Canine Case Files: Paco – Kitty Relations

I recently lost my dear friend, Paco. He was a Black Labrador/Dachshund mix, who was rescued from “dead dog” beach in Puerto Rico in 2007. Paco had great longevity genes, reaching the ripe old age of 17. He was 5 years old when I adopted him. I am sharing my early journey with Paco because his behaviors and my methods of resolution may be useful to others. Also, it is a sort of tribute to my dear boy, who brought fun, love, and joy to me and everyone who knew him. This article is the first of three and describes an initial priority for Paco’s training:  remaining calm in the presence of my two cats, Bootsie and Socks. Not only was I concerned for the cats’ safety, but I wanted to remove opportunities for Paco to learn that tormenting them was a form of entertainment.

“Sit and Wait”

For optimal management, Paco always had his 6-foot nylon leash attached and dragging. Most dogs offer to sit, and Paco was no exception. Using the dog’s natural love of working and foraging for food, we dispensed with the food bowl. Every time that Paco sat – whether he volunteered, or I asked him, he “earned” a piece of his dry kibble. As you can imagine, he sat often! Time to change the game rules just a bit. Next up was giving him a few seconds to anticipate the forthcoming kibble rather than giving in to instant gratification. We gave a word to that behavior: “wait”. Over the next few days, we used the word “wait” and increased the time (as appropriate) before delivering the food. This practice set Paco up to pay lots of attention to me:  I am the food source. Remember this was early in our relationship. The food source is critical! I was teaching Paco that it is worth his while to pay more attention to me than to the cats.

Time to Test It

Now that I had some tools in the box, we were ready to roll out our “sit and wait” training. Bootsie and Socks were indoor/outdoor kitties who loved to troll about the backyard. We have woods behind our house. Lots of little critters……  Setting up for success, Paco and I posted ourselves on the patio. He was leashed, and I had kibble in my pocket. I maintained my foot on his leash to assure as few errors as possible. Keeping a tolerable distance between Paco and the cats, I used bites of kibble to reinforce his calm demeanor while watching them. I could also reinforce his checking back in with me rather than choosing to fixate on them.

Over time, I used this “sit and wait” cue chain to provide Paco with information and a directive when the cats were present. Not only did we practice this exercise in all parts of our home, but we worked our distance closer to the cats. Next steps included dropping the leash to proof Paco’s response to “sit and wait”. He consistently refrained from interacting with the cats. I used gradual adjustments in the food reinforcement schedule to generalize and maintain these behaviors.

This Is Working!

Many repetitions create behavior patterns and expectations. With all the practice, Paco came to anticipate that I would ask him to “sit and “wait” when the cats were nearby. The cats also came to feel safe:  they could walk by Paco, and he would not charge at them. An exchange of glances worked:  the cats would look at me, then Paco, then the door. I asked Paco to “sit and wait”. By then, Bootsie and Socks understood those words, too. The coast is clear!

Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel   CPDT-KA, 2020 all rights reserved

Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC