Hello to my dedicated Poncho Prose followers. As many of you already know, me and my mom write a dog behavior advice column called Dear Inquisitive Canine - We receive many emails and try to answer as many as we can, but once in awhile I like to veer off on my own to answer an extra one or two. My mom being a certified professional dog trainer knows that sometimes people and dogs need more of an immediate answer, so I'm sure she won't mind if I work a little overtime.
Our friend Karen Lee Stevens is an animal advocate here in Santa Barbara. She is also a columnist, writer and editor, and the founder of All for Animals - a website devoted to resources for animal lovers in Santa Barbara, California (and the surrounding areas). It includes dogs, cats and other pets that are available for adoptions, animal events in the Santa Barbara area, and general information on how you can help animals.
It seems that Miss. Karen had a question for yours truly. Well, she and I share a speciate bond, so I thought it would be polite of me to work a little overtime and write her back. The question she asks has to do with creating pleasant associations for a guest chihuahua she will be taking care of over the holidays. The suggestions I give would work with other dogs (and other animals) too, so I thought I'd pass the word along to all of you.
Dear Poncho - Do you have any dog training tips you can give me about caring for a tiny (5.5 lb.) Chihuahua?! I'm going to be fostering one over the holidays and I'm a little concerned as I have an 11 lb. cat (who's very non-aggressive and actually likes dogs). This pup seems so delicate, and I want to do everything right (such as put a sweater on her, etc.). She came from a terrible hoarding situation in Santa Maria, but is a total lovebug despite her background. Any hints you can share would be appreciated. :) Warmly, Karen
Dear Miss. Karen - Wow, you are one amazing dog-nanny! Me and my certified dog trainer mom Joan Mayer both appreciate when animal loving humans like yourself take the time to not only care for others, but you take the extra time to plan for creating a harmonious time together.
I'd be happy to provide a few dog training tips for you and your new guest. If things work out for everyone, maybe she'll be able to come back for a visit.
- Allow ALL animals to set the pace of the situation. In other words, don't force the pup or the kitty to like each other. Unless one is in danger of getting hurt, allow each one to communicate in his and her own language, while you and other humans refrain from interrupting the "conversation."
- Think "chicken"! Or steak or salmon. I'm talking good ol' fashioned Pavlovian conditioning! Whether you're dressing her up in a sweater, picking her up, or when the kitty enters the room, your pup gets little tidbits of chicken. This way she associates all of these things with yummy treats! She'll begin to love each one because each is followed by chicken! For additional information on dogs learning by association, check out this blog post I wrote on creating good first impressions between two dogs.
- Small doesn't equal toy. Us tinier poochies tend to cause humans to react like we're toys! They often want to grab at us or pick us up and squeeze us like we're stuffed animals. Humans need to keep in mind that we're real live animals that have preferences, feelings and emotions. We have to learn to trust you first. So this goes back to the first two tips: allow your foster chihuahua to set the pace on trusting others. Pair chicken (or some other yummy juicy meat type treat) with the person, place, thing or situation you want us to love, and she should - with time and patience on your part of course.
- House Training: Take the time to show your guest where the "bathroom" is. She might understand where to potty where she used to live, but possibly not in your home. For house training tips please check out these blog posts.
- Proper Identification: make sure she's wearing a collar with ID that has YOUR information on it. Even a temporary plastic tag - just in case she gets lost while staying with you, this way whoever finds her can contact you directly.