Adding Some Rules and Structure to Help a Puppy Learn to Behave

By: David Codr

Published Date: August 28, 2014

FinnFinn is a five month old Irish terrier male pup.  His owner contacted me concerned about his demand barking, intermittent responsiveness, getting over excited and occasional nipping and play biting.

When I first met Finn, he appeared to be your average puppy. He didn’t understand the concept of respect for my personal space, jumped up on me and wined or barked in protest when I disagreed with any unwanted behavior.

I started out by suggesting some rules and boundaries that the family can incorporate to help the dog see and identify himself as a follower. By asking the dog to sit before letting it in or out of a door, making him wait for permission to eat and walking in the heel position on the leash, we can help further condition Finn to see the humans in his life as authority figures.

Next I went over some basic body communication methods. Because dogs don’t communicate verbally, how you stand, face, move and interact with them can be more effective in communicating what you do or don’t want than using words.

By using the same communication methods the dogs use with one another, I have found that my clients get a much better and much more consistent response from their dog. Finn was no exception. At first the sound we used to disagree with actions or behavior didn’t impact Finn, but as the session progressed, he started reacting to it the way we wanted.

To further defined the leader follower relationship, I went over a leadership exercise that will help Finn practice restraining himself as well as look to his owners for guidance when he is unsure of what to do next.

It only took Finn a few practice repetitions before he seemed to understand what I was asking from him. Once that was the case, I guided the members of his family through the exercise as well. I suggested that they continue to practice this exercise of the next 1 to 2 weeks to really help Finn master it.

Next I fitted Finn up with a Martingale collar and we all went out for a short walk. Finn’s owners had previously used a retractable leash on him which enabled him to run in front of them as well as do anything he wanted while on a walk.

But when a dog is walking in front of its humans it’s doing so because it believes it’s in a leadership position. This is a problem for most any dog but is even worse when the dog is just a puppy. To demonstrate a better way to walk him, I had his family stand on the front porch as I walked Finn up-and-down the sidewalk in front of their home.

At first Finn protested a bit as the leash gave me quite a bit more control than he was used to with the retractable leash. However after about 100 feet or so he fell into line and started walking next to me in a heel without my needing to correct him. Once it was clear that he knew how to walk at a heal, I handed the leash over to his owner so they could practice it themselves.

Finn regressed at first, pulling on the leash, attempting to sit down in protest and whining a bit. I instructed his owners to ignore the behavior and continue to walk him. Within the few moments Finn was walking at a heel for them as well.

By walking Finn in this structured way every day, his owners can condition him that this is the proper place to be while on a walk. It will take regular walks for the next few weeks to a month before this becomes a permanent behavior. Based on how quickly Finn had picked up the other exercises, I would imagine that it won’t take quite that long.

By the end of the session, Finn was responding to commands and corrections from him owners and had given up on some of the unwanted behaviors already. Practice at the leadership exercise along with enforcement of the new rules should help stop most of the unwanted behaviors. His owner’s new and improved means of non-verbal communication will enable them to disagree with and lingering behavior issues as they come along.

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