Saturday, March 21, 2009

Moody Dane: Shark or sweetheart?

Princeton and Tashi (photo by Malcolm Dysart)

Here are some favorite photos of Princeton and Tashi, the Beagle mix who lives down the street. She’s like a surrogate mother to him. Tashi’s owner took these great shots of them playing rough in December. They both loved mouthy, biting games. They looked ferocious, but they never draw blood.

In the last month or two, Princeton has started maturing so that he loves to run with other dogs instead of always trying to mouth and wrestle. But it seems like “two steps forward, one step back” in dealing with my moody Dane. I read that a one-year-old Great Dane has the mental maturity of a 15-year-old human. Princeton is almost 11 months, so that makes him an early teen. He does act like one!

On March 18, Princeton had a breakthrough. I was fixing dinner -- that’s his “bad-boy time” when he always acts up, racing around the house, chewing on sofa cushions etc, or else barking if we put him outside or in a crate. Then unbelievable happened! Princeton wanted to rest! Miraculously on March 18, he saw me fixing dinner -- and just went and lay down. And it was just a regular day with no extra exercise or anything. (Maybe that was the secret, because every little change in routine upsets him.)

Then yesterday Princeton regressed and went wild when some family members came to meet him for the first time. At first Princeton was calm and loving, but he changed into a different dog when we went out into the backyard. In retrospect, I was a bad “pack leader” because I wasn’t paying close attention, expecting everything to go well and forgetting that Princeton thinks of the backyard as his play area.

Princeton jumped up on my brother and nephew (who weighs 30 pounds less than Princeton). My nephew got safely back inside, but my brother stayed to play, and Princeton really jumped on him and mouthed him -- we call it “sharking” because it feels like being attacked by a shark. Princeton hasn’t done that to us in months. Eventually the training kicked in and we got him under control, but it was a struggle.

I felt discouraged when my family decided not to join me in walking Princeton after that because it was “too risky.” A bright spot was meeting a dog-walking friend on the trail who pointed out how much Princeton’s behavior has improved overall. “Someday he’ll grow up and you’ll miss the way he’s so curious and jaunty,” he said.

Today Princeton is still acting like a baby, barking at me when I fix his food, being defiant, and chewing everything. We both need some time to recover from the family visit. I hope all this is normal “growing pains.” I guess we both need some time to recover from the family visit.

Well, here are some more photos of my sweet shark Princeton going wild with Tashi.

Princeton and Tashi (photo by Malcolm Dysart)

Princeton and Tashi (photo by Malcolm Dysart)

One of Princeton’s favorite moves is putting his giant mouth over another dog’s whole head or neck. (photo by Malcolm Dysart)

Princeton and Tashi (photo by Malcolm Dysart)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Dane training tips worked!

Princeton is walking much better on the leash now that he's 10 months old

My Great Dane Princeton is walking much better on the leash. I talked with another dog trainer who gave two excellent pieces of advice that are really working.

I explained the problem is that Princeton pulls hard on the leash, and I’m not strong enough to yank his choke chain hard enough to make an impression as the last trainer told me to do. Princeton pulls the hardest when we meet one of his dog friends on a walk.

Here’s the advice that’s working:

1. The trainer said that it sounds like Princeton places the highest value on having fun with another dog. True. YOU (the owner) have to be the source of the most fun in your dog’s life! Cut back his play time with other dogs. Spend more time having fun with Princeton.

This sounds obvious, but I’m a recovering workaholic, so I often need to be reminded to have more fun. When we spend less time with other dogs, Princeton and I have more time to figure out fun games we can play together. Princeton’s new favorite game is chasing the water that sprays from the hose.

2. Use really yummy treats while walking Princeton to reward him for not pulling.

I was doubtful about this because it did NOT work when he was 2 to 5 months old. Back then, if I didn’t give him the treat right away, he bit my hand with his sharp little puppy teeth and it really hurt. As soon as he got the treat, he’d get distracted again and pull. I do think it helped to have a “tough love” training class from ages 6 to 9 months. But now, to my amazement, treats work! I can lead him along with a treat past several houses and he stays focused, gently mouthing my hand occasionally without causing pain.

Best of all, Princeton seems to like me a lot more. He follows me around more in the house and curls up next to me sometimes.

P.S. I forgot one more training tip that’s working -- when I remember to do it.

3. Don’t let your dog greet other dogs or people while walking on the leash. These distractions really break the dog’s concentration when they’re in training. The dog does better when he knows that being on the leash simply means walking and nothing else.