Elsie Broke Mum

When you have 70lb dogs, exercise is very important. They will release energy however they can. If you don’t give them a means in which to do it that you both enjoy, then you can wave goodbye to that nice  house you have because destruction on an unimaginable scale is soon to occur.

We hike, play soccer, run, etc. (Not in the same day.)

Saturday, we found ourselves on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia, hiking Blood Mountain. The hike is a tough one, but well worth it.

As we returned from our tough hike, Elsie was pretty excited. She is still learning not to pull to keep up with Maggie and Donatello when she is walking with Mum. Thus, it was a bit difficult for Mum. (A 60 lb Bouvier puppy trying to pull you down stone ‘steps’ covered in leaves is terrifying and challenging.) As we finish the hike, several things happen at once.

Maggie and Dad finish the hike and are at the head of the trail hanging out. Maggie catches the scent of a chicken bone 20 yards off trail and heads to get it. When she does this, Elsie catches sight of her. Donatello is calling Maggie because no one wants their dog to have a chicken bone. I am trying to calm Elsie, “Yes, that is Maggie, but you are walking with me.”

Elsie takes off. Mum’s foot is between two boulders and it does not take off. Rather, it pops. And, this, my friends, is how you sprain your Mum’s ankle for her and make her relax with you on the couch for a few days.

Training Struggles, Cont.

Friday, we packed up the girls, made sure the boys had someone to check in on them, and left for my parents’ house for the weekend. (My mum had a pool party with family planned for my birthday.) Elsie, unwillingly*, takes her Dramamine and we head off on our three-hour road trip to the Scott’s.**

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Snuggles in the car.

We arrive without much of an incident and Elsie meets Gyla with the boundless energy only she is capable of harnessing while on Dramamine. With all this excitement, it was difficult for us to catch her before she pottied in the house. We took it in stride and made promises to keep an eye on her.

For the next eighteen hours, she holds it. Not knowing where to go was a HUGE setback for Miss Elsie. She understands where her spot is at our house; the magnolia tree. We have half an acre and Elsie does her business in a small patch in front of the magnolia tree, facing the house. Because schedules and routines are essential for Elsie, we feared we would have a minor complication due to travelling. We underestimated it.

Elsie continued to hold it until we made it home Sunday before dinner. She knew not to go inside, but she did not know where to eliminate. We took her out on several occasions, but there was no magnolia tree. There was no grassy patch facing the house. It was all too confusing. And, I feel a bit of regret for making the trip during a time she was making so much progress.

I am writing this more for advice when training a puppy a lot of things can be taught without routine but with consistency. We don’t tell Elsie to sit at 6:00AM and 6:00PM every day, we no longer set aside training time every after to teach her commands. Rather, we consistently teach her throughout the day and throughout the week. But, potty training requires ALL your patience, UNWAVERING consistency and commitment to a schedule, and familiarity. I know, for certain, we will not travel again until Elsie is 100% house broken.


I have often gotten frustrated with Elsie unfairly. Maggie was a breeze to train. She was adopted young, left outside during the day with her first owner, so when I adopted her at eight months, potty training was a joke. I popped her once when I caught her doing it inside and she never pottied inside again. Maggie spent so much time away from her first owner, she was aching to please and loved the attention and rewards she received from obeying commands. I have held Elsie to these expectations and that was very unfair of me in so many ways.

Elsie was adopted from the breeder at four and a half months. I would not advise buying from a breeder with more than one litter at a time. Human interaction and bonding does not take precedent and can really set you back training.

Prior to adoption, it was just Elsie and the other puppies. The breeder gave the puppies teaching games, but did not interact with the puppies while they learned. (This is something we have gathered having experienced the struggles we have with Elsie.) This resulted in a very intelligent and curious puppy with no relationship with humans. We spent a month and a half to two months just gaining her trust and convincing her our rules were important and she should follow them. (This time would have been best used potty training and obedience training, but when a dog doesn’t trust or understand a relationship with people, it is very difficult to teach much of anything.)

Once her trust was gained, we bought a house. Moving houses is a big and stressful change to any animal. Somehow, this move did solidify Elsie’s trust in her people. We did not expect such an outcome, but we got lucky.

We were busy unpacking for a week or two, so her training was pushed back further. The last two or three weeks has seen amazing progress in Elsie. She trusts us, she wants to please us, and her obedience training is being to take off – we are even training her to pick up her toys starting this week. She knows to go outside and  every day is getting better at making it outside. Though she doesn’t know how to tell us when it is time to go out (but seems to be making a connection between the bells and outside), she has a regular schedule that we know and we follow religiously.

