Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Getting Tough Breaking the Tough Habits

The dogs and horses always seem to know when I'm under the weather, and they thoroughly take advantage of it.  Old behavior problems that I thought I trained out of them creep back, and the old techniques I used no longer work.  I'm partly to blame, because when I don't feel well, I don't have the energy to be training, and I either take shortcuts or just ignore whatever is going on because I don't want to have to deal with it.  However, now that I've had my fill of these obnoxious animal habits, it's time to get creative.

Stewie has this aggravating behavior in which he refuses to eat his dog food, but he'll stand over it for hours and attack any dog that comes near his bowl.  He actually baits the other dogs into trying to steal his food, just so that he can attack them.  I'm supposed to check to see if all the dogs ate their food, but lately I've been so anxious about just getting back into a reclining position that I rush through my chores and go back to bed.

In the past, I'd pick up the bowl, set it on the counter, and try to feed it to him at the next meal.  He'd eventually get hungry and eat it as soon as I set it in front of him.  That doesn't work now.  He seems hell bent on starving himself for the sake of the game.  I know that if I serve chicken and rice, he'll gobble it up without delay, but I don't want to reward him for refusing to eat his dog food and this is not a case of him refusing to eat because he has an upset tummy.  This is about him exerting dominance over the other dogs.  It doesn't matter if the dog food is wet or dry.  He won't eat it.  So, I resorted to shaming him for not eating, and that seemed to do the trick, but only temporarily.  With each meal I had to get in his face and scold him, which put me in a bad mood.  I wanted him to stop playing these games and just eat.

So, one day Stewie and Scrappy got into a fight over their food, and I decided to just let nature run its course.  I let them duke it out.  Scrappy won and ate all of Stewie's food.  So, at the next meal, Stewie began alternating between taking little fussy bites of his food and then guarding it.  Scrappy came over, and Stewie ran off into a corner to quiver while Scrappy ate his food.  At some point here, Stewie has to get hungry enough to eat his food before Scrappy can get to it.  It shouldn't be difficult, because Scrappy is old and slow.  Of course, I don't want Scrappy to start developing food stealing behaviors, but for now it serves its purpose.  If I can't get the dog to eat, then perhaps another dog can get it to eat.

Now before someone reports me for allowing dogs to fight, nobody got hurt.  Nobody even got bit.  Scrappy won because he simply bared what little teeth he has left and growled longer.

Then there are the potty games.  There are so many of them.  I had no idea how manipulative dogs could be until I got into a position where I had to take them outside on leash to go potty.  I also had no idea how gross dogs could be until I had to supervise them while they go potty.  If Stewie needs to go outside, he refuses to go out alone and will run away from me and the leash in order to pounce on Midge to get her to go out with him.  If I take the two of them out together, as soon as Midge starts peeing, Stewie lifts his leg in the same spot to pee simultaneously, only he usually ends up peeing on Midge.  That's gross.

In fact, all the dogs are territorial about where they pee -- boys and girls alike.  They always want to do it on top of where another dog peed, so if two of them start peeing at the same time, they'll cut it off and run over to where the other dog was peeing and pee on top of it.  All this vying for higher positions wastes my time and hurts me physically because they are always running to the end of their leashes and yanking my arms.  They are all too little to have choke chains, and according to my dog trainer, choke chains are the tools needed to get dogs to stop pulling on leashes.  Midge could probably wear one, but the scruff around her neck is so thick that I doubt it she would feel the chain tighten.

Then there's Midge and her sniff-a-thons.  She'll hang back acting like she doesn't need to go outside while I take the other two dogs out.  When I come back inside, she stands at the door asking to go outside.  So, I take her out, and she makes a game out of dragging me all over the yard to sniff the spots where the other dogs did their business, but she refuses to do her own business and just wastes my time.  I'm growing wise to that game and refusing to take her out if she refuses to go out the first time I offer to take her.  I'm teaching her than I can be more stubborn than her.

Of course, some will say the "simple" solution is to take all three dogs out at the same time, but I have to be up to that.  If I have three dogs on leashes, they runs circles around me and wrap me up like a mummy.  I have to be aware of what each dog is doing at every given second or someone might stick his nose in a bush and get bit by a rattlesnake.  All three pull in different directions, and the stronger ones pull me off balance, and I, in turn, pull another dog who is in the middle of doing its business, which is what I want it to do, so I don't want to punish it by yanking on its collar and dragging it away from its potty spot.

