Adding Structure to Help a Pair of Australian Shepherds Respect Their Guardian

By: David Codr

Published Date: July 6, 2016

Bryda and Tucker

Bryda (left) is a seven-year-old Australian Shepherd who lives with two-year-old Tucker in Omaha. Their guardian scheduled an in home dog training session with me to stop Bryda’s territorial behavior when near other dogs and Tucker’s Leash aggression.

The dogs saw me coming before I even had a chance to knock on the door. They showed good curiosity and were excited but not overly so. All in all, a pretty good door greeting.

I sat down with the dog’s guardian to observe them and get some additional information about their day-to-day lives and routines. I wanted to get a feel for the dog training they had been exposed to and see how they interacted with their human. This is a strategy dog behaviorist use to determine what kind of dog training will be needed to address the dog behavior problem. Sometimes its dog obedience sometimes its dog psychology, but most often, its showing the dog guardian how to assume the leadership role in the dog’s eyes so they respect them.

In the course of my discussion I learned that the dogs didn’t really have very many rules to follow. Bryda although dominant, was the more polished dog in terms of behavior. Likely a result of the dog’s guardian acquiring her when she was younger; having more free time available to work with her.

Tucker was not as submissive as I expected based on my initial phone conversation with his guardian. He had a nice playful energy but clearly did defer to Britta.

I suggested a number of rules to help the dogs start to build up more respect for the human as an authority figure. I also went over how I like to provide positive reinforcement through my Petting with a purpose methodology. This sort of positive dog training goes a long ways towards helping a dog start engaging in actions and behaviors that we want. Its something more dog trainers should teach.

I also went through a series of escalating consequences that I like to apply whenever a dog is doing something I disagree with or if it breaks a rule or boundary. Because I derived these escalating consequences from how dogs interact with one another, both dogs got them immediately.

Lastly I suggested a few structural rules to put into effect. Dogs go through life probing, waiting to be rewarded or corrected. When they don’t receive guidance this way, it can lead them to believe that they have the same authority as their humans. When this is the case, then they often feel that listening to the human is optional and / or that they need to be protective or possessive of the human. In either case, adding rules and structure and enforcing them with good timing will help the dogs adopt a follower’s mindset and build up respect for their human as their leader.

Although he is not a dominant dog in the home, Tucker did have a habit of getting aggressive or reactive when he saw other dogs while out on a walk. To help him learn to focus on his guardian, I wanted to do some leash training. Because of his issue, I decided to utilize a reverse sit exercise.

This sort of obedience training will help Tucker learn to focus and stop reacting to things he sees.

I always try to run through new exercises with dogs a few times myself so that the dog understands the basic parameters of what I’m asking from them. Once that’s the case, then I coach the dog’s guardian through it so that they can get the same results.

Because the reverse sit works better when you have more room to move, we adjourned to the backyard where I coached Tucker’s guardian through the exercise a few times. I wanted to make sure she was comfortable with this leash training as it will be a big part of Tucker’s rehabilitation.

Tucker and his guardian did pretty good considering they only recently learned the exercise. As the dog and human practice together, their technique and timing will improve dramatically. I also recommended that the guardian practice the exercise with Bryda.

The best dog trainer always start out in the easiest setting or situation possible, then gradually increases the level of difficulty as the dog gets better at the exercise. I spent a few minutes explaining how the guardian can make the exercise more challenging once we finished practicing the exercise outside.

We had placed Bryda inside of her kennel while we were outside working with Tucker in the back yard. When we went back inside, Bryda’s guardian mentioned that she had a tendency to explode out of the kennel. I used this opportunity to demonstrate how the dogs guardian can add a little bit of control to releasing her dogs from the kennel in a calm and balanced way.

By asking the dogs to stay inside the kennel with the door wide open, we can help them learn to develop more self-control. We can also help them understand that the only way they are going to receive permission or gain access is by being in a completely calm state of mind.

By the end of the session, both dogs were noticeably calmer, seemed to be looking up to and following their guardians commands and corrections the first time and already starting to adhere to the new rules.

Regular practice at the reverse sit combined with the structure exercises that we had introduced during the session and timely enforcement of the new rules should help these dogs listen to and follow the instructions of their guardian. As their focus and respect for her increases, she should notice a decrease in their unwanted actions and behaviors. If she’s able to maintain the structure and discipline for the next month or so, most of the dogs unwanted behaviors should stop completely.

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