Providing Leadership and Structure to Help an Insecure Lab Puppy Gain Confidence

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 5, 2015


Blu is a eight month old Charcoal Lab who is excited most of the time; jumping up on people, counter surfing, chewing, barking, etc.

When I arrived for the session Blu showed interest without getting too excited. I knew he liked to jump up so I made sure to keep my shoulders pointed squarely at him. He tried to go left and then stopped and turned right when I pivoted my torso to keep him in front. I wanted him to understood he had my full attention and expected him to respect a foot of personal space around me rather than jumping up. Once he realized that’s what I was asking, he barked in protest, but did it in a weak way. I made a sound and movement to disagree with his reaction.

The family invited me into the kitchen to discuss Blu and what they wanted to get out of the session. I discovered that they were given the dog at 6 weeks which is too young to take a pup from his mother and litter mates.

The second month of a pup’s life is where they develop many of their social skills interacting and playing with their litter mates. As my session with Blu progressed, this stunted social development became easy to spot. His eye contact was limited, he didn’t really appreciate physical contact and affection. In fact he withdrew or moved away from it in an avoiding fashion. This is not a normal behavior for a dog his age.

His owner informed me that they were watching a friend’s dog the previous few days and that dog only left a few hours earlier. While draining a dog’s excess energy before training is a great idea, too much exercise can make the dog a little cranky. This clearly impacted Blu’s behavior, but he still had a number of odd mannerisms and behaviors that were more than being overly tired.

During this conversation, one of their neighbors let their dogs out and they started barking at another neighbor’s dog. Blu perked up, got up, started to move towards the back door, barking once. I had been observing him and as soon as I saw him start to move forward, i made a sound and used a hand movement to disagree with his actions and intent (to go out the doggy door into the back yard to join in).

Blu stopped in his tracks as soon as I disagreed with him. One of his owners looked up shocked, telling me that she couldn’t believe I got that reaction. I explained that I was so effective because I disagreed with him the second he started to react. If I hadn’t been observing him, my correction would have been too late. By observing him at times that he is likely to react (when the neighbors dogs are out), his owners will be able to disagree with him in the same fashion to get a similar result.

Any time that Blu was corrected, he gravitated towards the mother of the family. She explained that Blu follows her around everywhere. While loyalty and dedication are core dog behaviors, a dog needs to be able to stand on its own as well. When a dog becomes too attached to being immediately close to a specific human, it can easily lead to separation anxiety.

I strongly suggested that she teach Blu the stay command. Mastering this exercise will help Blu develop some confidence while also teaching him that the world doesn’t stop when he is not right next to his owner. After he learns the stay, It would be highly advisable for his owners to continue to teach him basic obedience and some tricks using positive reinforcement. Just like humans, dogs gain a sense of accomplishment when mastering a new skill.

I showed his family a way to deliver a treat with a hand motion that gives them the ability to pet Blu at the same time. By combining the delivery of the high value meat treat with human contact, Im hoping that Blu will learn to develop an appreciation for physical praise and attention.

By the end of the session, Blue was responding to his owners lead, following commands, accepting petting without walking away and he had even started to self correct. Because of his limited socialization early on, his family will be well served by taking Blu to as many events as possible over the next four months. Farmers markets, dog parks, dog friendly stores and events will all provide Blu the ability to practice being a dog. The more practice and exposure he gets to new dogs and people, the better equipped he will be to deal with new situations and encounters over the rest of his life.

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This post was written by: David Codr