Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My life as a chew toy

After five weeks of serving as gigantic chew toy to our now 12-week-old puppy Harvey, while Rob mastered his alpha dog techniques – I was about to declare myself the most inept puppy trainer on the planet. Rob would do a quick calm but assertive move on Harvey every time he bit (holding and shaking him a bit by the muzzle or curling his lip under just a bit so that he bit himself) and then Harvey would go submissive for him and turn to sweet puppy licks and petting sessions that made Rob look like a first-rate dog whisperer. I meanwhile got myself into biting and wrestling matches, which Harvey always won, whenever I tried to imitate Rob’s dog handling tactics (gleaned from books and puppy owner friends alike).

Whatever I tried – and of course I tried way too many different things -- Harvey couldn’t stop “playing” with me, and I couldn’t stop shedding blood (in the form of little scratches and tiny teeth puncture wounds). We share the kitchen as a home base much of the day, so we had many battles. Now and then I’d retreat to the bedroom, flop down on our bed in exhaustion and frustration and have myself a little frustrated cry. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve shed more tears over a puppy in five weeks than I have over two sons in five years. And I’ve felt ridiculous and weak and muddy-headed.

I’d tried more submissive approaches – yelling Yipes to announce my pain to Harvey and then giving him a time-out, while Rob continued on with his apparently effective alpha techniques -- and after about a day Harvey would get bold and ignore my cries of “Yipes!” and continue to bite, at which point I’d find myself doing half-hearted muzzle shakes and getting into the unwinnable lunging and biting matches once again. Rob was alpha dog; I was plaything – and Harvey was getting mixed messages from both of us all day long.

Luckily, we enrolled in a puppy training class at PetSmart, and luckily the other puppies were no-shows for the first class yesterday. So we had ourselves a little one-on-one consultation about the many errors of our ways with a seasoned dog trainer. He told us to drop the negative discipline altogether – and focus on ignoring bad behaviors and rewarding good ones. It is typical, he said, for a dog to accept a man’s alpha dog techniques and ignore a woman’s attempts at them – and it can lead to later aggression. Rob’s actually glad to be turning to a more positive approach, and I feel reborn as a puppy parent. Following a few simple tips from our dog-guru, Jeffrey, I suddenly feel like I have a workable plan for Harvey – and one that the whole family can adhere to together. Harvey and I have spent more time sharing walks and puppy kisses and petting sessions than we’ve ever managed to up to now since I was too busy disciplining him while he was too busy biting me. Suddenly we are both much more at peace. Sure he’s still a hyperactive, chew-happy lab-spaniel puppy who bites on everything including me, but I’m consistent in my responses and lack of responses and we are both finding our rhythm I think.

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