Scrappy's bad habit just has to do with him being so old and not being able to hold it, which is a little more forgivable.  I'll take him outside, and he will stop on the driveway or the staircase to pee.  He doesn't wait until we reach the dirt.  Since I have to walk in those locations, I'm forced to constantly be stepping over pee puddles.  In this case, I have tried pulling him off the walkway into the dirt while he was peeing, but he's strong.  I think he's got some Bulldog in him.  The only times I succeed in getting him to pee in the dirt is if I carry him there, because he hasn't gotten brave enough to pee in my arms yet.  It's only a matter of time, though.

Midge also is really bad about acting as if she doesn't need to go when I have her outside, and then when we are in the garage heading back into the house after I've been telling her to go poo poo for ten minutes, she'll suddenly drag me back out into the yard to poo.  She waits until that last possible second to admit that she needs to go.

Oh, and then there's the poop eating.  Trying to convince these dogs that we are outside to poop and not to eat poop is impossible, so I have to clean up the poo the minute they poop or someone will eat it.  That's totally gross.  I've always had dog yards right outside our back door, so all I had to do was open the door to let the dogs out.  I had no idea what disgusting things were going on out there.  Now I am privy to such information, unfortunately.

The most frustrating potty behavior is when I force the dogs to go outside right before I am about to eat, because I don't want their urges interrupting my meal, and then as soon as I sit down and start eating, their juices start flowing and they insist that they have to go potty.  They race back and forth between me and the door, giving me pleading expressions.  I tell them, "I just took you outside.  I'm eating now.  I am not going to leave my food and let it get cold, so you are just going to have to hold it."  Then they go on the floor, I scream, and I get up from my food to clean up the mess before it soaks any deeper into the carpet.  I'm damned if I do.  I'm damned if I don't.  I can't tell you how many meals these dogs have ruined for me.  I need to get into the habit of locking all of them in some distant room while I eat where they can't see or smell my food.

I can't put them outside in the kennel, because they bark and eat the grass, and then eventually puke up rolls of grass up onto my carpet.  I'm telling you...  I really am damned if I do and damned if I don't.  There is no simple solution.

Then there's Midge in the kitchen.  Oh - my - God, this dog is stubborn.  Every time I attempt to prepare food in the kitchen, the second I walk away from where I set food down on the counter, she runs right underneath it and starts licking the floor just in case a crumb fell.  Then when I need to return to that spot at the counter, she's blocking me and she refuses to budge.  I holler at her to get out of the kitchen, and she ignores me.  Then I stomp my feet and chase her, and the whole time she keeps running around my legs back to that same spot to lick the floor.  She's too heavy to lift, so I have to shove her out of the kitchen with my foot, and the whole time she's just trying to break free to get back to that licking spot.

When she's really bad, she anticipates where I am going to walk next, and runs over there to block me.  If I need to put food in the oven, she runs to the oven, so that I have to either shove her out of the way or lean over her.  She tries to make me drop the food on the floor by getting under my feet and tripping me.  If I need to go to the pantry or the fridge, she races over there and throws her body against the door so that I can't open it.  I guess it's her way of saying, "Give me some!"

There is no solution to this problem beyond remembering to lock her up before each time I need to go into the kitchen.  There is no way I am going to install gates at each end of the kitchen, because I need the freedom to move about.  I'm not going to let a dog make me a prisoner in my own home.  So, it's the dog who is going to have to be locked up and lose her freedom.

What kills me is when I need to go to the bathroom really bad and Midge runs ahead of me and throws her body across the bathroom doorway.  If I step over her, she jumps up and throws her nose in the air to trip me.  I don't know what her incentive is to prevent me from using the toilet, but that behavior really pushes my buttons.  You'd think getting accidentally kicked in the head would be a natural consequence and she would learn to never pull that stunt again, but she just keeps on doing it.  I guess it's that herding instinct.  Between what I've gone through with my Shelty and now my Corgi, I've said I will never own a dog from the herding family ever again.  If a stray herding dog shows up on my doorstep, it's out of luck.

I realized the other day that I rarely use my office anymore, because Midge has some kind of obsession with it.  Every time she hears me open the door to my office, she races through the door and runs under my desk, getting herself tangled in computer cables.  I have to untangle her, drag her out of the office, shut the door to keep her out, and re-attach the cables to my PC.  Despite having an intense storm phobia, the dog is attracted to electricity.  She'll bury herself in cables and lay against electric sockets during thunderstorms.  How bizarre is that?  Then when it is time for me to come out of the office, she's right there waiting to race back in, so I have to squeeze through a tiny opening and keep my foot on her to keep her out.  Going in and out of the a room should be a simple thing, but Midge turns it into such a hassle that I find myself avoiding the room all together.  So, she may find herself looking at the inside of a portable kennel more and more often.

