Adding Rules and Structure to Help Marley Respect Her Owner

By: David Codr

Published Date: July 30, 2014

Marley (Cocker)Marley is a six-year-old Cocker Spaniel who is possessive of some objects, has possible separation anxiety and recently bit his neighbor’s wife when she was attempting to pick up an object.

When I met Marley, she decided to jump on me to “claim me.” I used the technique I have developed to curb the behavior and from that point on Marley’s jumping stopped.

When I sat down with her owners I found out that Marley was strongly imprinted on the male of the couple that owned her. I also learned that Marley had snapped and bitten his female owner multiple times when reaching near her.

When a dog snaps or acts aggressively to one member of a home but not the other, its usually a case of the dog seeing itself as superior in authority or status to the household member they react to. The best way to stop this behavior is to change the dog’s perspective of their status or rank amongst the members of the pack.

To help Marley start to see herself as having less status than the humans in the home I suggested that they add a few basic rules. Asking your dog to sit before you let it in or out a door, to wait for the human to go out the door or up / down the stairs or not being allowed on the furniture can have a big impact on a dog’s perception of its rank.

To accelerate this transformation, I went over a leadership exercise that helps the dog see and identify the human as being in the authority position. While Marley didn’t challenge me during the exercise, she was very determined to maintain her status which made the exercise last longer than normal.

After I was able to get her to complete the exercise a few times, I walked her owners through it as well. It will be important that they practice and master this exercise completely in the next week or two to help Marley shake the idea that she has more authority than the humans she meets.

Once her owners had mastered the exercise, I attempted to fit Marley up with a Martingale collar. I was able to get the collar on, but when i reached under her to attach the leash, she snarled, lunged and repeatedly snapped at me.

She gave me a very quick warning with her mouth so I was able to move my hand away before she reacted. Fortunately the leash was attached to the collar so I simply stood up and stepped on the leash about a foot away from her head. Marley protested a bit and while snapping at me a few times with “air bites.”

I stayed in place until Marley stopped and settled down. While the reaction was sudden, the dog didn’t follow through which tells me that Marley’s reaction was a learned behavior to attempt to control a situation or disagree with something.

I went through how her primary owner should react to similar outburst in the future. It is extremely important that her owner disagree with her each and every time the dog shows this behavior.

Once the dust settled we went out for a walk as her owners had always let her walk in front of them and do as she pleased. I took the leash and walked on the sidewalk in front of the house so her owners could watch how I positioned myself, the dog and how i corrected her when she got out of position.

At first Marley was none too happy that the Martingale collar made it so easy for me to disagree with her attempts to walk in front. She bit at the leash for about a hundred feet then fell into a perfect heel.

Once she was walking calmly and in position I gave the leash to one of her owners and offered a few pointers as he walked her. He commented on how nice it was to walk with her rather than her usual pulling.

Because most of Marley’s outbursts were at her female owner, I had her practice walking the dog as well. By this point Marley was walking at a heel as if she had been doing it her whole life. I suggested that she walk the dog in this structured way with just the two of them. This exercise will help the dog start to see and identify her female owner as an authority figure.

The day after the session, Marley’s owner sent me a email saying “I took Marley for a walk to the park this morning….it was like I had a different dog. The leash worked and Marley followed all my commands.”

Marley is not an aggressive dog. In my opinion she had just learned to control people with her outbursts so this learned behavior will take some time to completely stop. But if her owners continue to practice the leadership exercises and enforce the new rules and boundaries over the next few weeks, her outbursts will become less intense and frequent until they stop altogether.

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