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Doggy Update: Teaching Theo, Part 3

Theo is now 11 months old…nearly a year old! Where has the time gone???

When we got Theo, we agreed we’d all be of equal authority to him. So my mum and I are both “mummy” to Theo, but he’s found his own preferences as well. For example, I’m Teacher Mum, Cures-Hiccups Mum, Feeds-Me Mum and Discipline Mum. My mum, for some reason, is Sick Mum. When Theo feels sick or has been sick, he only wants my mum. Maybe because she does the cleaning up or because he sees her being the one I rely on when I’m sick. She’s also Secret-Food Mum, Double-Treats Mum (since I only bring 1 biscuit, but mum brings 1 for everyone to give him). Then again, I’m Lie-on-the-Sofa Mum, who let’s him play or sleep beside me on the sofa, while I work.

It’s both sweet and endearing that he’s made these distinctions between us, without ever preferring one over the other, as previous dogs have. Also, my mum’s been ill lately and no one can figure out what’s wrong, but Theo must know something, because whenever she coughs or sneezes, he’ll dart across the room to check on her, like it’s something serious. Even if he’s in his cage, he’ll bolt up and shove at the cage door to say he wants to check on her. It’s both great and sad that he understands something is wrong, and that he wants to help, and…honestly, I think the fact that he fusses over such small things helps me mum, too. She’s agitated, frustrated and upset about not having answers, and people not taking her seriously, for a long time, so the fact he knows, is really important. It’s almost validation, in a way, that something is wrong, even if no one knows what.

~

We’ve been teaching Theo not to beg from very early on, because I wanted to make sure he didn’t mooch for treats all the time, like our last dog did. So, when I began his training with treats, I decided to give him an ‘End’ indicatory, to show that the treats were over. I showed both hands, held up to show there was nothing in them, and said ‘No More’ then ‘All Done’. Then he associates all three signs as meaning ‘no more treats’. This way, as he’s gotten older, sometimes all you have to do is show your hands, or say one of the two phrases, and he knows not to ask for more. It’s worked out really well, in the long run.

~

As I mentioned in a previous post, about my work Reward System, Theo’s a really great incentive to take a break from work. I’m getting more done now than I did when we first got him, because he’s in that tired phase, where even a little activity (done the right way) wears him out for a good half hour. He’ll either laze on the sofa beside me, to get tummy rubs, or just flat out sleep, and I can get a solid block of work done. But, I’m also finding that he’s really great at helping to shove me when I’ve been still/inactive too long. He’ll want out – sometimes for no reason but to enjoy the wind, or to play – and I like to give him plenty of time to do what he wants or needs, without rushing him. We have a bench in the garden, now, where I can sit down while he wanders. Lately, he’s been coming across to ask to get up, and he’ll sit on my knee for a few minutes.

That’s another thing that he’s gotten really good at – he asks for what he wants. If he wants out, but you’re not actively watching him and haven’t seen him go to the door, he’ll shove the kitchen door (a sliding door that bangs, when shoved) until you pay attention. This has been a great alternative from when he used to wait at the door, sitting until he peed himself. Sadly, this was Dad’s fault, because he would get distracted by the TV, or reading the paper, or something, and not keep his eye on him. But, as I spend all day with Theo, every day, I’m used to dropping things at a second’s notice to see where he’s going and why. I don’t like him being out of sight for too long, because he’s still small and young.

The cutest thing is when he comes to you and stands on his back legs, practically holding his front legs up like a toddler asking ‘UP’. He does this a lot, and all he really wants is to be near you. Theo is unlike our other dogs, who weren’t overly fond of constant affection. Theo LOVES it. He’ll lie beside me on the sofa and want his tummy rubbed for hours! Or he’ll come to you for hugs and to just sit on your lap. He’ll stay there for up to half an hour, before getting restless, and it’s been really nice. I always felt a bit distant from our previous dogs, because they didn’t like to snuggle or be beside me too much, but Theo loves to share affection with everyone.

Funnily enough, while our last dog HATED men with a passion – especially if they were in our house, like workmen or salesmen – Theo loves attention, and it doesn’t matter who from. I’ve actually found a temporary cure for his barking when the doorbell goes, by taking him with me. When the post comes, I can say ‘lets go’ or ‘lets get the post’ and he’ll go to the living room door to wait for me. Then I pick him up and carry him to the door. He’ll bark right up until the moment the door opens, but when he sees someone there, or no one – if the delivery driver has left a parcel and walked away already – he’ll instantly stop!

