Training a Trio of Dogs to Respect Rules and Boundaries to Stop Dog Marking and Behave Better

Bo is a five-year-old Terrier mix who lives in Omaha with Scarlet, a slightly timid two-year-old Australian Cattle dog and Buck, a seven-year-old Pit Bull / Rottweiler mix who is a little reserved around new people. Their guardians wanted to address the timid / reserved behavior as well as Bo’s marking in the house and a concern about how he interacts with the family’s new daughter.

I chuckled a bit when I noticed that about 20% of the blinds in the windows in the front of the house were mangled or destroyed as I walked towards the front door.

I could immediately tell that Scarlet was uncomfortable around new people. Her nose was orientated down, her body was stiff and she kept moving parallel or away from me. I softened my body language and tried to be as still as I could to help her feel more comfortable. Because dogs meet through scent, I always want a dog to be able to give me a good sniff before I come into their home.

It took some time and patience, but eventually Scarlet the fearful dog came over to give me a good deep sniff. Success.

When I sat down with the guardians to discuss our session and what they wanted to accomplish, Bo and Scarlet took turns jumping up on the furniture, then invading their humans personal space to demand attention.

Demand may be the wrong word to use as the humans almost instinctively reached out to pet the dogs anytime they got within arm’s reach. When I asked what rules the dogs had, the guardians struggled to come up with any examples.

When you have more than one dog, setting a clear leadership structure is important. Otherwise the dogs will often jockey for the position of top dog.

Dogs go through life probing to determine where boundaries and limits are as well as who is the authority figure. If we don’t have a lot of rules for our dogs, it’s very easy for them to get the impression that they have the same authority that we do. When a dog thinks it has the same authority that you do, listening to you becomes optional. They also fail to develop a perception of you as a leader.

Another problem that you can run when a dog thinks its an authority figure, often male dogs will attempt to defend or define their territory. Many male dogs will do this through peeing on vertical surfaces, otherwise known as marking.

I have found the best way to stop dog marking is to change it’s perception of authority. Once the dog identifies as being in a follower position, then it becomes inappropriate for them to feel the need to mark things.

So for these and several other reasons, I suggested the guardians incorporate a number of rules, boundaries and limits and then showed them how they could enforce them. In addition to reducing Bo’s feeling that he should mark things in the house, this structure will help the dogs start to look at the humans as authority figures.

I made sure to point out how important it is to either reward or correct the dog within three seconds, otherwise it’s difficult for the animal to understand what the praise or correction is for. If the dog marks the couch, and you notice it 20 minutes later and punish the dog, it has absolutely no comprehension why its being punished, even if you are pointing at the couch / marked item.

I also recommended the guardians start to add structure to the act of giving the dogs attention. Instead of petting the dog when it tells the human to pet it, asking it to do something to ear its attention can be a great habit to get into. Asking a dog to sit before you pet it is often referred to as manding.

In this home, the dogs were competing for the humans attention and because the easiest way to get it was misbehaving, the dogs were often engaging in behaviors that the humans wanted to stop.

I recommended that the guardians start to pet their dogs with a purpose. I like to think of asking a dog to sit before we pet it as the dog’s way of asking politely.

Training these dogs to sit as a way of asking for attention is going to make them much better behaved. This will also help them learn to settle down on their own while increasing their respect for the humans as authority figures.

One of my concerns was the dog’s lack of respect for personal space. Once the families newborn daughter starts walking around, its going to be important to make sure that these dogs don’t bump into her or knock her over by not respecting her personal space.

I showed the guardians how they could use the nonverbal communication skills I introduced earlier to establish an invisible boundary around the table in front of the couch.

It will take some time and practice before the dogs start respecting the boundary around the table on their own. I suggested that the guardians practice this activity when they can give the dogs their full attention. The idea is to stage a situation that will be repeated later to help the dog develop and practice the behavior that you want them to display.

Right now, the immediate concern was that since the baby is mobile and sometimes approaches Bo when Bo is not interested in being approached. The parents wanted to head off any potential conflict that situation may produce and asked me what the best strategy would be.

I have found that the best way to address this type of situation is to give the dog an escape route. I had to come up with an unusual one in this case, but in the end it worked out perfectly.

I recommended that the guardians practice this “safety” exercise with 7 to 10 treats at a time, five or more times a day. The exercise itself should not take longer than a minute or two. At first I would just leave the treat on the second step as I did in the video. But once Bo is locked into going there on command, the guardian should start dropping or tossing the treat further up the stairs (one day the third step up, the next day the 4th and so on). They may want to even leave a trail that leads all the way up to the top stair, and then leave a small pile of treats there. We call this a jackpot.

The guardian needs to say the “safe” command word the instal the dog eats any of these treats, even when a trail is left on each step or the jackpot pile of 3-5 treats at the top.

With enough practice, Bo will get into the habit of moving away from the baby anytime he wants peace and quiet and go upstairs on his own. And on those occasions where he forgets, this will allow the guardians to use a simple one word command “safe” to direct him up the stairs.

Another dog behavior problem prevented through positive dog training.

It will be a week or two before the humans get these dogs to respect them as authority figures. It’s going to be all the little things that the humans do like petting with a purpose, enforcing rules and boundaries and communicating with the dogs in a way that they understand and respect in order to make that happen.

ROAMAP to SUCCESS

  • Introduce rules and boundaries and enforce them consistently within 3 seconds.
  • Stop petting the dogs when the cry, nudge, whine or jump up to demand it.
  • Pet the dogs with a purpose to help them develop more control and respect for the humans.
  • Make an effort to pet the dogs under their chin to achieve a nose up orientation whenever possible.
  • Use passive training to help reinforce desired behaviors and actions.
  • Avoid petting the dogs when over excited such as when arriving home.
  • Avoid petting Scarlet when she has a tucked tail or is still. Touch to lend support but do not pet until the tail comes up.
  • Practice leashing up the dogs a few times a day for the next week and stop any time they move in front or get over excited.
  • Take the dogs out for a walk or to the dog park when over excited or before any activity at home to put them in a position to succeed by eliminating unspent energy.
  • Practice the “safe” exercise to train Bo to move away instead of disagreeing  with the baby approaching him.
  • Intercede any time the baby approaches Bo and he licks his lips, curls his lips, gets stiff, raises his hackles, moves very slow or freezes when the baby gets near.
  • Get a dog bed and train the dogs to use it on command as instructed.
  • Practice claiming the area around the door when people come and go.
  • Practice establishing an invisible boundary to the kitchen when food is being prepared or to the nursery when changing diapers or feeding.
  • Practice claiming personal space, especially when any food is being consumed on the couch or mother is feeding the baby.
  • Feed the dogs in a structured way where they eat one at a time only after being given permission and only after the human eats first.
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