The Hedgehog Effect
Barking is a hot topic, huh?
A couple weeks ago, I wrote about The Magic Box, and I’m pleased to report it’s still working (mostly) well. The trick is catching Cooper before the frenzy starts, or else it’s a lost cause. Emmett, though… Since he can’t really hear the trill, and he doesn’t bark at anything outside the house anyway, well, my sweet old boy just can’t figure out what makes The Magic Box spit out treats. He’s made it a habit to check it every few hours–after naps, after walks, after going outside, etc.–just to see if there are treats there.
Anyway, this isn’t about that exactly. This is about The Hedgehog Effect.
(I have a weird compulsion to name everything, apparently. It’s my Name All The Things Thing. Also, it’s always too chaotic when we use The Hedgehog, so no pics… but here’s one I posted recently on Facebook!)
After things passing by the house, Cooper’s next biggest flip-out is when anyone comes in the house. He gets SO excited, pretty much regardless of who it is. Even strangers, the little weirdo. Part of his excitement is shrill, frantic barking. Then, he redirects. When he used to do that to Lucas, it would occasionally turn into a fight. With Emmett, thankfully, Em just walks away. Cooper also jumps up, and he also smiles. The barking + jumping + smiling makes an intimidating picture for anyone who doesn’t know him or for anyone who’s his same size… Like our 6-year-old nephew, Owen, who’s pretty much eye-to-eye with Coop.
Rewind back to 2014: We attempted to curb this problem by handing Cooper a toy whenever we came in the house. It worked wonders. It was an instant fix, actually, which almost never happens with dog training! But then three things happened to derail.
First, we almost never remembered to put out a toy and give the full explanation to guests to give him upon entry, so that relationship never formed in Cooper’s mind.
Second, WE got complacent and kept forgetting to refill the toy bin in the garage, and it became so inconsistent that we all just sort of forgot about it.
Third, the toys that he didn’t outright destroy lost their luster. We just couldn’t keep a stuffie around for long enough to work more than once, and the hard rubber toys that last are way less cool, apparently, to Cooper.
But, now that we live so close to Owen, he comes over nearly every week to have game night or movie night or cookout or whatever. All things that include the dogs. So, we talked about what toys motivate Cooper the most. Interestingly, we came to the same conclusion as the toys that motivate Emmett the most:
I don’t know what it is about these stuffed hedgies, but they are THE winner in our house.
Kroger sells the cheap version, so John bought a whole bunch. The last time Owen came over, I called him up and asked him if he wanted to help me train Cooper to be calmer whenever he comes over. Of course he said yes. So, I told him I’d set a hedgie on the step and, as the dog trainer, he needed to hand Cooper the hedgie as soon as he walked in the door.
He did, Cooper dashed off to shred his reward, and all was calm.
We repeat each time Owen comes over to great success!
A couple weeks later we had the chance to really put The Hedgehog Effect to the test. My friend, who Cooper’s only met once, was in town visiting with her mom and her 3-year-old. Then, my sister came over with Owen.
It was chaos, the kind of thing that gets Cooper riled up.
But, honestly? He was (mostly) a perfect angel!
He shredded two giant hedgies into thousands of small pieces, but he didn’t jump on anyone. He didn’t bark in anyone’s face. He was pretty darn good!
Since then, whenever we’re worried that a situation will be overwhelming for him or get him riled up, we bust out a hedgie (or two) as needed. We’re reserving it for those stressful situations and stranger greetings–we’re back to regular, boring rubber toys for when we come in the house. I want to keep the hedgie special, plus his carbon footprint is getting so big… I may have to install another rain barrel to make up for it! But, it works to keep him calm.
There you have it. The Hedgehog Effect.