Who goes there?

(Update February 2015: Based on what we’ve learned about the science behind dogs, I’d like to debunk a few of the points in the article below. First of all, Spencer’s discomfort with people in the house isn’t a territory issue in the way we traditionally think about territory. It’s more like feeling like his inner sanctum has been violated, and how scary that is. Imagine coming home and finding a complete stranger in your living room. Now imagien that person has been squatting in your house while you’ve been away. How would that make you feel?

Second, Spencer’s not trying to take over anything. It is possible that if he’s feeling threatened and we’re not giving him enough signs that we’ve got his back that he might feel the need to protect himself. It’s like troubled children — without structure they might act out, but that doesn’t mean they actually want to be in charge.

Despite these errors in the assumptions of our trainer at the time, the advice about what to do is actually helpful, although I would argue now, inadequate.)

So our trainer considers us to be advanced enough to start working on territory issues. It’s important to have a modicum of technique and authority over the dog before you can work on territory or it can all go terribly wrong as he realizes he can take over.

So our first two tasks are:

  1. Train Spencer to ALWAYS go to his bed on command. We’re following the protocol the trainer gave us, but we seemed to have managed a good bit of progress on our own.
  2. Break the association in Spencer’s head between the doorbell and intruders.

The first episode related to the doorbell was funny. Our assignment is to ring the doorbell at all kinds of random times so it no longer means strangers at the door.

Coming home from our lesson, I rang the doorbell as we went in. Then Greg arrived a few minutes after us and rang the doorbell before coming in. Spencer sprang into action and ran outside, and found Greg all alone. So he ran into the living room and then back outside, trying to figure out where the stranger had gone!

Finally, he figured the stranger must behind the gate and went and barked at nothing.

It was pretty funny, but it illustrates part of our problem: Spencer gets a shot of adrenaline as soon as the doorbell rings, so it almost doesn’t matter WHO comes to the door. He’s so worked up that he needs to evacuate it somehow, and the most obvious way is by trying to intimidate whoever has just arrived.

Greg just went out to see some neighbors and rang the doorbell on his way out. This time, because it was raining, Spencer couldn’t get into the yard, so he went back and forth from the front door to the living room and was very puzzled by my total disinterest. Then he ran to the living room window and looked out (which he can do easily since it is more or less at hip level for me), trying to figure out where the stranger was. Then he went back to the front door. I wasn’t able to distract him with a toy, so I called him and told him to get in his bed, which, to my great surprise, he did, another indication that Point 1 above might not be that hard.

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