Last month I posted to show how Marge Rogers introduced a friendly but possibly overenthusiastic dog to a very small puppy. But what if the challenge were a little different? What if your resident dog were both fearful of new dogs and sound sensitive?Young puppies are not exactly quiet!
My friend Kelly Viscosi has stepped forward to share how she prepared Dennis, her 9-year-old vizsla, to meet Saya, the new vizsla puppy. But actually, the story starts long before they meet, because Kelly did a ton of very clever preparation with Dennis.
Here are her words.
When we were expecting a puppy last summer, I asked the breeder to send me audio of the puppies crying and whining at their loudest (which happened to be right before breakfast time for them). She video taped it with her smart phone and sent it to me.
First I classically conditioned Dennis to just the sound of the crying puppies. Once I was getting a good positive conditioned emotional response to this, then I set up a stuffed dog in a crate, placing a small, wireless speaker under the stuffed dog. At random times throughout the day, I would play the audio and treats would rain from the sky right in front of the crate with the stuffed puppy.
Before long, Dennis would just choose to park himself in front of the crate, waiting for the “puppy” to cry. From here, I also began putting the stuffed puppy in an ex-pen (also with wireless speaker under stuffed puppy). We repeated the same thing: puppy cries, treats rain down. This worked very well to prepare Dennis, who is sound sensitive AND fearful of dogs outside the family.
When we brought the real puppy home a month later, he was very well prepared for all the extra noise his baby sister made. She would cry/bark, and it sounded just like the stuffed puppy had, because he had been listening to his sister and her littermates for several weeks now. I still tossed treats to Dennis every time his sister cried or whined, and he would park himself a few feet away from the ex-pen, waiting for her to cry so he could get treats.
Yes, he gained some weight during this time, but it was well worth it because he had a positive association and we just reduced his calories a couple months later.
Classical Conditioning Done Well
I just have to editorialize about this, to elaborate a bit on all the things that Kelly did right.
- She got a recording of the exact sounds that Dennis would be exposed to.
- She used classical conditioning: she played a few seconds of the crying, then rained the treats down. Notice that she did not just leave an audio recording going. She played a short segment and followed it with treats.
- She played the noise (and followed it with treats) at random times throughout the day. She made it clear that the noise, and the noise alone, predicted the special treats.
- She then made a further association: she made the sound source appear to be the stuffed dog. Even though Dennis doubtless knew that this was not a real dog, it gave a focal point for the sound and a visual that was similar to what he would later see with the real puppy.
- She did the “noisy puppy” show in two different locations, the crate and the ex-pen.
- She didn’t skimp on the quality of the the treats.
This work she did made a huge difference for Dennis. He could have been miserable from the noise and the new stranger. But with Kelly’s careful preparation, the arrival of the puppy meant enrichment opportunities for him. How cool is that?
But Wait–There’s More!
Here’s some other great training Kelly did before the pup came. She set up a group mat exercise for Dennis, the future puppy, and Trixie, her other senior dog. She used the faithful stuffed dog as a stand-in for the puppy. Again, Dennis surely knew this was not a puppy. But the exercise helped create a routine. He learned that the object on the adjacent mat getting a treat predicted his getting a treat. Learning the routine was another thing that helped him adjust faster to the real dog when she came. (Kelly mentioned that Trixie, the black and tan senior dog, was gregarious and happy with other dogs, so this exercise was just a bonus for her.)
One of my favorite things in life is seeing the imaginative and thoughtful things that people all over the world do to make their dogs’ lives better. I hope Kelly’s work with Dennis plants some seeds of ideas out there for others who are preparing resident dogs for a newcomer.
Care to share? I bet there are some other great stories out there.
- Introducing a Puppy and an Adult Dog: Take it Slow
- Classical Conditioning: Creating a Positive Response to Barking
- The Barking Recall
- Loving the Vacuum Cleaner
- Successful Desensitization and Counterconditioning
All photos, the movie, and quotes from Kelly: Copyright Kelly Viscosi 2016
Eileen’s commentary: Copyright Eileen Anderson 2016