All Hail the Opposable Thumbs
Peter and I have slightly differing levels of comfort when it comes to the topic of disciplining our dog. If this was actual child parenting we were talking about, he'd be more of a spanker and I'd be more of a time-out giver. In terms of dealing with dogs, this means Peter's more likely to go with physical corrections while I'm more likely to put the dog out of the room.
It's just a different style, but that style combined with innate personality led to a little problem in pack order with Toby. Without a doubt, Toby saw Peter as The Boss. But Toby definitely saw himself as the Assistant Regional Manager. No matter how hard I tried to explain to him that he was an assistant to the regional manager, he didn't quite get it.
With some dogs, this might not have been a problem. With Toby's sensitive disposition, it was a problem. Toby felt that if it were just me and him, then he was the boss. He made poor decisions when he thought he was the boss (like trying to protect me from old ladies and puppies.) He also didn't want to be the boss.
Being the boss gave Toby anxieties, which he funneled into chasing his tail and making high-pitched whining noises at me. It was not a pleasant experience for either of us. Peter kept telling me that I had to convince Toby that I was in charge, that I was more forceful than he was, but I wasn't willing or able to make the dog think I could hurt him.
There had to be a language that dogs speak, other than force. Turns out, there is.
Two weeks ago, I was listening to the Good Dog Podcast, which had an interview with Penny Locke, who calls herself a dog listener. Her specialty is acting as a sort of interpreter between dogs and their humans, to train the humans to understand how to communicate in a way that dogs will understand.
My big take-away lesson from the podcast was that dogs understand the idea of resources. Whoever controls the resources is in charge. We'd already implemented one concept of resource management purely as part of good canine manners. Toby only eats when he is told to eat. He only takes a treat from the hand when he's told to take the treat. I once dropped an entire glass pan of lasagna on the floor and sat there, drooling and sniffing the air, but he never budged.
Penny pointed out that another resource in a dog's life is the open door. She suggested standing in front of the door, with your hand on the door handle and just wait for your dog to sit. When the dog sits, start to open the door, but stop immediately if the dog even so much as leans forward. Don't say anything. Let the dog figure this out for himself.
I decided to start doing this with Toby. And not just with the door to the outside. I've been quite consistent in doing this with every closed door in Toby's life. Sometimes (like when I wake up in the morning) I nearly forget, but I've been concentrating hard on getting it right.
This small modification in my behaviour has caused a tremendous change in Toby's behaviour. He is so much more relaxed and calm. Peter was out of town one night last week and that was always a recipe for tail-chasing disaster. Not so, this time. Even though Toby spent most of the day by himself, he was still calm and manageable. He didn't whine for attention or chase his tail or pace around hyperventilating.
I'm so pleased that I've been able to find a way to tell Toby that it's okay, he doesn't need to make any decisions. I'm here and I'm well capable of looking after both of us.