Training a Dog to Focus to Stop Him From Fighting with his Roommate

By: David Codr

Published Date: March 30, 2020

For this LA virtual dog training session, we were teach 3 year-old Shepherd Pit mix Brixton to focus and share other dog behavior tips to stop his inconsistent dog aggression towards his roommate 5 year-old Pit mix Barrington.

Due to the Coronavirus we did the session virtually using FaceTime. I started out by getting more information on the dogs and the dog fights that have happened.

One of the first things we talked about was how much exercise the dogs got each day. Because Brixton goes after Barrington when arroused or stressed, the guardians were waling them separately and not as often. I suggested some creative ways to exercise their dogs including one of my favorites, dog skiing.

The fetch is one of the best options for these dogs to get exercised, but due to construction in the yard, this option is limited for now. If the guardians add “Scent Games,” dog skiing, feeding meals out of a Snuffle Matt and snacks out of an Omega Paw Treat ball they can set the dogs up for success and reduce some anxiety.

I also went over a way to help the dogs, namely Briston, learn to be near one another while under threshold. Going to a park and finding a distance that will allow Briston to relax (can he easily be asked to sit and will he take treats) can help Briston practice being clam around Barrington outside. This seems like an odd thing to many laymen, but finding the closest distance to a stimulus, then helping the dog practice being close without reacting is something the best Dog Behaviorists in the country do all the time. This is a form of Behavior Adjustment Training and its a very effective way to stop aggressive dog behavior.

Once Briston can be near Barrington while outside, the guardians can start doing some parallel walking, walking the dogs next to one another but with enough distance between them that Briston isn’t anxious. The guardians can see when this is the case by looking for any of these warning signs; staring, crouching down, tensing up, offering stiff body language, moving in slow motion, hackles up, tail up and stiff or still, holding breath or dry panting. If they see any of these behaviors, they should increase distance and practice a bit of the focus exercise I showed them later in this session.

One of the issues that exercise will help with is jumping on guests when they are at the door. Dogs are often over excited when people come to the door and over excitement is the cause or flat point of many dog behavior problems.  This video shows how I use Operant Conditioning to teach dogs to sit to ask for attention instead of jumping on people at the door.

Anther great door exercise I like to use to help dogs practice self restraint and control is waiting for permission to exit an open door. This will be best taught after teaching the dogs to sit to ask to go out the door first.

Id recommend assigning each dog a separate out command word so they can relate the dogs one at a time. This will reduce the excitement in doorways, an area many dogs get into trouble. To assign different command words, they can just roll one treat outside the open door then saying the command word for that dog to exit the house when it licks up the treat. This is one of the reasons you want to teach the wait to go out the door with the dogs separately. Only once both dogs can do it consistently should the guardians start practicing it with the dogs together.

Teaching a dog to sit at the door to ask to go out is one of the things I covered when we discussed the importance of rules. The fact of the matter is, if you don’t have any rules for your dogs they will see you as a peer. If a dog sees you as a peer, then listing to you becomes optional. A lack of rules is a contributing factor in many cases of dog on dog aggression. It can lead to frustration, anxiety and stress as the dog often thinks it needs to be in a leadership position since it doesn’t see the human acting that way (leaders enforce rules in the dog world).

One of the more important jobs in the dog world is protection of the group. This often manifests by the dog getting in front of humans as they go to open the door, then jumping up on humans who come inside to claim them as belonging to the dog.

When someone was making noises outside the door, Brixton started barking and charging the door which caused Barrington to follow his lead. I walked the guardians through a way to claim the area around the door and train the dogs to stay behind an invisible line several feet away. You can watch me guide another client through this process in this free dog behavior training video.

I also went over my petting with a purpose method to train dogs to sit to ask for attention and the importance of rewarding desired behaviors when they happen organically. Id also like to see the guardians incorporate a structured feeding ritual where Barrington eats first while Briston has to wait from a distance until its his turn.

I walked the guardians through the Focus exercise I show many of my clients. Teaching a dog to focus on command is a great way of stopping problems before they get a chance to start. Training a dog to focus this way is slightly harder than other methods, but as one of LA’s resident dog behavior experts, I find it works much better.

The best part of this trick to teaching a dog to focus on you is all it takes is some patience. You dont have to be a professional Pit bull mix dog trainer to do it.

To help the humans remember all the positive dog training tips I shared in this virtual dog behavior training session, I recorded a roadmap to success summary video.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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