Sissy (named changed to protect everyone) is a twenty pound mixed breed dog. She’s probably got quite a bit of poodle in her ancestry but there are some unidentified ancestors, too. No matter what her genetic heritage, Sissy is a smart, adorable and very well loved puppy.
Sissy’s owners added her to their family when their last child left for college and her owner admitted the puppy was to fill that gap at home. She said the house was too empty and quiet.
Sissy and her owners called Kindred Spirits because Sissy was throwing temper tantrums. She would throw herself to the ground, if on leash she would roll herself up in the leash, and scream as if she were being killed. If her owner tried to continue what she was doing – such as checking Sissy for foxtails, fleas or ticks – sometimes Sissy would even bite. Basically, Sissy would throw a temper tantrum every time things didn’t go her way.
Now not every puppy will throw temper tantrums. I don’t remember Bashir having one; to him that would be way too undignified.
But Archer did, once. I was training and having fun with Bashir one day and so that I could just work with Bashir, I left Archer in the puppy yard. Archer began crying and whining, then running the fence, and then began screaming. This wasn’t just mild unhappiness; this was a jealous, angry, ‘the world is not happening according to my wishes’ temper tantrum. Since he was having a fit because he wanted my attention, I went back to him very quietly, said not one word as I took hold of his collar, and then walked him inside to a crate. Without a word, I closed the door to the crate and the office. And I went back out to Bashir. Twenty minutes later, a very subdued – and quiet – puppy was allowed out of his crate. There were no more temper tantrums.
Puppies tend to have these fits when the behavior has worked well for them in the past. They will also have temper tantrums when they feel they are entitled to something and it’s not forthcoming.
In Sissy’s case, she learned – apparently very quickly – that her owner would pick her up and console her after a temper tantrum because her owner thought the puppy was upset. She was upset; that’s true. But consoling and praising and reassuring can all be perceived in a similar way by the puppy.
So, Kate, Kindred Spirits’ head puppy trainer, showed Sissy’s owner the difference between praising Sissy for good behavior and consoling her inappropriately. She told her that for the time being, every time Sissy threw a temper tantrum at home, she was to simply walk away from her. There was to be no reaction from her owners what so ever. And if they could walk into another room that was even better.
Then Kate spent some time with them showing Sissy’s owner how to teach her so they could train their puppy and care for her without making Sissy feel she needed to fight them. Kate explained that teaching Sissy to cooperate was much easier than fighting her.
Kate and I also talked to Sissy’s owners about the puppy’s feeling that the world revolved around her. Sissy, at that point, believed that if she wanted something, she deserved to have it. And apparently far too often, her owners gave it to her. So for the time being, Sissy was going to sit, lie down, and sit again before she got anything she wanted. When that became too easy, she would be asked to do even more. The training wasn’t going to be forceful or harsh; in fact, there were going to be lots of tasty treats involved. But if she wanted something, she had to cooperate with her owner to get it.
When we checked back with Sissy’s owners a week later, we learned that immediately after getting home, Sissy threw another temper tantrum. So both owners simply walked away. Sissy continued on her own for a minute or so and then got up and came looking for them – temper tantrum forgotten. The next temper tantrum, a day or so later, they again walked away from her. Sissy followed them this time, trying to continue her temper tantrum as she walked. Her owner said it was really quite funny as it was very half hearted.
Sissy hasn’t had another one in more than a week. That’s not to say she won’t try again; she may. After all, they’ve worked in the past. But she will learn through practice and over time that they will not work in the future.
Originally published on PetConnection.com