Monday, October 26, 2009

Dane learns respect and discipline

Australian Shepherd looks up to her pal Princeton

My Great Dane Princeton is learning respect and discipline now that he’s 18 months old.

He saw his first horse when he was on a walk in a park with horse trails. Boy, was he scared to meet somebody bigger than he is! He flattened out on the ground and wouldn’t get up until the horse was almost out of sight. Then he was more obedient for several days!

Lately I’ve had to get really TOUGH with Princeton. We went through a crisis, but now I finally feel like Princeton is living in MY world most of the time, whereas before I felt like I was living in Princeton’s world.

It all started last week when my partner surprised us at the dog park and he went crazy jumping on her and mouthing her, just like he did 6 months ago. We’ve worked so HARD on training him not to do that! I felt very discouraged, like a failure.

I got advice from our trainer and the “Danes gone wild meet-up message board.” I also thought back to the tough-love training tactics of the obedience class we took, and all the episodes of the “Dog Whisperer,” which is almost like a Bible to me.

Here is one of the most helpful comments I got, from a Dane rescue place:
“There is always hope as long as you are willing to reach out, take advise and use it consistently. Be persistent and always follow thru with a command and if you need to manhandle your Dane, then do it. He needs to know who is in control and who will kick his butt when he doesn't listen.”

In the last few days I have been determined that Princeton will obey me. I started taking him on an extra walk, and I stopped avoiding potential distractions (other dogs, kids, bikes, etc.) My new method is to yank his choke chain really hard as soon as he started to get distracted. If it’s too late and he goes wild, I make him lay down and calm down. I wasn’t strong enough to do this before, but Princeton has made me stronger. I started holding a broom horizontally to block him when he rushes our front door and window, barking at people walking by. (He has bitten my arms twice when I tried to stop him.)

My partner and I are newly united in resisting all his efforts at what the trainer calls “passive dominance” -- coming to us for attention. No, all attention must be given on OUR terms, when WE initiate it. I used to shower him with affection for no reason, just because I enjoyed it. But on the trainer’s recommendation I am treating him more like a ghost. Most of the time it’s no touch, no talk, no eye contact for Princeton these days.

Withholding affection is the hardest part. (I’m surviving this by petting our cat a lot more!) I’m able to keep going because it’s really working! There is a dramatic difference in Princeton’s attitude. He is much, much more respectful, watches me a lot more, etc. Until now, every single day he got into trouble by grabbing forbidden items (shoes, pillows, soap, etc) and running around with the house with them, trying to start a game. Now he has gone for a few days without doing that at all. He did grab my partner’s shoe last night, but he dropped it immediately when she walked in the room. He hardly even protests anymore when I clip his nails.

I used to have a special name for the hour before, during and after dinner: Bad boy time. That’s when Princeton would go wild. Now he lays patiently waiting for his food while we eat, then he settles down right away after I feed him. There is no more bad boy time!

We still have a lot of work ahead. But I do feel there’s hope.