Sunday, March 08, 2009

The trainer came...

...and she was quite helpful.

Mostly, it was nice to have an authority figure there who could talk to Byrd about what it would take to try to reduce Dozer's anxiety and ball obsession. I had already told Byrd countless times that he needed to start taking responsibility and step up to the plate, especially when it came to walks. The trainer gently reinforced that idea. :D

She also suggested making the walk less like a walk and more like a fun game of fetch. This involved a special squeaky tennis ball that Dozer latched on to instantly (of course). We walked a few steps, played fetch and administered treats, and then walked a few more steps. Dozer did very well on his walk once the squeaky tennis ball appeared. A bit nervous, but not enough for him to shut down. The ball obsession worked for us in this case.

I'm not sure he enjoyed the walk per se--he probably would have had a ton more fun if he had been playing fetch in the backyard--but at least we managed to go a short distance without a bunch of slinking and whining. If he did it out of love for the ball, okay, I'll take that. Maybe some day he will decide that the walk's not so bad by itself without the ball.

The other topic we covered was Dozer's whining and obnoxious behavior toward guests at the house. He thinks every visitor is a ball-throwing machine, and will whine and pressure people to play with him. We've been very unsuccessful getting him to stop, in part because most guests readily give in to his cute face and shrill whine (he is like a siren luring guests to their doom) and in part because we've been notoriously inconsistent in terms of getting him to stop.

So, we are going to train Dozer to "Go to your bed," so we can ask him to do this when guests come over. Ideally, this will remove Dozer from the immediate scene so he can't hypnotize people into serving him. If Dozer fails to stay in his bed, he is to be put in "time out" for five minutes or until he is quiet, whichever is longer. Then he is to go back to his bed (with ample rewards when he is in bed and quiet).

This is actually something I tried to implement several years ago, but I was never successful because Byrd was not on board with me. I would get caught up being hostess for guests and I was simply not able to attend to guests and dogs all at the same time. Meanwhile, Byrd would completely ignore whatever the dogs were doing; if they got out of their beds when I wasn't looking, he wouldn't bother putting them back. I eventually gave up the idea. Now, hearing a similar strategy from an experienced, expensive trainer rather than his nagging know-it-all wife, he seems eager to make it work.

Fine with me. I really hope he sticks with this, and does all the things he agreed to today.

On an interesting side note, I finally managed to partially pin down one of the reasons Byrd has so much trouble with communication. He has a tendency to volunteer information without any context whatsoever, thus leading his listener to wonder what they are supposed to do with that information. It's rather confusing and frustrating for both parties--obviously so for the listener, who is not sure how to respond, but for Byrd, too, because he doesn't get the response he's seeking.

So today, the trainer was telling us about getting Dozer to go to his bed. Byrd suddenly interjected that Dozer has two beds--one in the dining room and one in the bedroom. There was a moment of silence as both the trainer and I simultaneously wondered why Byrd was providing this information. Was Byrd worried that the trainer might think we were too poor to afford more than one bed? Or was he just correcting the trainer's grammar (she should be saying beds, not bed)? Or was he going to ask some sort of question, like are the beds in the right rooms?

I finally asked Byrd, "What point are you trying to make by saying that?" Because it was not at all clear, and the trainer was struggling to find the right response. Byrd then explained that he wanted to know which bed we should teach Dozer to go to.

Byrd asked me later, "Do I say weird things or something? It seems like people have trouble understanding me."

When he has asked me this in the past, I've been able to say, yes, you are hard to follow. But I wasn't really able to figure out why.

This time I thought carefully about what had happened, and I realized that much of what Byrd says seems random because he doesn't give enough context. If I were him in the same situation as earlier, I would have asked the question first and foremost: "Which bed should I send the dog to?" and then supply any additional information as necessary: "He has two beds" (probably not necessary because this is implied by the question).

In Byrd's case, he supplies the additional information and leaves the question unspoken, expecting us to essentially read his mind and see his point / answer his question.

It leads to some very interesting and bizarre conversations, especially when Byrd draws some sort of parallel but forgets to draw the same parallel for his audience--it seems as if he's gone completely off-topic. It doesn't help that he's usually two or three sentences too late when he brings it up.

  • I ask, "Can you reach that bowl on the top shelf? I'm going to make pancakes. Do you want some?"
  • "We got a coupon for Home Depot in the mail," says Byrd as he pulls down the bowl.
  • "Er... okay," I say (no idea why he's telling me this). Byrd wanders off, and I make pancakes.
  • Later in the day, he asks me why I haven't gone to Home Depot and used the coupon to buy a kitchen stool, as he suggested this morning.
  • I have no idea what he's talking about because he never verbalized the jump from out-of-reach bowl to Home Depot kitchen stool.
I am beginning to suspect that Byrd's unspoken mental leaps are likely behind many of our spats as well. I can recall many a fight where, somewhere in the middle, I have held up a hand and said, "Wait, what on earth are you talking about? I'm totally, utterly lost. I feel like we've been living in alternate universes where completely different things happened."

Byrd also says he feels left out of conversations, and now I realize it's because when he's volunteering information, people are saying "that's nice" or "that's interesting" and moving on without realizing that he's really asking a question or making an important point somewhere in his mind.

Knowing this, I am going to make more of an effort to ask Byrd to explain his purpose whenever he issues one of his random observations.

So I guess today's conversation with the dog trainer was helpful with more than just the dog.


Burning Moon said...

*grinning* So is the point of your story of your husband that men need expensive trainers too? Mine could definitely use one!

I'm glad you were able to get some good tips for Dozer. Good luck with all the info he gave you. I really hope it helps. I'm going to see if the trainer in town will at least meet Noelle so he can see what he'll be up against.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you got the 2 for 1! LOL! Go Dozer go!

EmilyS said...

Learning each other's communication styles can be incredibly important. You might want to look at some of Deborah Tannen's books such as "You just don't understand":

That's for you and Byrd!

For you and Dozer, Patricia McConnell's books are great.


shirley said...

somewhere on the intertubes i recently found a remark about how our effort to understand and reward dogs is usually greater than what we are willing to go through for people. i admit, i have an evil double standard when it comes to men & dogs - i'm super mega chauvinistic and think only dogs deserve my unending patience and unconditional love. then again, i've never really been around dogs that have pooped in my shoes, bitten everyone in sight, or called me fat...

Patti Best said...

We are so happy (no pun intended) to find your site and Blog. We invite you to meet BOB, who Blogs daily (well almost) in his own words. Here in Leesburg, VA we try to let people know that APBT doesn't mean death on wheels. Actually we think Bob is somewhat of a sissy, but don't tell him that.
Our log at
Come and visit!
"Bob's Mom"