About two weeks ago I welcomed Lexie to live with Gatsby, Dr Seuss and me until she finds her forever home. She is a very energetic sweet lady who has sadly lacked any structure during the first year of her life.
Our focus for the first week was adding structure to Lexie's life through introducing her to a schedule, leash walks and crate training which went hand-in-hand with potty training. Let me get on my soapbox for a moment and remind everyone that putting your dog out in the backyard for a couple hours unsupervised is NOT appropriate enrichment and exercise. Dogs look for a pack leader to challenge them and initiate exercise and play - that's where we are supposed to come into the picture. They WANT us to give them a "job".
Okay, moving on. As you probably know by now, my approach with dogs is very direct and all about consistent exposure and reinforcement. It is my belief that dogs, like humans, learn through repetition and positive experiences but also require someone to push them outside their comfort zone to grow and mature. We need to give our dogs more credit and stop babying them as if they might "break" when confronted with a challenge.
For Lexie, the introduction of boundaries and structures has translated into actual physical boundaries through crate desensitization both while I am out of the house and even while I am home doing work. Does this mean she should be in a crate 24/7 to figure out that it's okay? Most definitely NOT. It's all about balance. Currently Lexie probably is spending about 16 to 20 hours out of each day inside her crate. Yes, you read that correctly, she is spending close to 20 hours of each day in her crate, BUT for the 4 to 8 hours she is out of the crate, she is at the park on a 30-foot lead running with Gatsby, going on runs with Gatsby and me, practicing important skills like "stay" and "come" with me one-on-one, playing at the off-leash dog park, etc. Thanks to this intense attention while she is out of the crate, she is very ready for a nice long nap in her crate in between "workouts".
Before you call PETA, please focus on the results. One week ago, Lexie required 3 baths per day along with 3 full deep cleanings of her crate. Why? After being in her crate for only 20 minutes, she would pee and/or poop and proceed to pace through it out of nervous energy. Her barking was also a very apparent sign of her obvious lack of familiarity to structure and independence. This display occurred even when her bladder should have been completely empty. Today, Lexie willingly walks into her crate where she is greeted by lots of enrichment (aka toys), and for the past week she and her crate have remained clean and dry. Comparing the Lexie I knew two weeks ago to the Lexie I know today, I would have to say she is MUCH happier with her new boundary-filled life.
The other obvious sign of Lexie's lack of structure prior to moving in with me, is her diligent and even dangerous resource guarding habits. Please keep in mind that a dog is much more relaxed and comfortable if they have an idea of what to expect on the daily agenda - aka a structured schedule. For Lexie, the uncertainty of what time her next meal might come or whether she would get her toy back after having it taken away coupled with her inability to identify the pack leader (because none was ever introduced to her) resulted in a nervousness and aggression even when she was drinking water. Lexie would physically shake while growling when she ate or drank, and she would lash out at anyone (or any dog) who tried to approach her during that time.
THE GREAT NEWS is that thanks to consistent work and positive reinforcement, Lexie has stopped the shaking, growling and snapping with toys, water and food. The breakthrough for food guarding came from an awesome tip from the super talented Cis Frankel (www.canineintelligenceagency.com). Cis is not only an amazingly talented trainer based in Chicago but also a recognized Weimaraner breeder. As fate would have it, Gatsby, Lexie and I bumped into Cis in the park, and she suggested putting only small amounts of Lexie's food into her bowl while she was eating. This turned feeding from night to day! After only one feeding where I would continually dispense a small handful into her bowl as she ate, Lexie allowed me to start grabbing her bowl and removing it while she is eating. Coming from a dog who actually bit me only a few days ago during food desensitization, this is HUGE! THANK YOU SO MUCH CIS!!!!
So I realize this has probably been my longest post to date, but Lexie has also been both my biggest challenge and success, so I thought it only fair to dedicate a longer initial post to this superstar in the making! I can't emphasize enough how amazingly sweet she is
Don't forget to check out the Great Lakes Weimaraner Resuce page to learn more about how you can welcome Lexie (or another deserving Weim) into your family!
Growing up in the country in Pennsylvania gave me tons of experience with animals from a very early age. I later pursued a career in horseback riding and also have experience as a veterinary technician. I have a strong passion for animals and have an uncanny ability to connect with all sorts of furry friends.