If there is someone there, you’ll find they fall into three categories – 1) they ignore him after a glance, 2) they fuss over him and want to pet him (which he adores!), or 3) they acknowledge him with a smile or a comment but don’t get close. Funnily enough, Theo doesn’t mind either way. Some are really accommodating, and they ask if they can fuss over him, or they ask about him. If I ask if they’re okay with letting him sniff their hand, most will agree, which gives him a little more exposure to people and foreign scents he doesn’t find in the house.

The same thing happened with our window cleaner. Theo’s met them twice – once, when he was little and hadn’t learned to really bark yet. He huffed a lot, sat on my knee, but didn’t worry too much about them. The second time, he freaked out with erratic barking and running, but once I put him in his cage, he calmed down and limited to only a few disgruntled huffs. The third time, he really freaked out with barking, and I couldn’t get him to stop. I tried sitting with him, shushing him, putting him in his cage, but nothing calming him down. My only solution was to stand in the kitchen, holding him, where he couldn’t see the cleaner at the front window. Then, when I went to pay them – with more frantic barking, because I stepped out of the room! – I asked if they’d be okay with me bringing Theo to the door, and luckily, he agreed. When I took Theo to the door, he stopped barking, and the guy had been nice enough to crouch down, so I could let Theo put his back legs on the ground, while I held onto him (for everyone’s safety!) The guy fussed over him, getting licks and happy little sounds out of him, and I hoped we’d cured him. But, alas, it seems it’s fine to meet him, but no one is allowed to hang around Theo’s windows! I’m hoping that the next time will be better, now Theo understands the nice man and the shadow outside his window are the same man. One can only hope.

The exact same thing happened with a Sky engineer, recently. I took Theo upstairs, because of Covid rules and my being on the Shielding list. Guy came to the house, Theo could hear his voice from downstairs, and barked non-stop. Once the guy came, unexpectedly, into the room to check the TV had synced up, Theo shut up and got fussed over. But, as soon as the engineer left the room, it was back to barking.

Everyone thinks I’m joking when I say Theo has a serious case of FOMO, but I’m not wrong. If you shut a door between you and Theo, expect chaos. For now. Because, I’m working on it, I promise.

~

The only real problems we have are:

  • eating paper. Theo generally does well, throughout the day, because I’ve got my eye on him. If I make a noise or say ‘Don’t’, he’ll move away or hesitate long enough for me to get between him and the paper/tissue and/or magazine. But, if he’s in a zoomie phase, or just after someone comes home, he’ll grab something, drag it to his bed, and shred it. He’s smart at putting his paws on it, to hold it down, and ripping with his teeth. Unfortunately. Lately, he’s the worst when my mum or dad come home, because he hates not being the centre of attention instantly. If they don’t fuss over him within seconds of being in the house, he’ll run off, grab something – even one of Dad’s slippers or shoes – and bring it back like a gift.
  • barking. While Theo’s getting better at this, he’s also at the stage where he’s found his voice and adamant about using it! When the doorbell goes, when you step out of sight for 5 seconds, when you go to the bathroom. Literally, if you step out of sight and there’s no one else in the room (to go to the bathroom, to get the post, to go pick up dog-duties in the garden) you will get some intense barking and whining. I’ve tried using ‘quiet’ or ‘enough’, to tell him to stop, but he’s really not great at listening once he’s started. He also barks when a phone rings, which is new. I’ve tried to train him to ‘speak’, so that I can teach him ‘quiet’ or ‘enough’ in a training way – with a clicker, and treats when he gets it right – but he refuses to ‘speak’. He doesn’t understand. And, when he’s already hyped up with barking, it’s not the right time to teach him, as it usually means I’m busy. My current solution will be to try ringing the doorbell, or going to the door for ‘the post’ but not actually needing to do anything else. Then when he starts, I’ll already have the clicker and treats, and I can do the teaching for that properly. At the moment, though, with the other training he needs, I have to place it further down on the priority list.
  • not sleeping in his spare cage. I’ll have said before that Theo’s got a couple of cages. One downstairs, in the living room, for daily use – time out, when he’s overtired, or so that I can leave the room without him getting up to mischief – until he learns to behave on his own. One upstairs, in my parents room, for sleeping in overnight. One in my room, for mornings when my parents leave for work at 6am. I don’t really wake up until 9am, due to my chronic fatigue, so Theo goes into my cage to sleep, until it’s time for me to wake up…. Or, at least, that’s the theory. Ever since I had shingles last year, and he moved out of my room and grew into a bigger cage, he’s never learned to settle in my room, again. He will NOT settle in his cage, but he will sleep for maybe 10-15 minutes on my bed. But, then, that makes it impossible for ME to sleep, because I need to have my arm around him, be aware of every movement, and make sure he doesn’t fall/jump off the bed, or find somewhere to go exploring. This generally means that I have to come downstairs pre-7am to lie on the sofa, because Theo only seems to fall into a proper sleep in his downstairs cage. We’re working on solutions – one of our pillows, a T-shirt, or something with our scent for him to stick with, even a second heartbeat dog – but nothing is working, so far. So, we’ll keep trying.
  • separation anxiety. This is actually, most likely, the cause of most of the problems. Ever since my shingles, when he moved out of my bedroom – where he was sleeping overnight – we’ve had a real problem with separation anxiety. Before it, you could go to the bathroom, leave him for a few minutes, during the day and he wouldn’t panic. Overnight, it was different, understandably, because it was dark. But, after the shingles incident, he hasn’t really been the same. If I go to the bathroom during the day, when it’s just him and me all day, he’ll start crying one step out the living room. And keep crying until I’m back in the living room. Then, I need to let him out of his cage, and he’ll be all over me with kisses and fussing, like he hasn’t seen me in months.

