Is Punishment an Option?
One concern Vangie had with Clara is some of her behavioral issues where she would act ferociously toward virtually any person or animal she doesn't know. Vangie told me that she would sometimes run to the house gate to bark and growl so much as if she wanted to kill whoever was on the other side. When the main door is closed, she would bark and claw at the door loudly.
I wondered how I could solve those bad behaviors. I could try to do it directly and wait for Clara to perform the behavior then wait for Clara to stop and when she does, mark that as "Quiet!" and reward it accordingly. If done frequently enough, Clara will hypothetically associate stopping with "Quiet" and treats will reinforce desirable behavior.
Another is to keep on doing the obedience commands and really drill the positive reinforcement training. If all goes well, telling Clara to sit and stay when she does any kind of unwanted behavior may work. For example, if she starts running and barking, telling her to go to her owner, sit and stay, then reward her after. This will stop the behavior sure, but the problem here is we're not stopping the origin of the bad behaviors, instead, we are just cutting it short. If Clara is smart, which I think she is, she might increase the frequency of the undesirable behavior so she gets stopped and gets the reward. Negative reinforcement is an option too, but I just don't know how I can effectively use that method on Clara, as my only experience is through shock collars. Maybe fit it loosely on her and use vibrate? With her small stature, she might find the vibration just jarring enough. I'll consider that if I'm out of options.
This then leads me to a part of training that I've never fully explored: Punishment. As severe as punishment sounds, it's basically any act done to the dog after they did any kind of negative behavior, in an effort to reduce the behavior's likelihood of happening.
Scolding a child when they don't eat their factually delicious vegetables is perhaps a classic example of punishment, as the child may not want to be scolded again, so they will eat their delicious, saucy, umami-tasting broccoli. Seriously, I placed a lot of effort to make it tasty.
I'm reminded of a misconception some owners have when they do physical corrections or even verbal ones with their pets. That's when the dog looks guilty at them, they think the dogs understand that they did a bad thing.
It's horribly cute, seeing them look at you with a lowered expression, and even trying to avoid your gaze, but it doesn't mean that they are actually guilty of their actions, they are simply tapping into their old instincts when dealing with an angry pet parent or pseudo-alpha. They look guilty because they see you angry, they don't actually associate it with their destructive behavior or whatever they did, they just react guiltily because they sensed you're angry. This is one reason why it's better to promote positive behavior over punishing negative behavior. Not only is it easier, but it also prevents incorrect punishment which may lead to the dog just not doing bad behaviors while in front of you, as with the case of Clara going potty under the bed.
As far as physical punishment goes, I will not condone nor advise any kind of harsh or harmful physical punishment though. I say harsh because there are some actual physical punishments that are harmless, like lifting your dog and placing them in another room, like a time-out area. There are plenty of discipline techniques out there, but I don't know the proper discipline techniques yet. I'm also afraid that Clara may develop a fear of punishment, which is never a good thing.
So, with punishment considered, it opens up another kind of training to help improve Clara's poor behavior. Negative Punishment. When she does her aggressive bit, I or Vangie must say a marking word like "No!" then proceed to take Clara somewhere neutral like the bedroom and keep her there for a few minutes. This way, Clara can associate the "No!" with being placed in a room that might probably bore her. It's not harsh as we're not really doing anything harmful, just letting her calm down, but at the same time, she's separated from her owner and whichever stimulus is causing her to bark and rage. If all that fails, there are always the old-fashioned forms of punishment in the form of cold water in spray bottles. It's still harmless, but it could technically cool her spirits down.
With that thought, An epiphany hit me, one I should have thought about much earlier. What was Clara's trigger? Is it some kind of territorial aggression, or protective aggression? Defensive behaviors could be the root of it. Because if we're thinking of cutting it from the source, then one solution is to desensitize Clara from the source. I asked them if Clara was ever taken out for walks. She was, and it was through a special dog carriage. So, even when she's out, she's still protected inside the cushiony box she's placed it. I recommended that every now and then, to take Clara outside on a leash, even if it means placing her on the gate or actually walking with her. By letting her get used to the humdrum of the outdoors, it may lessen her paranoia of sorts. It's not exactly a training technique, but if something can be solved with the least effort possible, and avoids punishment, then I'll do it. Although, if Clara still shows poor behavior during her outside time, it must be dealt with.
This gave me a great idea. I asked Vangie if she had a longer leash. We could actually train Clara outside so I can both train her and desensitize her at the same time. She, unfortunately, didn't have a leash long enough, so I went back home via bike and took the long leash. Much to Maui's sadness as he whined when I promptly left. I bet he smelled Clara's scent from me and wanted to meet the dog. Maybe I will at some point if it means helping Clara.
When I came back, I had Clara hooked on the gate rail and gave her a large fifteen feet slack. Immediately, Clara started growling in a certain direction. I'm not sure what she's seeing, but there might be something on the other side of the street, probably another dog behind a gate. Regardless, this was an amazing opportunity to train Clara to stop barking without using any aversive methods.
try and see if we can reward her for naturally stopping. I prepared the treats and waited for her to bark. It took a while, but as soon as she completely stopped, I clicked and gave her a treat. It was funny that she looked confused when she heard the click. She snapped her gaze towards me and she even hesitated when I handed the treat to her. She didn't bark again, so we continued with our training. We left off with her staying in place, so I called her attention, told her to stay, and waited. She did learn from it, as she didn't move when I said the command. I still could not make her sit, so this will do for now.
After three tries of "Stay" I started stepping back. To my surprise, Clara stayed in place for the first two steps, so I clicked and rewarded her. A few moments later, she started barking again, this time at a passing street cat. I waited for her to finish barking, then as soon as she did, I waited for a second, then clicked, then rewarded her. We continued on with the training, but each time someone passed, it would distract her. Eventually, a stray dog felt became curious and Clara started barking wildly. I erred on caution and took Clara in. The tiny dog barked and growled as if it wanted to take a piece out of the stray dog.
I wondered back then if Clara had territorial aggression. She only barks at any living creature passing by the street. I suppose this means exposing Clara to the passersby more often or taking her on actual walks will help her calm down. I also considered the possibility that she just has a lot of energy she wants to expel, just like Maui. The house she lives in is pretty empty and quiet, and Vangie probably has her as a companion dog.
In the end, Clara is still a dog, no matter her size. I think I've fully understood that regardless of the size, a dog can and should be trained the same way any dog should be. It also looks like I'll be doing everything from this point on. The pressure is on.