Tag: adolescent dogs

You Have to Stop! Interrupting Unwelcome Puppy Play Toward an Older Dog

You Have to Stop! Interrupting Unwelcome Puppy Play Toward an Older Dog

A tan and black dog lies on the grass holding a ball and a brown and white puppy runs toward her

Or: The Magic Buffalo Tug

In my post about the challenges of living with and training Lewis, I mentioned that the worst problem we faced was his hassling Clara to play. We’ve made some progress.

When he first came, his most frequent behavior toward her was humping. I remember telling Marge Rogers I had removed him or called him away dozens of times in a day. The humping diminished, thankfully. He does it far less frequently and less intensely and will happily dismount when I call him away.

But the next phase was tougher. A more troublesome problem emerged. Instead of humping, Lewis initiated play with Clara dozens of times a day. Sounds nice, right? No. First, she didn’t want to play dozens of times a day, but she is too retiring to tell him off convincingly. Worse, his methods of initiating play included: 1) growl the meanest sounding play growl imaginable and chew on Clara’s face and neck relentlessly; 2) bite her tail and pull; 3) bite one of her hind legs and hang on; and 4) in the yard, body slam her with no warning at top speed. But since every once in a while she did want to play, she put his rude behavior on a variable ratio reinforcement schedule, which increased his natural persistence.

I’ve seen Clara tell Lewis emphatically NO only twice. Once was when his food toy had escaped under the couch and he considered swiping hers. She gave a strong warning bark right in his face and he backed off instantly. She did something similar with a toy she really wanted one day when he made a play for it. But otherwise she has been a pushover. Even when she responds to his chewing on her with growls and unfriendly chomping, he reacts as if she is not serious—and she doesn’t prove him wrong. So I needed to intervene.

Management

Early on, I wasn’t able to get Lewis’ attention to interrupt him out of play or attempted play. He was lost to the world. Both of them were; I couldn’t even get Clara’s attention when she was into it. So once he started, I had to physically remove him if Clara didn’t want to play. That’s why he (still!) wears a harness and often drags a leash: so I can remove him or prevent him from launching at her. I’m not proud of this, but I have to protect my other dog.

I’m well aware of the risks of dogs playing while wearing collars or harnesses. Life with dogs is full of calculated risks and this is where I fall on this particular risk. Clara wears only a breakaway collar and we are working toward one for Lewis. But she is far less likely to chew on him than he is to chew on her.

Back to the problem at hand. I realized that my management method of physical interruptions hadn’t diminished the problem behavior at all. We always hope, right? So I started thinking about what else to do. Crating or otherwise separating him, other than using the tether, was not an option then.

Two Resources

When I considered how else to address the problem, two things came to mind. First, Kiki Yablon posted on Instagram a video of using a structured tug game to teach a lab puppy not to bite at flapping garments and other objects. Second, I remembered something I’ve heard Marge say many times, that when she has a puppy in the house she always has treats in one pocket and a toy in the other.

A toy! I always have treats in a pocket, but I’ve rarely carried a toy. But I liked Kiki’s approach of using toy play as an alternative to play-driven behavior, and had Marge to encourage me. So I bought the tiniest tug toy I could find at Clean Run. I wanted it to be a novel toy, and it needed to be small enough to fit in my pocket. Enter the buffalo tug.

Behavior Chain

From the first, I worried about creating a behavior chain. If the tug play was attractive (and you’ll see how much Lewis delights in tug) and the only way he could access it was by bothering Clara, then guess what was going to increase? Bothering Clara. So I gave it a few tries on the first day but consulted with Marge quickly before I created a problem.

The first time I whipped out the tug toy to lure him away from Clara, it was like a bolt of energy shot through him. He was thrilled out of his mind. He raced to me and we played for a minute or two, then I traded him a couple of pieces of kibble for the tug toy. He has a very good “out” cue already, but I liked the kibble trade for this situation.

Closeup of a brown and white puppy's face as he grips a tug toy
Lewis with the buffalo tug

So I learned I had a powerful tool, something that competed with his favorite reinforcer, poor Clara. Even on that first day, he would advance on Clara, then turn and look at me. “Well? Where’s the tug?” This was both good and bad news. Good because he was stopping before grabbing her. Bad because it could lead to a chain and increase the Clara-bothering. I texted Marge so I wouldn’t create a worse problem.