My mare Gabbrielle has been driving me bananas by using bad timing and bad placement when she poops.  She thinks it is funny to wait for us to clean up every pile of manure, watch us pull the wagon through the gate, and the second we latch it, she poops so that we have to unlatch the gate, and go back in to clean it up.  Also, every time that I approach her stall, she turns her butt to me and poops right where I need to walk to open or close the gate.  One time I was in the process of opening the gate, and she pressed her butt against the gate and lifted her tail.  I began smacking her on the rump yelling, "No!  No!  No!" and she just stood there pooping in my face and blocking me from opening the gate.  She is a rude horse.  And gross.

I started spanking her on the rump as soon as she pointed it at me, and now she blocks me from opening the gate with her chest while she poops on any hay she left lying on the ground, so that none of the other horses can eat it.  She has this attitude that if she can't eat her own hay, then no one else can have it.  The silly thing is that she can eat her own hay, but she chooses to leave it in order to run around to all the other horses' stalls to see if they've got something better in their food troughs.

Also, when I am cleaning up manure, I cannot get the horses to move out of the way.  They all stand in one stall (the one with the most shade) on top of the manure, so that I can't clean it.  If I don't have the energy to hike all the way to the tack room to get a whip to crack at them to chase them out, I usually end up just leaving that one stall dirty.

Bombay and Gabbrielle are really good about turning their heads away when I shove hay or pour grain into their food troughs, but Lostine and Rock are a different story.  Lostine will try to eat the grain as I am pouring it, and she manages to knock the grain out of the stall into the dirt.  It would take me forever to pick up each little pellet, so I have to chalk it up to a loss and let the bunnies eat it.  But grain is just too expensive to have to deal with that crap every day.  So, I have to remember to force her to turn her head away before I pour.  Just like with anything, that requires a good memory and a change in my habits.

Rock is a little more dangerous.  He gets really grabby and will accidentally bite my fingers if I'm not careful.  He dunks his head into the grain bucket before I can even start pouring it, and he often knocks the whole thing out of my hands onto the ground.  The bucket is so big that I can only slip it and one hand through the bars.  The other day he dunked his head into the bucket before my hand made it through the bars and I got my hand smashed and the lip of the bucket cut into my fingers.  I hauled off and spanked him for that.  So, now I have to train my stupid brain to remember that incident and force him to get away from me before I feed him.

Then there's the gate blocking.  Every time that I need to open or close a gate to a stall, the horses stand right up against it.  I have to push the gate into them to try to get them to move, and a lot of times they just push the gate back with their noses or chests or hips and smash my fingers.  Sometimes, if I put a lot of pressure on them, they will slowly back up or side-pass to get out of the way of the gate, but it feels like eons as I grow exhausted from waiting through one tiny step at a time.

The quick solution for all of these problems is to go in like gangbusters with a long whip, because the long whips wake the horses up and get their attention.  The problem is that I have a cruddy memory and am not in the habit of going to the tack room first to grab a whip.  A horse usually has to annoy me before I'll remember to get the whip.  I can't leave the whip right by the gate because the ground squirrels will try to shred it and drag the pieces underground to nest with.  I can't hang it up high on the outside of the barn, because the horses will reach over and shred it for fun.  I have to store it in the tack room.  So, it's really a matter of just remembering to go there first to get the whip and let it become a habit.

The other day I was at my wits end with their antics.  They were all trying to block me from cleaning up poop, so I cracked the whip and hit the aluminum roof of the barn, which made an explosive noise, and they all took off in a stampede.  Then I was able to clean stalls in peace, at least until Rock sneaked up behind me and tried stealing my whip.  I chased him away from the whip, and then when I walked away from the wagon, Rock chewed the tires and broke the handle.  So, I had to chase him away from the wagon.

Then all the horses ran into the stalls and pooped right after I cleaned them.  I chased them out and cleaned the barn again.  When all was said and done, I chased them around with the whip for good measure, and then told them when they had my permission to go into their stalls.  Gabbrielle was the only horse who didn't cooperate, so she got chased around some more.  When she finally went in her stall, she immediately pooped right where I had to walk to close the gate.  So, I chased her back out, cleaned up the manure, and gave her my permission to go back in when I felt that she was ready to cooperate with me.

She has this pattern of behavior in which she refuses to do what I ask, and then she does it, but spites me in some way, like peeing or pooping in my face.  I was telling my farrier about this, and he didn't believe me.  He said that she probably just poops in that same spot because it's furthest away from her food.  It's really not, and how can he explain her motive for always pooping there right when I am opening or closing the gate?  Also, she does poop in her hay when she doesn't want the other horses to eat it.  I have no doubt that if she ever decides she doesn't like the farrier, she will lift her tail and poop on him.  She uses poop as a weapon, and I can see the humor and pleasure in her eyes when she offends someone.  I know my horses well, and they are very smart animals with habits and feelings.

