FLD Gus is 10-months-old. Sometimes it seems like my adolescent puppy has forgotten everything I taught him--he stands defiant when I ask for a "SIT' or a "DOWN," or he refuses to "COME" when he always ran to meet me at first call.
This testosterone-making time usually means the development of unwanted behaviors like "marking" (lifting a rear leg to pee on things). Luckily, the only time FLD Gus gave me this problem is at puppy-class at Leader Dogs for the Blind, and he is improving. Last Tuesday he actually went through his entire class without "marking" on the weigh-in scale, or in the training room and entry halls. Yay!
FLD Gus has developed at least one new behavior I attribute to his rising testosterone levels: guard-barking. A second behavior, trying to get onto my lap whenever I sit down, may or may not be attributable to his hormones, but nonetheless, it is undesirable.
I described FLD Gus's barking to our trainer at puppy-class, hoping for some ideas. He started this when we visited friends. They live in an apartment with patio doors overlooking the entranceway, and Gus barked at anyone he saw outside.
In my post from March 31, I stated that Gus seemed to be past his "big-dog-bark," and only barked at Gypsy in play. True, for a while; recently he's taken to barking at other things: sounds outside, at the neighbor boy when he rides his bike past our house, from the car if he sees someone. Gus is my first Future Leader Dog puppy to take such a protector stance. The diverting techniques I employed (name recognition, finger-poking, giving a "SIT" command) weren't doing the trick.
The trainer at Leader Dogs said, "Ignore him."
That's easier said than done. When FLD Gus puffs up and lets loose, he's hard to disregard.
"Just ignore him. And be quick to reward him any time he does NOT bark in a situation where he's likely to bark."
Not long later, we were in the van and got stopped at a red light. (Andy swears that there are cameras hidden that identify him as he approaches.) While we waited for the light to change, I glanced at Gus sitting in the back seat just as he "puffed up" at the sight of a pedestrian. Gus muttered under his breath, but did not bark. I immediately praised him, Good boy, Gus! What a good puppy you are! And proceeded to talk to him like this as a means of diverting his attention from the unsuspecting stranger.
It worked! FLD Gus lost interest and did not bark.
Last week we had an opportunity to bring FLD Gus to our friends' apartment where his barking began. I made extra effort to pay attention to whatever caught his attention, and praise (and treat) him when he was quiet. While Gus did burst out a few times at people in the parking log (and we all ignored him), he did much better observing and not protecting.
Today I tried this same technique when FLD Gus tried to get on my lap. (Typically I say, OFF! and remove him if he doesn't step back.) I sat on the couch; Gus bounced over and put his big front paws on my legs. I averted my eyes and hugged my torso to keep my hands inaccessible. When Gus didn't remove himself, I twisted to face away from him. Finally, Gus put four paws on the floor. I turned back to him and gave him a pet.
Maybe this ignoring stuff does work!
HINTS FOR IGNORING UNWANTED BEHAVIOR
- Be consistent. Every time your puppy barks, or jumps up, completely ignore him.
- Anticipate. Try to catch your puppy BEFORE the behavior--and give a diverting command such as "sit."
- Be quick to reward the appropriate behavior. Your puppy is smarter than you think!
- Be safe. Certainly, if your puppy's behavior creates an unsafe condition, take steps to physically stop the behavior and/or remove your puppy from the situation.
And good luck! Eventually your puppy will "relearn" what he already knows and be ready for his real training at Leader Dogs. Return time comes quickly! (FLD Gus returns to Leader Dogs at the end of August.)