Why do we shape behaviours?

Ever since we welcomed a little puppy into our lives, the debate about shaping behaviours confronted us.

  • Why were we stopping friends from feeding our dog at the table?

  • Why were we helping our pup to sleep (by having him calm on our lap) when we spotted that his over excitement was not healthy, like running unintentionally, and not responding to mastered simple commands?

  • Why have we decided to ask our friends to help us ignoring him for 5 to 10 minutes once we enter the house or if they are staying over night, to repeat the “no talking", "no touch", "no eye contact” first thing in the morning or last thing before bed time?

  • Why do I prevent our friends from waking him up to play when he is sleeping?

 Was I exaggerating, being me the owner and trainer of the dog?

It would be very easy to put a dog into our lives and let the dog eat whatever he wanted to, from shoes to furniture and then complain about the pet; feed it 3 times a day, before or after the walk, no routine, get him to the vet when he behaved weird; checked him into a pet shop to get a trim whenever needed, then walk him whenever we had the time, with no commitment or structure, and consider the job done!

 Not for us!

George can lay still and almost asleep as I prepare him for summer

George can lay still and almost asleep as I prepare him for summer

We decided that in order to keep control of our lives, we had to be responsible for this other life we were allowing to enter our home. As we accepted the challenge to adjust our lives to accommodate him, our little dog would have to adjust into our lives too! It meant that George would have to be trained!

The decision of training a dog is the opposite from being careless and irresponsible! There is a lot involved in assuming such a big commitment, mainly the fact that you are adopting, parenting and guiding a member of a different species from your own. We are all living beings, and as much as I want to categorize all of us as animals and mammals, we are humans - they are dogs, so it's up to us who have the rational thinking mind to decide what is the best way to go about things, and not otherwise.

Being the dog our responsibility, we decide what is a good environment to have in at our own home.

As much as we always wanted him to feel loved, welcomed and embraced, besides training him we would learn how to trim his nails and his fur and we would do our best to offer him opportunities so that one day we can say: _Our dog was very well treated, a great pet and we had a very good time together!

George was barely 3 months and could sit nicely, amongst other tricks :-)

Based on that, we agreed as a family on a few basic rules to be followed indoors and outside the house; to create a certain structure, a routine, a set of actions to make him feel safe and comfortable with his surroundings. Our mornings are exactly the same every day!

During George's first 2 months with us, the routine was simple and well structured:

1. Walking and playing

2. Food

3. Affection.

Same at night. George would only get his food after exercising... Few weeks into it and he seemed to know the thrill. He enjoys the park, play with other dogs, swims in the river Sheaf and is always very kind and sweet with other humans...

As much as he doesn't mind being the 3rd in the pack, little he knows that we have to control our actions and ourselves to place him in this position of priority because in reality, he is today our first priority! He is cute as hell, he doesn't speak, and is the one who needs help the most, so we have to control ourselves and our own actions to make it work - at the end of the day is all down to consistency...

How have we structured our days around to accommodate George?

Why have we decided on the name George?

We wanted to call him Bollocks! Really! :) But to work with little children that would be a big no no!! :-)

So we decided for the name George, which has only one syllable, and being short, it was easier for him to understand. Not only for that reason, but also the sound of the name George is not similar to basic commands such as seat, wait, lie down and so on...

George is also a great English name, very traditional, and George's mix breed is an English breed - Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Also George have great equivalents in other languages like Jorge or Jorginho in Portuguese, "Rorje" or "Rorhito"  in Spanish and "Jorjino" in Italian. Also, as he is growing to learn new commands and behaves very well he is already coming to work with me. Dogs are amazing for several reasons, and a sweet well trained puppy always come in handy when it comes to spreading love across a room. I benefit from having him around, the children do too immensely, so does the parents... 

George's training

I remember watching the Dog Whisper TV Show with Cesar Milan many years ago, and then once we brought George home Mu also bought me 2 books of his, which I have read in a few days. At the end of the day, Positive Reinforcement developed by Burrhus Frederic Skinner (or B. F. Skinner), was an elaboration of the Law of Effect theory developed by Edward Thorndike.

Nowadays, in other words, linking good actions with good rewards is what makes Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) so popular and effective when it comes to achieving success in helping shaping better behaviour responses. 

In terms of transferring my skills from dealing with child X puppy I needed a big readjust in the way therapy is shaped for a child; the games and the responses are different, however, the result and your expectations are ultimately the same: the dog should be able to respond to a mastered command - same with a child. That's why relying on some good YouTuber like Zak George's who tackles behaviour related problems and training for free online has also helped loads.

From the web sites in Portuguese I have watched and read things from Tudo sobre Cachorros by Halina Medina and she does offer great general knowledge about a huge variety of issues involving your dog's behaviour and development. It's worth to watch! :) 

George is now approaching 4 months and learning new tricks, like roll over!

The bread and butter of his training is a rigid structure that makes easier for him to understand and anticipate what is going on.

 1. George goes for a walk couple of times a day! Very early in the morning and in the evening!

2. George is fed 3 times a day until the age of 6 months and many times has to “work” for his dinner. We take the opportunity to train him during his meal or he has his dinner stuffed into homemade feeding toys (pet bottles mainly) so he has to work to get his food out of them.

 3. George slept completely alone for 2 months in a row! We organised a little den for George - the dining area of our home. It could have been elsewhere, but being the only wooden floored bit of the house this was the most sensible decision we could have made.

 4. We took responsibility in relation to his health. Until 6 months he has wormers and flea treatment once a month.

 5. We are planing to get George a health deal with our local Vet. They cover check ups and vaccinations for a very good price.

