Tiny House Training With A Tiny Dog
Alas, my reputation as a wannabe dog trainer has landed on another person's ears and it was actually the teacher's neighbor, who overheard us training Matty, and she was apparently surprised to see how well-behaved Matty became, especially when compared to pre-training Matty. I was contacted, and I didn't ask for any payment, just that they provide the treats, because this is "for my portfolio". I wouldn't mind a snack and a drink.
However, I was faced with quite a big challenge. Rather, a small, trembling challenge. A young Mini Pinscher that's about a year old, named Clara. She looks like a Doberman you can fit on two palms, except she probably has the spirit of one. I don't even know if I can bring Maui here to do the model-rival training process. I felt that this was oddly out of my league. However, these are the best opportunities to learn from, as everything is new and I'm likely going to make one mistake after another.
Can a small dog be trained the same way as a big dog? I know my shock collar won't fit Clara, but she's still a dog, so I assume she can be taught all the same. Clara's attention span might be much smaller than a regular dog's. Another problem is that Clara has a significantly smaller stomach, which means reward-based training is limited unless I use significantly smaller training treats.
When I arrived at the neighbor's house, Vangie, Clara's owner, introduced herself and was wondering if Clara could be trained to do certain things, like staying when told and recall. I would have imagined that recall would be the easiest one since you can just call them by name and if you call them enough, they would eventually learn to approach.
When I saw Clara, she was just tiny. My cats are bigger than her, but as soon as we made eye contact, she started snarling. Not a good sign. Vangie did the usual spiel of how darling Clara is and she's actually a softy, but Clara's display of her sharp front teeth says otherwise. I dared not to even put my hand close to her. However, if I am to train this tiny terror, I must get on her good side. Good thing I brought both my cooked liver and my dog biscuits. I split the already small cooked liver and placed it on the ground close to me. Clara approached, smelling the ground furiously until she reached the liver. I placed it closer to me and let Clara seek it. When she got it, I placed one on my palm and hoped upon hope that she wouldn't chew my hand. She sniffed me at first, then tried to lick the liver off my palm. I did it again, and I saw that she was wagging her stubbed tail. I did it one more time and slowly neared my palm to her mouth. As she gobbled the liver, I patted her head and sure enough, she was okay with it. I thanked the heavens afterward for not losing any fingers or limbs during this risky maneuver.
Since Clara seems more amicable now, I think I can proceed with the training sessions. I spent some time splitting the liver into smaller pieces and started. The first thing to do is to let Clara learn the basics of clicker training. First is recall. Simply calling her name and rewarding her when she approaches. I used the liver itself as a lure and called her with a peppy voice. She did little tippy-taps with her very tiny paws and practically toddled towards me. I clicked the clicker and she jumped a bit, but she did accept the treat wholeheartedly. I did this five more times, using my basic training techniques, which is me briskly walking away when she's eating the treat, and calling her name.
Vangie had a couple of questions about it, mostly about her dissatisfaction with the process. I explained to her that this is indeed what proper training is composed of and the key is consistency. She talked about shock collars and voiced her concerns about them, which is very understandable. She mentioned that she cannot grasp the idea of using shock to punish a dog. I don't want to defend it, but I did want to clarify a few things. I explained how shock collars are not for punishment-based training and I don't like using punishment of any sort in my training. I also told her that Clara is way too small for any kind of shock collar as far as I am aware.
She also asked how she can train Clara to do her business in the right places, as she does it under the couch and when she blocked it, Clara decided to change her bathroom spot under the master bedroom bed. At first, I was clueless, but some of my experiences and hackneyed research gave me an idea. I asked if she has some way to box Clara into one spot, like a crate or a baby gate. She does have a small old extending fence that can be arranged into a rather large rectangle. Since Clara is very responsive to rewards, I suggested that they place the fence at the ideal bathroom spot, then place newspaper on it. Then, place Clara during the times when she relieves herself, or a few minutes after dinner. Then when she relieves on it, reward her with treats and praise. Afterward, fold the newspaper in half the next day, and reward her if she does it again on the newspaper, and repeat. If all goes well, Clara will either do her business on the spot where she is fenced.
In my experience, rewarding dogs seem to be far more effective than punishing them. I can imagine that Clara got punished for doing her business somewhere, so she probably thought that doing it somewhere her owner can't see meant she can't be punished. Rewarding Clara will likely make her think that she gets a treat when she does it on this spot, then it's a matter of just doing this again and again until it turns into a habit.
So far, Clara is very responsive to the training. I switched to the biscuits and she just gobbles it up all the same. However, after I think about the 10th time, she approached but isn't as enthusiastic about the treat. I imagine it's because she's getting full, so we stopped the introductory training there.
I talked a bit with Vangie and I told her about all the things I learned regarding bad behavior, that teaching them obedience training and controlling them using it, is way more effective than punishing unacceptable behaviors one by one. I still did say that it depends on the dog, but in general, not all dogs behave the same way after being punished. Vangie then told me that Clara has some barking issues at night, and of course, her temper towards visitors also needs to be addressed.
This is honestly fun. I actually can't wait to train Clara. I also can't believe I made the jump from a large dog, to dog so tiny, her own heartbeats make her tremble.