Hello! Chelsea here, Willamette Humane Society’s Behavior & Training Manager! It’s been awhile since I’ve sat down to dog blog, and my plan was to feature the special dogs we’re currently working with on our training team. Instead, I’m going to tell you about our day playing with Gus instead.
You see, Gus has been here awhile, and he’s known to be a bit of a handful. He’s a large guy, young, muscular, with plenty of energy to boot. Pair all of that with his limited life experiences as a former outdoor dog, and you can probably imagine that Gus has a thing or two to learn about civility. To make matters more challenging, Gus finds living around so many other dogs too exciting and struggles to remember the existence of the volunteers holding the end of his leash.
I wanted to know more about Gus. Who was he? What does he like? What could he do? Sure, I’d done my initial behavior evaluation of him shortly after he arrived, but since we haven’t had the space to add him to our training team, I’ve mostly just been saying hello to him as we passed in the halls or as I tossed treats into his kennel. So, some of our training team got together Tuesday to play with Gus for a few hours, and I think we wore him out just in time for his evening walk!
We crammed as much as we could into our afternoon with Gus. First, we rotated him through four stations in the Canine Classroom: course (serpentining through cones and sitting in small hula hoops), calm (relaxing on a mat with yummy pacifier treats), confidence (stationary and wobbly platforms), and crating. Then, we started teaching him that head halters make treats happen and that polite behavior works so much better than mugging. Gus excelled at learning a nose target, and next, he got an introduction to a fun training technique called shaping with a box lid and long platform.
For a “brain break,” we played with some toys and got a few good laughs from his silly antics. (Don’t worry, he got potty and water breaks, too!) To help him calm down again, we busted out the sniffy snuffle mat and then gave him the job of sniffing out treats hidden in one box laid out among other empty boxes. Admittedly, Gus thought chomping the empty boxes was just as entertaining as finding the winning box, but he had some lightbulb moments and did well in the few minutes we worked on this. Finally, we took our hard working, happy dog outside to tackle some of his frustration-based behavior when he spots other dogs. Before going back to his kennel, Gus got some well-deserved loves from his friends.
Whew! If Gus wasn’t exhausted, we sure were! It was worth the time and effort, though, because we learned so much about Gus. The most important takeaway for me was how much potential Gus has to be a goofy, active companion for a committed person! Indoors, he was engaged, so happy to earn treats, and learned quickly! He trained tirelessly with us and gave us his all. I loved seeing him pick up the nose target so quickly and am thrilled that he showed promise in wearing a head halter with no fuss. It was a relief for us all to see that he could, in fact, relax so beautifully at the calm station and that he seemed to enjoy returning to it between romping around with his toys (the plushy was his favorite, by the way). Gus liked his comfy calm station so much that he carried his snuffle mat to it before he finished off the treats! Silly dog!
I can’t finish this recap without commenting on his progress outside. Gus is notorious for paying little to no attention to his handlers on walks, especially if he catches sight of another dog, at which point they can expect him to tell them all about it. It’s a common struggle for dogs, whether they are in homes or waiting for homes. Gus made a few breakthroughs during our session and was able to offer some attention, disengage his focus from the sight of our little helper Troy off in the distance, and even relax. He’s got a ways to go, but I’m calling that a win!
Here are some comments from the other team members today:
“I think Gus liked most things. Perhaps the nose target worked best. Though the crate, the head halter, the nose box game, dead toy/live toy with you, calming on the blanket and even Look at That outside worked well and often progressed.” – Karla
“It was really fun working with Gus; he was up for all the challenges we offered and seemed to really enjoy the activities, attention, and especially the treats. Nice to see him blossom with positive instruction and rewarding to experience this side of his personality. Think it was a fun session for him. He especially liked the cream cheese filled kongs!” – Jolene
“I really enjoyed the time with spent together and with Gus.” – Linda
Do you think Gus is your kind of dog? Read more about him here or drop on by and say hi! He’s waiting pretty patiently with us, but he’s ready to go on his own adventures!