Monday, February 7, 2011

Curbing Ferg's Addiction: The Action Plan

Poor Ferguson.  We've hit another bumpy road (actually, it's the only road that has been really bumpy since I got him...he really is a super easy fantastic dog).  As you saw in the video three entries ago, I had purchased a citronella collar to aid Ferguson in his alone training (learning to not bark).  It actually helped a fair least while he thought someone was still in the house.  Thanks to the collar, Ferguson is now totally okay if he thinks someone is home and can hear them upstairs (so I can take my showers in peace).  I practiced with him every day in short sessions, and he is fine.  However, apparently people actually leaving the house is a totally different matter.  Yesterday when I went to apartment shop, my dad and brother also left to go out.  My mom stayed home to take a nap, but Ferguson did not know this, and apparently panicked once my dad and brother left, convinced he was home alone.  My mom said he barked for about 20 minutes, trying to see if he'd calm down, but to no avail.  She said he sounded increasingly hysterical, not just a "woof woof....woof.....oh fine, I guess no one is home," and that when she flushed the toilet from upstairs, he was suddenly quiet ("OH MY GOSH SOMEONE ACTUALLY *IS* HOME!!!").  She said she waited another few minutes, but then went downstairs, ignored him, but laid on the couch to finish her nap, to which he then settled and went to sleep until I came home a few hours later.

So, now that we know the citronella collar does not work when he goes into a full-on "oh my gosh I'm totally alone" panic (I came back and of course all 25 puffs were gone), we shall start from square one, as if he has no skills.  Luckily, I believe I have the tools to do so. The main problem up until now, I think, is that while I have practiced alone training with Ferguson, the amount of time he is actually alone is not enough.  He sleeps in the same room as me, he goes to work with me, he lounges with me.  Unfortunately, my social activity level has been pretty limited, and when I have gotten to do things, it's been in the evening when my parents are home.  So, starting today, we are going to start to play the "stay-quiet" game.  For this activity, I am going to be working as much with "mother nature" as I can, utilizing the fact that dogs are bad at generalizing, create memories with their nose, and are willing to move on in a new given situation and not dwell on the past.  I have set up Ferguson's travel crate in the other room, which is quiet and somewhat more secluded than the family room, where people always are, and intend to practice every day, several times a day, in that kennel only, very slowly increasing the amount of time he is in there alone.  We started "the quiet-alone" game last night, where I introduced him VERY positively to the crate by giving him the duck neck in it and closing the door.  I told him to "stay" and proceeded to move about the house, coming and going every 10-25 seconds.  I went upstairs, downstairs, outside, and everywhere else that was not in that room, while he finished his neck, fully intending on NEVER leaving him long enough in that kennel to bark or whine.  So starting today, any time I do anything for a quick moment, whether it's using the bathroom, running upstairs to get something, etc. he will go in the "quiet" kennel, and will receive a treat when I come back for being quiet with a "good stay!" praise.  I will watch the clock, and will put on my coat randomly, go out side for 20 seconds randomly, come in, walk all over the house, all while he is in there on a down-stay.  While all goes well, I will SLOWLY increase the time he is there, always coming back before he gets upset.  If he does get upset, we'll start again at the marker previous that I know he can do, and will try to work up again with repetition.  It is in this way that I intend to wean Ferguson off of me and eliminate his separation problem, him learning that it is a game, that he gets a cookie for waiting patiently and quietly, AND THAT I WILL ALWAYS COME BACK no matter what!
Cozy, right?

So far, I'll admit, I'm really happy with what we've done even just thus far with it.  Ferguson LOVES the new kennel and goes into it every time we pass it.  We will practice an "alone session" (even 20 seconds of one) at least every hour of today and not give him the opportunity to fail.  It may take weeks, but I'm still confident he can do it.

However, in the rare event that Ferguson is unable to progress, still has horrible anxiety in 6 months or so, it should be known that I would sooner adopt another greyhound than send him back, even though adopting another dog would not be ideal for me right now.  I believe it is because of the other dogs at work that Ferguson is totally okay about being without me, but apparently little dogs, like Niles, don't really count as dogs, as he still gets upset regardless of whether he's next to him or not.  Of course, I would foster a temporary greyhound first to determine if that really was a solution to his problem...but all of this is mostly irrelevant, because I am quite confident other dogs are unnecessary, and I can solve Ferguson's problem all on my own with slow positive training.  It may be slow, but I am 99% sure it will work.  I am just sorry I wasn't as diligent about his problem a little earlier...but lucky for me, dogs live in the moment :).

Oop. Almost eleven.  Time for another session....

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