How to Teach an Over Excited Siberian Husky to Calm Down and Listen
Blitzen is a one-year-old Siberian Husky who lives in Omaha. His guardians set up a dog obedience training session with me because he gets so excited when guests arrive he can’t control himself; jumping up on people and furniture. He also does some counter surfing, doesn’t listen and marks in the house.
While Blitzen was pretty excited when I arrived for the session, it wasn’t the worst arrival behavior I have ever seen. I blocked and corrected him a few times for jumping up and once he seemed to settle down, his guardians led me into the living room so we could sit down and discuss his dog behavior problems.
However, I hadn’t even had a chance to take my coat off before Blitzen started going crazy again. Now I have seen some crazy dog behavior in my years as a dog behaviorist, but this may be the wildest display I have ever captured on film.
For your viewing pleasure and amusement, I give you one of the best (or worst, lol) examples of any dog needing my services in … well ever, lol.
To get Blitzen under control I pulled out a chain leash (As I knew he would chew on it) and Martingale collar (Best collar for Huskies with their thick neck and smaller skull), slipped the collar on and attached the leash so I could step on it and give him a leash time out.
It took a few minutes of this time out, but Blitzen finally settled down so that I could discuss the dog behavior help his guardians needed.
In the course of our discussion I learned that Blitzen did not really have any rules to follow. When a dog has no rules or boundaries or they are enforced inconsistently it can give the dog the impression that they have the same authority as their human. When you combine this with a puppy, you have a recipe that is going to result in a pooch that does not listen.
I suggested a number of rules and limits that the guardians can incorporate that will help Blitzen start to see them as authority figures.
Note: this write up is going to seem a little bit odd as it continues as you were about to start seeing videos of other dogs. At the end of our session, Blitzen’s guardian asked me to do the longer version of my write up. But because I only shot two videos during their session, I’m using those from other sessions to touch on the points that we went over.
First up is a great way to add a little bit of structure to petting and rewarding the dog to help it see the human as being an authority figure. I like to call this Petting with a Purpose.
By getting into a habit of petting the dog this way, Blitzen’s guardians will be doing a mini dog obedience training session each time they pet him.
But as shown in the first two videos, sometimes you have to say no and correct a dog. Most people do this verbally, but dogs don’t respond well if they don’t understand. Dogs learn thought association, so its important that you reward or correct a dog within 3 seconds in order for them to understand where you are coming from.
While timing is important, so is how you communicate. Because dogs don’t speak English, I have come up with a series of Escalating Consequences that I like to use to disagree with unwanted behaviors. The following video explains how they work.
If the guardians can get into a habit of using these non verbal communication cues within 3 seconds, they should see the dog respond faster as Blitzen will know what they are saying. It takes a lot of repetition and the more consistent you are, the faster the dog will get it.
But what should you do when your dog does something wrong when you are not around? Blitzen has developed a habit of counter surfing (getting food off kitchen counters) his guardians asked me about.
Well I have a video for that too, lol.
But staying off the counters isn’t the only area that Blitzen needs help with. Throughout the session, he invaded his guardian’s personal space any time he was able to. It wasn’t hard to understand why. Each time Blitzen did so, his guardians would pet him. This is why petting with a purpose will be important for them to practice.
But the guardians will also need to learn how to define their personal space. I showed them this technique in the session, but am including a video from a different client to provide more detail.
For dogs, the more distance between it and the stimulus, the less intense it is. When Blitzen is right at the door when a guest arrives, its too much for him to deal with. Teaching him to stay a few feet away will go a long ways toward helping him from getting over excited.
Teaching Blitzen to stay away from the door isn’t hard, it just takes time and practice. Teaching a dog to respect a boundary at the door is one of my favorite exercises and I go over how to do that in this video.
I usually suggest people arrange for family and friends to play the part of an arriving guest to practice this exercise. This takes the pressure off of wondering how the guest will think about a barking or excited dog and lets the human be at the ready if the friend calls or texts a few minutes in advance.
But the front door isn’t the only place you can establish boundaries. A few months ago I helped a client teach their dog to stay out of their daughter’s room. You can watch how I did that in the video below.
Increasing distance through boundaries is not the only way we can help a dog develop more self control. I always like to add delays to regular every day activities we do over and over like feeding, going out the door or leashing up for walks.
There are many other activities and exercises that you can do that will also help your dog develop self control. One of these is a simple focus exercise.
The focus exercise is a great way to distract or redirect a dog. If you can catch your dog before it gets too excited and have it focus a few times, you can often head off problems before they happen.
The focus exercise works great but only after the dog has it down so it takes a little practice. Best when practiced in short 1-2 minutes sessions when there are no distractions around at first. Once you practice it enough, it is a great way to distract and keep your dog from getting all worked up.
Now clearly Blitzen is a higher energy dog, at least at times. I suggested that the guardians look into upping his exercise, preferably earlier in the day. Another option is to consider doggy day care, especially before having friends over for a party of game of cards. The expression a tired dog is a well behaved one is old, but very true. Especially for puppies.
Because he was a little crazy on walks, I went over the rules I have for what I call a structured walk. Now I actually shot this at Blitzen’s house, or so I thought. Actually we pressed the record button AFTER I finished explaining so here is one last video from another client.
Once we wrapped up the instructions for a structured walk, Blitzen’s guardian and I headed out for a short walk.
I took the leash first and demonstrated the proper leash position and movements for a few minutes before handing the leash back to him so that he could do it himself. The guardian’s timing was a bit slow and the reaction not quite intense enough at first, but within a few minutes, he was walking him like an old pro.
It was great seeing Blitzen walking in an almost perfect heel with his guardian minutes after starting our walk. Now this is due to the special twist to the martingale and not training Blitzen to walk in a heel.
I told the guardians that training him to heel on his own is not too hard and to let me know if they want to have my apprentice Tara come by to show them how once they get his overexcited behaviors under control. They have more than a few things to work on and it will be best if they focus on his behavior and get that handled first. But once that is the case, teaching a dog to walk in a heel on its own is one of the most mutually beneficial things you can teach a dog.
ROADMAP to SUCCESS
- Exercise Blitzen early in the day with a walk or game of fetch.
- Practice leashing him up multiple times a day without going for a walk every time.
- Stop as soon as Blitzen starts to get excited and wait for him to calm down before trying again.
- Use martingale with the special twist (keep arm relaxed and zero tension on leash) to keep him in the heel position.
- Make sure Blitzen waits at door so the human exits first.
- No more feeding Blitzen people food, especially from the table.
- Use a leash time out when Blitzen’s energy is too high (but never if he hasn’t been properly exercised first).
- Do not pet Blitzen when he is excited when humans get home.
- Pet Blitzen with a purpose as much as possible.
- Get into a habit of walking through Blitzen instead of around him so he gets used to deferring.
- Use bold gestures when communicating though body language and movement.
- Use Escalating Consequences to disagree instead of verbal or physical corrections and reprimands.
- Come up with a “naughty” dog name.
- Practice establishing boundaries.
- Add structure to meal time.
- Practice the focus exercise.
- Have cach family member teach Blitzen a new trick each week until each person has taught him four tricks or commands.
- Schedule a training session with my apprentice Tara to work on loose leash heel training.
Categorized in: Dog Behavior