Dog training is not about following rules. It’s about understanding that each dog is different, each a little puzzle waiting to be solved.
Well I now have four very intricate, spotted puzzles and I’m determined to solve them.
Meet Mabel, Molly, MacKenzie, and Margo. These girls are just nine months old and were recently liberated, in a coordinated effort by a rescue village, from life in a puppy mill. If you’re not familiar with puppy mills, think of a little doggy concentration camp where the dogs are kept in small cages and pens solely for the purpose of breeding. They crank out as many puppies as they can and that’s their life. Litter after litter until they can’t produce any longer or the “miller” decides to close out a specific breed.
That’s how these girls came into our rescue. The puppy mill operator who had them decided to get out of Dalmatians…likely in favor of something smaller that would take up less space and eat less food. It’s all about the almighty dollar right? Ah, but that is a soapbox for another day, another post.
Back to my four M-girls.
These sweet dogs were born in a commercial breeding facility and grew up there. They have likely lived together the whole time, sharing a pen. They have never been someone’s beloved little puppy. They have never known soft blankets, cushions, squeaky toys, or belly rubs. They had each other and likely someone who came along to toss food at them and clean their pen from time to time.
All of the key socialization periods that help puppies learn to live happily with humans were ignored. Afterall, these girls were not to be pets. They were to be breeders. And that cycle would have started right about now as two of the girls popped into their first heat cycles before I could get them spayed.
But thankfully for my M-girls, they are no longer in a puppy mill. Nope, instead they are in our home, currently living in one of our indoor/outdoor dog runs (this allows us to safely contain them while getting to know them and making sure they are healthy). Jim and I spend time with them every single day, several times a day. I’ve even found Jim reclining in the run taking a little cat nap just to give the girls a chance to get used to him. Our immediate goal is to simply teach them that humans really are a good thing.
So far, they’re not convinced.
Molly is the most willing to learn. She now greets us with a hopeful look (gained through SO many cookies!) and a wagging tail. Oh sure, at the slightest “wrong” move she’ll still scramble away from us, clawing her way out the dog door, but then she comes right back. She’s very close to deciding we might be worth getting to know a bit better.
MacKenzie is right behind Molly. She’s interested in the crazy humans who coo to her and promise her all kinds of good things. Margo is thinking it over from a distance…peering through the dog door flap. Poor Mabel, however, is still terrified, huddling in the corner with a blank stare on her face.
So we have a heck of a puzzle here. How do we get these girls to look forward to seeing us instead of fleeing everytime we step in their run?
Tonight my latest/greatest training tool is a jar of cheap, gooey peanut butter. Yes, PB. No J. Too sticky.
Three of the girls (not Mabel…yet) have been darting in to grab cookies from us, but they take the cookie and run. Dine and dash at its finest.
But peanut butter on the end of my finger? That’s a different story.
To enjoy the peanut butter the girls have to stretch their sweet little necks out and lick it off of the ends of my fingers. And while my hands are a bit scary, they really LOVE peanut butter.
I’m accomplishing a couple of good things here. First, positive association with Nancy. Second, can’t grab the treat and run (hopefully!). They have to stick around a bit to enjoy this treat. And most importantly, my hand reaching toward them isn’t quite so scary now. In fact, it’s delicious!
I do need you to understand this is taking some dedication on my part because I HATE peanut butter. I do. I know. I’m weird. It’s almost un-American. I can’t help it. Even the smell of the stuff repulses me. So actually wearing it…and that smell sticks with you…is true dedication to the cause.
But it’s worth it. They’re worth it. And someday Mabel, Molly, MacKenzie, and Margo will go on to new homes to enjoy very good lives. The lives they should have had all along.
I think I can tolerate a little eau de peanut butter to help that happen.
(Stay tuned for progress reports!)