When you have a dog with behavior problems or challenges, as I do, it’s tempting to dwell on all the dog-training areas you have to work on, the things that are frustrating or embarrassing. I get it. It’s human nature.
But the crux of good training is to find good moments and reward them. Over time, this improves dog behavior and owner attitudes. I could go on and on about all the things I still need to work on with Cuba, but I find it’s good to take a step back and realize how wonderful your dog is. I’m going to do that right now with Cuba.
But before I do, you should know that I have a big problem with the label “bad dogs.” I have anxiety disorder and depression, so I am not always at my cheery best, but even when I am tempted to lay on the horn and scream “ARE YOU SERIOUS?” at the lady in front of me going 40 mph in a 65 mph zone, I still think I’m a pretty good person. I believe dogs are, too.
Almost all of my clients seeking behavioral guidance tell me, “He really is a good dog, except when …” This statement is usually offered with trepidation –- will she believe me? Yes, I will believe you. Despite barking at stumps, traffic, and other assorted environmental stimuli, Cuba is a good dog, too.
Here are some of my favorite things about Cuba:
Laid on his back, legs fully extended, jowls dragging along the floor, snoring. I love it. I’ve never in my life met a dog so relaxed for nail trims. He’d let me brush him all day, too, even falling asleep as I work through tangles and the very occasional mat.
Yes, he is expecting a treat. He’s also probably going to get one.
My 3.5-legged cat Ahab stalks Cuba around the house, waiting for him to lie down, so that he can crawl on Cuba or wrangle his way under one of those 20-pound legs of his. It’s really cute.
He happily stays engaged in training sessions, and he loves offering different behaviors for reinforcement, playing shaping games, and engaging in problem-solving puzzles, toys, and challenges.
I’m pretty proud of his loose-leash walking, his reliable name response and recall, and his ability and enthusiasm for staying with me off leash while we go out in the woods. And his targeting behavior is awesome! Sometimes I have to remind myself that behavior problems are not necessarily obedience problems, and vice versa.
Cuba will happily wait his turn for training sessions (Mokie could take a page from that book!). He’ll also run to his crate and lie down immediately when I’m working with Mokie, resting with the crate door open until he’s invited out.
Cuba will play with almost any toy I offer him. Even when he’s excited, he’ll drop the toy on command and wait until I release him for another round of play.
Mokie, my Chow mix, is seven years old and arthritic, which hardly slows her down but nonetheless means that she could easily be hurt when engaging in rough play with Cuba, a dog four times her size. Self-handicapping means that a large dog will not use the full extent of his strength when engaging in play with a smaller or unwell dog — like when Dad arm wrestles his three-year-old son and lets him win. Cuba does the same when playing with another friend who is also a quarter his size and has a luxating patella, and with his Westie friend who is about a tenth his size. Thanks, pal!
He will let my cat Ahab crawl all over him while he’s enjoying a marrowbone, and will gladly allow me to remove a big chunk of raw meat from his crate or mouth if needed. Not long ago, both of the dogs got steak for dinner. Mokie got a much smaller portion (since she is a much smaller dog), but she ran out of her crate, abandoning her own steak, and grabbed the four-pound steak out of Cuba’s mouth before dancing away. Instead of resource guarding, Cuba stood there wagging his tail, looking a bit confused, as if to say, “Not sure what happened there, but I am still hungry!” Needless to say, I took the steak away from Mokie and gave it back to Cuba. And yes, I closed Mokie’s crate door.
I don’t know that I’ve ever spent time with a dog who makes me laugh harder than Cuba, and this includes Boxers!
After a bit of time, things that used to be a struggle (like getting in the van or having his harness put on) are no longer issues. While we still have lots to work on, I feel good when I reflect on all the things that used to scare him but are now fun to do.
In our yard, we are surrounded on almost all sides by dogs who love to fence fight. While I try to be proactive about managing this (not letting him out when the craziest of neighbor dogs are out, being prepared with treats and training strategies when we go out together, etc.), the occasional fence fight does happen. I am really proud that I can call him and he will come immediately, even when in the midst of such an event.
I’m also pretty happy that we went out many times today without a single reaction.
I’m madly in love with this dog and am so glad he is a part of my family. I suspect that he will be one of the best teachers I’ve ever had, and I will always remain his faithful friend, student, and guide. Love you, Cubie Doo!