Buster – Setting up for success in the home

Buster is at an age where he thinks he is pretty important, and the next few months he is going to push boundaries.

Wait there quietly, I just need to pop in to the bakery.

It is NOT personal!

It is just what dogs do.

Up to now everyone adores him and caters to his every whim. When he jumps up or nips “he is just being a puppy”. The adult dog ( 12 years old and with epilepsy) in the home as well as the family forgive him for almost anything. However at about five and a half months this stops being cute and starts being a royal pain in the a***. People often become increasingly frustrated as the dog gets bigger and “he’s not just a puppy, he’s a big dog now”.

A lot of dogs don’t make it to their first birthday before they end up in the shelter.

So if you have a dog from a shelter who is, shall we say, between nine months old and eighteen months old then there is a good chance the owners gave up on him for one or more of the behaviors I mentioned in my last post (Buster goes to school).

Just being a dog.

First Things First

The first thing I will do when he arrives in my home is restrict his access to things that might get him into trouble.

So whatever the problem:

Management prevents accidents

“Use management to prevent repetition of the unwanted behavior”

This does not mean that you have to restrict him for life! It means that in order to prevent the behavior becoming a lifetime habit, he has to stop practicing! Then you find a way of training an alternative.

So here is an example:

A pug that I know loves to go into the bathroom whenever the door is inadvertently left ajar and take the tissues out of the waste basket. I will call them tissues because this is a family show, but use your imagination. The owners wanted to know if I would just train him not to do that. Sure, we can do that. But, here’s a thought, why not pop down to Target and get a waste bin with a closing lid on it? Alternatively how about putting self closing hinges on the bathroom door so it always closes automatically. Or a door frame gate? That is management. Set him up for success. That way instead of being rewarded by your attention when he pulls out the tissues and shreds them around the house and you chase after him barking (you know you sound as if you are barking right?) you get to praise and reward him for lazing on his dog bed chewing on an appropriate chew toy.

Safety First

So before Buster arrived I installed a couple of Dog Gates across the doorways into the kitchen, separating the home into smaller manageable areas where he can be closely supervised. For smaller puppies it is really worth setting up a large wire crate and a den style crate inside, because it has a tray style floor and keeps the puppies safe and the mess somewhat contained.

Magic and Grk in the kitchen. A large pen with a roof keeps them safe if I want to go to the grocery store. The smaller crate inside gives them a snuggly space where they feel protected if they are anxious or feeling overwhelmed by the family and the family room or just want to sleep. Their hidey-hole. The door on the small crate is open during the day. The door on the large pen is open while I am present and supervising. They have free run of the kitchen while I am present so that I can praise and reward appropriate behavior and alert them to inappropriate behavior. (Counter-surfing or chewing the linoleum, for example)

The position of the crates in the photograph is deliberate, the dogs feel more content in a corner of a room in preference to an open space or the center of the room.

The goal is total freedom, the fastest and most effective way to get there is carefully structured supervision, education and attention.

Do not give the new dog the run of the house. It is a recipe for disaster!

It is impossible to supervise the dog when you can’t see him so you will spend your time “finding evidence” which is very frustrating and impossible to go back and correct or educate.

Slow is Fast

Introduce him slowly, when he is successful in the first area, gradually expand his area of freedom and his responsibility. The key word is gradually!  The goal is to set him up for success so that you can catch him doing right and praise and reward the behavior.

The purpose is not isolation or separation, that would be punishment. The purpose is for me to spend significant periods of time around Buster, but he is not the center of my attention 100% of the time. For example when I am writing this blog I want him present in the room so that he does not get into trouble out of my sight. He also learns that he can be calm as I am calm. He has structured time when he can play and have fun at my instigation and it is a good idea to do that before I ask for a calm “downtime”.

Dog Gates

There are a number Dog Gates available from pet stores but the most effective, strongest and least ugly I have found are at http://www.orvis.com. They have a wooden one which is wonderful:

Wood Door Frame Gate

My favorite doorway gate!


However if you have rabid chewers they also have a wrought iron one:

Wrought Iron Door Frame Gate

Alternative door frame gate


Buster goes to school


This is Buster, he is not a rescued dog. But I guarantee that he could be just the same as any rescued dog. He is 5 months old and because he is so young he has not had very much experience in the world. In another home he could easily have ended up in the shelter.

It does not really matter whether your rescued dog is 5 months or 5 years old. I know dogs 5 years old who have had the life experience of a five month old puppy. They are taken home, make mistakes and are gradually banished to the back yard and then ignored for most of the time.

Here is my plan. I am going to document a short term training plan where I am going to provide this dog with the Foundation Training that he requires to live happily at home. You may find there are some ideas and clues which will help you bring your newly adopted dog in to your home happily and safely.

Buster is a little shy with the general public and can consequently be a little timid around new people both out in the street and new people who arrive in the home. His fear has meant that he has started testing people by voice and body posture and starting to scare his family as he pushes harder and harder. He barks when his family bring friends around to the house and charges and has nipped at several people including children in the home. It is not unusual for a herding breed and I am sure that this will ring some bells for many people with rescued dogs. His family are disappointed that Buster is not Lassie yet, and the seven year old boy has been bitten a couple of times, and is now becoming fearful of Buster. There is a four year old, a seven year old and a nine year old child in the family and mom has her hands full. She has been exercising him for two hours a day on leash but dare not take him anywhere off leash that is not completely and securely fenced as his recall is non existent. His house training is improving but he is not trustworthy without constant supervision. He seems to just not get it. He stops squats and pees as if he just cant help it and once the flow is going interrupting it is almost impossible!

Fortunately they have the wisdom to get expert help and were referred to me by a previous client.

I have known people drop their dog off at the shelter for less.

Here is the thing, he is just a puppy. People get puppies because they are so cute, they look like Beanie Babies and the kids want one. Somehow forgetting to factor in the time, effort, commitment and knowledge it takes to raise one. However this dog could be any rescued dog ( or most family dogs, rescued or not) of any age. Not house-trained? Check. Barks and rushes at the UPS man? Check. Herds the young children and especially their friends when they come visiting? Check. Digs up the back yard? Tears out the irrigation? Check and Check. Chews childrens toys, baseball bats, baseball helmets, basketballs, bicycle tires, dads MG when it gets locked in the garage? Check. Pulls on leash? Check. Bites the hand that feeds it? Check! Bites the hand that doesn’t feed it? Check! Jumps up? Check!  Bites clothing? Check! Steals food off the counter? Check!

Just being a dog.

So here is what I do. I take Buster into my home. I give Buster a structure to his day. I work him with other dogs whose skills I am familiar with and they parent him and teach him some manners and social skills. I teach Buster what is ok and what is not ok. I give him a Basic Foundation in obedience training, with voice commands, hand signals and whistles. Then I take Buster back to the family and show them how to achieve the same thing at home. Following on from that Buster will come back to me for Advanced training and probably some Refresher Training when he comes to the cabin for Camp and his family go on vacation. Meanwhile I video and send updates to the owners so they can see what he is up to. The first session is two weeks residential. You can follow along here.