Rover Achiever | Keeper
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While I was picking up Tyson at the daycare I had a chance to observe Keeper, a dog that belongs to the daycare manager, Eileen. Keeper is reactive towards certain dogs and certain people. I was thinking about sending Eileen an email with some suggestions and then I figured I’d blog about it.
Anyone who works at a pet store, daycare or other pet-friendly workplace, would love to enjoy the benefit of bringing their dog to work. But what if your dog is not doing well in your work environment? What if your workplace brings him stress and anxiety? Keeper often hangs out with Eileen in the front where he can make decisions about who he likes and who he is uncertain of. When he is unsure of someone, he typically barks or growls. Obviously this behaviour is concerning and with constant two-legged and four-legged visitors entering the daycare, it’s not a good workplace practice.

The challenges:
Eileen is too busy when she’s at work to focus on Keeper. The daycare is busy and now that she has been promoted to manager, she is far too distracted to give him the attention he needs. The following are some training recipes for Eileen, which I think can benefit Keeper tremendously and get Eileen on a path where she can bring Keeper to work and enjoy him at the same time.

1. Use a crate to manage Keeper. Susan Garrett’s crate games video arrived last week. I have watched it once and am now about to work through the exercises with my own dogs. Just simply watching the video can give you some insight into how all dogs can learn to find being in their crate extremely reinforcing. If Eileen practices crate games, she should be able to send Keeper to his crate immediately when she sees a potential trigger come through the door. Eventually, through clever placement of the crate, Eileen can work towards having people toss cookies into his crate when they walk by.

2. Become an expert in her dog’s pattern of behaviour. Make a list of everything Keeper is reacting to. Pamela Dennison’s book, How to Right a Dog Gone Wrong, has an excellent training form, called My Dog’s Issues. It is quite thorough. If Eileen is an expert in your Keeper’s pattern of behaviour, she can proactive instead of reactive.

3. Practice setups. In the real world setups are hard but Eileen, from working in a doggie daycare, Eileen has all the resources at her fingertips. Dogs and people (all dog lovers!) where she can practice setups. We want Keeper to be successful so the setups need to expose him to extremely low levels of the frightening stimulus while wonderful things are happening to him while he is calm. Eileen has already done some clicker training with Keeper so we just need to work out some of the details of the setups.

4. Strengthen his training foundation behaviours. Keeper needs to have compete attention on Eileen and a quick response to the cues she gives him. To start, I’d love to see her get a solid down stay with him with some minor distractions.

5. Never give him the opportunity to practice aggressive behaviours. We don’t want these behaviours to become more patterned in his behaviour. This is the hard one for Eileen because it means Keeper either needs to be in his crate at the daycare or to be doing training setups and exercises. This is the hard part because we all want our dogs to be able to hangout with us. It involves changing our pattern of behaviour as well. Ultimately, we have to do what’s best for the dog. We can start to give Keeper more freedom as his behaviours become more reliable.

6. Keep a training journal. I know with Tyson sometimes I would go in circles trying different things and be right back where I started wondering why it wasn’t working. There are so many variables in training: what reinforcer was used, how often, level of energy of the dog, how hungry the dog is, the nature of the stimulus, distance of stimulus…you get the idea. By limiting the variables and being hyper aware of the details we can zone in on what’s working and what isn’t.

I’ll outline more of the roadmap for Keeper in the next couple of weeks.

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