Monday, May 31, 2010

Penny can: correcting dog jumping

Last week we experienced private dog training, round 2: a class targeted on curing Maxwell of his jumping habit. When I say cure, I realize that it is an exaggeration. This is probably a bad habit we will fight until Maxwell is too old to jump anymore -- the dog trainer even said so. I went in hoping to cure, but now I am realistically hoping to lessen the jumping, and as for myself, freak out less when guests arrive.

The dog trainer's solution is a penny can, used correctly. More on that later in the post. To understand this story, though, you need to understand what we've attempted over the years.

A short history of Maxwell's jumping:
When Maxwell was a new puppy, he would excitedly jump when the doorbell rang or a guest entered the house. At this point, he was small enough that visitors would hold his legs, which probably assisted in egging on this bad behavior.

Then Maxwell turned into a full-grown dog over night. Not only does he weigh 85 pounds, but he's unnaturally long as well, to the point that when he jumps on his hind legs he easily comes up to my chin (I'm 5'3").  Maxwell jumps because he wants to be in a person's face when he greets. He wants to be loved, but he goes about it the wrong way.

Maxwell, black dog, is freakishly long. Matt calls him The Bullet.

One time he attacked our friend Jamie as she was walking up our entryway stairs and "made out" with her, as Jamie says (this is probably apt). Soon after, when meeting my sister-in-law Amy, the perfect storm occurred and Maxwell went in to jump at her just as she was bending down, bruising her nose on the first day of her one-year anniversary trip with my brother. I was absolutely mortified (unlike the owners of another dog who shrugged and said, "Sorry," when their little hellion bit my leg).

It was time to get down to business. 

How do you train a dog to stop jumping?

Solution #1: Penny can #1
Matt, an intrepid online researcher, much like myself, read that the best way to get a dog to stop unwanted jumping was to create a penny can. We love Eclipse mints, so we took an empty can, added about 20 pennies, and we would shake it anytime Maxwell jumped. We also shook it anytime he grabbed a throw pillow, one of his bad behaviors that he (mostly) stopped.

Here were our mistakes with this solution:
1) We shook the penny can like a baby's rattle, vigorously, too long and too often.
2) We used the penny can to correct two different bad behaviors.

Solution #2: Tempt Maxwell with cheese
We wanted our guests to enter our house like normal people whom we can greet, take their coats and then direct them upstairs for a drink instead of having to battle our giant beast, the guardian of our house, upon arrival. We thought by having pieces of American cheese in front of Maxwell, we could entice him/reward him with a high-order treat so he could ignore our guests.

Here's the problem with this solution:
Maxwell would ignore them as they entered, eat his cheese and then run upstairs to jump on guests, who were by this point likely drinking a glass of red wine. Awesome.

Solution #3: Keep Maxwell on his leash
We would put up the baby gate we have at the top of the entryway stairs so that guests could enter the lower level without Maxwell attacking them. I'd have Maxwell on his leash, and I'd keep it short so he couldn't jump. Guests would greet him when they were ready, and Maxwell would (mostly) not be able to jump.

Here's the problem with this solution:
If Matt and I are entertaining together, this solution could work. But if I'm entertaining a group of girls and Matt isn't around, I'll inevitably drop the leash in order to be a good host, and ironically by dropping the leash I turn into a bad host, as Max goes after the weakest links, the people who most clearly dislike dogs in general and Max in particular.

Solution #4: Train our guests
We've tried leaving a sign on our door when expecting company, something along the lines of,"Please ignore our giant, scary dog. Do not make eye contact. Do not pet him. If he tries to jump, turn your back to him and/or knee him in the stomach. You won't hurt him, trust us."

Here's the problem with this solution:
As with previous solutions, even if Maxwell managed to not jump on guests as they arrived, he would find a way to seek out the anti-Maxwell guests and try to win their love in the worst ways.

Current solution #5: Penny can #2
Last week our dog trainer asked us, "Have you tried...?" followed by all the items listed above. Yes, yes and yes. We have researched, we have been moderately creative, but we've had limited progress.

She spent some time getting Maxwell to jump on her. Fortunately, it worked, and first she tried grabbing his feet and pinching him between his toes when he jumped. He hated this, but the issue is that realistically our guests, particularly those who don't like dogs, are unlikely to agree to pinch our dog.

Then she brought out her secret weapon, her penny can, used correctly. We were thrilled when Maxwell jumped on her again, she gave the penny can a quick shake, and he cowered on the floor. She tried to get him to jump again, and he wouldn't.

Here are the rules you must follow with the penny can:
1)  Make your penny can correctly -- When creating your penny can, use an empty aluminum can approximately one-third full of pennies (throw in a couple nickels and dimes to add to the sound's intensity).

2) Be prepared -- hold the can tightly with one arm against your chest.

3) Prepare your guests -- Before friends come over, tell them: don't look at our dog; don't bend down to get closer to his level; I will be holding this loud penny can and staring at my dog's paws, so please don't think I'm being yourself to the beverages on the counter.

4) Be alert -- The second your dog's front paws lift off from the ground, you must give the penny can one immediate, fast shake. It should create a loud sound that scares the dog.

5) Don't put the penny can down too quickly -- In the case of Maxwell, if he doesn't get you in our entryway, he'll get you when you walk upstairs. We will have to keep our penny can with us and our eyes on Maxwell's front paws until Maxwell has completely settled down, which could mean not being very good hosts at first, but hopefully our friends will understand.

6) Don't use the penny can to correct more than one bad behavior -- In the same way that "sit" only means one thing, the penny can command can only mean one thing, "paws on the ground." We are allowed, though, to use the penny can if Maxwell tries to jump on guests when they're seated, or when Maxwell (rarely) tries to get on the sofa, as both instances still follow the "paws on the ground" rule.

The issue with the penny can #2 is that it can work great when Matt and I are working together, but if either one of us is alone it creates a range of difficulties. So, future house guests, be advised: the can of Fresca in my hand is not for you.

1 comment:

  1. A friend recently told me about this technique using a plastic bottle and rocks. Only eventually you can use it to generally mean "stop" or "no" for any bad behavior after you have the dog respecting it for one. I have a 17 month old 52lb mutt who is starting to challenge (work her way up the pack) and a lot of non-dog people friends who just don't listen when I ask them to turn their back on her when she jumps up. I have finally admitted to myself that her sleeping with me as an equal is no longer a good idea so that and the penny can go into effect tomorrow.