by Terri Haase
Copyright © 1997-2001, Terri Haase
You've reached the breaking point. The cute little spotted puppy now weighs 60 pounds and is shredding everything in your yard and house. He has to go, you think. But go where? The "pounds" and Dalmatian Rescue groups already have more Dalmatians needing homes than they can place. It may take months before your Dal can be placed in a new home by a rescue group. The pound probably will have to euthanize your Dal; they simply don't have room. What is the answer? Give your Dalmatian another chance! By following the five steps below, you can have a well-behaved Dalmatian member of your family.
1. Take your Dalmatian to a spay/neuter clinic or your veterinarian to be spayed or neutered. Many behavior problems can be made worse by "raging" hormones.
2. Enroll in an obedience class immediately. About 1 and 1/2 hours one night per week plus practice time of about 20 minutes an evening is all it takes. Dals learn quickly with motivational techniques using treats and lavish praise. A great book that can help you train your Dal is "So Your Dog's Not Lassie--Tips for Training Difficult Dogs and Independent Breeds" by Betty Fisher and Suzanne Delzio. Hey, if they can put obedience titles on Bulldogs, these techniques will certainly work on Dalmatians!
3. Exercise your Dalmatian vigorously every day. Take him jogging, have him run alongside your bicycle, take him to a dog park, beach or fenced field where he can run, throw a ball or frisbee for him to chase. You'll get exercise too, which can only improve your health!
Lynnda Lenzen, who does Dalmatian rescue in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota has additional advice on exercise:
"I ESPECIALLY emphasize "doggie aerobics" -- a slow walk around the block on a 4 foot leash just doesn't cut it for a 10 month old (teenage) Dal! My suggestions go beyond trotting next to the bike -- with a "Springer" or head collar/Gentle Leader/Promise/Halti only please (for safety, seeing a 50 pound dog attached to your handle bars can pull you over & break your arm or face if they see a squirrel). Playing in a large area with a similar playing-style & weight young dog several times a week will wear a young Dal out a bit (luv that doggie wrestling). Teaching him fetch is a useful trick for the dogs' whole life: the dog is working for you, it can be done on a long rope or a 10' leash attached to a flexi -- especially if you position yourself by a barrier so you can't throw the toy beyond the reach of the rope, & is wonderful for exercising your dog on car trips.
"Fetch can be taught to dogs of all ages & temperaments -- I've done it. You just need to meet the dog where it is at -- you want to stop before the dog does. If the dog will only run over to a toy 2 feet away, start with that & let your dog know you think its wonderful! A long hallway is good for puppies & young dogs -- they have nowhere to go but back to you with the toy. Use what ever toy your dog likes: tennis balls, latex (soft rubber) toys (you can take the squeaker out if it may be swallowed), fuzzy toys (put a tennis ball inside for throwing weight), small sized retrieving "bumpers" (for hunting dogs -- they float), a sock around a tennis ball, use you imagination and pay attention to your dog's reaction. I can throw at all, so I need to lob the toy to get any distance; I've had good luck with toys on a rope (I add one if neccessary) or a frisbee (I only do low throws). My old Dal loves to chase toys so I got hime to bring it back by having 2 toys: I'd thow one & once he took it in his mouth, I'd call him & show him the second toy, which got him excited enohg to run over to me. Running backwards also attracts the dog. Don't immediately rip the toy from the dogs mouth -- let the dog keep the toy -- be happy the dog came over to you (jump around an let him/her know how clever a dog they are!) LATER you can work on politely giving up the toy.
A. run over to the toy;
B. put your mouth on the toy;
C. pick up the toy (yeah, clever dog!);
D. start running back to your human with the toy;
E. bring the toy almost all the way back;
F. bring the toy back to the feeble human (who certainly can't run as fast or long as you can);
G. bring the toy back without extensive encouragement (some motivated dogs figure out the sooner you bring it back & spit it out, the sooner it gets thrown again);
H. will bring toy back repeatedly in familiar location;
I. will bring back the toy in an unfamiliar place;
J. will bring back the toy with distractions like other dogs or children. Yes, dog only learn in small steps & need to generalize training from familiar locations to new, distracting locations.
"One fun way to give your high energy some doggie aerobics during inclement weather is "doggie stairmaster". If you have a safe set of stairs (stairs with good footing, no open basement-type stairs) and a dog that will chase (not necessarily retrieve) a toy, you stand several steps from the bottom of the stairs & toss the toy -- with the dog watching -- up to the top of the stairs (try an underhand toss). You throw UP so the dog powers up to run up the stairs & so the dog doesn't fall down the stairs in its' enthusiasm. Tennis balls roll around & bounce a lot when they land & are hard to control, so I recommend a ball on a rope. Latex or stuffed fuzzy toys can be weighted with a tennis ball to greater distance. Use what the dog is interested in and keep it on a shelf so it is special to the dog (only get to play with that toy with you). Some agility people have gone to juicy food inside a pill bottle, sport sock or tennis ball (make a slit in it -- squeeze to dispense treat); this toy is kept in the 'fridge."
4. Include your Dalmatian in your family's indoor activities. He can lay in his dog bed with some chew toys or curl up beside you while you watch TV. It's not hard to meet a Dalmatian's attention needs this way. Another great way to get some quality time in with your Dal is to let him or her sleep on your bed with you. Dalmatians love to cuddle and keep you warm; another bonus is if a burglar gets in, he can't surprise you with your vigilant guard Dalmatian on duty!
5. Another important consideration in Dal misbehavior is diet. According to Stas & Janet Budzynski, of Delaware Valley Dalmatian Club Rescue, "We have found with all the numbers of Dals going through our rescue that a significant consideration is diet. This is both as it relates to energy level and to stone forming potential. At least from the view I have with our rescue statistics, this is a larger problem with the average Dal owner than deafness. Now I am saying a problem with the AVERAGE Dal owner NOT the breed. We find, of course, that people requesting rescue intervention for their Dalmatian are having difficulty dealing with the energy level of a Dalmatian. But many times after we ask some questions, we find that the Dal's diet is 5 to 7 cups per day of dog food containing both high protein and high purine content. We have been able to help some owners decide to keep their Dalmatians by suggesting a dietary change, that is lowering the amount and changing to lower protein and lower purine (lamb & rice, etc.). The Dals usually settle down within a week. That combined with the change in the Dal's behavior when your suggestions about exercise are implemented help tremendously when these folks decide to keep their Dals."
Within a few weeks of implementing the above changes you will notice an improvement in your Dalmatian's behavior. It does take time each day to do this five-step program but you will be repaid more than amply with Dalmatian adoration. Don't give up on your Dal; give him another chance! You'll be glad you did!
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