I write all of that to share our difficulties and experiences. I have trained several dogs throughout my life and this beautiful, sweet, charming, playful, stubborn bouvier has challenged me in every single way. Yet, she is beginning to turn a corner and we are seeing noticible progress every week. If you are struggling with your puppy, there is light at the end of the tunnel. You can do!


*I want to take a moment to explain “unwillingly” because it means different things for different dogs. Some dogs will spit out the pill, some hold it under their tongue and spit it out a few minutes later (I am looking at you, Maggie), some will ignore the pill, some will swallow it when you put it in the back of their mouth and blow in their face. Elsie does none and all of these. Elsie gives you ONE shot to put it in the back of her mouth prior to biting you, clamping her mouth shut, hiding behind Maggie, AND etc. If you miss and say get it on her tongue, she will carry it off to a safe-place and spit it out. It was a disolvable pill, so at least she got some while she was carrying it. 

**Elsie gets very, very motion sick. Even with Dramamine, she drools excessively. If she is not given medicine, she will get sick all in the car after 30 minutes of riding. I drive a coupe so crawling in the back seat to clean is a difficult task and the lingering smell takes a lot of baking soda and vacuuming iterations to deal with completely.

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Snuggles in the car.

 

Training a Boisterous Puppy

Maggie, our first Bouvier, is a bit stubborn. But she was a very introverted, laid-back, calm puppy and has grown into a very sweet, introverted, laid-back, relaxed dog. She is so easy to care for and so loving, we knew we had to get a second one. We looked and looked and fell in love with Elsie. We brought her home.

Elsie is a sweet and very extroverted puppy. Not only does she have puppy energy, she has a very assertive, excited, and outgoing personality. Training her is a completely different exercise than training Maggie. I figure I am not the only person who has had difficulties training a very excitable, energetic stubborn Bouvier, but we have learned lessons I hope to pass on to someone else who might struggle when doing so. (We also welcome advice from those who have been through this before us.)

Patience

Not as advertised – you know, that stick with it! and it will come with time patience. Elsie requires the I know you are excited and focused and you don’t mean to be a pain in the behind and I still love you brand of patience.

She has learned many a command, but chooses to ignore them when she would rather do. How do you know she understands if she does not execute? Many people think their dogs understand, but there is a disconnect. That is a good point, dear reader. However, Elsie has a tell. Example: “Elsie, Come!” She looks at you, takes a step, looks at what she was doing, looks at you, and bounds away from you. Or, “Elsie, Sit!” Her back end begins to travel toward the ground, then she looks at you, looks away, and bounds away. Do you see the tell? She looks – acknowledging she hears you, begins to execute, and BAM!

We have both learned to count to ten, take a breath, and try a different approach.

Creativity

Elsie gets bored with you. She is very focused, but on her own plans. If you decide to play for ten minutes, Elsie will check out at two minutes to relocate a toy to one of her fun zones. She will then plop down and start chewing on her toy alone. She likes playing with you and will do so, but it rarely follows your schedule. So imagine how this dog feels about training sessions, even with games incorporated.

We have had to invent creative ways to train and entertain her. And she is clever, so we have to be that much more clever. To learn sit, we were unable to do the traditional butt down, treat above the nose trick. Oh, no. We had to catch her sitting, reward her and teach her the word. She is a champion sitter, but it took twice as long as it took Maggie.

Intentional Timing

Maggie could be taught in short periods, whenever you had time. Not Elsie. Elsie needs fifteen minutes a day at the same time of day with no distractions from BOTH parents. Distractions are leaves blowing, rocks, the sound of a neighbour smiling at his wife, any little thing can be a distraction to a mind as curious as Elsie’s. She needs thirty minutes of one-on-one training split into two periods – one with Mum, one with Dad – where she learns the same lesson in completely different ways (else, she gets bored). After a week or two of this per command, she is ready to try it out with distractions. And she does amazingly well given this time, but it took a very long time for her humans to figure this little trick out.

Exercise

The best way to a well-behaved Elsie is a worn out Elsie. Somehow you have to wear out Elsie without wearing out the humans. It takes a five-mile run, six-mile hike, a forty-minute game of soccer, or a four-hour outing to get Elsie energy levels down so that she is listening to your wants over her wants. I challenge you after ten hours of work, completing some school work, cooking a fresh meal to still have the energy it takes to train her for fifteen minutes.

…We go to bed by 20:30.

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Taken shortly after discovering water for the first time. April 30.

We love our difficult puppy. We love her energy and the companionship she brings to us and her big sister, Maggie. It has been difficult, but we are slowly making progress and she is becoming better behaved and less assertive every day… just SLOWLY. It is worth all the struggle and pain to get a well-behaved dog. If you are in a similar situation and struggling, keep pushing. It is well worth the trouble in the end.