Adding Rules and Structure to Help Fenway and Charlie Learn to Calm Down

By: David Codr

Published Date: November 29, 2013

Fenway and CharlieFenway and Charlie are brothers; five-year-old Boston Terrier / Basenji mix dogs.

Their owner contacted me to help with several behavioral problems; Separation anxiety, getting over excited and a newly developed fear of their kennels.

When I arrived for the session, both dogs barked in alarm and had difficulty stopping. They would bark then immediately retreat from me as soon as they did which I interpreted as insecurity. I ignored the dogs and sat down with their owners to discuss what they wanted to achieve in our session.

This summer Charlie developed some back / spine problems and was forced to spend a week kenneled at the vet when he lost the use of his back legs. Fortunately Charlie was able to recover most of the use his hind legs, but he also developed a negative perception of being in the kennel. His owners pointed out that before the stay at the vet, neither dog had any problems with their kennels.

After discussing the situation and watching the dogs, I could see that they both had an abundance of energy. Due to Charlie’s medical situation, the dogs were no longer being walked on a regular basis. Anytime you have a higher energy dog, problems can develop if that excess energy isn’t released.

I suggested that Fenway start to get a regular 30-45 minute daily walk and a shorter jaunt for Charlie to help burn some of the excess energy in a constructive way. Because both dogs pulled on the leash, I showed their owners how to use a Martingale collar with my special twist. I demonstrated the collar and leash setup on Fenway and offered a few pointers on how to keep the dogs in a heel position on walks to build leadership.

Next I demonstrated a leadership exercise that will help the dogs learn to focus while developing more respect for their owner’s leadership. It took a few repetitions and some coaxing before they “got it.” After I showed their owners how to do the exercise themselves I recommended they practice it with both dogs a few times each day while increasing the level of difficulty. Once the dogs are able to master the exercise, they will have the ability to regulate their own excitement and energy rather than their owner’s needing to do it for them.

We also discussed how to disagree and stop unwanted behaviors before they really get started. In a pack of dogs, unbalanced behavior is not tolerated. The pack converges on the dog and this confrontation forces the dog to change and fall back into line or leave the pack. Because humans tend to let these behavioral issues go on and get worse, an unbalanced dog starts to believe their behavior is acceptable. By interrupting and disagreeing with the behavior consistently each time it happens, we can communicate to the dog that they behavior is unacceptable and will always be corrected.

Next I showed their owners an exercise to help the dog’s get over their fear of the kennel. By leaving the door open during the exercise, we can change the dog’s negative perception of their kennel. A closed door can cause a dog to look at the kennel as something keeping them away from their pack. By removing that obstacle and asking the dog to restrain itself, we can help the dog learn that staying in the kennel is a positive thing that pleases his pack leaders.

It took a few more repetitions of the kennel exercise before Charlie laid down. Because a dog will usually not sit or lie down in a situation they are not comfortable with, this action proved that he was becoming more comfortable inside the kennel. I suggested in addition to the exercise that they place the kennels next to each other as sometimes a familiar presence in close proximity can help a dog relax.

By the end of the session, the dog’s owners were able to disagree with unwanted behavior and get an immediate response. It will take a few weeks of practicing the leadership and kennel exercises before a new calm, balanced behavior becomes the norm. But because we were able to make so much progress in the two hour session, Im confident these brothers will become well behaved dogs by the end of the year.

 

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