Telling Tails

Environmental Acclimation


As it is with any teenage boy, Jude’s extracurricular interests took a fast turn when he hit his adolescent period.  He went from my little eager to engage me anywhere anytime pup to “hold on I gotta sniff” seemingly overnight.  He was always a social pup with dogs and humans but his sociability moved to a higher level at about 9 months of age.  His casual interest to interact with others became a distinct need to do so.  It didn’t matter who it was, if you were a stranger sitting on a park bench, Jude was in your lap giving an overly friendly hello.

The fundamental human part of me thought I was entering a losing battle.  Jude was the first male dog I have had in many years and neutered at an early age of four and a half months.  So why then was he suddenly obsessed with sniffing peemail and determined to leave his comment for others to smell?  I felt frustration brewing in both of us, mine due to his lack of acknowledging my existence and his due to my nagging.

All he wanted to do was sniff, isn’t that a typical dog thing?

As I stepped back into my behavior consultant brain, I realized that, regardless of early neuter, his behavior was very normal.  As he was growing his needs were changing, and I needed to catch up.  So where did we go from here?  I simply allotted him the same allowance that I give Prudence every time I take her out for a walk; time to acclimate.  Due to Prue’s anxiety, I allow her all the opportunity she needs to explore before I ask her to do anything.  As soon as we get out of the car, she begins sniffing and observing.  I follow along and patiently wait until she is ready to engage me.  Of course, I am ready and willing to intervene at any moment as needed for her safety, but I don’t need her to sit every three steps just for my entertainment.  After I started this acclimation protocol with Prudence, she began engaging me earlier and earlier on our walks and began doing so in new environments.  So why wouldn’t this also work for Jude, after all, doesn’t he deserve the same courtesy?

Of course, he does! Once I gave him the time he needed to sniff and pee on as many things as he wanted that eager to engage pup returned.  Now, at two years old, he begins to engage me after only half a block of sniffing.  This doesn’t mean I don’t allow him to sniff on the rest of the walk; it just means that any request I put in is easier for him to accomplish after the initial sniffing is done.  Following this protocol has made our walks together more enjoyable and our training stronger.

Watch and see

I made a video to demonstrate the difference in training quality before and after allowing some acclimation time.  I broke this video into three sections; my training goal was to work on our station game for the first time at the park.  The idea is to move back and forth between two stations (hula hoops) smoothly and hang out at the station for an extended period while eating. I want Jude to not only anticipate the next station but to eagerly want to beat me to it.  We play this game a lot at home and in the yard, so he is familiar with it.

Section 1: I set up the camera and hula hoops before getting Jude out of the car. As soon as I get him out I am attempting to start the game; meanwhile, Jude has other plans.  You can see my frustration with his sniffing grow as I continually resort to using a food lure to get him to engage.  But is that engagement? Nope, it is me nagging him to pay attention.  He eventually gives in and participates as I moved onto a higher valued food he was interested in eating, but you can see that he hasn’t wholly opted into the game.  He continually returns to sniffing.  So how good do you think the quality of this training session is?

Section 2: Acclimation time!  In this clip, I put Jude on his long line and cue him to lead the way.  You can see he’s doing a lot of sniffing, and some peeing, as he makes his way around the park.  I use simple cues, such as “this way,” when needed to keep him out of the flower beds but other than that I quietly follow along.  We did this for about 20 minutes before trying the station game again.

Section 3: Now we have returned to training, and you can see by his enthusiasm and lack of sniffing that he has entirely opted into participating.  You can see that he has a full understanding of what is being asked as he goes for the hula hoops again and again.  And while you can’t see it in the video, the second training session has way more distractions in the environment than the first session did.  There are kids playing with an off-leash dog off to the right, a family with a baby off to the left, a man walks by, another stops to talk to border patrol, and the tow truck driver in the background even yells across the field to another man.

By removing any expectations and allowing Jude time to acclimate to his environment he was able to enter his thinking brain and have a successful training session.  Acclimation time + 5 or so minutes of training + 5 or so minutes of playtime with your pup = the perfect recipe to surviving your pup’s adolescence.

Amber Todd, CPDT-KA, UW-AAB

Owner | Trainer | Behavior Consultant

Embarking Dogs