Dear Old Trainer: Your training tips worked wonders with Zipper, my big 2-year-old mixed breed, but he still has one bad habit. He behaves for days, then, just as I relax, he grabs any item left on the ground at the dog park and takes off running. He doesn’t chew it up, just plays keep away. It’s the only bad habit he has ever had. Will he ever learn to stop it?
– Georgia, Walnut Creek
A: Yes, when he matures a little.
At two years, Zipper is still a teenager. He knows how to behave, but stealing an object and running, everyone yelling and chasing him while he plays catch me if you can, is so much fun he can’t resist a walk on the wild side now and then.
There is a wonderful saying in Spanish, “cosa mala nunca muere” – a bad thing never dies. Anyone watching weeds flourish while the tomato plants wilt agrees with that saying, and it is just as true in dog training.
A dog never forgets his favorite bad habit, he just quits doing it when the desire to please you becomes stronger than the habit.
If Zipper takes time to think, he resists the impulse, which is why he behaves most of the time, but an immature mind doesn’t always take time to think.
Keep an eye on him and he will tip his hand when he is about to fall off the wagon. His ears will come up, his eyes will get excited, and he will assume the “play position,” spreading his front legs and dropping his chest close to the ground.
If you interrupt him at that point by calling his name and touching his neck, you break his focus on the bad habit and remind him you are the boss.
Be patient and keep working with him and always pet him and love on him when he does it right.
Dear Old Trainer: Our 18-month-old lab/golden mix, Shaka, is a wonderful dog, but is so big the bathroom looks like a hurricane hit it after we bathe her. She has a great time, but it wears us out. Is there anything we can do?
– Gene, Fresno
A: Yes. Bathe her outside.
Call her over to the garden hose, use a leash to keep her in place, then run water over her entire body, including head, feet and tail. Move your hand through her fur to ensure the water is getting down to the skin. Talk to her and pet her to keep her calm. If she starts to shake, grab the fur on her neck and tell her, “don’t shake.” You don’t need shampoo unless she’s rolled in something sticky.
When you finish, say “shake,” and pet and praise her when she does.
Dry her with a towel and let her roll in the grass if she wants. You’ll both have a good time, she will smell good, and her coat will be fluffy. Make it fun and she’ll come running the next time you pick up the hose.
Bathe her once a week in warm weather, once a month in cold.