Thursday, September 07, 2006

Canine Problem Solving

Recently I added a purebred Newfoundland puppy to my life. She has quickly grown into a sizable and determined individual. I estimate she weighs about 65-70 pounds and is 22 weeks old. In her pedigree is the dog that is in the Guiness Book of World Records for strongest dog. Yikes. More on that later.

Yesterday, I posted about dog jealousy and raised a question of how to actually define and measure jealous behavior as a first step toward scientific inquiry. This morning I still haven't got a clue. I haven't spent any time thinking about it either. Perhaps these two things are related?

I have observed that my new Newfy is quite a problem solver. This morning marked the third morning that she has pawed my other dog's head when he refused to sit on command before I dish out their food. I always make them sit now to prevent a repeat performance of the Happy Hippos Game when Miss Exuberance jumps in excitement at the appearance of a full bowl and noses it, sending the pieces flying in a thousand directions only to be hoovered up by the wrong dog. Now that she has to sit, we haven't had any more spilled dishes. They thing is that I have both of them sit. Why? I ask myself this every time Mr Curmudgeon just stands there refusing to sit. He does eventually sit, though sometimes I have to ask 3-4 times (even though my hand signal is staring him in the face so he can't 'forget' what he has to do) or prompt him with a tap on his bum. She sits right away and then has to wait what must seem like forever before she gets the reward for sitting. In the meantime, she gets frustrated - I think it's safe to say - judging by her moan-yelps and her paws to his head. I tell her "good dog" sometimes and wonder if this is a good idea because he might be taking that as a reward for not sitting, and other times I pat her on the head. The thing is, she appears to know exactly what the problem is - HIM. With every tap on his head she seems to be saying "Hey Mister, you gotta sit now!" It is adorable, funny, and very clever of her.

Back to Miss SmartyPants the Incredibly Strong Dog - She tugs at the leash with all of her strength ONLY when our other dog walks with us. The rest of the time she walks on a loose lead to my left like she's supposed to. I have a choke chain collar for her which has helped a lot. It takes most of my strength to keep her in line. Lately she has started to dart off the sidewalk to try to catch pine cones, grass clumps, leaves, sticks, walnut husks, etc. The lateral movement really pulls a number on my back and I have a strong back. She is just going to get bigger and more unmanagable, but I refuse to admit defeat and walk them separately, so I have got to find a clever solution to this canine problem.

I get tired of saying no and jerking at the collar, but really what else can I do? Persist I suppose. My willpower over hers. I have also got to give her more exercise during the day. That has not been a priority over the past two weeks. I have been busy with other things. In short, I need to prioritize that until we get this solved. I know I'm doing the basics correctly, I just have to be tenacious with her training and give her more exercise.

On that note - lunch (!) followed by running around the quad... I mean Ankeny.


Daphne said...

Your pulling problem most likely stems from a dominance issue. The dominant dog leads the "pack," Katy has the dominant personality and therefore wants to walk ahead of you and the old man.

A great solution for this is a Halti. Looks like a halter for dogs, my college roommate uses one on her mastiff when they do pets on wheels and she said its amazing the control it gives you because where the dogs head goes the body must follow.... they are humane as well because you use a lot less force than when you are using a collar. According to my trainer the problem with harnesses and some types of collars on dogs especially the "draft" breeds like Newfies and Bernese Mountain dogs is that they lean into the pressure and just pull harder becuase thats what they want/were bred to do. You can buy Haltis just about anywhere, Petsmart, Foster and Smith and Care-A-Lot Pets come to mind.
Just my two cents.

If you are looking for something fun to do with the dog dogs then give them an intelligence test ( Stormy and I might try it and we can compare scores! :o)

Anna said...

Hi there, I've been reading your blog for a couple of days now and I like it! I'm studying psychology at university and evolutionary psychology is the area I want to specialise in.

I'm also a dog owner. My Labrador Summer used to pull a lot when we're outside because she's excited, and she's very strong. I find a Halti really helps - she can still pull, but much less.

Other useful tips:

#1 As soon as Summer puts too much tension on the lead, I stand still. And I wait until she slackens the lead a bit before I move again, and I keep doing this every few seconds if necessary. She picks up pretty quickly that we'll get there much faster if she keeps close to me.

#2 The calmer the dog is, the less it will pull. Summer goes mad when you get the lead (or even if you just say "lead", "walk", "visit", etc), so I'm trying to extinguish this response by not pairing the lead (and the words) with a walk. I put the lead on for a few minutes then take it off, without going out at all. Eventually she'll stop getting so excited about the lead, and that will help.

#3 I agree with Daphne about the dominance thing, that would explain why your dog pulls more when she's with the other dog. So reinforcing your position as alpha female will help a lot, i.e. she doesn't eat until you finish your meal, you go through doors first, she doesn't get to sleep on the bed/sofa (all the comfy places are reserved for you), if she's in the way you make her move rather than stepping over her, stuff like that.

Can't resist sticking my nose in, sorry! ;)