Adding Rules and Boundaries to Help a Pair of Dogs Respect Their Owners

By: David Codr

Published Date: October 16, 2014

Cashew and PeanutCashew is a one-year-old Westie who gets over excited when he sees people or dogs. His room mate Peanut is a two year old Min Pin / Chihuahua mix with some anxiety issues. Peanut is wary of people he doesn’t know, barks a lot in disagreement and has recently started growling and snapping at his owners in disagreement.

When I arrived for the session Cashew showed normal interest and energy, but Peanut was clearly nervous and insecure. He barked at me from a distance or crept closer, barked and then darted away almost immediately. His tail was between his legs and he was shuddering a bit.

I started out by focusing on Cashew, communicating that he had my attention but not offering any affection to him unless he was sitting. While I could easily get him to sit, it was hard for Cashew to remain sitting after I started to pet him so each time he started to get up, I stopped petting him. I had to start and stop five times before Cashew calmed down enough to sit and remain sitting. By only offering attention and the reward of petting when he is sitting calmly, his owners can help him learn that sitting calmly is the expected way to greet them when visitors arrive or his owners come home.

To help Peanut calm down, I took a seat on the couch with his owners and turned my side to him. As I discussed the situation with his owners I engaged in some calming signals; blinking, turning my head to the side, yawning, licking my lips and avoiding eye contact. These calming signals are ways dogs communicate that they are not challenging or presenting a threat to another dog.

The calming signals worked at first, but once I started to move around, Peanut got anxious and started to bark again. I had one of his owners place him on the leash and bring it to me. As soon as the leash was added, Peanut stopped barking, but he attempted to move over to where his owners were sitting to avoid proximity to me. I started to pull the leash but this immediately got Peanut fired up so I stopped and instead offered a treat to Cashew. As soon as Cashew came over for the treat, Peanut moved in a little closer.

I stepped on the leash while Peanut was closer to me to block him from being able to move away from me this time. I did this to keep him close as most insecure dogs won’t continue to bark when they are unable to get away from the object their are barking at. But I also stepped on the leash to prevent Peanut from moving next to his owner. It was clear that Peanut was lacking in self esteem and he moved towards his owner when unsure of himself. Forcing him to stand on his own in a controlled yet non confrontational situation is a great way to help a dog develop some self confidence.

At first Peanut attempted to pull himself free, but quickly realized he wasn’t gong anywhere and that I wasn’t trying to interact with him. After a minute, Peanut sat down and started to calm down a bit. A minute later he was completely calm and even laid down at my feet. Only after Peanut started to sniff at me did I pet or interact with him.

I suggested that their owners adopt some rules and add some basic structure to help the dog’s start to identify themselves as being lower in status to their owners. This will reduce the barking in disagreement as well as the nipping that had recently started.

Next I went over some basic communication methods to help them better communicate what they do and don’t want the dogs doing. Being able to correct or disagree with a dog in a way it understands is a key component to stopping unwanted behaviors.

To further develop the distinction between owner and dog, I demonstrated a leadership exercise that requires a dog to leave a high value treat alone until the owner gives the dog permission to get it. We started out with Cashew who seemed to get the exercise almost immediately. After demonstrating it a second time, I coached his owners through it with equal success before we repeated the exercise with Peanut.

By practicing this exercise daily for the next week or two, the dogs will start to look to their owner for guidance and respect them as being in a position of leadership. Once the dogs see and identify their owners as being in an authoritative position, the barking and nipping in disagreement and defiance should stop. Combined with the new rules and communication methods, their owners can help the dogs learn to adopt the behaviors that their owners want and give up those they don’t.

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