The neighbors must think I am crazy, because each time I walk down to the barn, I end up yelling -- either in pain because a horse smashed my fingers, or in anger because a horse broke something or did something to make my life harder, or I'm yelling just to let the horses know that I mean business and I'm not going to take any crap.

Ultimately, as I attempt to train bad behaviors out of the horses, they are attempting to train me as well.  They already have trained me to clean up manure long before dinner time, because if I wait until dinner, they surround the manure wagon and won't let me get to it with my fork.  They want me to stop cleaning and start feeding them.  That's usually when I start chucking the manure I have in my fork at them to chase them off, but they've grown wise to that tactic and just stand there letting it rain down on them.  Then I'm kicking myself because now I have to groom them.  I just can't win.  I'm too impatient and they are too smart.

Speaking of neighbors, two of them were standing in my backyard socializing while I was trying to get my dogs to do their business.  When people are on our property, the dogs get so excited about seeing them that they pull on the leashes and bark, but worse yet, they forget to pee and poo, and I wind up finding it later inside my house and have to scrub it out of the carpet.

I now officially have two neighbors coming onto my property to weed it.  I had two neighbors at my last place who did that too.  I like to keep things natural.  It's good to have weeds around here, because otherwise the high winds just blow dirt all over the place.  We weed where we walk, so that we can spot the venomous reptiles before they strike, but there is no way that we can weed four acres by hand.  One neighbor invested a good chunk of change into bringing a bulldozer onto his property to clear out all the weeds, and his place was spic-n-span clean for about two weeks.  Now it's just covered in weeds again.

I'm not sure why people drive themselves crazy trying to keep up with weeds.  Just relax and let it be.  It's not like any of these neighbors are trying to grow a garden or use the land.  They simply don't like looking at weeds, and I'm sure they blame me for the weeds on their property since I don't get all of them off my property.  There's definitely some truth to that, but I am sure that even if everyone in a one mile radius agreed to bulldoze all the weeds off their properties, we still would have weeds growing in a couple of weeks.  This the desert.  Everything here is hardy.  The weeds have survived for eons for a reason.  Why fight it?

Between the weeders and my next door neighbor working from home now, I always have an audience close at hand when I'm trying to train my horses.  I think that because I have been so tough on my horses lately, the neighbors are a bit intimidated by me and wouldn't dare come over and give me unsolicited advice on how to handle something they know nothing about.  I am sure they don't understand why I fly off the handle at the horses for doing natural things such as pooping, and they think I'm being totally unreasonable.  However, the horses have choices, and they keep making bad ones.  They have plenty of space to poop in and they don't need to do it in my face right when I am trying to open or close a gate or right where I just cleaned.  They are clearly messing with me.  The neighbors don't see that, though.  They just see my reactions.

The following morning, after the long whip chase, I stumbled outside half-asleep and started to walk through the gate to do my usual routine of herding the horses into their stalls, but I stopped short when I looked at the expressions on Bombay and Gabbrielle's faces.  They were ready to jerk me around with all the joy in their hearts.  I immediately turned on my heel and went to the tack room to get the whip.  Bombay and Gabbrielle took off at a gallop.  Lostine and Rock stayed put, because they clearly knew they had done nothing wrong and had no intention of doing anything wrong, so I closed their gates, petted them, and told them I would feed them.

Bombay and Gabbrielle came racing back to the barn to eat.  Bombay got there first and he started to turn into Gabberielle's stall, which is one of the little tricks they've been playing on me lately.  I gave him a look that let him know my next step was to reach for the whip, and he quickly turned out of her stall and went into his own.  Then Gabbrielle arrived and started to make a beeline for Bombay's stall, which she prefers because it is closer to the haystack, and I gave her the same look.  She veered away from me, spun around and went into her own stall.  She wisely stayed away from the gate as I closed it, and chose not to poop in my face.  Everyone got fed quickly and lived happily ever after.

Now I just need to learn how to train gnats... or at the very least I need a way to kill them without using noxious poison sprays inside the house.  We harvested some oranges from our orange tree and brought them into the house.  Apparently, they had these tiny gnats on them, so now we can't do anything without having gnats flying up our noses, in our eyes, ears, and mouths.  If you clap your hands to try to smash them, the air flow just pushes them away.  I keep knocking my glasses off my face batting these gnats away and the bridge of my nose is becoming a casualty.  Last night I must have been trying to get a gnat off in my sleep, because I woke up with blood on my nose where I had scratched it with a fingernail.

