Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Positive Reinforcement

This is a somewhat lengthy post on how I was finally able to toilet train my little shih tzu, Micki. It took a while but now we are all reaping the benefits.

1. Teach by Repetition

As with most things, people and pets learn through repetition. Whenever I wanted to teach Micki to do no. 1 and 2 outside, I let her go with P-nut and let her watch him do his potty duties. And I always ask her prior to letting her out of her cage, "Do you want to go out and pee now?" I wanted her to understand that pee = outside. Because as a puppy, she has been doing it at will anytime and any place, which includes---much to our horror---even INSIDE the house.

Just recently, Micki has been getting the hang of peeing and pooping outside. When I let her out in the front yard, I sometimes watch her from inside the house (we have an accordion so I can block the entrance with my foot), or go out with her as she walks around and sniffs stuff. If after a while she has not done anything and wants to get back into the house, I firmly put my foot down and tell her "No. Not until you have peed." And yes, this might entail 10-15 mins under the sun, or even late nights (I let her pee even at 12mn so she won't fuss the whole night), but the sacrifice far outweighs having to pick up after her if by "accident" she poops in the house.

I've been doing this whole routine for the past months, she has gotten used to it and even gets giddy when I say, "Do you want to go outside?" because she knows she can now relieve herself and get to play with P-nut as well.

For the record, I only gave her a good spanking once when she was so stubborn and ended up sitting on her pee, just hours after I have given her a bath. 

2. Praise and Acknowledge

My Dad says I spoil my dogs too much. Well in truth I spoil them with compliments. I talk to my dogs ALL the time. I talk to them before I leave the house, when I get back from work, when I'm about to feed them, etc etc. I treat dogs like little kids that should always be kept in the loop. I mean, if you are going to ignore them, why take care of live animals in the first place?

A good example is whenever P-nut and Micki does something good (like let's say, finishes their bowl of kibble), I cup their faces in my hand and say "very good!" and give them a kiss on the head. Afterwhich they run around and wag their tales in approval.
P-nut also has a habit of keeping his chew toys somewhere inside the house that even the cleaning lady can't find. It's sometimes hidden for days.

When we've finally given up hope of ever finding it, he comes to me with the chew toy in mouth and wags excitedly. Then I say, "What's that? You've got a new toy!" And then he prances around the house and proudly shows off his "new" toy. He's been doing that for years but I still find it funny.

And now what I mean by acknowledge: I acknowledge their presence and good behavior as often as I can. Pets have feelings too and they want to feel loved and important. I greet my pets a very loud and gregarious "good morning!" the moment I wake up (P-nut sometimes sleeps beside me). I say goodbye everytime I leave the house and greet him as soon as I arrive. Separation anxiety is a Chihuahua trait (?), and so I always tell P-nut I will be back as soon as I can (even if it means being away for days). And as soon as I get back, he's the 2nd one I greet (parents 1st of course) and I play with him a bit before I change into my normal house clothes.

I know some people who are not fond of pets might think some of the things I do are absurd. I love my dogs, and I take care of them myself --- feeding, bathing, down to cutting their nails. We consider them as family, and so some of the items here may not even be classified as fool-proof rules. It basically boils down to your patience and persistence, and of course just pure love for them hairly little critters. Don't get me started on how I care for my hamster now....


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