Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dog Behavior Down on the Farm Causes Issues With Owners

My sidekick Poncho the dog and I received a dog behavior advice question from an inquisitive canine named Kia. This lucky dog lives on a lovely coffee farm in Hawaii where, in addition to the coffee, there are avocado trees and wild pigs.

Seems these environmental conditions have resulted in plentiful amounts of avocados for Kia to hunt and dine on, as well as piles of pig poop to roll in. Poncho, being an inquisitive canine, confirmed that this is the ideal place for a dog! I mean, how much fun is it to have your own "entertainment center" (aka: enrichment) right outside your front door? Snacks and one doggone fun activity such as rolling in nasty stinky stuff.

As you can see from these photos, Poncho likes to "rock 'n' roll"
too! Maybe because he's smaller and easy for me to bathe I allow him to roll in whatever he finds appealing - as a matter of fact I'll use it as a reward if I can! I call these "environmental rewards" or "real life" rewards.
For instance when we're out on a walk he sees something interesting and starts showing signs of wanting to roll. For Poncho this includes: lots of sniffing, followed by scratching the area with one of his front paws, more sniffing, scratching, then rubbing the side of his face against the surface. If he likes what he's "sensing" then he starts his rolling....

If he's on leash I'll ask for a behavior first, like "watch me", sit or "touch" - then I'll send him off to roll, after I've given him his release cue of "okay". This allows Poncho to be a dog, but still minding his loose leash walking manners - as opposed to just pulling me wherever he wants.

The guardians of Kia can use this same training plan. Allow Kia to roll in the pig poop, but only when she's been given the cue to do so. (And she's had clearance from her veterinarian that it's okay to roll in that stuff).

A few other training tips for both the rolling and avocado issue I'd recommend are:
  • Reward Kia every time she ignores an avocado or pile of stench. And I mean reward! More than just a “Good dog!” Set it up where you are actively walking Kia near to where these items are, and whenever she looks at one and ignores it, throw a party!
  • If she goes towards either of these items, use the “Leave it!” cue, lure her away from whichever item you want her to ignore, then reward her.
  • If Kia decides the item in question is more motivating, give her a “Time out!” penalty - put her on leash for 20 seconds or so. But then let her off leash so you can give her another chance to make the preferred choice.
Lastly, management of a dogs environment is key when setting him or her up for success! A farm filled with a bounty of avocados and piles of stinky stuff to roll in is an ideal place for total fun! It's unfair of us to expect they wouldn't want to go and explore, so we need to take the time to teach our dogs what we want in a way that he or she would understand.

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