Saturday, March 31, 2012

Training Truman

For the past 3 weeks, I've been dog sitting for a 2-year old pit bull named Truman.  Truman's mommy travels a few weeks each month, so Truman and I will be getting to know each other very well.  Knowing this, I am trying to build a relationship with him that we both enjoy.  In other words, I don't want this dog to own me or run my life, something he's apt to do.  Despite being a Nervous Nelly, afraid of his own shadow, Truman seems to think he's leadership material.  Sorry dog, I am alpha.

Pills, Ointments, and Wipes
Truman has severe allergies.  He takes 3-5 pills a day, needs his ears and feet wiped down, and needs ointment put in his ears.  His mom left me a muzzle and said "you'll need this.  He bites when you try to do anything to him".  I truly believe that he has tried to bite her because he knows he can.  However, Mr. Truman knows better than to bite me.  I shove his pills down his throat and stick my fingers and his ointment in his ears twice a day.  He's not thrilled, but who would be with a crazy lady shoving 3 pills down your throat.  I pat myself on the back for this one.

There is nothing enjoyable about walking with Truman.  First you put on the prong collar.  Next you hook up the leash.  Next you stuff your pockets with treats.  Next you get dragged down the block.  I DO NOT get dragged by dogs.  So, I dig in my heels and get him back into position.  "Truman, heel, yes" treat.  Take a step.  "No, Truman, heel, yes" treat.  Perhaps he stays in position long enough that I manage to take 5 steps.  Then I've lost him.  Or, much worse, he's turned into a psycho dog and decided to latch onto his nylon leash, locking his jaw, and sometimes taking a nibble out of your arm.  Now you've got a crazed, super strong animal dangling from a leash.  Excuse my language, but "shit!".  Now what?  I dove deep down into my affective domain (training term for gut) and let him have my biggest "NO! drop it!" along with a hard knee to the stomach.  This managed to get us home, where I promptly emailed his mother, fingers shaking on the keys, and said "you didn't tell me about his nylon leash obsession!".  Oops.  Ok, a challenge.  Truman wore his nylon leash for a full week.  In the house, in the yard, etc.  Sometimes I was on the other end (which caused him to become super attached to me).  Other times it was dragging behind him.  Either way, I figured, let's flood him with this damn leash.  Shove it down his throat along with all his pills.  We tried a walk again.  This time I was smart.  2 leashes: one nylon, one chain.  He tries to latch on to the nylon and I just drop it and pick up the chain leash.  At least I won't lose the dog!  Walk in circles in the driveway.  "Truman, heel".  He grabs the nylon leash, I drop it.  He doesn't think this is fun and loses interest immediately.  Treat.  We have been doing this for 3 days.  He's still trying to latch onto the nylon, but if I drop it right away he thinks I don't know how to "play" and loses interest.  Score.   All the while attempting to teach "heel" and "watch me" and "leave it". 

Growling in bed
This one is simple to describe and damn near impossible to fix (for me).  I get into bed.  Truman has 2 toys in bed.  He plays alone for 30-45 minutes.  I drift off to sleep.  30 seconds later, Truman is standing over my head growling at me.  Repeat.
Things I've tried: removing the toys, ignoring the growling, petting him, letting him out, growling back, biting him, correcting him, kicking him off the bed, locking him out of the room.
Suggestions wanted.  I'm tired. 

Ok, folks, I know this was a long post, but I figured all my fellow dog-folks would enjoy taking on some of these challenges.  I'm willing to try any suggestions you want to throw out there.  Note, Truman is not food driven.  Not even a little.  The dog turns down bacon!  His pain tolerance, like most pits, is astronomical.  A correction that would send a golden/lab flying doesn't even make him blink.  In fact, I'm pretty sure he feeds off it.  All this being said, he's truly a sweetheart and a very handsome boy and I am quite fond of him.  I would just like to be able to live with him!

Ready, set, brainstorm!


  1. Walking
    Goal: Dog on a Loose Leash. Human Enjoying Walk

    My first thought is, first lets find another option to walking for a while, walking is really only a mental exercise for dogs, and a great work out for the human lol.

    Second, start teaching him where you want him to be SANS leash. This is how I teach all of my puppies to walk for the most part and I've had great success with this. I find it so much easier to teach the dog to DO something verses to NOT do something. How many times have you accidentally taught a dog to do something? (such as door dash, pull on leash etc.. etc.) How many times have you accidentally taught the dog NOT to do something? Yeah. Me neither.

    Have you tried a Gentle Walk Harness or Gentle Leader? When you say he's not food motivated does he get free fed? Will he eat his own food eagerly or not? How toy motivated is he? What things DOES he find rewarding?

    Here are some ideas I've collected on YouTube:
    Loose Leash Walking Videos

  2. Growling - Do you have crates or tie-downs? Perhaps the bed is not the place for him right now. :)

  3. Back for the Walking issue! Here's some more videos about training for Heel. This might help as far as teaching him where you want him to be!

    Heel Work Videos

  4. Hi Erin,
    Thanks for all of your great ideas. I've taught many dogs to heel (luring, targeting, modeling, association, etc), usually without any trouble. The problem is, I can't figure Truman out. Other than human interaction, I don't know what motivates him. I've found the best way to get his attention back on me is to actually look the other way and ignore him. He eventually moves into my line of vision (which I can place in a heel position). He'll take any attention (positive or negative) as getting what he wants. He gets free fed, will leave kibble in his bowl for hours (days, even). Not a huge fan of any toys other than his jolly ball. The heel is actually not my huge walking issue. I feel like with enough time, I could teach that. The leash grabbing crazed beast act is the issue. When he decides to latch on to his leash, his jaw locks and it's actually scary. I cannot get it back from him and there have been times when he's hurt me and I've been afraid of having to drop the leash and losing him.

    I love the gentle leader and easy walk harnesses, however I think they are band-aid training tools and not permanent teaching tools. Great for people who don't know how to teach heel or don't have the patience for it, but when they take it off, the dog still charges ahead. My concern with Truman, though, is that he'll slip them. I will try using one and double leashing him in case he slips it. He's smart, strong, and stubborn.

    I totally agree with avoiding walks altogether until we know each other better. However, I feel sorry for both him and his mom. He never gets taken out and I get the sense that she's almost afraid of him. His life exists in his fenced yard. I'd like to see if I can figure him out myself and then teach her so they could both have a more fulfilling relationship.

    Thanks for the videos and your help. I am going to try a couple of these ideas and let you know how it goes!!!

  5. Oh yes I wasn't suggesting those tools as a end all heh, but as a way to get him walking at least for exercise. However I didn't realize that you were more concerned about the leash grabbing! (should learn to read more thoroughly!) :)

    DO you know if he's had any negative associations with the leash in the past? Is tied out a lot? Or is it just excitement over doing something new?

    Yeah, I find free fed dogs aren't very food motivated because food doesn't MEAN anything to them. Its always there, you know? You take for granted things you always get.

    Some more brain storming I had (please ignore if you've already thought, done, etc..etc.. lol)

    Article from Sue Ailsby on Teaching your dog to eat

    Another from her on Leading the Dance One I'm currently working on with Dave, as right now i'm just a body holding the other end of the leash and preventing his explorations lol.

    Have you thought about Nothing in Life is Free? I know its kind of intense and I personally couldn't stick with it, but some parts of it might be something he could benefit from..

    Ok I'm done I think! LOL! My brain overfloweth!! :)

    Good luck! :)