Monday, October 17, 2011

Dickens The Domesticated

I've been asked to do an update on Dickens and his integration into our pack. I haven't been writing much lately because there hasn't been much to write about. At some point Dickens dialed the crazy way down and decided to go with the flow. Since then life has been easier for all of us.

I've been stepping up the training to include the exercises Dickens will need to get his Canine Good Citizen certification, the first step toward being approved to visit hospitals and care facilities. Recently we've been working on stand on command. So far this has consisted of me telling Dickens to stand, offering him a treat as an enticement, and then watching him take the treat and sit down again. When he does this I take his collar in one hand and reach under his belly with the other and lift. While Dickens doesn't mind being touched, he dislikes being handled, and he immediately flops over on his back.

A very welcome change in his behavior concerns the dogs on the other side of the fence, who Dickens regards as an affront to his very existence. I used to have to break up the barking contests by hauling Dickens into the house by the collar. Now I call him and he comes running, no doubt having decided it's preferable to the old method. The cookie he gets doesn't hurt, either.

The couch drama seems to have ended, too. When I leave the house I put two dining room chairs upside down on the cushions, and there have been no problems.

A note about Daisy. She has figured out that Dickens is sometimes all bark and no bite. She is less hesitant to snap at him if he plays too roughly, or if he tries to steal a ball from her, or if he simply gets too close to her while she's relaxing. Dickens has become more deferential in matters of toys, too, probably as a result of a well-timed nip or two on the nose. All in all, a welcome development on both sides.


  1. Yay! Life is good, with Dickens the Decidedly Docile (relatively speaking). Regarding the "stand" (one of the hardest things to train)and other such things to learn, Dickens sounds like a dog who might really respond to "shaping" training...what do you think?

    Jeanne, as typed for Rex (no thumbs)

  2. I'm not familiar with shaping, at least not by that name. Can you elaborate?

  3. Shaping is a training method of, instead of luring the desired behavior you reward incremental steps the dog makes on his own towards the behavior you're after (think BF Skinner). Let's say you want to teach "watch me". Without luring him, you'd click/treat (or mark w/a word, if you don't use a clicker) when he turns his head even slightly, or flicks an ear in your direction. He begins to see that he can get good stuff by offering behaviors, and will continue to offer as you raise the bar until he offers the real deal. Then it's a jackpot of treats. This is sometimes a slower way of training but the results seem to be more durable. An important factor is for you to slice the ultimate behavior into small steps and reward for each of those steps, and not to spend too long on any session. He's using his brain in superdrive to do this (think quantum physics, unless that's somehow easy for you, in which case, well...)and he'll run out of attention span quickly, especially in the beginning.

    Rex reminds me alot of Dickens; although a little older when he came home to us from GBR he would have been "Dickens" if "Rex" wasn't also appropriate. We've used alot of shaping in his training and he responds immensely well to it. It's as though the challenge of thinking really gets him jazzed, channels his energy & enthusiasm, and increases confidence. Plus, we all learn better actively than passively.

    I know you have done a ton of training in the past, and have a great resource in a trainer-friend. Other good resources are: a great book by Jane Killion "When Pigs Fly" (training success with impossible dogs)--Dickon isn't impossible at all but she has an excellent chapter on shaping; 101 Things To Do With A Box* (either at or; a very good article by Pamela Dennison on her website There are lots of other resources, and also alot of hooey out there; you could waste a day just googling "shaping behavior". Ask me how I know.

    Now I've gone on and on and Rex points out we haven't had a walk yet on this leaden-gray drippy morning, so off we go. If you'd like to chat more about this you can email me

    cheers, Jeanne & Rex (with leash in his mouth)

    *101 Things to Do With A Box is great starting game you can play to get him (and you)familiar with the idea of offering & rewarding behaviors, since it's just a game and isn't working directly toward a behavior you're trying to teach. I thought it was among the hooey category, until we tried it. The lightbulb shining in Rex's eyes was enough for me, and I was hooked.