Monday, February 8, 2016

The Great Cat Food Caper. Management Is Easier Than Training!

"I don't know what happened but remember I LOVE you so much."

Let me set the stage for you. I spent the entire day cleaning my house and steam cleaning the carpets. Oh the joys of steam cleaning carpets. Hours on end of changing out the disgusting water and picking pet hair out of the machine. Fun times. So when the evening rolled around, my back was killing me, I was tired and maybe a little bit grouchy. I decided a nice hot bath was in order. So I run the water as hot as I can stand, my husband tells me he's off to bed and I start to relax.

Cue a huge scary crashing noise and it didn't sound good. I jump out of the tub, grab a towel and race out of the bathroom to see what happened and what do I find? A really cute dog looking at me from the top of the cat tree with her brown eyes going, "I have no idea how the bowl of cat food ended up landing on the ground and I don't know how I got up here!" Sweet little Phoenix got up on the cat tree and helped herself to some deliciously disgusting kitty food.

Oh Phoenix. :/ Cat food is so bad for you and it makes your tummy hurt. Why did you do this!?

Phoenix just got into the cat food and she got to eat some of it, thereby reinforcing herself for getting into it. What happens when a dog is reinforced for doing something? The behavior will be repeated. So now I have to make sure she is not able to do that again and practice unwanted behavior because the more they practice the better they get at doing it. Prevention is huge! Neither of my dogs have ever gotten up on the cat trees before, they are pretty tall and they've never counter surfed so I thought I was doing enough management just keeping the cat food up on the trees. My dogs are great at making me feel humble.

Phoenix also has another behavioral issue where she gets very stressed out when either of us shower or take baths. This behavior popped up out of nowhere when we were living with our inlaw's and we've been working on it. She's gotten better but these things take time. She does not like it when one of us turns the bath water on and she gets weird and stressed out. I always leave the door cracked for them and she had been coming in and stealing my clothes (not chewing them, just carrying them around). Often when dogs steal our clothes it's because they are stressed out and they want to be close to us. Our clothes have our smell and it can be comforting for them so I was letting her do it.

So on the night of the great cat food caper, I decided to kill two birds with one stone. Management is easier than training but when they are paired together it works out even better. Phoenix has a blanket that we use for settling and relaxation protocol. I decided to see if she could generalize that while I take a bath. So I put the blanket down, put her on it and closed the bathroom door. Yay. I now have a bath time buddy who can't get into the cat food. Since she's not thrilled about the bath tub and the water she was a little confused at first as to what we were doing, as shown in the first photo above.

Then after about 10 minutes something magical and amazing happened. She fell asleep. This is the first time I've ever tried this. She's never been able to come into the bathroom on her own before and just relax. She was always running back and forth, checking on me, poking me in the arm running back out. Grabbing a piece of my clothing (which I didn't care about) and running off with it. She would do this the entire time I was soaking. Sometimes working herself up so much that she'd bark at my husband if he came in to talk to me or whatever.

Being able to fall asleep and into true sleep is wonderful. A friend of mine told me about someone she knows who has a reactive dog and every time she gave that dog her blue ball, the dog had the courage to do whatever she needed her to do. They call it the "blue ball of courage". So this is Phoenix's pink blanket of courage. Not as cute as the blue ball but just as effective.

Now some "force free fanatics" could argue that I forced her into the bathroom and made her stay in there with me. Part of that would be true (the part about forcing her to stay in there, because I did shut the door) but I didn't drag her in there. She walked into the bathroom on her own with some coaxing and settled on her blanket easily. Her sleep was true sleep and she was not in shutdown. When she wasn't sleeping, she was watching me curiously but without that freaky nervous behavior she has been previously displaying. I think it would of been more cruel to lock her in the bedroom with my husband because all she wants to do is be with me. With her blanket she was a completely different dog. It was awesome. With Phoenix it's always been like this. She has always needed some sort of structure to things and I sort of forgot about it until that night.

When I first got Phoenix we could not touch her but she was open to being guided by a leash. Being guided by me and having structured activities has always been hugely beneficial for her. Having her on a predictable schedule where she knows what is going to happen and when it's going to happen and how to behave in a certain situation was helpful, too. Phoenix probably just needed me to show her how she should be when I take a bath.

I'm hoping that this is something I can continue using with her. If the blanket is able to help her relax and she can realize that the humans taking baths isn't a big deal then that's awesome and I will use it. I will keep everyone updated with how it goes. As for the cat food the next time Phoenix is unattended the cat food is being moved to higher ground or I am stuffing her in her crate! No more kitty food for you, Phee!

Have your dogs ever gotten into something they shouldn't have? What did you do to manage them to prevent that behavior from happening again?

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  1. Kitty food is a real special treat. Our kitties only eat dry twice a day and Mom is always there because cat bro Bert will eat Sophie's portion to if left unattended. We would eat it if we could. The wet food is hard to resist. Bailie did eat a package of it over the holidays when it was left out for a second, and we use it in a box as a container distraction in our nose work training. We can ignore it in nose work, but not at home. Nice to see the pup relaxed (with a full belly) and was able to snooze.

  2. I'm so happy you found a solution to your bath/showers. I'm guessing this pink blanket will help in many things. Keep us posted.

    Have a woof woof day Phoenix. I linked this post to Awww Mondays. My best to your mom. ☺

  3. oh good have the patience of Job! I'll just stick to having our one rescue kitty! Hugs to Phoenix! Cheers!

  4. Mr. N is good about not eating weird things. Our foster pup wasn't though and he had to be watched or he'd sneak off into the kitchen.

  5. I've yet to meet a dog that doesn't think cat food is pure crack.

    That's great she was okay with it! I totally agree that sometimes management is easier than training. Just look at Pike, ha.
    Honestly, the force free fanatics are the reason I don't consider myself a force free trainer.

  6. I'm glad you thought of this solution! My dogs steal my clothes too when I shower so I always close the door... but then they go to sleep so it's no big deal.

    I wish I'd learned that thing about "practicing bad behaviors" makes them happen more often much earlier in my dog training life (we'd have fewer problems to fix now). I'm glad that you're stopping Phee's practice of eating kitty food!

  7. You already heard about it I think, but Koira got into and ate 1.5 cups of raisins last week. It has been years since she has gotten into stuff in the house, and she has always been picky so not really a food stealer anyway. Management fail. And an expensive one, with the nearly $200 we spent at the vet. Luckily Koira is doing just fine.

  8. Hi hi hi! Ojo here! Cat food is amazing! So yummy! So tasty! I once ate half a bag! I would like to do that again! For some reason my tummy felt yucky later that day, and I had to lie on my side all stretched out to give it lots of room, but I am sure that had nothing to do with the cat food!

    Also, hurray for falling asleep in bathrooms! It can be scary in there! I have never fallen asleep in one of those places! Maybe your person should give you Cat Food for relaxing in the bathroom! Just an idea!

  9. I bet Simba would eat the cat food too! He loves to try new things BOL!

  10. Oh I know this well! Barley LOVES cat food and will climb onto the counter any chance she gets to eat it--and with Soth's issues, he has to have access to little meals throughout the day--so Barley always gets shut in the bedroom or in her crate when I shower because the second she hears the shower curtain slide over, she makes her move. (I also understand the steam cleaning--that's on my chore list this week!)

  11. Well it sounds like you handled it exactly the way she needed. Good job.


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