Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Woes of Leopold, a cautionary tale: One Dog's Fear of Inanimate Objects

This blog is about the trials, troubles, and triumphs I've had as a dog owner.  Its about the things that I've learned work; and... the things that I've learned do not.  This post, in particular, is the story of a hard-learned lesson on a bad way to train a puppy not to chew my stuff.

Leopold is the first dog I ever owned on my own.  He was also the first puppy that I raised on my own.  As a first time puppy-raiser, I was nervous about making sure I raised him right and spent much time researching how I should do one thing or another.  One issue that I knew a lot of dog owners had problems with was chewing--and I wanted to nip that problem in the bud, before I ever lost any personal items that I would be very sad about losing. 

So I looked online and I read books and I talked to people, and discovered a lot of suggestions for "training" a puppy not to chew on your stuff.  Many methods involved scaring the puppy when it started mouthing something it shouldn't.  "Fill a soda can with change and shake it when the puppy messes with the TV remote".  Or "drop some books near the puppy (not on!) to startle it when it starts to chew on your favorite shoes" (I'm paraphrasing).  Etc....
This made sense to me.  If a dog associates putting its mouth on the TV remote with scary things, then its not going to want to put its mouth on the remote.
So this is the tactic I chose.     

But then, when Leopold was about six months old, I came home from work one day and my roommate says "Laura, watch this".  She grabs her gigantic stuffed penguin from her room and shows it to Leopold.  Leopold's eyes go wide and dilated, he crouches low and backs into a corner, shaking from snout to tail...   My roommate seemed amused.  I was not. 
That was the beginning of Leopold's fears.  After that, he was afraid of ANY stuffed animal (except a few that he had had since day one).  And then it was any large object that a person was carrying around--grocery bags, boxes, etc.  And then large objects that were sitting on the ground.  And then it was any inanimate object that moved, from wind or gravity or from a human touching it.  Branches that blew in the wind.  Manhole covers or any other metal thing imbedded in the street or sidewalk.  Pillows, wet puddles, ice puddles, swaying trees, the ocean, cars, children’s scooters and toys, our awning, doors, trash cans, recycling bins, ski poles.
At one point Leopold was afraid of the ceiling.  He would get low to the ground, continuously glancing up at the ceiling (especially when our housemate was walking around upstairs) and scurry around trying to get away from the scary thing.  Unfortunately the ceiling was everywhere. 
The list of things he was afraid of grew very long.  It was concerning.  The only thing he didn't seem to be afraid of was people and other animals.  (At least I did a good job socializing him...).
And I didn't know how to reverse all his fears.  I still don't.  Currently, I just manage his fears.  (But I'll save that for another post).

I was perplexed for a long time as to the cause of Leopold's fears.  They really did get out of hand.  But I've since come to the conclusion that it must have stemmed from the very beginning, when he was a puppy and I purposefully scared him away from my stuff (my inanimate objects) with other stuff (other inanimate objects). 
That was probably the worst thing I ever did for Leopold.  Its true, Leopold has destroyed very, very few of my personal items.  He once chewed up his own sweater, but it was my fault for leaving the sweater low enough that he could get at it.  And I've had a couple of pieces of paper torn up, but that's about it.  He's very good about not touching things that aren't his.  So I guess you could say the tactic was successful; but it came at such an awful price.

While I think that maybe Leopold was predisposed to having a bad reaction to the "training" method I used (all dogs are different),  this experience has me determined to avoid using the scare tactic in the future.

1 comment:

  1. Brave of you to admit. Many force free trainers are crossover trainers and many owners have learned the hard way as you have.
    If you are still looking for ways to help him with training I would definitely suggest a local force free clicker trainer. (preferably one certified with the PPG, so you know they aren't lying about their tactics). In the meantime kikopup on youtube has some great videos that may help.