Abe learns to calm down and listen to his owners

By: David Codr

Published Date: July 25, 2013


Abe is a six-month-old Shih Tzu. His owners had contacted me to help curb a few behavioral issues; jumping up on people, not listening and nipping his owner when she got home or tried to leave.

When I arrived at his home for the appointment, Abe was so excited at the door that his owners had to pick him up to keep him from running out the door.

We sat down to discuss the situation and I asked what rules and boundaries Abe was expected to respect. His owners thought about it for a moment, then looked at each other, shook their heads, shrugged and said that he really didn’t have any. Dogs thrive on having clear rules in place to help them know what they can and cant do. Without rules in place, its not unusual for dogs to start developing habits and behaviors we dont want.

Since I had witnessed Abe jumping up onto the couch at least dozen times in the first two minutes that I was at his home, I suggested that rule number one would be to make the furniture off limits to him for at least 30 days.

Dog’s status in the pack has a correlation to the height at which they sit. By allowing Abe to jump up on the couch whenever he wanted to, his owners were inadvertently telling him that he had the same rights and privileges as his human owners.

After showing Abe’s owners how to correct him whenever he attempted to get on the couch, I asked them if they thought it would be possible for me to place a treat on the floor and have Abe leave it alone. One of his owners laughed when she said “there was no way that could ever happen.”

I placed a tasty meat treat between my heels on the floor and immediately walked towards Abe as he moved for the treat. Abe spent about a minute dancing and darting around me trying to get by to retrieve the tasty treat on the floor. I kept the treat behind me and my hips pointed directly at Abe while I continually moved to block him from being able to get to the treat.

After a few minutes Abe finally sat down. As soon as he did, I took a giant step backwards so the treat was between myself and the dog. As soon as I did this, Abe immediately got up and moved towards the treat. As soon as he started to move towards the treat, I immediately stepped forward directly towards Abe and continued moving towards him until he either sat down or turned and walked away.

We continued this dance for about three minutes before Abe finally laid down. As soon as he did, I immediately turned to my side, knelt down and gave him permission to eat the treat. I repeated the exercise a few times to make sure that Abe got it, and then I coached his owners through the exercise until they mastered it.

Not only does this exercise teach Abe to look to his humans for leadership and guidance, it helps him learn to self-restrain himself.

Because Abe’s owners had been free-feeding him, I suggested they change to a more structured mealtime. By putting food his bowl but communicating to him that he needed their permission before he could eat, Abe will learn to look to his human owners for guidance. Any time Abe moves to the bowl before getting permission I told them to make the disagree sound i had showed them or stand up. After they finish eating their food, that is the time to walk over to Abe’s bowl and motion to it so he knows he now has permission to eat.

My adding structure and controlling Abe’s access to food, his owners will be able to further elevate their position of leadership. It will take a few days of practice, but considering how quickly Abe picked up the other exercises and corrections, I’m confident that looking to his humans for permission to eat quickly becomes habit.

Next, I showed his owners how to claim the doorway to their home so that they can get Abe to keep a respectable distance whatever guests arrive, rather than having to pick him up to restrain him.

I had one of Abe’s owners walk out through the back door then come and knock on the front door a minute later. As soon as Abe heard the knock, he sprang up and rushed over to the door to investigate what was going on. I casually walked over to the door and place myself between the door and Abe, then I walked towards him confidently until he stepped away from the door, then up the steps, finally laying down at the top of the stairs.

Once he laid down, I turned and placed my hand on the door handle. As soon as Abe heard the sound, he  jumped up and started to walk down the stairs towards the front door. As soon as he did, I immediately stopped trying to open the door, turned and marched towards Abe very deliberately and assertively until he moved away and walked back up to the top of the stairs. I repeated this a few times until Abe stayed laying  down while I jiggled the door handle and repeatedly swung the door wide open.

Once I was sure Abe understood what I expected from him, I had his owners swap positions and repeat the exercise. As soon as Abe heard the knock at the door, he immediately ran over to the stairs and started walking down them. His owner calmly walked between Abe and the door then marched towards him herding him up the stairs with ease. Abe laid down and remained laying down while his owner jiggled the doorknob and eventually opened the door.

I told his owner to reward Abe for his good behavior (staying in place away from the door) while repeating the word “place.” By assigning a word to the location that we want the dog to go to during a certain activity, it’s easy for the dog to learn that is what is expected by his owners.

I had his owners swap positions to repeat the exercise so that each one was able to practice the correction and technique. The third time that we went through the exercise, Abe immediately walked to the top of the stairs, laid down, and remained laying down while his owner jiggled the door handle and sprung the door open then inviting her husband inside.

Clearly Abe is an intelligent dog. He simply needed someone to come in and help his humans communicate to him in a way that he understood. By adding structure, rules and limitations too Abe’s day-to-day life, he will quickly learn what is it and is not acceptable in his home. Once Abe got a clear understanding of what his pack leaders wanted, he fell into line quickly.

In the course of this one and half hour session, Abe learned to control himself, stay off the couch, restrain himself at the door or not jump up on his owners. With a little practice, these new manners will become permanent.

Categorized in:

This post was written by: David Codr

%d bloggers like this: