Welcome back! Today, I am happy to introduce to you Pepper! Marilyn, our shelter animal trainer, has really fallen for this big guy with a larger-than-life personality, and her work has been a huge factor in Pepper’s progress in our program.
Pepper is a 90-pound, year-old, shepherd mix. You might consider him an adult, but Pepper is packed puppy habits, such as jumping up, grabbing hands, or tugging his leash in excitement. Oh, the wiggles and wriggles!
Pepper came to us last month when his family realized they couldn’t give him the attention he needed. When Pepper started living within the confines of a kennel, our volunteers let us know that Pepper needed more than they could provide, too.
So Marilyn and I pulled him into our training program, and once we got to know him and his needs a bit more, we expanded his circle to a few of our volunteer trainers.
Last month, I broke our behavior modification plans down into three elements:
On the enrichment front, Pepper gets the most benefit from self-exercise in the yards. This just means that he is choosing how to spend his time, rather than us initiating games or vigorous exercise. What’s really intriguing with Pepper is that—despite his energetic kennel presentation—he really enjoys slowing down and taking in all of the earthly scents. He’s game for fetch any day, but we want to promote that lovely, relaxed sniffing behavior.
Why is that?
When we have a youngster who can’t seem to keep his feet on the ground or his mouth off our hands or the leash, we look for opportunities to rehearse and reinforce relaxed behavior. That way, we can also minimize the rehearsal of those not-so-great behaviors so that the pups don’t become master jumpers and grabbers! This is so important that I will write more in another blog post. No doubt, we will be working with another jumpy, mouthy pup again soon!
A Very Teachable Dog
For now, I want to dig a little deeper into Pepper’s training.
We are advocates of rewards-based training. While this is actually quite a comprehensive and ever-expanding topic, it comes down to providing rewards to our learner for the behaviors we want.
There are many ways to build new behaviors or encourage behaviors a dog is offering already. There is also a wide range of reward types, ways to offer them, and frequency with which to offer them. We can even remove access to rewards to discourage a behavior we don’t want, without ever having to use intimidation or pain-based methods.
The beauty of rewards-based training is that not only are we teaching the dog specific behaviors, but we are also inherently building positive associations with us, their environment, training, and even our cues! This results in a dog who has a trusting and cooperative relationship with us and performs behaviors on cue enthusiastically and reliably.
Pepper is a highly food-motivated dog, meaning even boring ol’ biscuits and kibble are often interesting enough for him to eat outdoors. Of course, we take with us more tasty treats too, like chewy, meaty morsels and string cheese, for big successes. He also really enjoys a good, soothing neck, ear, or chest massage.
Occasionally, we us play as a reward, but since we are working on more low-energy behaviors, we want to focus on rewards that won’t amp him up unnecessarily.
It’s really fun to have a dog who finds so many things rewarding. It really opens up opportunities to teach him in a variety of environments.
When Pepper arrived, he was just behaving like a normal adolescent dog. No one had shaped his behavior into what people have come to expect or want from pets, so that’s what we’ve been doing. Here are a few examples of what we’re working on:
- Sit nicely. He’s learning that sit works like a charm to make good things happen, which is awesome because it gives him a people-friendly alternative to jumping at us.
- Touch is nice. For his mouthy behavior, we worked on a little counterconditioning. We paired reaching for his collar with food, so he’d be relaxed by the touch and not frustrated.
- Be patient. He also learned really quickly that if he doesn’t try to mug our hands, tasty snacks will appear. Then we paired that with a “leave it” cue so that we could ask him to not mouth our hands or leash.
- Use your mind. Finally, to keep this big, brilliant boy’s brain busy, I was delighted to see that Marilyn has started him on scent work.
We know that Pepper has his whole life ahead of him and that all he needs is someone to take a chance on him. You don’t have to be an expert trainer—we will show you the basics! You don’t have to live on a farm, be a stay-at-home dog parent, or really have anything extraordinary. He’s a pretty typical pet dog!
All Pepper needs from you is to be motivated to get involved with him. He wants to do fun things! He wants to go on walks with you or sniff his way through a field. Need a weekend warrior dog? Pepper’s a great hiking partner prospect!
If you need someone to get you moving and outdoors, look no further. If you don’t mind a little (or a lot) of dog hair on the sofa from evening cuddles, Pepper’s your guy. If you want big belly laughs because of some less-than-graceful play and derpy expressions, Pepper won’t let you down.
Make that Wish Come True!
We’re doing our best to help Pepper be successful in his next home. You can learn more about him here. If you’d like to adopt him, just send in your adoption questionnaire, and we’ll reach out! Marilyn and I would love to chat with you.
If you need help with your wild child of a dog, check out our Dog Smart and Life Skills course series! We can also help you one-on-one to really focus on your specific needs. Read more here.