Dog trains man

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Ego of a Hovawart Expert

When I was invited as a Hovawart expert to speak for a group of new Hovawart owners a while ago - it was before Tilde - I was asked the question what could be done to stop certain bad behaviors, like jumping up and mouthing.

I worked down my list, "make sure they have enough exercise and mind games...", "reward good behavior and ignore bad behavior...", "teach a leave it", but the woman insisted. "I do these things already, what should I do if that doesn't help".

I was reluctant to answer. I know in theory what to do next - teach them a good behavior to replace the bad. But I never had a need for that with Kenzo and Viva, rewarding the good and ignoring the bad always did the trick. Reluctant to speak about something I had no experience with, I passed the question on to the vet present in the room.

To be honest, in my mind I also questioned the need for it, and thought ignoring would work just fine. Maybe the woman questioner was doing something else wrong?

Then I got Tilde.

And then Tilde became an adolescent.

Ignoring her jumps and nipping only worked out fine if my goal would have been to teach her to jump higher and bite harder. After a couple of weeks I knew I was going nowhere and the woman's question echoed in my head. Now I knew what it was like to stand in her shoes, and realized I wasn't such a Hovawart expert after all, although it was flattering when I was asked.

I started to work on a solid "Sit" with Tilde, and started using it as her replacement behavior. Gradually, Tilde started to understand the possibilities a "Sit" could provide for her. After all, the jumping and mouthing is only a tool for her to try to get her point across and if "sit" did the trick, she was just fine with that.

She also started applying it herself without me asking for it, in situations where we disagree. Like when we train loose leash walking and I stop if she pulls the leash. Tilde countered my stop with a Sit in an attempt to move me forward again on our walk. Bystanders have been watching us, baffled about what we tried to accomplish with our odd walking style. Walk two steps, stop, sit, continue, walk two steps again. And so on. It took a while before she understood, just to stop is enough to do the trick to move me forward again.

The other day I placed the ball back in my pocket after we had played for a while on a field. I walked away consumed in my own thoughts, until I realized Tilde was not in front of me and looked over my shoulder. Tilde was still where I left her, sitting down, some 60 feet behind me. "Please? one more throw?"

Sometimes she offers a sit and I don't know what she wants. Letting her just sit was not a good idea in the start. She made a short jump without touching me. Just as a reminder, she hasn't forgotten her old strategies. Although it gave me a great opportunity to ignore her half-jump, and reward her when she sits again. Today she is fine with it, she just walks away if she doesn't get my attention.

I am glad it is working. The days of bruised arms and ripped clothes only seem a vague memory by now. The mending of the bruised ego of a Hovawart expert can begin. I hope. Tilde? Right...


  1. There's always that one... For what it's worth, I'm sure you were indeed an expert when you spoke - just not experienced yet with The Special Ones. lol Tilde reminds me of our Chester. Somehow, though, it seems that what it takes to know and understand them (and teach them!) makes them all the more dear to us, doesn't it?

  2. Jumping up and mouthing/nipping seem to be a Hovawart 'thing'. My youngster can still take you unawares and leave you with bruises! But much like yourself & Tilde, teaching a default sit really has it's benefits. My boy will sit for almost anything these days and can be easily stopped mid jump with a quick 'ahah' which promptly resorts to a sit. Sometimes he just needs gentle reminders ;)


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