Teaching a Puppy To Settle Down So She Can Listen to Her Guardians

By: David Codr

Published Date: August 23, 2015

Annabelle Huskie Lab mix

Annabelle is a five-month-old Lab Husky mix who needs help with potty training, biting / mouthing, barking, begging and a lack of respect for her guardians.

When I started working with her she was a little sleepy, so I went over some suggested changes to her day to day life with her guardian. Puppies can be a handful, but if you set clear rules and boundaries from the beginning, you can set yourself up for a lifetime with well behaved and balanced dog.

After going through some structure, I demonstrated a leadership exercise I developed to help dogs learn to develop a respect for their guardian’s authority while helping the guardian practice leading and correcting the dog. I ran through it a few times until Annabelle seemed to understand how to navigate the exercise, then I coached her guardian through it until she had the same success.

Another great way to develop a rich leader follower dynamic is teaching your dog how to walk at a heel and follow the guardian’s lead. Walking a dog this way is one of the only activities where we are doing the same thing as our dog while still leading them.

As many dogs do, her guardian explained that Annabelle got a little excited as soon as she realized she was going for a walk. I wanted to see it in action myself, so I had the guardian go through the process of leashing put he dog the way she normally does.

As soon as the guardian slipped on her shoes the excitement started. It continued to build as she progressed. By the time she attached the leash and walked to the front door, Annabelle was pretty worked up.

I had the guardian take off the leash and we returned to the living room to discuss what just happened. As many guardians do, Annabelle’s handler narrated what she was doing or about to do “”are you ready to go out for a walk,” etc. Of course this triggers a response from the dog.

When I suggested she not tell the dog anything when going through the process of leashing it up, her guardian asked me why it was bad to have the dog excited about going for a walk. Many humans mistakenly misinterpret excitement in dogs for happiness.

But in reality a dog can be calm and happy or excited and not happy. Because dogs tend to get into trouble the most, I find it beneficial to teach the dog to stay calm, even when it thinks something fun is about to happen.

An excited dog tends to pull on the leash, is more reactive to dogs, people and other animals it encounters. Its attention is on what is out there, rather than following the lead of the guardian.

After going over all of these points, I had the guardian repeat the leashing up process. By eliminating the narration and stopping or pausing when the dog started to get excited, we were able to help Annabelle stay completely calm throughout the entire process.

Now that the dog was calm and in control, we were ready to go out for an actual walk. Because of her propensity to pull, I fitted her up with a Martingale collar then added a special twist to the leash. I showed the handler how to hold and correct the dog with the leash when it got out of position or distracted.

At first you could tell that Annabelle was a little uncomfortable with the Martingale and leash twist. This is pretty natural as it gives the handler much more control that attaching a standard leash to a collar. I took the lead and walked her for a bit to get her comfortable with the new setup and show the handler the proper technique and movements.

Usually dogs get used to the new leash position within a couple hundred feet, but Annabelle kept at it as I walked her. I was able to get her into a heel position, but she was clearly still distracted by the leash. Because sometimes a distraction is the best thing for a puppy, I handed the leash to her handler.

At first Annabelle responded the same way, but as we walked she settled in a bit more. While it was far from a perfect heel, the difference in the dog’s behavior and manageability was impressive to her guardian.

Even when we encountered a dog that wasn’t exactly calm, Annabelle’s guardian was able to disagree and correct the dog with ease rather than having her arm pulled out of her socket.

As we continued, you can see the dog starting to fall into a follower position next to her handler. Its going to take some practice and a watchful eye so that she can correct the dog with good timing before she is ready for showtime, but hearing the guardian gush about how much more enjoyable the walk was is always music to my ears.

When we returned from the walk, her guardian remembered that one issue she had with the dog was her habit of stealing tissues and chewing them up. I grabbed a few and threw them on the floor in the middle of the living room.

As soon as she saw them, Annabelle walked over to get one of the tissues. But this time I used the same technique we practiced in the leadership exercise to communicate that the tissues were to be left alone. It only took two corrections before the puppy walked away and laid down a respectable distance from the tissues on the floor.

Annabelle Ignores Tissues

Annabelle’s guardians had been focusing on correcting the dog when she engaged in unwanted behaviors. But because attention, even mad attention, is desirable. This often leads the dog to start trying to repeat the actions that got them the attention.

By petting her with a purpose, distracting her and waiting for her to become calm before moving forward, Annabelle will learn to control herself and behave in a way that pleases her guardians. The more positive attention they give her at the right time for wanted behaviors, the more the dog will repeat them.

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This post was written by: David Codr