Dog's Eye View: Sibling rivalry: Part 4 in the adoption of Maxwell SMART

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Some of you who have followed the adventures of Maxwell SMART probably are thinking that just because I happen to be a dog trainer, Max will be totally perfect.

Laura Tyler

Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with 25 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC in Northwest Colorado.

Dog's Eye View

This weekly column about dog training publishes on Fridays in the Steamboat Today. Read more columns here.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

Max will be who he’s meant to be and we will nurture his good behavior. There will continue to be those little spots where we have to tweak what we’re doing to continue our success with this little dog.

For this column, I’ll share a story of budding sibling rivalry.

Our house is located with a view of the neighborhood below us. Our backyard is terraced, so that means we have a pretty good view from the upper part of the yard. With the snow finally gone and the earth sprouting green, the dogs are spending more time outside basking in the sun on our south facing deck.

During the first few weeks that Max was with us, he tentatively followed us around the yard and stood watching quietly when Skippy would clear the bird feeder or alert to a dog sounding off in the neighborhood below.

Max held his voice as Skippy returned the volley. Max ate his meal slowly and waited patiently for his turn for pets and treats. As Max becomes more confident in his new environment, he’s showing us more of who he really is.

I’ll describe a game they play and I’m sure that some of you might recognize this in your multiple dog household. Then I’ll explain how we are managing, changing and interrupting unwanted behavior.

The contest is on: I heard it first, so I get to bark at it first; I can make it out the doggy door faster than you can; I can chase the bird off the bird bath better than you can; if Mom pets you, then she pets me better; if I finish my dinner first, I can have part of yours, too.

Sound familiar? I’m describing the behavior using human terms but it totally describes what these two little dogs are doing.

So, what’s a mother to do? Change the environment first while teaching impulse control.

We close the doggy door unless someone asks or we think someone might need to “go.” We close the gate to the main yard and only allow the dogs in the main yard when we think they’re relaxed. I have to tell you about the “dog yard": We fenced off a small section of yard right off the back deck so that the dogs have a potty area that’s easier to keep clean in the winter. Plus, it blocks visual access to view the neighborhood below. We also installed a gate there that opens into the main yard.

Skip and Max can go into the main yard when one of us is out with them. By the time we let them into the big yard, the morning “rush” is over and they can explore the rest of the yard quietly.

For impulse control, we work on a totally reliable recall. Both dogs respond to the call to come inside very fast. We praise and reward that recall 100 percent of the time. Both dogs come in and line up in front of the treat jar immediately. This recall work is done every day, several times per day.

We are building an investment in the really reliable recall behavior, and it’s working. By practicing the recall when things are calm, we are building reliability. And because of the repetition and reinforcement, the behavior is overriding the distractions in the neighborhood.

More to come.

Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with 25+ years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC here in Northwest Colorado. Go to www.totalteamworktraining.com for more information.

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