people are incredibly backed up, replacing the units of flood victims.
OK, getting back for a minute to how this is robbing my dogs of their personalities...it has also occurred to me that maybe I have, over the years, encouraged too much, um, excitement. When you do training for competition, one of the things you really want is to keep your dog happy and motivated. I've been pretty good at that. But, maybe I've been too good at the "fun" part and not good enough at the "focus" part. Well, obviously that's true - anyone who has seen Angus' video knows that. So that has me thinking, maybe it really will be a good thing if I can teach them to bring their excitement level down a notch. Maybe it would even help them in the ring. Who knows?
So...for the past three weeks I've been taking a really good, long look at them and what needs to change, and working really diligently to try to change those things. I can't even begin to list all the things that are different about the way we interact. Simon must sit before fetch every time it is thrown. Simon is no longer allowed to grab at the bumper. Angus is no longer allowed to take treats roughly. No one is ever allowed to go in or out a door, internal or external, without permission. Angus is no longer allowed to jump up on the counter in anticipation of his bedtime cookie. Dozens of little things.
Maybe a lot of little things add up to a big thing.
I hope that didn't put anyone to sleep. I'll post more updates as we have breakthroughs and setbacks. Hopefully more of the former and less of the latter, but I'd be wrong not to expect that there will be both.
Sounds like you are doing all you can and I hope things improve for all of you! I am not sure I could do all that if I was in your situation.
Connie, one thing I wonder, and maybe you could run it by the behaviorist. You say that you miss "no more throwing the bumper for Simon when he jumps straight up in the air. One of his most adorable habits, but a "demand" habit, and we were told not to reward demanding behavior."
What if you trained him to do this on command? You could then ask for a sit, then the jump, then throw the bumper. ??? I don't know, but it was a thought.
“If I know every single phone call you’ve made, I’m able to determine every single person you’ve talked to; I can get a pattern about your life that is very, very intrusive. And the real question here, is what do they do with this information that they collect – that does not have anything to do with al-Qaeda? And we’re gonna trust the president and the vice president that they’re doing the right thing? Don’t count me in on that.”
Joe Biden, 2006
Sounds to me like you are on the right track. And that they are responding. Good luck and stay with it!
Well it sounds like you are starting to figure things out, but I know how you feel. I love nothing more than getting Abbey and Kolby all excited while they are playing, especially with agility and dock diving. They have to have that drive and really want that toy, so I feel like I have to... But they are pretty rowdy, so maybe only allowing them that exuberance during training and that's it?
Great work on them not charging the door. I really need to work on that with my two and my parents' dog - the three of them are horrrrible!
Please keep us updated!!
I know that this is difficult and time-consuming. I applaud you for having them stop at the door! Perhaps when a "calmer" state has been reached, you can offer a bit of fun as Justine suggested.
I'm so glad you took the time to tell us what has been going on. I can understand your dissapointment in not allowing them to "have fun" like they used to - until I read that part of the fun was jumping up on the counter to get a bedtime treat and then suddenly I had a picture of perhaps just a little "too much fun" I agree that some fun behaviors can now be cued. I don't know that much about NILF, but I was wondering if they need to "sit" every time, or just something that you tell them to do- Lay down, shake paws - whatever - just something that you tell them to do before they get what they want. Continued good luck with your boys .
Oh man, Connie. I feel so sorry for your dogs.
Seamus and Flynn
Pat, maybe you're right. Maybe I'm taking the NILIF instructions too literally, and should feel free to mix it up. And yes, I admit, there has probably been entirely too much fun happening in our house. LOL Some of these, honestly, are behaviors that should not have been allowed to begin with. Barking at the door is a good example. Taking treats roughly is another one. It won't hurt them to learn to behave like semi-civilized animals.
I can't believe you guys read all that. Thank you. When I saw how long it was after I posted it, I was like, OMG!
And, he will do it on command. If I raise both arms, he jumps.