Punishment

You may wonder why I haven’t mentioned punishment. I do use negative punishment from time to time. But in this case, it would be as a timeout, removing either him or Clara from the situation quickly, contingent on his undesirable behavior. But removing him from the action would be a whopper of a punisher for him. He’s got a giant case of Fear of Missing Out. I never knew how bad that could get. And removing Clara with a clear contingency (“she’s leaving because you were being a jerk”) would be hard-to-impossible. I do separate them to protect her. But I don’t see the management actions I take decreasing the behavior. I would much rather concentrate my efforts on preventing him from doing it in the first place.

Tweaking the Plan

Marge helped me add three tweaks.

  1. I asked for a behavior or two before tugging. I had his full attention, and he was happy to do anything to get the tug. The behaviors he had on cue at the time were sit, down, eye contact, hand target, and go to mat. He defaulted to sit since he already knew to sit to start a game. But I switched it up and asked for different things.
  2. Once he could turn his attention to me instead of jumping Clara, at times I reinforced with food instead of tug. Tugging is what allowed me to get his attention so quickly though, so I still used tug most of the time.
  3. Most important: I produced the tug toy at other times. It was vital that attacking Clara was not the only way for him to get access to such an attractive game. I didn’t want to get clobbered by the matching law. So I also whipped out the tug sometimes when he just came up to me and gave me eye contact or sat. I liked the idea that he could just come and ask me in those ways (rather than grabbing my arm or walloping Clara). I also just popped it out randomly.

Here’s a video from two days after I started using the pocket tug. I was about to interrupt the play because Lewis getting rough and obnoxious. But at that moment he interrupted himself and reoriented to me. Tug game on!

Unexpected and Expected Effects

OK, a professional trainer could have predicted these, but I didn’t.

Tan dog and brown and white dog are chewing on a hairy tug toy together
“Sharing” the buffalo tug
  1. Clara wanted the tug. Of course she did. Why do I always make these plans as if there isn’t another dog in the mix? So of course I had to let her have it, both to play tug with and to chew on. She is the reason there is no long hair left on our tug (see the photo below). And sometimes she and Lewis played with the tug together. This sounds a little like I shot myself in the foot, and perhaps I did, but he was much nicer when they played with an object than if it was just tooth and claw. That’s one way I ramp down their play anyway: get a toy in the mix.
  2. The day I introduced the tug toy and forever after, I could instantly get Lewis’ attention merely by saying his name, no matter how intensely they were playing. Sweet! This added to the safety of the household. I need my dogs to be able to ramp down after they have ramped up. I had already been interrupting their play a lot and encouraging them to do so, but the tug supercharged my ability to get their attention and tone things down.
  3. I became even more of an entertainment center for Lewis. This is a mixed blessing for me, of course, but it’s great to get his focus when I need it.
  4. As hoped, providing him lots more mini-sessions of play during the day seemed to reduce his need to pester Clara. It’s hard to say, because she also started to say no a lot more often and more convincingly. But a combination of approaches switched his play focus more to me (and the neighbor dogs—more on that another time!).
A small, well chewed tug toy made of buffalo hide
The enticing buffalo tug after weeks of heavy use and recreational chewing

Where Things Stand

These systems are working well. Clara and I have figured out several ways to dissuade him. Besides the buffalo tug method, there’s a mat next to my place at the kitchen table she can get on; it’s hard for him to access her there. Sometimes I’ll cue her into a crate or she’ll get in on her own. Clara and I sometimes go off to another room of the house (not contingent on a play attempt, just as a planned activity). This is a big deal because formerly, Lewis’ FOMO would have made him scream. He is learning that he gets a turn.

I wish I could say I’ve solved the problem and Lewis only approaches Clara with respect and finesse. Bwa-ha-ha-ha, if only! These are living creatures, and I’m dealing with a strongly driven behavior on Lewis’ part. But play behavior can be shaped, and I hope he can figure out some ways that work better than ramming folks like a violent cartoon character.

I’ll close with this recent clip of Lewis playing with some balls and **not** slamming Clara, who gets to chew on hers in (comparative) peace.

Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

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Training a Teenage Puppy

Training a Teenage Puppy

Two dogs are sitting on a couch. The younger red and white hound dog on the left has a playful look on his face. The older, larger, black and tan dog looks happy but tired.
Clara looks as tired as I feel. (But notice how happy she is!)

Whew! It’s more than a month later and I maybe, possibly, barely can write about how things have been with Lewis.

Preparation

I had only a couple of days to prepare for Lewis before he came. I did three main things.

  1. I moved Zani’s old crate to my bedside. It is a good size for him and has a lovely cushy bed and blanket in it.
  2. I got a 48-inch-tall exercise pen that’s been in my garden for several years and set it up in the main living area of the house. I outfitted it with a good-sized donut-style bed. The bed is not puppy-proof, but it is sturdy and doesn’t have a lot of tempting chew areas.
  3. I inventoried and cleaned up my food toys and chews.