If I get really lucky, the air wave of me clapping my hands together forces the gnat down my shirt into my bra where I can trap it between my boobs and smash it.  The best technique that has worked for me so far is to start up my laptop and wait.  As soon as the screen starts glowing, some unsuspecting gnat lands on it and I carefully press down on it with my thumb.  I don't want to ruin the touch screen by pounding on it, nor do I want to cause a breeze that will blow the gnat out of range.

At the very least, I think it is safe to say that I can totally relate to what it feels like to be a horse.  That's why I let my horses' tails, manes and forelocks grow as long at they desire.  Those are the only weapons that nature gave them that they can use against gnats and flies.  I try to help as much as possible with fly traps, fly eating bugs, fly spray, and fly masks, but nothing is ever guaranteed to work 100%... especially since the geldings like to make a game out of ripping fly masks off each other's faces.  But that's another battle for another day.


ellie k said...

Sounds like getting tuff is the answer, animals forget or think you forget and go back to there own ways. We have gnats here called no see-ems and that is just what they are but they can bite very hard. I start slapping my self trying to kill them. Now I usually spray some off arounnd my ankles and rub a little on my arms.

fernvalley01 said...

bad habits are truly the shits

appydoesdressage said...

A gnat trap is pretty easy, find a used can or jar and fill it about 1/2 way with cider vinegar. Seal the jar/can and poke some small holes in the top and leave it in the kitchen or where the gnats are.

If you don't have a handy jar/can you can cut the top 1/3 of a soda bottle off and placing the top 1/3 upside down in the rest of the bottle to form a funnel. Then tape to secure the two parts.

Good luck!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Wow! I can't believe some people actually read the whole post. I think this is the longest rant I've ever posted. I wonder if it would make it into the Guinness Book of World Records.

I have a new poop mystery. I cleaned all the poop out of the dog yard last night right before sunset, and when I woke up this morning, there were 14 fresh piles! How can three dogs poop 14 times between sunset and sunrise? I'm starting to think that either stray dogs are visiting our yard or a neighbor is bringing his dog over to use our yard. This is definitely domestic dog poop -- not coyote poop.

Water Girl said...

Have you considered using a pinch or prong collar with Midge? It's basically a collar made out of links with prongs on them that give the dog a pinch when they try and pull or you give a correction. They work really well for stopping sniffing and pulling. They come in different sizes and are adjustable by adding or removing links.
I hope you can find a solution soon! Those habits sound tough to deal with on a daily basis. And as for the gnats…welcome to the club. We've had a 'fungus gnat' invasion in Southern CA.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

I put cider vinegar and a prong collar on my shopping list for this weekend. All the animals are so much better now that I've made my boundaries clear. I think the horses were a lot quicker to respond than the dogs, but I've actually had some low stress days without having to chase horses around and yell commands at dogs all day.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

So far the gnat trap hasn't been working, so we hung up a sticky fly trap. That didn't work either. The dang things prefer to be in our faces all the time. I've been keeping my hands over my mouth and nose, and they started flying in my eyes and getting under my eyelids. This is bizarre. I've never had this problem before.

achieve1dream said...

I don't know if I can remember everything but I'm going to try.

First the sticky fly strip things do work, but the trick is to turn off all the other lights in the house and hang it right by a night light. I caught over fifty in one night doing that. Also be sure to pour bleach down all of your drains because they will keep breeding there once they have a foothold in your house. It took me forever to get rid of them. They are so annoying!!! The fly strips are the only thing that worked. I did have a small night light in the bathroom so I don't kill myself getting up to pee in the middle of the night, but otherwise the only light on at night was that night light by the fly strip.

As for the whip. Since you have to go to the feed room to get feed can you keep it there instead of in the tack room? Maybe leave it in the feed bucket so you don't forget it? Or in the much wagon? If I keep forgetting something I try to leave it in my way of some chore I don't forget. :)

For the dogs I feel you. It's not simple to train a dog, much less three dogs!! It sounds like you need crates for all of them and start using them a LOT until they figure out they can't push you around anymore. Taking more than one dog out to go potty on leash is like a torture exercise. It never goes as planned! I definitely feel for you on that one. If you felt good, had time and only had one dog it probably would be simple, but with things the way they are now it's just so hard. I hope everyone is cooperating better since you put your foot down and I hope you're feeling better!

P.S. The reason Midge is leaning against electrical stuff during storms is because it grounds her. A lot of dogs like being next to toilets or in bathtubs for the same reason. They feel the electricity in the storms and it's uncomfortable. That's what I was told anyway.