 6. George has old t-shirts and trousers that belong to us transformed in toys for him. The scent of our used clothes really helps in keeping him calm.

 7. George has a soft monkey that only appears when it’s bed time or he is staying alone in the house! So, whenever we are not around, the monkey keep him company. 

 8. We have trained him to go outside to do his wee wee and poo poo. Which he shows consistency since he was 4 months of age. I won't lie and say the has never had another accident since then, there were in 2 occasions, and in both of the occasions were our fault.

 9. Even though we are around the house, every day we train him to be alone, at least for a bit. Same in the car. Supermarkets and restaurants don't take dogs, so he has to wait in the car sometimes - the usually takes a nap whilst he waits :)

10. We never feed George when we are eating! On the table, on the sofa or seating on the floor - him knowing it already, he doesn't even attempt to ask for it... He likes sniffing around though, as any dog would do - within a minute he will move away. He usually sleeps or lie down whilst we eat.

11. George came from his breeder eating Purina Bakers. We changed his diet to Royal Canin and now we changing to a new brand called 7. Seven offer a diet based on his ancestors diet. So lots of meat and veg on the biscuits! :)

Some of our friends have raw diets for their dogs with a dog nutritionist, which it would be ideal to George really... I will keep on watching our for the best diet for him. I believe that dogs do lead a better, healthier life when they have the chance to stick with a better diet.

12. We are getting George deer antlers as a chewy toy that helps to keep teeth clean and healthy gums. He also has a toothbrush. I won't go crazy about it, but brushing couple of times a week entertains him.

 13. We let him off the leash for the first time at the age of 3 months! Yes! As soon as his vaccines quicked. After training him to respond to his name we thought he was ready and now he always stays around, although he does like to chase the odd bee or a pigeon :-)

 14. We encourage George to play with other dogs in the park and he has loads of dog friends and many parks around our home. George also is encouraged to go swimming in the river and at times I even walk inside the river myself to convince him to get in. We don't protect him or give him any attention when he complains or cries for no apparent reason.

 15. We taught George a few tricks and keep a list of commands so that both me and Mu know what are the keywords to use:

  • Sit
  • Lie down
  • Up
  • Down
  • Off
  • Wait
  • Leave it
  • Let go
  • Go to bed
  • Drop Dead
  • High five
  • Shake
  • Where is Mamá? Dáda? Pig? Rope? Bone? Food? Ball...
  • Go wee wee
  • Go poo poo
  • Flip over
  • Speak
  • Quiet
  • No
  • Drop it
  • Come here




 We also teaching and getting him used to things such as

  • Play on his own
  • Play tug of war
  • Retrieve things
  • Not eat our garden plants
  • Chew toys, not shoes
  • Mount on appropriate toys (soft toys)
  • Allow and encourage him to swim more in the river
  • Encourage him to ignore cars, trains and deal with new stimuli
  • Encourage and reward him when he acts in the right way
  • Getting used to get a trim
  • Getting used to be showered and blow dried
  • Getting used to be touched everywhere on his body - from mouth to bottom

 16. George didn't used to get love from us right way in the morning, he would always have to respond to a command. As George now is much more well behaved in general we are not too strict about it any more.

We agreed in keeping the habit of not giving him attention until he is calm and tranquil so then we reinforce a calmer behaviour in him!

17. We are desensitizing George from noises, heights, big dogs and anything he shows a bit of fear.   

Final thoughts

Training a dog from a very early age is not easy, but George is very unlikely to jump on the sofa uninvited (when we have visitors it can change - he understand that the rules changes a bit). Neither he jumps on the bed uninvited. We are creating patterns for him and for us, in a way that suits our lives.

Its pretty much like choosing the boundaries you will impose on your own children... Some parents would allow their children to jump in the bed whenever they wanted (even if the parents are sleeping). Some parents wouldn't tolerate it at all... Some will simply condition their children to ask them if they can do something before doing so, which is never up to the child...

Who is correct? Everyone is correct! They just have to decide what suits their lives better!

George increasingly respects the hierarchy in the pack that he lives with and for us it was essential that he could fit him this way into our lives. So, do never be afraid of choosing what's better for you! If you are a very permissive person and live happily being so, you are the one who will have to deal with it - no problem... Some will always think that this or that approach is too permissive, or too strict... Just be it! For us a respectful, happy dog who understands limits as a canine family member was essential! We feel that we are in the right path... 

Plants, dogs, and humans

In our little back yard, because of the summer, the bushy plants were taking over the whole space, tangling with one another; already climbing fences etc. so they had to be trimmed, at least if to give them a brand new shape. By the time summer ends, they will be looking beautiful and healthy, expressing a more desirable pattern in a way that all of the other plants can complement each other, and not give in for one another.

At the same time, keeping them trimmed not only makes things easier for us, but offers the plants the chance to blossom at the right spots, the spot that we, rational beings behind it, decided was the best one.

The same way that we take care of our plants is similar to the way we take care of the other humans in our lives, so why not the dogs?

That's why we will keep on working on shaping some of those behaviours that will arise and need some readjusting with the same approach, so George will always know that we will be there to care for him and feed him everyday, take him for walks, look after his health and give him love, reassuring him that he won't be abandoned but only left alone sometimes; so we can also expect him to behave like a respectful little dog that we aim for him to always be…

Life is a work in progress for us, as we try to be better today than we were yesterday… We all know where to stand in life! Why wouldn't we provide it for him too?

For a happy long life with our little George!