"Good boy!" That's the most oft-heard sound around here these days. Sparky the foster dog came with some behavior issues, mainly barking and jumping up, with the occasional humping thrown in. He knew next to nothing as far as commands: "Sit" seemed vaguely familiar to him, but that was it.
He's also dog reactive. That means if we see a dog while we're walking, Sparky lunges and barks. In fact, this is the reason I have him in the first place. His original foster family had three dogs, and Sparky could not be trusted around dogs.
So, first things first: we taught him to Sit. Then to Stay. And then Come. We're now working on Down. His Stay is really good. I had been babying him, taking baby steps away from him before returning to reward him. But then I went outside to watch my husband work with him, and to my amazement, Sparky was staying at a long distance.
Leash walking is a mixed bag: He seems to have some concept of Heel, but for the first five minutes our walks are a strain for both of us. I suspect he lived in an urban environment, since he definitely knows to Wait at a street crossing, until I say Cross. In fact, he'll wait as long as necessary, sitting patiently while cars pass. (There's some road construction in town, so many drivers are detouring around our neighborhood streets.) He's also not at all bothered by other people, loud lorries, or wheelie bins. He also Waits patiently for people with pushchairs (strollers) to pass.
Sparky is obviously a very intelligent dog. But teaching commands is easy. We're not having quite as much success with the behavior, though I'm pretty sure he knows now that the proper way to get attention is to stay on all fours. He just can't remember that in the heat of the moment. And it's hard for us to remember to turn away from him when he jumps. Our instinct is to yell "Down!" and push him away. (Of course this is confusing, since we're teaching him another meaning for the word Down.)
We had houseguests over the weekend, and this is when it became clear that Sparky needs better social skills. It's easy to be fooled into thinking a dog is well behaved when he is, 90% of the time. It's that 10% that can cause good dogs to meet bad ends. We hope to get that percentage higher and higher.
Since there's construction going on at the end of the street, Sparky hears lots of strange noises all day. Most of them he barks at. So I reward him for Quiet (this is why I have a jar of treats next to me right now). He might possibly be learning that an initial bark is rewarded by my barking "Quiet!" and him getting a treat, but at least he does quiet down now. Before, he just thought maybe I was deaf, so he barked a lot to let me know there were monsters outside.
I spend a lot of time reading dog training articles and watching videos online—where were these nine years ago when I trained my first dog? But so far I'm just one very confused human: there are as many methods for teaching loose-lead walking as there are types of harnesses and collars. Most of them are too difficult for me to grasp—I'm notoriously uncoordinated. All these detailed instructions remind me of online instructions for physical exercises, which I can never figure out. Left foot where? Right hand how?
I can't dance either.
So yes, I'm the one being trained here. I feel like a remedial kindergarten student most of the time. We have had some unexpected success: When Sparky first arrived, he wasn't interested in playing. Oh, he seemed playful, but he didn't really know what to do with a toy. He would chase after it, but run right past it. When we put a toy in his mouth he ignored it, preferring to mouth our hands instead. Fortunately, he has excellent bite inhibition—really, really excellent bite inhibition. (By the way, if you don't know why your dog should have bite inhibition—i.e. a soft mouth, this blog post will explain that.)
But now he's playing eagerly with toys. He loves his new ball, and I've found several old toys that were in good enough condition (having been gently used by my very spoiled dog) for him to play with, and even shred to pieces. (He's never once put anything in his mouth that I haven't given him, not even a slipper—maybe he was punished as a pup for tearing up things?) He won't play tug strenuously yet—he prefers to give up and kiss us instead. But I'm so happy to see him streak after a ball, then run back to show off his prize.
And when he finally chewed off stuffed Barack Obama's legs, I was thrilled for him.
All in all, Sparky is a very good dog. Maybe one day he'll teach me to dance.