[Note from Sara: recently my friend and fellow Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Katie Kelly, moved with her Shih Tzu, Minnie. I was so impressed by the way that Katie supported Minnie and problem-solved to help her adjust to apartment living that I asked her to write a guest blog post about her experiences. Enjoy!]
Minnie is my little sidekick. She goes with me absolutely everywhere: to the pet store, to the park, and to visit with family and friends. She has also moved with me countless times. We’ve lived in a couple different homes in Rochester, multiple places in Winona, and at one point, maintained residence in Zumbrota as well. However, the two of us had grown accustomed to the private life of living in a house. Neither of us had ever truly experienced apartment living until recently.
In the first couple days of living in our new apartment, I could tell Minnie wasn’t truly comfortable. She would find her hiding places and shut down: she didn’t seek out attention, she didn’t play with her toys, and she didn’t chew on her bones. She needed some time to adjust, and then she’d return to being normal happy–go-lucky Minnie. At least that is what I thought.
Technically, dogs are not allowed at my apartment complex, but the landlord did me a favor and allowed us to take residence regardless. Because of this, I figured Minnie might be the window of opportunity: that she might provide a positive image for responsible dog owners who were looking to rent. As the only dog in the apartment building, I felt that it was important to make a good impression on the other residents as well as the landlord.
A week or so after moving, she was coming around little by little. But instead of turning into the superstar I had hoped for, she started to become the stereotypical little yappy dog. I actually set up a video camera to see how she did when I wasn’t around, and I found she would bark incessantly, finding it difficult to calm herself. Then it hit me. I had just moved this five-year-old dog, accustomed to household living, into an apartment building. While it wasn’t too much of a change for me, I soon realized that it was a drastic change for Minnie. In her mind, there were loud scary noises coming from every direction. She had no idea who was making these noises, nor what they predicted. I started to truly hear it. There was door banging, knocking, stomping feet, and conversation in the hallways. Minnie didn’t have the capability to seek out or make sense of any of these things.
We started counter conditioning. I wore my treat pouch every moment we were in the apartment. Every time there was a slight noise, I would press the clicker before Minnie had the chance to react to it and treat her with high rewards. If Minnie did react, I’d call her or lure her (depending on the severity) away from the door and started treating her until I could see her physically calming down. However, this wasn’t enough. What happened when I was gone? Surely, all our hard work would go down the drain as those loud noises would stir her up without me there to help her cope.
We tried the Thundershirt, the DAP collar, the DAP diffuser, stuffed Kongs, puzzle toys, rawhides, bully sticks, and Through a Dog’s Ear classical music. I tried in every possible way I could think of to keep her busy, and to keep her feeling secure and calm. I thought of taking her to daycare, but she is fearful of other dogs. I figured the stress of daycare would just carry over to our home environment and make things worse.
I decided to shoot around for ideas. An idol of mine, who has an incredible amount of knowledge in canine behavior, was very helpful. She had mentioned everything above, and when I told her I had exhausted those efforts, she recommended the Manners Minder. Genius!
The Manners Minder is a treat-dispensing machine. I created a colorful note outside my door that let my neighbors know that I was working on Minnie’s issues and also invited them to be a part of the solution! Alongside the note, I taped the remote control that directly dispensed the treats from the Manners Minder. Inside my apartment, on a table next to the door, was the almighty, praise-worthy, treat dispenser (as Minnie saw it). While I was at home, I could see people were already willing to send Minnie magical treats. They’d walk by (with the associated stomping, talking, and slamming doors) and press the button on the remote taped outside my door. The machine would beep letting Minnie know that treats were on the way, before dispensing them before her very eyes! This machine allowed me to go to school, and while at home, Minnie could be counter conditioned by others who made those scary noises outside the door!
I had to laugh because there were times where I’d check the video camera and watch her progress when I’d get home from school. Many used the remote, but there were also instances where people walked by without using it, and to my surprise Minnie still wiggled her way over to the door expecting goodies. Those loud scary noises finally started to predict good things, and she no longer felt the need to bark.
Finally, Minnie was truly able to relax and feel comfortable in her new home.
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Have a good day!
Great story! What a creative solution!
Very creative! Just a note on the one technique about using a clicker to countercondition – counterconditioning is classical, not operant, so no clicker is needed. Think Pavlov, not Skinner, on that one.
What a great solution!
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What an excellent story!!
Excellent post. Thank you for sharing this positive solution – I’m sure this will help other dogs who are going through the same thing.
Loved the article. Working with many SA dogs, one observation and suggestion. Assuming the picture is accurate and this is the front door in which Minnie was barking near, I would move the MM far away from the front door. away from the excitement (front door) to the quietest room or furthest room from the epicenter/antecedent.
Another idea is to make the music, classical or otherwise, loud enough (white noise) to drown out the external outdoor noise (but not loud enough to disturb your neighbors) this has worked well for me many times. you can also buy CD’s made to mimic the noise of just about any environment, in your case you can make a recording yourself of loud (typical) noises outside your home and use that with your training to habituate her to those noises on a daily basis. This is very typical going from quiet homes to apartment living.
Russell- those are wonderful bits of advice! I’ll keep that in mind next time we move!
how much weight did minnie gain? ;)
Ha, Jenny! :] She actually is at her ideal weight now: a goal we have been trying to achieve for over a year!
I am contemplating a move to an apartment with my 14 year old Mini Schnauzer soon and am contemplating all the problems you had. The only “fly I see in the ointment” is that Ditto is quite deaf and most, if not all, of your solutions depend on him being able to hear! Now what? He’s never lived any place except our house that we’re in now. He does bark when someone comes to the house, when the Culligan man comes every month, or if anyone is working in the cellar.He’s not what I would call a “real barker” but if everything isn’t in its place, he’ll let you know about it. I’ve never had to correct him because we live alone.and it doesn’t matter to me.
Wonderful post and problem solving – I bet your neighbors appreciate being part of a solution for them as well as Minnie.
I wonder about Ditto – if he’s deaf, will not hearing minimize the distractions? or does he react to vibrations as well? He may need a Rumba type dispenser.
Thank to for the interesting post. I’ve not moved, but my little Oreo is a bit protective of the house via barking. I’m on the fence on how I feel about that, as I’m in a house and they are the security squad. It’s not excessive, so I let it happen. I couldn’t imagine moving to an apartment. OMG I’d be gone the first week. =)
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This is the most creative idea I have heard of. Brilliant! Well done!
Counterconditioning can be both classical and operant. While just clicking and treating with no behavior contingency is technically classical counterconditioning, it’s not really wrong. The risk is that you may associate the click with the anxiety of the trigger stimulus rather than the treat that follows, but this does not necessarily happen. Operant counterconditioning happens if you are contingently rewarding a behavior that occurs around the anxiety triggers. This could be something as simple as glancing at the owner or even orienting toward the trigger without barking This can easily be done with a clicker. The “Look At That” exercise from the Control Unleased program is a familiar example.
Very clever use of the MM. I’ve used it a lot in situations where the dog is wary of one household member, but I hadn’t used it with actual strangers walking by pushing the button. It’s a technical version of the “Open Paw” system of having people toss treats into shelter dog kennels. Very well done.
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Brilliant! I love this idea. I will be stealing this!
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Hi Risk Door,
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Minnie has beautiful eyes and look soo cute! You are lucky I guess
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