~

Oddly, though he barks at phone calls – sometimes the ringtone, sometimes the sound of someone talking on the other end, or even just the ringing when you call someone – he’s really great at finding phones based on their ringtones. My dad’s had the same ringtones for ages, and when it rings, Theo goes straight to the phone. Mum changes her ringtone for the season, but he’s so quick at learning which ringtone belongs to which phone, that you never have to wonder where your phone is.

Me? I don’t have a ringtone. I have my phone permanently on Do Not Disturb, with only alarm alerts ringing, and they don’t last long, and I keep the same tone for it. I do this for Theo, because I know that ringtones bother him, and my phone would give a dozen different ones a day, if I allowed it. Between Amazon alerts, texts, phone calls, reminders etc, there would be about 10 different notifications in a day, and I used to have a different sound for each one, so I knew whether it was important or not. That ended when Theo came, because it’s unfair to keep disturbing him, or provoking him, with the sounds when it’s not something he can control, yet. Instead, my phone vibrates, and I have a smart watch connected to it, so that my watch vibrates with a text or phone call alert, meaning that I get plenty of warning, without having to upset Theo.

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One fun thing we did recently, was get him hurdles. It’s just some plastic traffic cones and a pole to go through them at three different heights, for him to jump over. But, he LOVES it, so far. He loves to run and jump, so I thought it would be a great choice for him and I’m glad I was right.

The next thing on my training list is FlyBall. I found a machine you can get for less than £40, so I’ll get that for him and see how well he does. I think it’ll be ideal!

~

When it comes to music, he’s not really accepted it coming out of my laptop, for some reason. So, I started sitting on the 3-seater sofa, my laptop on my right, me in the middle, and Theo on my knee. But, he had the left space to run to, if he really didn’t like it. Then I put a quiet song on, at a really low level. He wasn’t keen, tilting his head and shoving the laptop, so I turned the sound up just a touch, and he was okay with it. I think it’s the vibrations that intrigued him, at first.

By the second song, he was more than happy to slide onto the left seat and lay his head on my knee, while I left my laptop playing on the right, with me in the middle. Eventually, after about the 5th song, I pulled my laptop onto my right knee, while Theo lay on my left, but not too close. He was great, as if he didn’t care anymore.

I’ll keep testing him, at low levels, to see if there’s a difference. I know he definitely doesn’t like laptop or phone music when he’s in his case, probably because he’s got no picture to match it to, like he does with the TV. I think starting with a slow, quiet song helped, and it’s one he’s heard before (on my TV YouTube playlist and on my phone), so that might have helps. Fingers crossed this works, because I have 200+ YouTube videos on my Watch Later list that I haven’t watched yet, because he hated the noise. lol.

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