Tait's tendency to growl is growing just as his chewing habit subsides

May 27, 2008 

This has been a month of extremes.

I've had much to work on because Tait has developed a nasty habit of growling at objects, sounds and people. This needs to be dealt with quickly, before a long-standing pattern develops.

Whenever possible, Tait and I go out in public to work on his issues. I have him wearing a Gentle Leader -- a head collar -- which I use to deny him the ability to look at something just before he begins to growl. This way, he is permitted to "practice" only desirable behavior of passively acknowledging what he sees. I use a clicker, treats and verbal praise to convey to him all that he does correctly, and interrupt him before the undesirable behavior is allowed to surface.

This way, there is no punishment, only rewards. A real trick is finding the time and locations to practice, while juggling a heavy work schedule.

We have hung around a few schools in the afternoon and stood by as throngs of children filed past, some toting rolling backpacks, others chasing one another.

We also visit numerous drive-through windows. Just as I pull up to the window to pay, I toss a large handful of treats to the back of my sport utility vehicle, where Tait eagerly hunts down each one. This keeps him occupied while I interact with the cashier, so he becomes used to this routine and the sound of someone new, all without making a scene.

The treats not only provide him with an activity that is incompatible with growling or barking, they also serve as something pleasurable to attach to the strange voice.

As Tait nears the 6-month mark, his need to constantly chew on something has subsided somewhat, now that all of his permanent teeth are in. It is still necessary to provide him with many different chewy items, but the computer cables, furniture, bedding, clothing and carpeting seem to now be safe from his attempts at mauling. This is a huge relief, as although he was rarely successful at inappropriate chewing, he did try constantly, and we had to be relentless in our supervision.

Although I miss the days when I could cuddle my puppy in my lap, having a teenage dog has its advantages as well. Tait can now handle a lot more physical activity. He retrieves nicely, sprinting after the ball and returning it directly to me with little prompting. He trots beside the bicycle as we tour the neighborhood. With age comes improved coordination: He can now catch a treat or ball that I throw up in the air. He is eager to learn new things, and I fantasize about how much he would know if I had more time to devote to his training.

My immediate training plans include preparing him for the conformation ring and resolving the growling issue. At 6 months of age, he will be eligible to show, but there is no sense in entering dog shows if he intends to growl at the judge.

Lisa Moore's pet-behavior column appears once a month on the Weekly Pet Page. Write to her in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.

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