Number 1 was a bust, Number 2 didn’t work out the way I expected, but Number 3 paid off.

1. The Crate

Lewis had been living at a veterinary clinic for the past two months, so I assumed he was accustomed to being in a cage or crate. It turns out that accustomed to and accepting are two different things. The first night, after a very active day which was undoubtedly stressful for him, we went to bed. I showed him the crate door, and he went in. I gave him some treats and closed the door. He instantly tuned up to yell. I, just as instantly, let him out. I have experience with hounds. They are persistent and loud. For both his benefit and mine, I knew not to even try to let him cry it out. So I caved ASAP.

Lewis wandered around my room a little, then settled into a dog bed I had stashed in a corner. He slept there the first night and half of the second night. Midway through the second night, he got up onto my bed with me and Clara. First, he slept on a throw blanket at the foot of the bed. Over time, he moved closer to me and now he cuddles.

I scrapped the sleeping crate idea and returned it to its normal location. I found out much later that part of the problem was the plastic crate. He likes wire crates a lot better. But he still probably would have protested. I got super lucky with my last two dogs, Clara and Zani, who both came to me thinking crates were nice.

Why had I tried the crate?

  • I had no idea of the status of his house training.
  • My bedroom is not puppy-proof.
  • I didn’t want him to bother Clara.

Luckily, his house training is great. He has woken me every morning (at first on veterinary clinic time, yawn!) to go out to potty. My bedroom is not puppy proof, but I wake up if an animal gets off the bed, so he is safe at night. And the extent of his bothering Clara has been to become more assertive about getting a prime spot on the bed. Nothing Clara and I can’t handle.

I am doing very slow and careful crate training with Lewis in a wire crate (see photos at the bottom of the post).

2. The Ex Pen

I had this idyllic mental image of Lewis chilling in the ex pen when the rest of us were also in the room. (Bwa ha ha!) In my defense, I did that with Clara when she was a very young puppy. She was so little that I suspect she hardly registered it as an enclosure. Ex pens, in a household of four not-entirely-compatible dogs, were just a fact of life for her since she came to me so young. Zani, who came to me as a teenager like Lewis, also did fine with them.

But Lewis had three problems with the lovely ex pen.

  1. Lewis is not good at chilling. In fact, he is in the dog life stage probably least amenable to chilling.
  2. Lewis showed early on that he would try to climb out of the ex pen. Whether he could be successful I’m not sure, but he would have hurt himself the way he was trying. He probably would have toppled the whole thing on top of himself or gotten his toes hurt in the wires. He is a capable, near-full-grown dog, not a malleable puppy. Think of those awful YouTube videos showing beagles escaping impossible situations or climbing impossible things. He’s like that.
  3. Lewis tuned up to yell about the ex pen confinement the moment he wasn’t eating something or the moment I left the room.

So I kept the ex pen but only closed it when I was right there. In the last month, I have helped him build up good feelings for the ex pen. He bounds to it to eat. I can now leave the room for a few minutes, off and on, while he is eating from a food toy. I pull the pen closed, but I make it my business always to return before he might object. I don’t want to trigger the song of his people or a climbing incident. And we’re working on chilling skills.

3. The Food Toys

The food toys have been a success and are very helpful. So far, I have used frozen Zogoflex Toppls, Zogoflex Tux, and Kongs; a Kong Wobbler and a couple of other action-based food toys; gullets and buffalo horns; and tendons using holders to prevent choking.

Behavior Issues

Here are some of the problematic behaviors Lewis already had going strong when he came to me.

  • Grabbing sleeves.
This is a very early video, and the grabbing behavior is virtually gone now. I taught him something else to do to get my attention when I was seated, and he learned it quickly.
  • Biting/mouthing hands.
  • Grabbing arms with his teeth or scratching with his paws when the person is sitting.
  • Jumping up when the person is standing, including from the back, sometimes while biting or scratching.
  • Grabbing items from human hands.
  • Trying to grab other dogs’ treats.
  • Opening baby gates (see video below).
  • Mild toy resource guarding from Clara.
  • Mild reactivity to strange dogs and humans.
  • Humping Clara.
  • Repeatedly trying to initiate play with Clara when she doesn’t want to. This is probably our biggest ongoing problem. I should also mention that Clara does like playing with him and they play a lot!
I was trimming Clara’s toenails. I have not put him in this position again.
  • Demand barking in general.
A red and white hound mix dog wearing a harness sits on a hardwood floor and barks.
  • Finding and chewing up all sorts of things I should have put out of his reach, including the hardwood floor (which would be hard to put out of reach!).
  • Expert and ongoing countersurfing. Not just kitchen counters: every counter, dresser, desk, and table in the house. And not just for food. Even a view seems reinforcing.
A red and white hound mix dog shreds a large, raw baking potato on a mat on the floor.
He scored this raw potato and chewed up a fair amount of it before I even realized he had it
A red and white hound mix with a curled tail stands on top of a large crate
Lewis has expertise in climbing and escape
  • Asking to go outside over and over, not to eliminate but because the rest of us are just being too boring.
  • Eating dirt and acorns.

