Andre Learns to Respect his Pack Leader and Relax Around Other Dogs

By: David Codr

Published Date: September 1, 2013


Andre is a four-year-old French Bulldog. His owner contacted me to get him to stop marking in the house, his aggressiveness around other male dogs, anxiety and jumping up on guests who come over.

When i arrived he was clearly excited to see me, rubbing and jumping up on me. Usually I like to sit down and discuss things with my clients at the start of a session, but since i knew jumping up is one thing Andre’s owner wanted to correct, I started right away.

Dogs usually jump up on people to “claim them” as the dog’s property. This is the case when the dog thinks he or she is the pack leader or sheriff of the home. I developed a rehabilitation method that stops dogs from jumping up within days, sometimes hours. After demonstrating the technique three times, Andre stopped jumping up and sat down a respectable 3 feet in front of me. In addition to stopping the jumping, it calmed Andre down a bit, so I sat down with his owner to discuss the situation.

The primary issue was Andre’s marking in the loft. His owner has a beautiful second story flat, complete with a balcony that includes a potty patch. Unfortunately, Andre prefers to go in the loft’s bathroom, marking the doorway and defecating in the shower.

In a pack environment usually its only the top dog who marks, so we focused on ways to communicate to Andre that his owner was the top dog or pack leader.  I asked what rules and boundaries Andre was expected to follow. His owner pondered the question for a moment and said that aside from not going in the house, he really didnt have any. This is often the case with dogs who think that they are in a leadership position. As I was explaining this to his ower, Andre jumped up on the couch repeatedly.

Since the height at which they sit has a correlation to their rank in the pack, I suggested that the first new rule would be that Andre was not allowed on the furniture for a month. This rule helps the dog see the difference in rank between him and his human and is really easy to implement.

Like many dogs, each time Andre approached the couch, he would pause briefly before jumping up on it. By disagreeing with him before he jumps, we can communicate this new rule. When Andre was able to jump up before his owner could disagree with the request, I had her stand up and wave Andre off. It took a few repetition of the correction, but Andre eventually gave up and laid down on the floor.

Because Andre had become more aggressive to dogs he didnt know, we discussed his past history. Often times dogs who are dog aggressive are being reactive to the sight of another dog. In nature, a dog usually first observes the other dog by scent and this is the best way for dogs to meat.  When a dog see’s another dog before it smells them, it can be unsettling. For dogs who lack social interaction or have confidence or dominance issues, visual sight of an unknown dog can result in unwanted behaviors that are more reactive than conscious decisions.

To help Andre learn to think before he leaps, I demonstrated a leadership exercise to his owner that will help teach Andre to look to her for guidance and help him learn to self restrain. It took only two repetitions for Andre to figure out what i was asking for him, so I coached his owner through it as well. By practicing this exercise daily and increasing the length of time, Andre will learn to wait for permission from his owner when he doesnt know what to do.

Next we went over his eating schedule. Andre’s owner was free-feeding him. For dogs, eating is a very important and primal activity. There are rules and a structure when it comes to meal time in a pack. The pack leader eats first, then number two, three, four, etc. When a human free feeds a dog, this order is lost which can be confusing for dogs. It can also give them the impression that they have a higher rank than their human’s because they are eating before they do.

Additionally, wen dogs eat when they want though out the day, they do not have a regularity in regards to going to the bathroom. Dogs that eat on a regular schedule usually go potty at the same times. So you can limit the dog’s freedom when its time to go, until they go in the proper place instead of running into the other room (or shower in Andre’s case).

As we were finishing up this discussion, I noticed Andre waiting by the door to the balcony so I suggested his owner let him out, but not follow him. Andre walked over to the potty pad, lifted his leg and peed a bit. I had his owner repeat the word “potty” while he was going and then reward him after he finished. By assigning a potty word and repeating it when the dog is eliminating, we can help the dog connect the two.

His owner was so happy that he used the potty pad since he hadnt so far. Unfortunately, Andre came back inside and then snuck into the bathroom to mark the door way and poop in the shower. This is a great example of needing to observe the dog properly while rehabilitating it. Because the use of the potty pad was so little, we should have known he had more to give, so to speak.

By changing Andre to a structured meal time and limiting his freedom before he eliminates, we create a structure that doesnt afford Andre the option of pooping in the shower. After a few weeks of this, going on the potty pad will become the new normal.

At the end of the session, Andre’s owner had her mother bring over their dog so I could gauge his reaction, hostility and aggression. Because he had attacked this dog in the past, i placed him on the leash to ensure everyone stayed safe. At first Andre was very interested in the other dog, but i blocked him from getting to close and corrected him any time he started to get excited.

While i was able to get Andre to relax, that wasnt the case for his owner and her mother. Its important we remain calm when we encounter a situation that our dogs react to. Often time the dog can sense the owner is uncomfortable or fearful and this can trigger the dog to try to take a leader or protector role. Combine that with a dog who doesnt have much self restraint, confidence or social grace and you can end up with an aggressive dog. Andre only reacted twice to the other dog and after some time his human’s began to relax themselves. It will be important to repeat this exercise in a controlled situation for the benefit of both Andre and his human leaders.

At the end of the session, Andre way laying on the floor a foot away from the other dog in a completely relaxed and peaceful manner. Regular practice with the leadership exercise along with the new rules and meal structure will help Andre learn to remain in a relaxed and balanced frame of mind all the time.


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This post was written by: David Codr