Introducing Rules and Structure to Help a Pack of Mini Doodles

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 3, 2016

Booba, Motek and Bella

Booba (far right)  is a six year old Mini Goldendoodle who lives in Beverly Hills with two of her pups; four-year-olds Motek and Bella. Their guardian asked me to help stop the dog’s accidents in the house, barking, over excitement when guests arrive and Bella’s reactivity to other dogs.

The dogs were excited when I arrived for the session, but not overly so. Each one did try to jump up on me which is how dogs typically try to claim humans or let them know that the dog is in charge. This was my first indicator that we needed to incorporate rules, boundaries and structure to help the dogs start to identify as being in the follower position.

One of the participants was not there when I arrived for the session so we were doing a little bit of chitchat about the dog’s daily routine and background as we waited for their arrival.

I usually like to observe dogs for a good 10 or 15 minutes to start out each session anyway so this wasn’t a problem. The observation period gives me the opportunity to identify how the dog perceives itself and what level of respect it has for the human’s authority.

In the course of this conversation, one dog jumped up on the couch to lay next to her guardian while pushing up against her with her paw. As soon as the dog made contact with the guardian, she started to pet it.  Another dog, Motek, saw this and jumped up onto his guardian’s leg a minute later to ask her for attention too. As soon as he did so, the guardian immediately started to pet him.

I never like saying that petting a dog can be a problem. However it’s important that we take into consideration what we and the dogs are doing when we start to provide this attention. Anytime that we pet a dog or give it attention, we are basically agreeing with whatever the dog happens to be doing at the time. In this case, the guardian was rewarding the dog for jumping up on her. When you have three dogs that are all vying for the humans attention, this creates an unhealthy competition and in some cases results in jealousy.

To help with the dogs give up this bad habit and enable the humans to start assuming a leadership position, I went over a technique that I like to call Petting with a purpose.

Petting with a purpose is probably the easiest thing a dog guardian can do that has the biggest, positive impact on their dog’s behavior. It will take the humans a concerted effort over the next week or two before petting with a purpose becomes second nature. But once they make this transition, each time ask the dog to sit, come or lay down before they provide attention, they will be reinforcing the leader follower dynamic that they need.

The fact that the dogs consider themselves equal in authority to the humans is a big contributing factor to the dog’s eliminating in the home. If the dog considers the home it’s domain, then in its mind it can do in it whatever he or she pleases.

In order for their guardian to stop the dogs from eliminating in the house, two things will need to happen; number one, the dogs will need to re-learn some basic potty training. The second issue is to change the dog’s perception of authority so they consider themselves as followers. Once the dogs have been taught that it is preferable (rewarded) to eliminate outside and see the house as belonging to the humans, it will be inappropriate or rude in their mind to have eliminate in the house.

One of the ways that I help my clients achieve this leadership position is by incorporating some simple rules, boundaries and limits in the home. An example is denying the dogs the ability to get up on any furniture. To dogs the higher they sit, the more rank they have amongst their peers. By letting the dogs sit at the same level, and in some situations, sit higher than the humans, the dogs had gotten the impression that they had equal or more status.

I suggested that the guardian make all furniture off-limits for 30 days. At the end of the 30 day period, then the dogs can be allowed on the furniture, but only with permission and only for good behavior. So if one of the dogs gets up on the furniture but then starts to bark at another dog, it would immediately have to get down. This helps the dogs see a literal distinction between humans and themselves.

After we finished up going over a few rules to incorporate, I ran through some potty training basics. These include’s vocalizing the command word the instant the dog starts to potty, and then richly rewarding the dog for a good 10 to 20 seconds after eliminating. One of the humans had noticed that the dogs immediately go outside to eliminate after eating their meal. I suggested that they use this regular occurrence to go over the remedial potty training.

If every time the dog successfully eliminates outside while a human is richly rewarded it while also vocalizing a command word, eventually the dog will start to look forward to eliminating outside as it is a new way of getting attention from the humans. If they can consistently do this for a week or two, while blocking access to the two rooms that the dogs like to eliminate in, The dogs will develop a new habit of only eliminating outside as that’s the only place that gets them a reward.

As I was wrapping up the potty training basics, one of the guardian’s staffers came to the home. I used this opportunity to demonstrate how to claim the area around the door before opening it.

When we open a door with the dogs in front of us or jumping up excitedly at the door, the dogs look at it as our assisting them. Obviously it’s not practical to ask your guests to wait at the door for several minutes as you usher your dogs away. That’s why I recommended that everyone that lives or visits the home on a regular basis call or text when they are a minute or two away. This will give the guardian in the home an opportunity to practice claiming the door this way without the press or rushing to open the door.

Teaching a client to claim a doorway in this manner is one of my favorite techniques to teach because it usually only takes 10 to 20 successful practice repetitions before the dogs stop rushing to the door ahead of the human. Instead they sit and wait behind the boundary so that the human can answer the door on their own.

In the course of the session, one of the dogs went through quite a transformation. Bella was typically the first dog to do things and also seemed to be the most reactive dog to other dogs outside of the home. In fact one of the guardians friends has a female german Shepherd that was so bullied by Bella when they visited, the Shepherd started quivering.

I had the guardian call her friend and ask her to bring the German Shepherd over so that I could show the guardian how she could assume control the situation and disagree with this behavior so that the Shepherd felt comfortable and secure.

Because of the work that we had put in earlier in the session and the fact that I took control of the situation, none of the dogs objected to the arrival of the German Shepherd. Remember this is a situation that had resulted in so much aggressive barking from Bella, that the German Shepherd was clearly frightened or fearful due to stress.

I wanted to make sure that the guardian understood that she could achieve the same results herself so I asked her to take the Shephard’s leash and bring it down the hallway near her dogs.

This was a pretty advanced exercise. When dogs meet each other in a confined space, everything is ratcheted up in intensity. Dogs do better in open surroundings where they have more room to move about freely. The fact that the guardian was able to bring this German Shepherd into such tight quarters while maintaining control of the situation is an indicator that her dog’s problems can absolutely be overcome.

By the end of the session, Booba, Moteck and Bella were all noticeably calmer and much more respectful in how they interacted with their humans. They were not trying to get up on the couch as much, seemed to be following instructions faster and didn’t react or show aggression when the visiting German Shepherd came inside.

In order to stop the dogs from eliminating inside the house, it will be important for all of the humans to consistently correct the dogs the instant that they start to engage in any unwanted behavior. Because dogs learn through association, the timing of corrections and rewards is extremely important. Good timing is what makes it possible for a dog to understand what it is you are asking or telling it.

Petting with a purpose, practicing the door answering ritual and enforcement of these rules will transform this pack of mini goldendoodles into a follower’s mindset. Combined with some remedial potty training reinforcement, the dogs respect for their guardians should improve as well as their overall behavior. Once all of these elements are in place, most of the unwanted behaviors should stop on their own. For those that remain, the guardians now have the tools to disagree in a way that the dogs understand and respect.

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This post was written by: David Codr