Whenever a doorbell rings in my house the terriers raise the ear-splitting alarm. They are loud and jumpy, just the way their kind has been bred for generations. Their piercing voices were intended to save their lives whenever they got stuck in a collapsed burrow while going to ground after prey. A fellow terrier breeder who actively hunts told me a story of looking for his Norfolk Terrier for a couple of days in the woods before finding him, only because the dog’s bark was audible in spite of how deep he got stuck underground. He never again complained about his terrier’s vociferous bark.
Terriers are impulsive and react fast and with total abandon. When that doorbell rings, they bark and appear by the front door before I have time to barely turn towards the entry. In the moment it’s difficult to be grateful for the fact that should they ever get stuck in a collapsed burrow, I would find them. However, for all their impulsivity and reactive nature they settle fast. All I have to do is acknowledge their alarm, tell them they did their job splendidly and now have another job of keeping their feet on the ground.
When people visit, my dogs are too excited to offer a sit, especially as new people pay attention to them. However, if their bodies are free to dance a happy dance, their tails free to wag up a storm, and their happy spirit allowed to remain unbridled, they are great at switching to a “work mode” of keeping their feet from jumping up on visitors and lowering their voices. All while happiness abounds.
When other Norwich Terrier owners visit us, especially those with multiple-terrier households (who know the barking mad excitement, pun intended, of terriers feeding off each other’s energy), I get a lot of compliments on how well behaved my dogs are. Well, our communication starts in puppyhood. Little time invested early pays dividends for life. I will share some specific protocols I use and the reasons behind them. They all came about as a reaction to something undesirable my dogs were doing, or because I felt there was a need for some specific behavior. And everything is a work in progress.
Four On The Floor (Feet On The Ground)
Every dog breed is predisposed to react a certain way in a given situation. Most reactions make perfect sense when you consider the breed’s origin and intended use. In our modern lives, where our pets are family members and do not herd our sheep or keep our barns free of rats, some inborn reactions need tweaking for everyone’s sanity. Same with more general and less breed-specific canine predispositions.
Jumping up on people to solicit interaction is universal for all dogs. This is actually a very friendly reaction, aimed at inviting play. A few ruined white slacks later and that reaction is not as endearing to a human as the dog intended. And this is where the unfortunate “Stop it!”, “No!!!!”, “Sit DOWN!”(usually uttered in a threatening or menacing tone), and the like, reign. But there is an easier, less stressful and not confidence suppressing way to reach an understanding of what works best as a request for interaction.
When it comes to any behavior pattern, repetition and feedback loop creates a neural pathway in the brain. A puppy jumps up – you pick it up, pet it, talk to it and the feedback received acts as a reinforcer. It will be followed by more jumping. Before you know it, there is no longer a pathway in the brain but a highway. To change the pattern takes not only rewiring the connection from A to B but also abandoning the previous pattern. Who wants to cut a new way through a jungle when you have a highway already built?
The best way to avoid undesirable behavior is not to give it a chance to become a pattern, no matter how strongly predisposed the dog might be to do something specific. To prevent jumping up on people I spend a lot of time interacting with my puppies and not responding to them jumping up on me. Jumping is what they default to but it does not get a reaction from me. I play with them, talk to them, pet them, hold them when they either sit or stand in front of me. That’s it! That easy! No corrections. No pushing them off me. No luring them to sitting or anything else, just simply ignoring all the jumping.
I mentioned that when visitors come my dogs “work” to keep their feet on the ground, and that is because people instinctually reach down to pet the dogs when they ask for attention, including jumping. That creates the feedback and builds a pattern in a dog’s mind that he can jump on a stranger and get a desired reaction. I offer then an even higher reward than a solo stranger’s attention by giving my and the visitor’s attention for not jumping. I quickly tell the visitors to pet the dogs when “the four are on the floor” only and add my praise.
The concept of “manding” popularized in Puppy Culture is new to me and it is similar but better than my protocol for teaching not jumping. “Manding” is an idea that a puppy can be given a way to ask for things. In PC protocols, “manding” is a behavior of sitting automatically in front of a human and is taught actively as a behavior.
In other words, while I have been teaching my litters to either stand or sit, or lay down- anything but jump- when interacting with people, PC teaches to sit and to do it automatically. The behavior is taught very early, at around week 3 or 4, using a clicker. I have to admit to slipping to my usual “feet on the ground”. However, I love the concept of an automatic behavior of “asking” by sitting and I see its tremendous value especially for a pet. Show dogs would have to learn standing/stacking as a separate command.
This litter is offering automatic “manding” in one specific context of puppies running to the edge of the x-pen to greet people. The boys immediately offer an automatic sit, but when they are out and about they do not “mand” but are very good about remembering to keep their feet on the ground.
Norwich Terriers have a known aversion to wetness (something I talked about in the post on PC Puppy Party). They are earth dogs through and through. My protocol for creating a positive association with wetness is a 3-step process:
- First, I introduce a damp towel in the puppy pen alongside some high value object- an exciting toy or a delicious chew, something I know puppies love. In the photo above the puppies need to step onto a damp towel to get to a white feather boa, an all-time favorite.
- Next, the damp towel is thoroughly wetted and covers a larger area. An exciting toy is placed in a spot that can be accessed only by stepping on the soaking wet towel.
- In the last phase I substitute the towel with cookie sheets filled with water.
In a fantastic turn of events we had rain all day today. What would usually be a less than ideal weekend scenario proved just great for waterproofing puppies. I ran outside with them into the rain, calling them excitedly. We ran for about 40 seconds, which was a deceptively long time to be running in the pretty heavy rain, and rushed back home. As I was reaching for some towels to dry the pups in our laundry room they climbed into the toy box and pulled out nothing other than the white feather boa I was using while conditioning them to water! A coincidence? I think not!
They tugged this thing all over the place, running the “terrier dryer”, which is fast and zigzag zooming around to dry themselves. All the while they did not let the boa out of their mouths. I took a lot of blurry photos until at one point Primo needed to pee so he ran onto the potty tray, still holding onto the boa!
We repeated our “rain run” a couple of times throughout the day, each time with more enthusiasm, and always returning to a tug with the feather boa. Only time will tell how well they got “waterproofed” but given the Norwich hatred of wetness and rain, I’ll take any improvement over “no00000, noooooo, no thank you”.