Well it’s day three for “Sonic” (appropriately named Sonic Boom due to his energy and speed) at our home and he is adjusting well. It’s a time not only for him to adjust to a new home environment but also for us to get to know him; his personality, what he is motivated by and what are his fears. It’s a baseline to see and get to know his true personality. It’s also a time for bonding and for him to learn to trust us.
Thus far, I’ve learned he likes to chase cars. He growled when his neck collar was grabbed and he initially refused to go into a crate to the point of becoming defensive and showing his pearly white teeth as a threat display. I simply remained quiet in voice and body language and continued to hold his collar until he settled down. If I had let go or increased his anxiety by yelling or bending over him, I probably would have been bit. Instead, he learned I wasn’t going to let go just because of his threat display. However, this takes skill and experience. I would not recommend for others to do this as one may not be able to hold the collar without the dog being able to turn his head and biting your hand. When he ceased his growling, I calmly told him to “sit” and he did so immediately as it had been a positively reinforced behavior. Once he sat, I let go of his collar and he returned to his calm and happy state of mind.
He also pulled hard during walks, ran wildly throughout the house jumping on the furniture and bouncing off my chest as a friendly greeting behavior. Though friendly, this was still a little disconcerting since he is 72 lbs of muscle.
On the other hand, he’s very food and toy motivated, desires ear and neck massages, loves to play tug and knew the obedience commands of sit and down (though “stay” is not in his repertoire) as well as a very cute dog trick, roll-over.
To develop a bond and trusting relationship with him, I’ve fed him by hand rather than giving him his food for free in a bowl. Not only does it make him dependent on me for food but it’s also a great way to weave in some simple obedience exercises and reinforce him for developing self-control. As pictured in this post, he is learning to look at me to earn his food rewards. At first the food is held up toward my face. When he looks at me, I mark it with a verbal marker “yes” and give him the food. When this became too simple for him, I held the food out to the side and waited for him to look away from the food and toward my face. Then I verbally marked it and rewarded as before. This has taught him to show self-control and pay more attention to me.
To work on his reluctance to having his neck collar grabbed, I’ve paired food rewards and neck massages with grabbing his collar. He no longer is resistant to me grabbing his collar. For the first two days, he wore a leash in the house which most of the time I held. This was so I could prevent him from jumping on me and the furniture while I sat down on the couch. This also allowed me to control him (without having to grab his collar) as well as ensuring he wouldn’t run away from the crate when I threw food treats in it for him to chase. Thankfully, he ran into the crate for the highly desired treats. When he turned around in the crate I took his leash off and closed the door by dropping a few more treats on the crate floor.
Since he doesn’t yet respond to the word “come”, I placed him on a long line when going outdoors to potty in the back yard. This would make sure I would be able to get him to come back into the house. This wasn’t an issue though as he wanted to be with me and immediately returned to the back door after doing his business. So he no longer needs to be leashed. His walking has gotten better with each day as well. He is learning to walk beside me in a heel position than pulling on the leash.
As is taught at Michigan Dog Trainer, dog training isn’t just about teaching obedience commands. It starts with developing a trusting relationship so that fear can be replaced with learning. As Robin MacFarlane of That’s My Dog! says, “train as fast as possible but as slow as need be.” My focus now is to develop the bond and trust relationship needed with Sonic. The rest will come in due time.
In just three days we have come to know, trust and appreciate each other. We’re off to a wonderful start. Check back for more developments with Sonic.