A Pair of mini Staffordshire Bullterriers Learn To Calm Down

By: David Codr

Published Date: December 6, 2015

Brick and Riot

Brick (left) is a ten-year-old mini Staffordshire Bullterrier who lives with an eight-year-old Staffy named Riot (Right).

Their guardians had called me in to help with several issues; most importantly the dog’s behavior around the family’s new baby. Brick has shown some signs of jealousy towards the baby and is overly close / protective when the mom is breastfeeding. He also gets animated and overly close when someone else is holding the baby or he is getting attention. Their guardian also reported that the dogs have gotten into it a few times when-over excited.

Although the dogs were excited and showed little regard for my personal space, their guardians mentioned that their behavior was actually relatively good for my arrival.

When I sat down, both dogs continued to jump up on the furniture around and on myself. I had to stand up and define my personal space multiple times before the dogs finally settled down a bit and sat down on the floor a few feet away.

I started to discuss the situation with their guardians to get a better feeling for the dogs and their interaction with the members of the family.

During our discussion, I noticed that the humans had a tendency to push or shove the dogs away whenever they invaded their personal space. Because dogs usually only shove each other when playing, this really sends the wrong message to the dogs when they do this. Instead of stopping the behavior, it can actually increase it. This behavior was also indicative of the dog’s lack of respect for their authority.

Because the dogs showed no respect for their guardian’s personal space, authority or instruction, I went over a few different ways that their guardians can communicate and disagree with the dogs more effectively.

To help the guardians practice utilizing these new forms of communication, I demonstrated leadership exercise I developed a few years ago. In addition to helping the humans practice communicating nonverbally, the exercise helps the dogs practice looking to the humans for guidance. It also forces them to develop the ability to restrain themselves.

I started out with Riot as the guardians thought he would be more challenging to complete the exercise.  He was a determined little guy, but after a few minutes he seemed to get it, so I coached his guardians through the exercise with him.

Riot seem led to pick up the exercise pretty quickly as we practiced, so we switched out dogs so we could go through the same thing with Brick.

Brick was a little bit easier as he seemed to genuinely want to comply once he understood what I was asking from him.  I wasn’t even going to film his practicing the exercise, but he started to communicate that he understood in a way that I almost never see.

Now that we had incorporated these rules, boundaries and limits; I wanted to put them into a practical application.

The dogs continued to sit literally under the feet of the guardians, so I had one of them get up and walk across the room. After pausing a moment, I had her return to her seat then apply the Escalating consequences to disagree with the dogs when they started to invade her personal space.

It was great to see how quickly the dogs reacted now that they understood what the guardians were communicating in a way they were familiar with.

One activity that the dogs had become the biggest nuisance at was whenever the family’s grandmother came over or was holding the baby. I had her join us so that the dog’s guardian could help the dogs establish a new way of behaving in that situation.

I’ve seen quite a few transformations after working with well over 1000 dogs at this point. Some are more more rewarding than others, but this was certainly near the top of the list.

When the grandmother told me that this was the first time she had ever been able to sit down with the baby without the dogs jumping up on her or tearing at her clothing, I was almost as happy as she was.

Brick and Riot are not aggressive dogs, they were simply overexcited and unaccustomed to respecting boundaries or limits. Now that their guardians know how to establish them and communicate what they want from the dogs, this new calm behavior can become the dog’s new normal.

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