Lewis’ Needs and Emotions

Just because I wrote out the above list of behaviors from the human “problem” point of view doesn’t mean I don’t see these as what they are: Lewis expressing his natural doggy needs.

The behaviors above are either hard-wired dog behaviors, such as the scavenging-related ones and the humping, or ones that have worked in his previous environments, such as hopping along behind a person with their shirt in his mouth and clawing at their back.

As difficult as Lewis’ behaviors are for me and my household, our behaviors and constraints are at least as difficult for him.

Besides food, water, health, and safety, Lewis needs human attention, doggy companionship, love, and novelty. The ways he asks for these things are part of who he is. I am respectful of that in the ways I attempt to influence them. (This is between tearing my hair out and trying not to yell. I don’t always live up to my intentions!)

Two dogs are walking together in a yard with trees. We see them from the rear only.
I’m breaking the photography rule of “Don’t show the south end of an animal going north.” I like the companionable way Lewis and Clara are walking, though.

As for Lewis’ emotional needs: I am more accustomed to dogs whose primary difficulties center on fear. Lewis’ primary uncomfortable emotional state, per my observation, is frustration. This is new for me, but I’m giving it my best. He definitely led a life of deprivation for the 10 weeks before he came to me, and his life experience before that is unknown. My goal is for Lewis to get a lot more of what he wants and needs without 1) endangering himself; 2) hurting humans; 3) terrorizing other dogs; or 4) damaging property excessively. It’s a given that he’ll damage some property, even with my best management attempts.

In the following clip of Lewis and the Manners Minder, he frustration-barks when I ask him to lie down. I have a couple of theories about why; see what you think. He hasn’t done it in any sessions since then. This is a minor example, but frustration, and the attendant barking and throwing of behaviors, is usually right under the surface for Lewis.

Lewis shows apparent frustration when I cue him to lie down

My Training Philosophy

I want Lewis to be happy. I want him to express his dogginess in all the ways that are in keeping with my four caveats above (not hurting himself, humans, or other dogs, or damaging much property). So I am in a paradoxical situation. I have to limit some natural and learned behaviors while I try to satiate his need to express himself and satisfy himself in dog activities. This is, of course, a normal paradox for those of us who live with dogs. But because of his previous deprivation, it’s extreme with Lewis.

I believe in training dogs. I wouldn’t always have felt the need to say that. But there are trends, even among professional trainers, that are actually anti-training. I understand this as a response to the common tendency to over train and over-control dogs’ lives. I do not understand it as an achievable primary goal with all dogs. There are some dogs who fit into the human world easily and naturally. I think there are more like Lewis, who need to be taught ways to get what they want without hurting themselves or others.

When I look at the list I wrote above, I wonder how I could address those issues without training. For instance, the pestering of Clara. It seems to me my choices are:

  1. Let him do it and ruin Clara’s life for the near future.
  2. Prevent him with a leash, barriers, and constant supervision.
  3. Somehow teach him different behaviors with her. Or teach her. She doesn’t tell him “No” convincingly. But anything besides positive interruption of him, which I already do, is likely beyond my skill level.
  4. Teach him that going into a crate or ex pen or even another room with a nice chew object and being alone there for a short period is pleasant. Ask him to do that when he is ramped up in a loop of bothering Clara.

Right now I am doing #2 (barriers, a tether, and constant supervision) while I work slowly on #4. I don’t know any acceptable long-term solutions except training. But this training is not obedience-based. It’s heavy on classical conditioning because I don’t want him to hang out in a crate just because he has to; I want it to be pleasant for him. I want Lewis to be happy.

Progress

I’ll use the list above as a framework for future posts. I’ll fill in links to the follow-up posts as I address the issues. I have already gotten a good start on one (door behaviors) and linked back to it above in the list.

P.S. My dear friend who also lives with Lewis just pointed out that I didn’t mention that Lewis is good-natured, sweet, a love-bug, and a lot of fun. More posts on that in the future!

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Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

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